Getting the context right
I can’t look at Facebook without seeing another ministry friend jetting off to the States. Conferences, church visits, post graduate study - we’re looking across the Pacific more and more to think about how to do ministry here. There are some great reasons for that. American churches are rich in resources and even more generous in the way they give of them to the world. The enormous online presence of American christianity has opened doors to new friends and places of inspiration for many of us. They are brilliant at ‘getting things done’ and are miles ahead of us in having great ministry systems in place to see their theological convictions expressed in everyday ministry. On top of all this, the language is the same (almost), its much cheaper than getting to Europe, and the natives are friendly.
I wonder though whether its the best place of us to be looking and learning from. The great strength of the American church and its impact in the culture creates a very different context for ministry. That’s seen most bluntly in church size. Although average church size is not that different no-one is going to the States to study average churches. Instead we visit Redeemer, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Mars Hill, Sovereign Grace - big churches with even bigger leaders. Praise God that they are there and for the great work they do! But be careful about thinking their strategies will translate directly to an Australian context.
More significant than difference in church culture though is the different mission field we are in. Australia is less ‘christianized’, more secular, less churched, and more biblically illiterate. In short we are largely doing post-Christendom mission. And if you want to think about post christendom mission there are much better places to go than the States. You’d be much better going to England. It’s more expensive to go and stay than the States. The locals aren’t always as friendly - especially when a Test is on - but the mission situation is much closer to the one we face.
If I was going I’d be interested in learning from the following:
St Helen's, Bishopsgate. This church is in the shadow of the Gherkin in the financial district. It has planted a number of churches in the last 10 years. They do lots of ministry to city workers and are closely linked to the Proclamation Trust which trains preachers.
Steve Timmis and co at http://www.thecrowdedhouse.org/. This is especially important because it's not in the South East.
Holy Trinity Brompton. Yes, they're charismatic. They have been astonishingly successful at seeing the Alpha course rolled out across the land.
You should hear Rico Tice preach at All Souls, Langham Place. This is a church that has evangelism in its DNA. Christianity Explored has had a major re-release in the last year or so and you can bet they are running hard with that at All Souls.
Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle is another big church doing good work, but in the far North.
Melvin Tinker and Jonny Jukes in Hull would be interesting guys to speak to about working in difficult cultures.
Richard Coekin’s Co-Mission stuff in South London may be familiar to a number of Sydney Anglicans through his visits here.
Much has been done under ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’ - I’m not sure where might be best to start looking at that though.
It’s been a long time since I spent six months at Oak Hill College in London. Those in the UK more recently could doubtless add to this list.
(My budget isn’t streching to the UK right now, but I do have a good friend in Melbourne I plan to visit)