Future Church of England: How Can Evangelicals Support Each Other?

As things move on in the Church of England and as pressure increases on evangelicals, perhaps for their view of women's ministry, or perhaps for their views on homosexuality, there is an increasingly obvious need for evangelicals to network together and support each other.  This is being realised and there seem to be encouraging plans afoot with networks like the ReNew conference.

The big question is what that support could and should look like.  I write from the position of vicar of two small churches, which may be described as financially challenged and our churches are in tough (largely Muslim) areas for mission.  I think the standard cry from people like me is to large churches saying: "Please send us your money and your people!"  And I think there is something in that.  It's hard not to think of the large evangelical church I know of spending over two million on a building project and not think what we could do with just £50,000 pounds say!  Hebrews 10:16 suggests that sharing what we have is a good thing.

However, I think bitterness lies in thinking that way, rather than a productive way forward.  At least in part, I think the big churches do give (just maybe not how I would like) - my ministry is in many ways a product of a big church ministry.  I also think that we have to be realistic about how much ministry the big churches could support - my guess is that they may be rich, but not that rich, in the sense of supporting loads of struggling churches like mine in a significant financial way. Furthermore, as Justin Mote pointed out at a recent North West Partnership meeting, the giving in the NT church was often not from the rich, i.e. the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2.

So, I've tried to think about it in another way.  How could a mutually supportive and useful partnership exist between different kinds of churches, perhaps especially larger and smaller.  Here are my ideas from easiest to hardest (I think).

  1. Start with a prayer link.  Many churches are like mission outposts to very different areas and communities (rural, inner city, Muslim, students, businessmen).  Just as it is informative, encouraging and challenging to here from missionaries in other countries, it is great to hear from churches in different areas in the UK and to encapsulate that in the context of prayer is even better.  This could lead to some other support where appropriate.
  2. Lots of churches encourage their young people and even apprentices to help on camps or short-term missions.  How about setting up links with churches who need people to help with summer outreach.  This could be a very different kind of experience of ministry and might be excellent at broadening young people's perspective.  It would also allow many churches to run outreach events (summer holiday clubs, mission events etc.) that might not otherwise be possible.  There would be a cost to this (some people you wanted for camp might go elsewhere!), but for long term ministry experience this could be great.  It could also build up some brilliant long term links between churches and with individuals.
  3. How about churches with particular ministries (e.g. student, Muslim, inner city, financial sector, media) offering placements to ministry trainees in other contexts.  It could be for a few days, a few weeks or even a term.  It could be a great eye-opener and could help prepare people for future ministry, as well as providing extra help in those contexts.
  4. How about larger churches funding ministry positions in smaller churches for their people coming out of their training schemes or colleges.  If you've trained someone up who has a passion for working with Muslims, in small inner city contexts, in rural areas, why not help churches provide places where they can do that ministry.  This is going to be even more important as it is more difficult to get curacies etc. as an evangelical.  Smaller churches of course need to be open to place those people, provide the training, open up the ministry and so on, maybe with having a limited say on who they are getting!
  5. For those churches that run a program of church planting, how about changing the program slightly so that one in three (say) "plants" is actually about helping revive and renew a church that has evangelical ministry, but needs help.  It would be a different sort of plant I guess.  It would probably need fewer but more committed people for the church (the addition of a few faithful and committed people could be massive here in Rochdale, but you would have to live in or around Rochdale and church isn't an exciting new plant etc.), but maybe more of a financial and support input, e.g. agreeing that a group of people would transfer some giving from the home church to the supported church, maybe that money for workers/apprentices would be provided for a longer period.  Again smaller churches have to be open to this.  We would often like money and people without interference, but actually I think it would be great to have some interference from larger churches (all experience and wisdom is welcomed here!!!).
Well there are five ideas for starters.  What do you think?  I probably still need to think the other way around more.  For example, could and would I send my best people to larger churches for training where appropriate, even if they never came back!  I'm probably too rooted in my situation and thinking about what I need still, but I hope these are a good starter all the same.


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