Pursuing our growth agenda – keeping us fit for mission

Ahead of the debate at Synod we talk to Bishop Paul about the Diocesan paper, “Fit for Mission”, how it relates to the growth agenda and what all the talk about removing the barnacles from the ship is about.

Bishop Paul has been talking about “Fit for Mission” at a number of places as he consults on ideas to help focus our work on pursuing our growth agenda.
Fully committing to the agenda, the Bishop says “the Bishop’s growth agenda is my agenda now” adding “I intend to sustain and strengthen the direction of our diocese as a growing community marked by disciplined prayer, intentional evangelism and a practical commitment to justice.”

So this new paper doesn’t change the direction of the Diocese, but it aims to look at the structures which can either support or impair the way we deliver this agenda and grow the Kingdom. This is where the ship’s barnacles come in. “Imagine the diocese as a ship,” explains Bishop Paul “The course is set, it’s heading in the right direction, but the hull is encrusted with barnacles which slow the ship down. If we can scrape away some of these, those aspects of our structures which impede us, then we can use far more of our energy to reach our destination.”

The paper Fit for Mission explains how some of the connections are made. In it is the concern that in the psyche of the church we still hold to the notion of intensive pastoral care for ever person, delivered by a one-priest-per-small-parish model. In reality this was never something the church could seriously claim. Our diocese has recognised that a changing culture reveals a need to find new ways to connect. That’s why we innovate. That’s why we have embraced mission-shaped fresh expressions alongside strong and mission-shaped traditional churches. That’s why we build up our team of ocal missional leaders. It’s part of our desire to reflect, learn and adapt as we follow God into God’s mission field.

Bishop Paul endorses this and is pleased that the national church too is taking this seriously. Through the recent research report – From Anecdote to Evidence - and the “Reform and Renewal” task group reports to General Synod, the whole church is shaping up for the opportunities and challenges that face us all. “We need to be a sharper and lighter church”, Bishop Paul argues: “we need to take stock and look at new models of accountability and support for we can’t rely on the old ways and structures. Too often they drain our energy, waste our time and sap our creativity. ”
In so many places we know how hard it is to find people willing to stand for the crucial parish roles.  “many struggle now and more will in the future unless we grasp this nettle and reduce the burdens”, explains the Bishop; “this will give our leaders and communities the support to grow the church, transform lives and contribute to the common good”.

There are two key suggestions for the next steps. These are rethinking the role of senior leadership and lifting the burden on parishes.  Some aspects will take a long time and lots of patient work; some may involve losing things that many hold dear. All will involve imagination and creativity. “we need to get our imagination moving and start to think enthusiastically about the possibilities”. 
Lifting the burdens on parishes
The “Fit for Mission” paper calls for “more congregations, but fewer parishes” which will involve a new way of looking at the parish. “Our current structures are too heavy” explains Bishop Paul “we have an expectation that every parish, every church community has to do everything and be expert in everything. This is simply not possible, it’s onerous and limiting. It limits our thinking, our outlook and our horizons to the very local level.”

The paper calls for a broader “mixed economy” view of a parish as a family of congregations. The parish of the future would bring together three or four of our present parishes. It would mix traditions. It would enable a spread of specialities – churches that focus on youth, that act as Minsters, that are the local food bank hub, that concentrate on weddings. The possibilities are exciting.

“Imagine…” says the Bishop. “Imagine we moved from 200 parishes to a wiser number of 60. We would only need 60 treasurers, 60 sets of accounts, 60 audits. We could reduce PCC members to about 750 and only need 400 wardens. We could cut the hours spent in PCCs from 30,000 to 6,000 or 7,000. And with that time and that energy released we could offer so much more to the mission of God.”

The paper is clear that this is not an agenda to reduce clergy numbers. Again the clergy role will change to being more of a truly collegiate ministry with Local Missional Leaders, Self-Supporting Ministers and Readers all playing their part. Where the role of administrator maybe more important - releasing our pastors and teachers to do what they do best.
Rethinking the role of senior leadership
At the beginning of his time in our diocese Bishop Paul has made clear his desire for a shared episcope. This is seen in the way he works with Bishop Richard, the Archdeacons, others on Core Group and our Area Deans. But this is also an area for further re-imagination. The demand is high and pressures on time are great. Both bishops see diocesan responsibilities as the essence and heart of their ministries, but each has to take on some national work as all bishops do. In any case, with legal changes in the way clergy accountability is now seen, the role of bishop as chief pastor needs to be rethought and to be seen within the frame of shared leadership and oversight.

Bishop Paul is clear that this isn’t a move to management consultancy. “it’s about how we can best give wise pastoral support and accountability to local churches  - to bring about the main thing: a church growing in mission – a bigger church making a bigger difference.”

Fundamental to this is the role of Archdeacons. Bishop Paul says: “Our present Archdeacons are excellent, working at full tilt with a great emphasis on supporting the structure and strategy of the local church. But with the best will in the word they can’t provide the sort of hands-on missional and pastoral support that churches, clergy, churchwardens and others need. For this reason I believe we need to increase the number of our Archdeacons, redrawing their boundaries and reframing their role.”

We have a gift from God that enables us to be creative and faithful. We are all feeling our way into God’s future, but a future where we collaborate, cut out duplication, pool resources and free energy and time for mission sounds like a pretty good one to me.

News & Events

Three key areas

To grow the church and make a bigger difference we have three key areas to address. We’ve named these are ageing money, retiring clergy and broken buildings. We need to face head on the fact

  • Our committed giving base is older than the population average. Its shrinking base will mean that future decision making and ability to grasp mission opportunities could be compromised.
  • The national supply of stipendiary clergy is falling alarmingly. We must work hard to recruit and equip the quality we need.
  • Our building cost a fortune and even then they are not in good condition for 21st century mission.

Download the full paper

What Next?

“Fit for Mission” does not change the direction of our Diocese but it aims to make us lighter and shaper as we seek to fulfil God’s purposes. Making it work will take time, planning and careful prayer.

As Bishop Paul says, “This paper is a plea for imagination and the start of a journey. It may be an emotionally charged journey and it is certainly one we should enter into with wisdom and with care. But is vital and urgent that we should go on this journey. We have a gift from God that enables us to be creative and faithful.  We are all feeling our way into God’s future, but a future where we collaborate, cut out duplication, pool resources and free energy and time for mission sounds like a pretty good one to me.”