Sunday, 20 September 2015

Partnership For Missional Church: Initial Impression

PMC kicked off this weekend, with representatives from churches across Reading and Berkshire meeting together for the first big session. Coming at the end of a long hard week, it took me much too far beyond overtired. So, was it worth it?

It'll be a while before I get my brain into gear well enough to really get to grips with it, but my early impressions are generally good.

Some of the publicity earlier in the year was concerning: they quoted statistics for "churches who completed the programme", which is a big no-no statistically, and some of the language was reminiscent of the many 'big-church' programmes which have come out of the US over the years.

One of the main speakers at this weekends launch was from the USA, where the programme was developed, but he was careful to point out that PCM was based, at least in part, on the work of Lesslie Newbigin, the British theologian who emphasised the need for mission within our own communities long before that became fashionable.

Over the past twenty or thirty years I have been involved in a lot of mission initiatives amidst the general decline in church congregations in Caversham and beyond. In all that the only serious church growth I have experienced came, not as a result of a mission programme but, it seems to me, as a direct result of one good minister following another in a church, who focused on serving God in our community as best we could. Even then it didn't really stick: after he left the church returned to slow decline.

Common features of such mission programmes have included them being centrally driven, process-led, with a general attitude of helping 'them' to see the truths that 'we' hold, and often focused on a big early push, typically without much follow-through.

One thing about PMC which impressed me early on is the idea that God is already at work outside the church congregations, in the surrounding communities. Part of the 'partnership' idea in PMC is that we can find 'partners for peace' amongst people who may have no direct contact with church at all. The hope is that we can find ways to work with them so that both parties gain.

The other big positive is the timescale. PMC basically runs over three years, but with the intention of creating permanent changes over those years, so that mission becomes an ongoing part of church life beyond that.

The first year is labelled as a 'listening', or 'discovery', phase, although the activities seem very much aimed at improving communications both within church congregations and between congregations and their neighbours.

Because PMC is a long-term thing, it obviously needs to run in parallel with our other mission work, although maybe encouraging us to a greater awareness of what we are trying to achieve and why.

Someone once told me that if you want to push a destroyer away from a dock wall, there is no point giving it a short hard shove, you'll just put your back out. The secret is to give a long steady push, which will slowly give the movement you want ... unless the wind is blowing the other way.

My first impression of PMC is that it is trying to be a long steady push, whilst helping us discern which way the wind is blowing so we can work with it not against it.

Time will tell if I'm correct.

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