Some of you will remember David Clark, Methodist deacon, who wowed distinctive deacons at the diocese of York’s conference at Wydale Hall two years ago. 

David has kindly sent us this article, a challenge to the Church of England – and indeed, any institutional church. 

The church as institution and missionary movement

In a recent edition of the Church Times, the Rev Alan Billings (Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire) perceptively commented on the need for the Church of England, like the police service, to reaffirm its commitment to the locality if it wants to be true to its historic calling.  In the article, he rightly observed that the ‘the Church (of England) is territorial and institutional…  It is not a missionary movement – which is why the Methodists broke away.’

            However, the problem is that for an institutional Church to survive and flourish, it needs ‘missionary movements’ to enable it to engage with an ever-changing world and remind it of its primary message, a gospel for the whole of humankind, not least the poor and marginalized.  For some centuries the religious orders fulfilled that role.  Then came the Reformation, a missionary movement offering a new understanding of individual redemption.  A little later, as Alan Billings noted, the Methodist movement which offering salvation to the whole of humankind, was born.

            However, all ‘missionary movements’ (including Methodism) sooner or later become institutionalized, losing touch with a society increasingly on the move.   Consequently, as with the Church of England, their permanency as institutions always require challenging by some ‘new missionary movement’.  Today, the latter needs to be able to engage meaningfully with a rapidly changing and bewilderingly complex world.  Where on earth will such a missionary movement be found?

            It will certainly not take the form of ‘fresh expressions’ of Church, or of thousands of small lay led communities, if these ever materialize, simply because both remain essentially institutional models of Church.  They lack the dynamism of a kingdom theology, and those new social forms essential for the kind of ‘missionary movement’ our world (and Church) desperately needs.  However, though the shape of that movement still remains uncertain, one thing is crystal clear for those with ‘eyes to see’.  The leadership of such a missionary movement will take the form of a renewed diaconate, called by Paul Avis ‘a flagship ministry’, as it recognizes and assumes its calling to be a new order of mission.  Our urgent responsibility as a Church is to raise awareness of this God-given diaconal resource, and liberate it to fulfil its missionary calling

David Clark

October 2021

You can find more of David’s writings under ‘Useful Books and Papers’ – hit the ‘Resources’ tab at the top of the page.

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