By Henrieta Paukov
Imagination is a more powerful tool than knowledge or understanding when it comes to being missional, said the Rev. Dave Male in his first address on Feb. 2 at the Vital Church Planting Conference in Toronto. “It seems to me that we need dreamers who do,” he said. “People who don’t just dream and do nothing, but dreamers who then take those dreams and begin to turn them into reality.”
Mr. Male was the keynote speaker at the 6th annual Vital Church Planting Conference, which took place Feb. 2-4 at St. Paul, Bloor Street, and attracted 175 participants from various Christian denominations and from as far away as Fredericton and Barbados. The conference was jointly sponsored by the Diocese of Toronto and the Wycliffe College Institute of Evangelism. Mr. Male is Tutor in Pioneer Mission Training at Ridley Hall and Associate Tutor at Westcott House, both in Cambridge, UK. He is also Fresh Expressions Adviser for the Diocese of Ely. He founded the Net Church, a pioneering fresh expression of church, in Huddersfield.
Christians should use their imagination to respond creatively to the patterns and changes they discern in their communities, engaging in “faithful improvisation,” according to Mr. Male. “We don’t start with a blank piece of paper,” he said. “I am not saying at all we need to clear everything from our tradition and start again. That is not what any of this is about. It is about singing the old lyrics but with a new tune.” It’s not about leaving the tradition, but about “driving to its very heart,” he added.
He challenged those who are starting something new to ask themselves, “What are some of the possibilities that we have never dreamt of before? Could we imagine even more?” He also asked participants to look at what they are already doing and ask themselves whether it could “become a new community of faith.”
Three major shifts are happening in Christian communities around the world, according to Mr. Male. The first is a missional re-engagement with society, fuelled by a realization that people are not likely to walk into their neighbourhood church. “What I see more and more is churches thinking about where they can make a connection in their society,” he said. “In the UK, Christians from different traditions get together and go out on Friday and Saturday night, helping people coming out of the clubs, working with the police and the local council, and showing care and love.”
The second major shift is a re-imagination of what church is, with the rise of fresh expressions like Messy Church, café church, pub church, skater church, and knitting church. The third shift is a re-orientation towards whole-life discipleship, a “a realization that church isn’t just about how many people can we get inside the building on Sunday or to various other activities, it’s about asking what it means to be a follower of Jesus 24/7.” He cited the rise of new monasticism and the rediscovery of the Wesleyan class-meeting system as examples of this third shift.
In a group discussion about the three shifts, the Rev. Beth Benson, incumbent of St. Cuthbert, Leaside, said that she sees missional re-engagement with society as a “recovery, not as a new, latest gimmick or idea. It’s actually a recovery of a lost identity, so in a way it’s like going home. But I think we have a lot to do in our communities.” Part of that work, she suggested, was to “turn the hearts of the existing leadership to that, so it’s not just the cleric, but the whole leadership in the body of Christ saying: ‘Yes, that’s actually who we’ve always been.’”
The Rev. Murray Henderson, incumbent of Christ Church St. James in Etobicoke, agreed that the participation of both clergy and lay people is important in helping a congregation become mission-oriented. “I think a fair number of lay people realize that something like this has to happen,” he said. “What I would try to do in terms of action is have this conversation with more and more people within the parish. We need to make this a commonplace discussion, and out of that can come the unpredictable ideas that the Holy Spirit will give us.”
The PowerPoint slides from Mr. Male’s presentations at the Vital Church Planting Conference are available at http://davemale.typepad.com/churchunplugged/