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Missiological mengelmoes: Diaspora and Fresh Expressions

5 July 2012

This is a very traditional blog post, going back to the original meaning of a blog — web log — which is a record and commentary on various web sites visited. And there have been some interesting missiological blog posts recently that are worth a read, if you’re missiologically inclined.

To start off with there is Tall Skinny Kiwi: Nomads, Itinerants, and Diaspora Missiology:

Some conversation and action today regarding “people on the move”, global nomads [see my post], and “diaspora missiology”…

Lausanne 3 in Capetown was a great experience for me but there were a few frustrating moments for me, as a global nomad. One of them was deciding which geographical gathering of homies to attend each day. I just didn’t know which country or continent I was from. On the Lausanne website I was from USA. The Lausanne preparary meetings placed me in the UK, as part of the Europe group. But when I met the Aussies and Kiwis I decided to attend a few of their meetings, having lived in both countries. But generally, I felt quite homeless and unassigned to any geographical area.

Why is having a geographical location so important to everyone? Would they make the Apostle Paul attend the Tarsus group? Would Jesus be assigned to the Galileans? Would Abraham be stuck in a room drinking coffee with the residents of Ur?

This one struck me as interesting because of the recent Joint Conference on Religion and Theology that I attended in Pietermaritzburg, where the missiology track emphasised migration and theological education. At that conference most of the papers dealt with mission to migrants, as if the church was by nature static, and so it was about how a static church ministers to people on the move. Andrew Jones (the eponymous Tall Skinny Kiwi) reminds us that missionaries themselves are people on the move, something that seems to be part of the meaning of the term “missionary”.

But the term Diaspora seems to be getting a bit fuzzy. Missionaries are not, or should not be seen as a diaspora. Diaspora means “scattering”, and that is a term that could apply only to the first apostles who scattered from Jerusalem and planted churches all over. Subsequent missionaries do not disperse from a central point, but come from all sorts of places and go to all sorts of places.

Diaspora is a problem for Orthodox mission. Many Orthodox churches have been planted in various parts of the world by the Orthodox Diaspora, who have indeed been migrants as they have travelled for various reason to different parts of the world. But the churches they planted were often ethnocentric, and not really missional churches at all. There was a whole issue of a journal devoted to this phenomenon: Renewal in the Orthodox Churches: the diaspora | Khanya:

It is quite unusual for Western theological or missiological journals to publish anything written by Orthodox theologians and missiologists, or about Orthodox Christianity. But Studies in World Christianity (Edinburgh University Press) edited by Alastair Kee has just published an entire issue devoted to the theme “Renewal in the Orthodox Churches: the Diaspora”

I’ve written more about this here Orthodox diaspora and mission | The Lausanne Global Conversation and here Orthodox mission, diaspora and bizarre Protestant questions | Khanya.

One of the recent aspects of Christian mission has been the idea of Fresh Expression (of church). This has been tried in the UK, and in some other places, and a recent report to the Church of England synod notes that there have been over 1000 such fresh expressions in the Church of England, and more than 2000 in the Methodist Church in the UK. But there have been some questions about the ecclesiology of these Fresh Expressions. Opinionated Vicar: If it’s 3% Fresh, is it Fresh? comments

our Messy Church is probably one of those 1000, but it happens monthly, with a month off in the summer, and whilst it has some of the features of the church ‘event’, it’s not a congregation of Christian disciples. It might be called ‘church’, but it’s not a new, self-sustaining congregation, it’s series of branded events which might form a gateway to Christian faith for some. I wonder how many more of the 1000 are Fresh Expressions, but these are more expressions of outreach than of viable churches. Or am I being unfair?

One Comment leave one →
  1. 5 July 2012 1:12 pm

    We run a messy church once a term as an experiment. I think the majority of what’s happening as “Fresh Expressions” are probably not truly “Fresh Expressions”. Essentially not many people are willing to take the risks that Fresh Expressions honestly requires. So they become little add ons. I was speaking to a colleague in the Anglican church here Durban yesterday about his cafe church. It was birthed out of a group of slightly disaffected people who wanted to do something different. Sounds like a good start but it’s become a little cluster of like minded people who drink coffee and watch DVD’s once a month with no real passion for reaching out.

    There is little incentive from the diocese, little reason to take risks if your church is just about holding it together. But 3% fresh to be honest ain’t fresh.

    The reasons the church in the UK in some areas is having to try new things is the massive decline that South Africa haven’t faced yet(?) possibly(?) Although I’ve been reading Paul Siaki’s PhD this week and he argues strongly that decline has taken place/is taking place and that begun the birth of Growing the Church (http://www.growingthechurch.org.za/)

    I’m interested in a number of things. 1. Are there people doing Fresh Expressions here in SA? I’ve identified a few. 2. Is it an appropriate strategy for growing the church given that “Fresh Expressions” was birthed out of a post Christendom, post modern (?) secularised setting? 3. If SA is post-apartheid, post colonial and perhaps increasingly consumeristic what strategies will work, might work to create mission shaped – anglican shaped expressions of church.

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