Saturday, 27 July 2013

Leaders Notes

Rural Mission Solutions has started writing up Leaders Notes based on the typical sessions taken at some of the mission consultations.  You can find these by visiting and following the links.  The intention is to complete these chapters as quickly as possible and add supportive videos.

Check out the other posts in this blog by using the links on the right hand side.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Why Tailored Mission Strategies?

This blog is about Christian mission but the concept is best illustrated if we start by thinking about how we choose and purchase clothes.

You can find lots of choice in stores these days and if you shop at supermarkets you should be able to find something that is right for you at a good price.  It might even fit fairly well.  Of course if you went down the route of bespoke tailoring someone would work with you to produce something that you feel good in and something that is a perfect fit everywhere.  The downside of that is that it will cost more.  But if you are someone who goes for bespoke tailoring you know how much better that is.

Let's get back to the subject of Christian mission.  There are a whole range of mission programmes on the shelves including social action programmes and evangelistic programmes.  Shop around and you will find something that will seem helpful for your church at this time.  I would be happy to give you some pointers if that's the route you want to take.  But imagine if you could develop a mission programme specifically tailored to your church and location.  Now imagine that this can be achieved for a very modest outlay.

What are the main advantages?

Here are just a few of the benefits...
  • It maximises the engagement of the whole core congregation;
  • It creates a strong sense of local "ownership" so your members will not feel that something has been imposed on them;
  • It enables confidence in mission engagement;
  • It works in any Christian tradition;
  • It can be developed whatever the theological position;
  • It can be tailored to fit a church of any size;
  • A stress-free way to become more missional;
  • It develops Christian discipleship and a sense of awareness of each member sharing in God's mission;
  • It will be relevant for your local community.
Take a look around this blog to find out more about taking a tailored approach to developing localised mission strategies.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Theology of Tailored Missions

Most Christian leaders - and most thoughtful Christians - are aware that God is a God of mission.  It is known as the missio dei.  God has a purpose that relates to his world in which we live.  All Christians are called to share in that purpose in some way.  There are a few things that stand in the way of this being fully realised.

"Church" is the context in which we not only enjoy fellowship and engage in worship, it should also be the place where individual gifts are recognised, and where they can be developed.  It should also provide the context in which they are being deployed.  However, there are scores of things that take up our time and other resources within church life so that mission is pushed down the agenda.  Many of these are valid activities, so we are often doing what we ought to do but at the expense of the one thing we should be doing.

Passages such as 1Corinthians 12 that speaks about the "body of Christ", Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 make us aware that there is considerable diversity when it comes to the gifts and roles given to various Christians.  Helping people to recognise their gifting, or how their gifting has developed or changed can be demanding of our time.  Most rural church leaders are already overloaded with work so if this task depends on them it might not get done.

If we do go down this road of affirming gifts and roles could there be a danger of things getting out of control?  Yes if we are not prepared to manage the process properly.  But dare we let the Holy Spirit really work in our congregations to release more ministry?

Discovering how the different gifts work together is another challenge.  If it is true that God has a unique purpose for every individual Christian within his mission then it follows that every local church is a combination of these uniquely enabled Christians.  If the sovereignty that bestowed these gifts also put them together in a local church then this also has a purpose - a unique collective purpose for every individual church in God's plans.

Our starting point for developing tailored mission strategies must therefore be to discern what God has put together and how the various parts complement one another in a common aim.

See additional theological reflection below.

Taking the First Step

Even where the theology and principles of tailored mission strategies are understood, making it happen is something else.  This is where some specialist and experienced outside help will be required.  Tailored Mission Strategies has been developed by Rural Mission Solutions led by Barry Osborne.  Barry is an ordained minister within the Congregational Federation and has a life time of working with rural churches of all kinds of denominations in all kinds of settlements across Britain.

In addition to his theological training and many years of pastoral leadership he also has secular management qualifications and experience, having been a director of a number of small companies and charities.  He has taught rural mission modules in a number of theological colleges and is the author of books on rural mission.  He is part of the Churches Rural Group (part of Churches Together in England), administers the national Rural Evangelism Network and is a regular contributor to Country Way magazine.  Within the Congregational Federation he heads up the Inter-Church Board responsible for ecumenical relations.

Any church that is interested in developing tailored mission strategies has the opportunity of either having Barry's help or that of someone trained by him.

Barry says that working with local churches to develop tailored mission strategies is also like teaching someone to ride a bicycle.  They need to get on the bike or they will never learn.  They might need advice on ensuring that the structures are right (saddle and handlebar height), they might need advice on where to set their vision and how to maintain balance.  Most of all they need support to start off with so running alongside for a while might be helpful.  But as soon as possible they should manage on their own, while prepared for the odd  hiccup!

Incidentally, Rural Mission Solutions do not charge for any of their resources and time.  Travel costs and accommodation (if necessary) do need to be covered.

To get started give Barry a call on 01858-414930 or  He will arrange a no-obligation initial visit to you.  If you are happy to proceed beyond that the next step will probably be an away day for as many of your core congregation as possible.

An Away Day Programme

When it comes to developing Tailored Mission Strategies it is probably best to plan two Away Days about a month or two apart.  Events organised by Rural Mission Solutions are carefully organised and sensitively led with the aim of making them enjoyable experiences.  They are interactive and will combine times for individual quiet reflection as well as working with small groups of friends. It is really important that, if at all possible, 100% of your regular congregation come on the Away Day.  The reason for this is not only that it makes the day more effective but it also ensures a greater sense of ownership of the outcomes.  After all it will be your members who will be doing the tailoring.

Rural Mission Solutions combines pastoral sensitivity, an understanding of rural community and church life, and contemporary management skills.  All of these are subject to theological reflection, for unless the Lord builds the house we will labour in vain.

The key to effectiveness in this process is keeping it flexible.  The process itself is as important as the outcomes it produces, and has often proved to be spiritually enriching.  However there are some basic elements that are worked through and which are outlined below.

The venue needs to be reasonably close.  It is possible to do it on church premises (e.g. a church hall) but often a change of scenery is helpful.  Small conference centres or another host church might be available to you.  You will need to ensure that any children can be looked after so having a suitable team from another church to run a programme for them at the same time is ideal.  Coffee on arrival, a light lunch, and some afternoon tea will need to be provided.  Avoid any of this having to be done by your church members as we want them to be fully available.

If only a half day can be managed then it will need to start at 9.00am and conclude with lunch.  A full day usually starts at 10.00 and concludes in time for departures at 4.00pm.

Each session starts with an appropriate Bible reading and brief reflection so that the whole day is grounded in scripture.  Often the first session will begin with a slightly longer act of worship, and the day will end with worship before the final refreshments. Here is a brief description of some of the elements:

What is mission?
The purpose of the session is to ensure that there is a common understanding of different elements of mission (including evangelism).  A series of interactive elements help the participants to relax, laugh, and to reflect on this important issue.  We have yet to find a congregation that has a common, clear and concise understanding of mission.  The processes in this session enable everyone to contribute confidently without embarrassment.

Where does mission fit in?
This is a group activity called organisational mapping.  They will be working in small groups in a two-step simple exercise.  This is not a long session but will produce some highly visual results and identify some of the key questions that the church members will have to tackle later in the day.

Understanding our patch
This is another interactive group session exploring the nature of the local community, its people groups, life-style, social activities, cultural norms, etc.  This also involves various forms of 'mapping'.  Against the outcomes we will also plot the presence of the church within the community.

Understanding the resources
In this session we will be looking at the church's resources, especially the people.  We will look at who is on the team, their natural abilities, life experience, and spiritual gifting.  Once more it is interactive with some small groups leading into a plenary session.  The results are carefully cross-checked as we seek to understand how God can use just who we are.

What is God Saying?
All too often we come up with great ideas and then ask God to bless them.  This is a highly reflective session as we see if we can discern what God is saying and doing, and perhaps understand why he is doing/saying these things.  This too is fed into the mix and we explore together how this relates to previous sessions.  This is often one of the most exciting elements.

Putting it Together & Managing Change
A number of organisational and marketing tools are employed in this session including a specially adapted form of 'SWOT Analysis', explore image issues, and work together to create the tailored strategies everything else has been leading to.  As we do so it will become obvious that change is inevitable.  What will have to change, and how that change will be managed requires careful consideration.

After the Away Days

The Away Day or the two Away Days should result in a clearer understanding of your church's unique part in God's mission and how to make use of the resources God has already provided for this.  Thereafter it will be the responsibility of those in leadership to ensure that the tailored mission strategy or strategies is or are taken forward.  Some churches are able to continue the journey unaided but you will not be abandoned.

Support remains available to you via email and telephone over the following months and next few years.  It is always advisable to create an opportunity for reviewing your progress in six months and a year after the Away Days.  The review should be organised so that everyone in the church can contribute.

If the process has been carried out properly there will be changes and hopefully growth within the life of your church.  At some stage a simplified version of what was undertaken on the Away Days will need to be undertaken taking account of these changes.  It is up to you whether you undertake this on your own, drawing on previous experience, or whether you invite Rural Mission Solutions to provide a facilitator.

God has already provided you with all you need to do what he is asking you to do right now.  In a healthy church nothing stands still so the process of reviewing and refining strategies should continue into the future.  One thing is for certain: you are very unlikely to use "off the peg" strategies after you have learned how to tailor mission strategies to suit and fit your church.

Let us know how we can help you.

Rural Mission Solutions
Centre for Rural Mission
4 Clarence Street
Market Harborough
LE16 7NE


God's Part - Our Part (theological reflection)

For many years I had a strong emphasis on the part that God plays in evangelism.  Texts such as "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord" (Zechariah 4:6) were commonly quoted.  I am now inclined more to believe that we far too frequently ask God to do for us what he is wanting us to do for him.  That is not to say that we should engage in evangelism, or any other aspect of mission, relying only in our own ability. The Holy Spirit's anointing on our efforts is vital, and there are elements that are entirely down to God.  However, what God expects of us is well worth exploring.

Have you ever wondered exactly what the parable of the minas (Luke 19) is about?  A man has ten servants to whom he entrusts one mina each. He tells them to put what he has entrusted to them to work but leaves to their judgement how to do that.  In other words he delegates responsibility and autonomy.  On his return each servant has to give account for how he has acted on the instructions.  We read of two whose mina has made a substantial profit.  They are rewarded.  Then one man comes who has kept the mina safe for fear of failure.  He is judged for his failure to follow the instruction given and so suffers loss.  The aspect of delegated autonomy is interesting.

In Luke 16 we read of a parable Jesus told about a shrewd manager (Greek: oikonomos).  Oikonomos is a word that commonly describes a household manager employed by a wealthy person, but the Bible also uses it in to describe a senior civil servant - possibly a city treasurer (Romans 16:23-24).  In other words, someone managing resources that are not his own.  Management always implies delegated responsibility, delegated autonomy, and ultimate accountability.  In the Bible passage the manager is fired for inefficiency.  He uses his autonomy to reduce amounts owned to his master so that he gains favour with the debtors.  In the process he probably helped his employer's cash flow.  His master comments that if he had shown such initiative sooner he would not have been fired.  Once more it is about autonomy.

Paul uses the word oikonomos relating to his own ministry role, the role of local church elders, and the ministry of the gospel.  In connection with his own ministry Paul states in ! Corinthians 4:2 that it is required [of an oikonomos] that he is found faithful.  That is that he demonstrates that he is worthy of the trust shown by the one who delegated the responsibility and autonomy.

If as Christians, called into discipleship and mission, we perceive this as a trust from God, and that we have autonomy, then we need to apply ourselves to the task in as professional way as possible.  To what extent are poor outcomes, church decline and weakness in mission the consequences of our failure as managers of the tasks in hand?  Are we crying out to God to do for us that which we have failed to do for him?

When I undertook a university course in management it shed light upon my own theology of mission.  The work of Rural Mission Solutions and particularly the process of developing Tailored Mission Strategies grew out of that.  My management training had an emphasis on regenerating failing businesses by employing the right strategies.  I had not realised it at the time and had enrolled on the course to improve administrative skills.  However, it has proved incredibly appropriate and helpful.

We cannot succeed without God but can do better if we learn to manage properly.  Can we help you in your work?

Barry Osborne

Centre for Rural Mission
4 Clarence Street
LE 16 7NE