Incarnational church planting starts with listening, says bishop

Discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the key to contextual and incarnational church planting, says the leader of Fresh Expressions.

Bishop Graham Cray told church planters at the Mission21 conference in Bath on Wednesday that the church had to be willing to embody the Gospel where people are and suggested that the church move from a strategic planning era to a ‘discernment in context’ era, noting that the future had become “too unpredictable for the predetermined parameters once provided by long range planning”.

“It all begins with listening. It is discernment, the capacity to engage with the Spirit that is the vital thing,” he said.

“Churches must always be willing to die to their own cultural comforts in order to live where God intends them to be.

“It is inherent in the church planting process we pay the price so that they can find Jesus in such a way that in His name they can be transformed where they are rather than be culturally suited to come back to where we were.”

|QUOTE|Fresh Expressions is an initiative of the Church of England and Methodist Church to encourage new ways of doing church in today’s changing culture.

Bishop Cray cited the findings of recent research on church attendance by Tearfund, which found that the non or never churched formed the largest proportion of the adult mission field in England – around one third of the adult population.

“The biggest group of people we have to reach largely don’t know the story and have had no connection consistently with any church of any denomination in their lifetime and it is hugely difficult for cradle Christians to get their heads around that,” he said.

Pointing to the example of Peter evangelising Cornelius, Bishop Cray said the Spirit was the “great connector” bringing the evangelist to the people prepared in advance by God.

The long-term challenge, he added, was to see more incarnational church planting among the non-churched and listen to the Spirit, rather than “clone” existing church models.

“A society that doesn’t really have a future to believe in needs to see an imperfect one embodied locally,” he said.

“That’s what the Spirit of God comes to do and will do through us if we take the blinkers off our imaginations, follow where He goes, to what He has prepared.

“You can only do this sort of discernment incarnationally. You can only do it by entering the world of those who have begun to be called and listen to the Spirit as you help them to find Christ there.”