Will we embrace Anglican micro churches?
- Written by: Breeana Mills
Anglican priest John Wesley was convicted of the need to preach to English miners who were not engaged in local churches. These gatherings drew the poor and marginalised in every town, seeing many choosing to follow Jesus. So, Wesley created different structures of classes, small bands, and societies, to facilitate discipleship and evangelism within these people groups. So began the Methodist revival.
Mary Sumner experienced the difficulty of motherhood in 19th Century England, where Christian values were coming up against the industrial revolution. Driven by a conviction to support mothers, she gathered women from different social classes together to encourage them in motherhood and faith. Women with no church connections came to faith, worshipped together, and sought to reach other mothers. These meetings multiplied throughout England and were in 9 countries within 7 years. Mother’s Union was born.
Simple forms of church are not new. They have been happening for generations and bringing revival to the traditional church in different ways. Some we have embraced; some we have cast aside. Today’s movements of missional communities, micro churches or simple churches are no different. The question is, will we embrace or case aside such expressions of church?
Long before language of micro church became prevalent, missiologist Lesslie Newbigin offered two critiques of church structures of his times. Firstly, that the fundamental ecclesial unit was too large, and secondly that the current structure of the church emerged from an undifferentiated society, which is no longer descriptive of our modern society (Goheen, 2018, 123–126).
Missiologist Ralph Winter also noted in the early 1990’s that the majority of American churches currently exists for the middle class, and a cross-cultural mission approach will be need to reach the “unreached peoples” of America (Winter, 1990, 98–105). It follows that we see new and different forms of church emerging within the Anglican communion to reach unreached Australians.
Throughout history the Anglican church has adapted to changing circumstances, and in a post-covid world this will be no different.
Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury faced a similar question with the rise of many fresh expressions with the Church of England. Instead of resisting these new expressions, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested:
“It is clear to us that the parochial system remains an essential and central part of the national Church's strategy to deliver incarnational mission. But the existing parochial system alone is no longer able fully to deliver its underlying mission purpose. We need to recognize that a variety of integrated missionary approaches is required. A mixed economy of parish churches and network churches will be necessary, in an active partnership across a wider area, perhaps a deanery" (cited in Cray, 2009, x).
As we look through scripture it’s clear that ekklesia did not designate a single form, the focus is instead on a gathering of people. It is used in scripture to refer to larger public gatherings, such as in Solomon’s colonnade (Acts 5:12) as well as household gatherings, such as those who met at Priscilla and Aquila’s house among others (1 Cor 16:19, Phil 2, Col 4:15). Both approaches were held together in the early church, where believers met in the temple courts and in their homes (Acts 2:46). Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also demonstrates that these house churches often came together for larger gatherings (1 Cor 11:17, 22). While some may be tempted to see a modern church and small group network in these two structures, Paul is clear that both were a place of discipleship and evangelism (Acts 5:42). The early church used a variety of structures as needed in their context. Perhaps once again, in a post-covid world it is once again a fitting season for a movement of small Anglican churches?
So, what is a simple church or micro church?
Thom Rainer defines a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” (Rainer, 2006, 60) Brian Sanders defines church Rev as a “worshipping community on mission,” a group of people engaging together in regular rhythms of worship, community and mission, seeking to be a blessing towards a particular network or neighbourhood (Sanders, 2019, 34). These forms of churches are stripped back and simple. They are accessible not only to the dechurched, but predominately to the unchurched. Like John Wesley and Mary Sumner, these churches seek to take the church to the people, rather than asking the people to come to church. They seek to make disciples, and to multiply disciple-makers. While many of today’s churches seek to grow larger in number, these churches seek to go wider in reach, remaining small by continuing to multiply.
Micro churches are Jesus-centred communities, birthed when a small group of disciples collectively sense a call from God to love and serve a particular community in their area. Whether this is a geographical space or an affinity network, everything they do comes from a genuine desire to love this particular community. Yet, unlike a typical small group or even some house churches who engage together in times of worship and fellowship in community, a micro church also engages regularly in mission together. It’s a part of their identity, they exist for a missional purpose. This purpose shapes the way they engage in worship and fellowship as a community. Their worship still includes regular Anglican practices of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, confession, and intercessory prayer, but seeks to do so in a way accessible to those within their missional focus.
Micro churches seek to be a community conformed to the image of Christ. Graham Hill rightly suggests that the greatest issue in the Australian church today is our lack of conformity to Christ (Hill, 2020, 22). While it may be possible to hide within a larger community, within a smaller group, discipleship or the lack therefore becomes evident quickly. Jesus said people would know we are his disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35). Micro churches believe that this is an essential part of their witness. As micro churches reach out into the community, they seek to demonstrate Christ and make disciples, multiplying into every corner of our nation to the glory of God.
Finally, these communities are called to unity and collaboration with the mainstream Anglican church. In the early church it’s evident that there is partnership between house churches, and city-wide churches. As a church we are called to unity, but not necessarily uniformity. Our unity should transcend differences in practices, music, and structures, while holding tightly together to gospel truths. The Spirit is equally at work in the mainstream church, as in the many Anglican micro churches already in existence across Australia. Today as micro churches are becoming more prominent within and alongside our churches, the question is will we embrace them?
The micro church movement, by God’s grace, has gained increasing interest, traction, and fruitfulness throughout the pandemic. Whether the Anglican church chooses to accept these expressions or not, they will continue to engage in gospel-centred, Kingdom-focused ministry, taking the church to the unreached peoples of Australia. My hope is that in the future we would see them do so as representatives of the Anglican church of Australia, and we would partner with them as they go.
Recently, a small traditional Anglican church in Melbourne’s east has entered a partnership with a new micro church network church plant. The partnership is hoping that this church plant, primarily of young adults, will learn from the maturity, traditions, and experience of the existing Anglican church, while the existing church will be invigorated by the missional fervour of the church plant. While it is still very much in its infancy, it provides a picture of a possible way forward for the Anglican church of Australia. Micro churches and mainstream churches working together for God’s glory.
Rev Breeana Mills is Assistant Curate at St Philips Mt Waverly, Melbourne and leader of a nearby micro church network church plant.
Bible Study: Breaking Down Walls
- Written by: Chris Porter
REV DR CHRIS PORTER
“I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism” Acts 10:34
In the book of Acts, Luke repeatedly recounts situations where social boundaries and barriers are broken down by the gospel that is rapidly spreading throughout the Levant. But within the narrative these boundaries are not so easily dissolved, and one particularly pernicious division repeatedly returns to the early church: the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Readers first encounter this distinction and subsequent dissolution of the barrier in Acts 10 and 11, as Peter entertains a visitation request from a Gentile God-fearer—Cornelius—and is subsequently challenged in Jerusalem.
Indeed, this first encounter provides a good paradigm for how social boundaries are broken down, and it occurs at two levels. First, at a human level, the degree of inter-group prejudice is confronted at a personal level and reduced from inter-group interaction to inter-personal interaction by face-to-face contact and conversation. Peter dares to enter Cornelius’ house and eat with him—in transgression of the law (Acts 10:28).
Second, at a level out of human control, the dissolution of the previous inter-group boundary is initially challenged by Peter’s dreams and then confirmed by the presence of the Spirit. We read that just like the other disciples the Spirit was poured out on these Gentile believers (Acts 10:45-46).
Subsequently the dissolution of the inter-group boundary is further confirmed by group witness and consultation (Acts 11:15-18).
While one of these tiers—the sending of the Spirit— is clearly out of human control, the other provides a helpful paradigm for reducing inter-group conflict and boundaries in our world, especially for Christians as we are called to be peace makers and to love one another. This is particularly valuable in this time with the increase of social media silos and ongoing interpersonal isolation from pandemic lockdowns. Truly, it appears that our societies are going to emerge from this pandemic more fractured than united.
The paradigm for reducing social conflict that Acts sets forth is helpful here, and indeed it is strongly reinforced by a series of studies on inter-group conflict and prejudice reduction from Matthew Hornsey and Michael Hogg (1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c).
But what does it look like in practice? One approachable example comes from the Boogie-woogie singer and pianist Daryl Davis, who found himself as a lone African-American in close friendship with many members and ex-members of the Klu Klux Klan— despite his obvious Blackness.
In Accidental Courtesy, a documentary on his life, one poignant moment comes when he talks about his motivation for cultivating friendships with Klansmen. There the overriding question he asks is “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” From sitting down in a bar with Klansmen, to being invited into their home, this question—and the associated interpersonal interaction—drives the conversation at hand. The results show how successful it is, as Davis displays a wardrobe full of Klan robes that were given to him after members had left the Klan.
Daryl Davis follows the pattern set out in Acts, of reducing inter-group prejudice to the level of personal interaction.
As we engage in evangelism with friends and neighbours, we too can follow the pattern of Acts in interacting with others as individuals, rather than as group representatives. Perhaps even more critically we can interact with members of other traditions as individuals as well, to understand them and their motivations rather than caricaturing them as a stereotype
We—above all—are called to be peacemakers in our society fractured by social media silos and isolation, and to love one another as Christ has loved us. By this everyone will know what we are His disciples.
Rev Dr Chris Porter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College, Melbourne
- Written by: Andy Pearce
REV ANDY PEARCE
It’s January 24th 2021 and I, my wife Kim, and our five boys are sitting in a church we have never visited, living in a house we have never visited, in a city we have never visited, in a state we have never visited, meeting the people we are about serve for the very first time.
We are 50km south of Perth at St Nicholas’s Anglican church, Rockingham for our first Sunday. People are looking at us inquisitively; the way you look at exhibits in a museum or animals in a zoo. The repeated questions on their lips: “Do you know what you’ve signed up for? You know this church is very different from your previous church?”
And they were right! It was very different from City on a Hill Melbourne. It was physically 3500km away and the culture even further. This small quaint 80s building - furnished with stained-glass, sanctuary light and matching aumbry - was home to 100 mostly retired saints; one of whom had actually met Graham Kendrick. It was quite different to our large inner-city Anglican church that gathered millennials in a cinema, sang to a rock band and where smart dress was a lumberjack shirt and box-fresh sneakers.
But yet, there was a warm familiarity and beautiful similarities. There was the same commitment to the living and active Word of God. The same heritage of, and hunger for, engaging, faithful bible teaching. The same desire for people to encounter, and be disrupted, by the glorious gospel of Jesus. And above all, a very familiar warm and infectious love for Jesus that showed itself in a generous and practical love for the Pearce family.
Both Kim and I have never felt so called to a place than we have to Rockingham. God had convicted us to move from our big network church and serve Jesus in a local church. So, we started to pray for an open door into a local church that had an evangelical heritage, was close to a major city and had an ambition to innovate and reach the lost for Jesus. Rockingham ticked all those boxes and after some pretty miraculous answers to prayer, the Archbishop of Perth invited me to be the Rector of the Parish of Rockingham-Safety Bay aka. St Nic’s.
Since my commissioning in February, I have tried to keep my leadership approach simple and faction free; attempting to love people, invoke joy, build trust and see what God is doing in the church and the community. This season has seen my longest week-to-week preaching stint since leaving Bible College. I conducted more funerals in my first month than my entire ordained ministry. I have tried to strengthen the strengths, note the blind spots and identify low hanging missional opportunities; very conscious that I stand on the shoulders of some fine evangelical ministry.
Through it all my prayer has been for God to give me a fresh delight in Jesus that would continually shape me and radiate from my preaching as I embrace God’s people with Christ’s love.
By God’s grace we have seen immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. We have seen joy and warmth envelope a full church each Sunday; with newcomers arriving and staying. We have seen people give their lives to Jesus, had baptisms on the beach and seen a wonderful new boys’ gardening ministry called ‘Sprouts’ start at the local primary school.
One highlight has been a young guy - in his 20s - who came to trust Jesus for the first time recently. Before
arriving at St Nic’s, Murray had never been in a church or opened a bible. On his first visit, someone gave him a bible and told him to start in Matthew and work his way forward. He could not put it down! By Wednesday he was half way through Luke and after a month of questions, listening and wrestling with God’s Word, Murray bowed the knee to Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
Mike McKinley wrote that church planting is for wimps. Well, I don’t know about that, but taking on an existing church you have never even visited is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but one that has given me much joy and a fresh delight in the sovereignty and goodness of our wonderful God.
We are excited to see what God does in Rockingham as we trust Him to build His house and serve our Father as His devoted labourers. What a privilege that is.
Rev Andy Pearce is Rector of the Parish of Rockingham-Safety Bay in WA
Editorial - Summer 2021
- Written by: Chris Porter
To some in the Anglican tradition it would appear that the communion that we hold is strained to a breaking point, indeed perhaps a “break glass” moment. All sorts of fractures and rifts appear to have been revealed—and perhaps even exacerbated by COVID—some of which threaten the identity of the church.
However, at the same time the breadth of our communion presents a distinct theological vision of a redeemed community. Imperfect as it may be. But this is often obscured when observing matters from inside our own churches and environments.
My own approach to Anglicanism came out of a strongly congregationalist movement, which was beset by division and discord—and indeed, ungodly dissent. In contrast the breadth of my initial experience of the Church of England, simultaneously spread between St. Paul’s Cathedral, London and All Souls Langham Place, showed that theological vision. A vision of a breadth of the church, not always in agreement on many items, but determined to reach the City of London with the gospel.
While the clarity of this vision has waxed and waned over my years as a lay and then ordained Anglican, it is still sorely needed. Perhaps even more so in Australia where the breadth of our ecclesiological expression is more heavily separated.
Therefore this edition strives to reflect on the breadth of our church, and the vision it espouses. Chris Swann muses on the question of the disappearing church and the pandemic. Jack Lindsay describes his own journey as an Anglo-Catholic. Pete Greenwood and Breanna Mills highlight new approaches to missional opportunity. Michael Bird considers the often divisive issue of social engagement. Andy Pearce considers his move from a large contemporary church plant in Melbourne to a local church in Perth. The book reviews also consider this, as Rhys Bezzant considers the end of Christendom, Steve Boxwell reviews church planting in Birmingham, and Karen Winsemius reviews the things that make for a redeemed church.
CHRIS PORTER, EDITOR
Essentials - Summer 2021
- Written by: Gavin Perkins
Essentials Spring 2021 pdf (3MB)
Essentials Winter 2021 pdf (3MB)
Essentials Summer 2020 pdf (3MB)
Essentials Spring 2020 pdf (1MB)
Essentials Winter 2020 pdf (1MB)
Essentials Autumn 2020 pdf (4MB)
Essentials Summer 2019 pdf (8MB)
Essentials Spring 2019 pdf (5MB)
Essentials Winter 2019 pdf (5MB)
Essentials Autumn 2019 pdf (5MB)
Essentials Summer 2018 pdf (5MB)
Essentials Spring 2018 pdf (5MB)
Essentials Winter 2018 pdf (5MB)
Book Review: When Narcissism Comes to Church
- Written by: Chris Porter
When narcissism comes to church: healing your community from emotional and spiritual abuse.
IVP: Downer’s Grove, IL., 2020.
"Many pastors get fired, but Driscoll got fired for being an a**hole" So goes the tag line of the recent long form journalistic podcast investigating the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and its pastor Mark Driscoll. However, as emotive as this assertion is, it subtly misses the mark. While Driscoll may embody that trait, the more troubling problem was tied up in a personality trait that our culture slavishly fêtes: narcissism. Often we are too cavalier as we toss this term around and use it for informal diagnoses of all kinds. Nevertheless, narcissism—in its pathological and popular types—is profoundly damaging in personal and social relationships. Yet as the church elevates the humility espoused in Philippians 2 as a model for Christian discipleship it correspondingly seems to ignore the presence of narcissism within its bounds.
Chuck DeGroat's new book When Narcissism Comes to Church speaks into this difficult space. From a wealth of knowledge from twenty years of both practical and academic pastoral and counselling experience, he builds a solid and sobering picture of narcissism within the church, and how the church often fosters such traits within those who minister. It is this experience that also tempers the detached approach and sees narcissism as built upon power, desire, fear, and shame wrapped up in the 'compelling package' (19). Musing 'Could it be that the very men and women who are called to be shepherds of the flock struggle most with narcissism?' (19)
While many books have been written on the good, the bad, and the indifferent of narcissism, this work takes a different tack to many. After a helpful examining of the clinical basics of narcissism, DeGroat casts a wider net by highlighting other forms of narcissism than the traditional 'grandiose' incarnation. By including vulnerable narcissism a richer picture of overt and covert narcissism is built, helpfully leading to an extended discussion on the spectrum of narcissism and its interaction with other clusters of personality traits, addictions, and psychopathologies (39).
Book Review: Unleashed: Stories from All Saints’ Booval
- Written by: Adrian Lane
Arnold, John & Heather Wood (compilers)
Unleashed: Stories from All Saints’ Booval.
JF Arnold Publications, 2021.
John Arnold and Heather Wood have done us a great service by collecting and publishing these twenty-one testimonies from parishioners at All Saints’ Booval, in celebration of the parish’s 125th anniversary. The faith journeys of the contributors had their origin in the period between 1955 and 1965, during the incumbencies of the Rev Colin Ware and his wife Judith and the Rev Don Douglass and his wife Margaret.
Booval is a working class suburb near Ipswich on the western fringes of Brisbane. Members of the parish were employed at the nearby railway workshops, woollen mills and underground coal mines. In many ways these are the stories of ordinary Australians at an ordinary Anglican parish in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Yet this was no ordinary parish, as is evidenced by the extraordinary number of children in the Sunday School and Youth Group, and the extraordinary number of parishioners who went into full time vocational ministry, including service with the Church Missionary Society and Bush Church Aid (seven ordained priests and eleven missionaries). Many lives were extraordinarily transformed. Nor was the parish wealthy or educated. Yet God in His mercy delighted to make “something out of nothing”, enabling vibrant congregational life, evangelism and discipleship, substantial property improvements and even the establishment of a half-way house for residents discharged from the nearby Goodna Mental Hospital, where the parish maintained a long-standing ministry of visitation.
Very few parishes have such a record of sending so many into ministry. Furthermore, there have been few large and dynamic Anglican parishes in working class contexts. It is therefore illuminative and helpful to discern some of the common threads woven through this tapestry: A strong commitment to corporate worship and prayer – and not just on Sundays; a commitment to expository preaching; the promotion and training in daily Bible reading and prayer, using Scripture Union resources; a massive commitment to relational children’s, youth and family ministry; a commitment to systematic gospel outreach, including parish missions; together with a commitment to global mission, evidenced in a strong local Church Missionary Society League of Youth group.