What a great conference! Special thanks to the Telos Collective, to Trinity Anglican Church in Atlanta for hosting, and to all of the speakers:

Day three of the conference was just a half day, but we got to hear from two awesome bishops, Ric Thorpe and Todd Hunter.


Bishop Ric Thorpe: Missional Ecclesiology: A Perspective from the Church of England

As you can tell from the title of his talk, Ric Thorpe (the Bishop of Islington in the Diocese of London) gave us his perspective on how the Church of England is addressing certain missional ecclesiological problems in the UK.

Bishop Ric shared the following memorable quote from Archbishop William Temple:

“The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

He noted that we’re called, not to stay and make disciples, but to go and make disciples. Therefore, as we go about life in the Church, we should always be asking “Who is this all for?”

According to Bishop Ric, there’s a “tale of two churches” in the UK.

  • One church, the church with the money and the decision-making power, is declining and aging. He observed that, in the UK, “it is 8x more likely that an 81 year-old will be in church than an 18 year-old.”
  • The other church, a younger and more diverse group, appears to be growing quite rapidly.

Bishop Ric then took a look at the preface to the “Declaration of Assent,” which clergy in the Church of England are required to sign.

The preface begins:

The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

In addition to noting that the Church of England is just “part of” the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, Bishop Ric zeroed-in on the phrase “to proclaim afresh in each generation.” How do we reach the people who are around right now?

Bishop Ric then noted four problems that churches are facing in the UK:

  1. Our cities are under-churched.
  2. Our dioceses have been managing decline.
  3. Our leaders do not match our congregations.
  4. Our leaders are insufficiently trained.

As for attempted solutions, Bishop Ric first discussed the development of City Centre Resource Churches, churches helping to plant other churches in urban centers.

Regarding the management of decline, Bishop Ric described some of the various church planting strategies being put to use. As of 2018, there was a combined goal of creating 2,472 new worshipping communities in England.

Bishop Ric shared that it’s been helpful to ask “not ‘what can I do?’, but ‘what needs to be done?’” They are developing a church planting pipeline of (1) identifying leaders, (2) developing them, and (3) planting. The key? “Underneath all of this, all the time, is prayer.”

Speaking of the identification of leaders, Bishop Ric noted a diversity problem. There are plenty of diverse congregations being led by white, middle-class leaders. In order to address this, they’re moving toward more intentional recruitment and training of diverse leaders. Without changing the training/ordination pipeline, Bishop Ric noted, nothing will change.

This brought up the fourth problem: insufficient training of leaders. Bishop Ric observed that, while they’re receiving some top-notch academic and liturgical training, leaders aren’t being taught how to lead someone to Christ and then disciple them.

New forms of training are therefore required. More “on the job” training, more permission and authorization of laypeople to plant churches and then, based on their effectiveness and anointing, to receive further training and ordination.

One of the many valuable takeaways from this talk was Bishop Ric’s challenge to always ask (the people we’re discipling) the question “Who are YOU discipling?”

He concluded his talk with the following three questions we need to be asking in order to reach people around us with the gospel:

  • What treasures should we hold on to?
  • What should we leave behind?
  • What new ways should we be innovating?

Bishop Todd Hunter: Closing Session

Full disclosure: Todd Hunter is my bishop.

If I could put Bishop Todd’s closing remarks in a single sentence, it would be: “Don’t be afraid as you engage with the world.”

After all, if this is really our Father’s world, then God is always already at work in the situations around us we face in our ministries.

It’s not anyone else’s world. Jesus Christ is Lord!

What would it mean, Bishop Todd wondered, to notice the work of the trinity around us?

He reminded us that we are always safe as apprentices of Jesus. We never again need to sin in order to protect ourselves! Because evil is not ultimate, we don’t need to quarrel, grab, etc. to secure our positions. We are at peace.

Bishop Todd also urged us NOT to believe the culture’s lies that the Church sucks! This doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the problems within the Church, but it does mean that we need to share Jesus’ opinion that the spread of the people of God is a good thing!

He reminded us that, even as we wait for its full arrival, the kingdom of God is a “this-world” reality. While the Church has usually tried to distinguish herself from the world religiously, Jesus Christ models God’s connection to broken creation.

I thought it was particularly poignant when Bishop Todd observed that Jesus models God’s cosmic cry of “Adam, where are you?”

Therefore, Bishop Todd urged us to “fully differentiate, as followers of Jesus, as you can. But stay connected as a non-anxious presence.”

He noted that there are three common mistakes the church can make in cultural engagement:

  1. Accommodationist: all social change must be right.
  2. Disengagement
  3. Controlling: any social change must be wrong

Instead of these postures, Bishop Todd recommended peaceful self-differentiation. We should be non-anxious ministers engaged with the world.

Of course, we can’t do this on our own. We need the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit!

Bishop Todd wondered: Why were the early Christians told to wait for Pentecost? It’s because God’s purposes in his people need a power that matches that purpose.

And so, we closed the 2019 Intersection by laying hands on and praying for one another. We prayed that God would restore confidence in ministry, that he would give opportunities to use the gifts that he has given, and that he fan into flame the work of the Spirit in our lives.

After a time of prayer for one another, we were invited to the front and sent out into the world, for the sake of the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Like I said at the very beginning: what a great conference!

It was a pleasure and privilege to learn more about what a robust Anglican missional ecclesiology can look like. It was also wonderful to meet some of our readers and authors for the first time in person!

I hope these “daily digest” posts from #intersection19 have been helpful. Let us know what you’ve taken away from the 2019 Intersection Conference in the comments below!