Let the Rivers Flow

Changing the shape of the Church

A ‘growing army of mission shaped people’ is changing the shape of church in the Diocese of Liverpool.

So said Canon Phil Potter, director of Pioneer Ministry, addressing the Bishop’s Conference on Saturday (20th March), adding, ‘We are not in the business any more of doing church shaped mission in church shaped buildings, we want to be doing it in buildings that are shaped for mission.’

He went on to say that there were three main categories of people involved in this burgeoning movement: Ordained and Lay Pioneers; Champions – including mission shaped Area Deans – who ‘keep the agenda alive and support those who are doing it on the ground; and Permission Givers. We have also long been blessed by a Diocesan Bishop and a Diocesan Secretary who have given their blessing to anything that is mission shaped.’

More than 350 delegates attended ‘Let the Rivers Flow’ at the BT Convention Centre. Phil Potter highlighted the role of the Flagship School of Leadership, the msi course, evolving msm training, and the increasing focus on providing mentors for people to ‘share the journey’ as an over-riding theme of fresh expressions of church in the diocese.

Up and coming online resources would also be part of the ‘diet’ available to anyone involved in the work. ‘Let’s find fuel for the most important part of all, for prayer,’ he added, ‘to know how and when and where He wants to let the rivers flow on Merseyside.

Bishop James, drawing on Ezekiel 47:3-10, highlighted the stark reality of the work to be done. ‘There are a million people out of the area’s 1.5m population that are not touched by the love and grace of God, and that is our challenge. As a church we can be so dominated by our own agenda that we do not recognise what is happening by the Spirit of God outside our church walls. Fresh expressions is all about finding new ways of being in relationship with other people who have, for various reasons, given the institutional church a wide berth and I think it’s going to get worse.’

Highlighting the words of Jesus from Matthew 18:20, ‘When two or three people meet in my name, I am there,’ the bishop said, ‘He couldn’t have given us a better motto for fresh expressions of church.’

He added, ‘There is a place for the Church and the institution; there is a place for beautiful buildings; for iconic buildings that become a focus of pride in the community but that’s not where we can confine the Spirit of God.’

Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops’ Missioner and team leader of Fresh Expressions, gave his keynote address on Planting fresh expressions – sharing in God’s Mission. The Long Term Challenge.’

Emphasising that his passion was for the re-evangelisation of the nation, he spoke about how the landscape of our culture and our society has changed rapidly over the past few decades. Expanding on the imagery of lake and river to look at different forms of church and what that might mean for individuals and communities of God’s people, he said, ‘Let the rivers flow but please keep fishing in the lake.’