So much discussion of where the church is going is a debate about structures. But one of the really significant things about Stuart Murray's Church After Christendom is his desire to move the conversation from shape and structures to values and ethos.
I've been thinking about this recently. Partly because I had a leaders day at the seaside last Saturday and partly because I've been asked to produce something for the church website about who we are.
I was having a chat about mission with a mate in the Scooter cafe in London's Lower Marsh - good coffee, great atmosphere.
we identified four values that ought to shape our mission:
1. welcome - non-judgmental acceptance of any and all
2. praying with not for people - this is about walking with people on their spiritual journey, open to encountering God in unlikely places. The Biblical model for this, of course, is supremely Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10-11 (a hugely important story for our context and thinking).
3. hospitality - possibly the most important value to relearn. Someone once told me that fellowship is not a matter of who you meet with, but who you eat with. The gospel writers tell us far more about Jesus eating and drinking with people than about him worshipping in the synagogue and temple. Why is this? Probably because they thought it mattered.
4. sharing stories - we still think evangelism is about imparting propositions, getting people to grasp abstract theology about God, themselves and their sinfulness, the atonement and the like, answering difficult questions about suffering and other religions. But we are called not to be philosophers or even apologists (though we need both in the church). We are called to be witnesses, that is people who tell others what they've seen and heard. So let's tell people our stories and the stories of things happening in our church and the church around the world. And let's listen to people's stories and see where God is lurking in the background.
Such values would have a marked effect on our structures of mission. But we can go deeper.
Underlying these values are other values to do with risk and safety. We talk about moving from maintenance to mission (and that's good) but often that talk is still hedged in the language of control - we're in charge of what we do, we set the strategy, lay the ground rules and bring people into places where we feel safe because we are in charge.
How about deliberately creating environments of risk? Pete Ward wrote a wonderful book called Growing up Evangelical which outlines how over the past 50 years or more, the evangelical church has strived to create a safe, comfortable place for its young people, a Christian bubble where our young people will be safe from all the pollutants of the world. It's a brilliant and sobering read.
All we've succeeded in doing, of course, is growing a generation of isolated Christians who are fearful of the world and cannot communicate with people not soaked in church culture. On top of that, we've seen young people flowing out of the exit doors of the church, never to return.
The values outlined above - welcome, praying with people, hospitality and story-telling - need to be earthed away form the structures we've created to help us feel safe. We need to be living these values at parties hosted by our neighbours, in pubs frequented by our work colleagues, at social events where we're guests and therefore cannot create the structure of the gathering, where we have to work with someone else's agenda - exactly where Jesus put himself.
So how do I describe who we are as a church?