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Rev Dr Robert McFarlane and Rev Beth Nicholls are on the Mission Shaped Ministry team. Photo by Holly Jewell.
Rev Dr Robert McFarlane and Rev Beth Nicholls are on the Mission Shaped Ministry team. Photo: Holly Jewell

Thinking outside the square

What might communities of faith shaped by contemporary culture look like? Dianne Jensen reports on the Queensland launch of Mission Shaped Ministry.

Fresh Expressions is the trademark concept of Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) and it means exactly that—creating new faith communities in non-traditional settings and re-imagining the shape of the contemporary church.

The ecumenical program originated in the United Kingdom and will be piloted in Brisbane by the Uniting Church presbyteries of Moreton Rivers and South Moreton with a six-month course commencing in April.

South Moreton Presbytery Mission project officer Rev Beth Nicholls says that the initiative will provide a framework for congregations to think creatively about new and different approaches to mission.

“There are a lot of people in our synod who have been doing Fresh Expressions-type things for ages, but this is a way of helping our churches to get their head around the process and to think outside the square … MSM will help us to re-imagine church and to have a go at being a church that connects with non-members.”

Beth says that the course will help churches evaluate the effectiveness of their ministry and whether they are meeting their mission goals.

“We are coming to the pointy end—while some of our churches are growing, many are in maintenance mode or are declining. Are we content to meet just the people who are coming through our doors at present, or are we called to make disciples in a broader context? I think God calls us to do more.”

Rev Dr Robert McFarlane, the new mission and education officer for the Moreton Rivers Presbytery, says that congregations often want to do things differently, but simply don’t know how.

“The thing that will make the MSM course most effective is if the minister and some key lay leaders do it together. It’s not going to work if it’s just a couple of people going away and reporting back to church council—it’s got to be focussed on what is going to transform the congregation and that means getting shared leadership between lay and ordained and a shared language so that people can talk about their hopes.”

Reshaping local ministry through the lens of mission helps congregations move beyond simply maintaining traditional structures, he says, especially where current models are not sustainable.

“This is not about attracting people to church, but engaging them—inviting people into an opportunity to have a transformational experience. And for churches to invite people to be transformed, they themselves have to be open to transformation.”

For more information visit msmqld.com or call 07 3366 0236.

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