Phil Marsh, mission and ministry development officer in Ely diocese, shares his experiences of the Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) journey and the transformation it can bring.
I first got involved with PMC 10 years ago, when Nigel Rooms (Partnership for Missional Church leader at CMS) introduced it to Southwell and Nottingham diocese. Our church was invited to be part of the very first cluster.
I’ve been involved since then as a church leader and as a facilitator, and leading the team working with a cluster of churches in Ely diocese.
I was looking for something different. I was burned out by ministry, by being the service provider, the events manager, the coordinator. Despite having a really collaborative ministry and wanting to raise up a team of lay folk, I just found it like pushing water uphill. And I was figuring there had to be a different way of helping congregations to engage in ministry.
PMC offered a framework that would enable me to lead the congregation in the exploration of rethinking their missional culture without having to put the frame in place as well. It married up with where I was in my thinking and how I was seeking to lead. This isn’t an off-the-shelf programme in a book, this is about building a community of mission-mindedness.
“I don’t know what it will look like”
Everybody wanted to know what it was going to look like in five years’ time. And all the time I was saying, “Well, I don’t really know. Because this is about what God is doing and how God is leading us.”
Three things helped me through that. One was the PMC people leading us as a group of spiritual leaders. They invested in us both at the cluster weekends and in between – checking in and reflecting with us on what was going on. That relational element was key.
The second was the spiritual practices of PMC. They were steadying and centring. They don’t just help us organise the congregation to do reflective and discerning work, they’re also personal spiritual practices.
And the third is the impact I saw on individuals within the congregation. I saw people become much more outward looking. I saw their confidence build and grow.
I saw formation happening in members of the congregation far more than after any sermon I had ever preached or any other course or activity we had undertaken. It wasn’t all done and dusted, but I realised they would be transformed for the rest of their Christian lives. And that seemed worth investing in. Sure, I could put time and energy into getting another project off the ground, but when I leave, those things stop. This work, formed in hearts and minds, remains.
People challenged their normal activities and thought about the impact beyond themselves. It transformed their decision-making – not just coming to decisions based on argument or persuasion, but having a sense of conviction because God is involved.
I saw people transformed in their lives as well. One individual, when we started the process and were looking for “people of peace”, recognised quite openly that he didn’t have a very wide social circle. But after three or four years involved in PMC, he ended up organising social events because he wanted something he could bring his mates along to.
So somehow in the midst of it, he learned how to build relationship with others.
Shifting the focus
For some, the locus of their sense of mission moved from, “I help the church with its missional activity,” to seeing mission happening among their colleagues or with neighbours and friends. And people really began to have a sense of being involved in God’s mission in the places where they lived and worked. That was the biggest shift, away from, “I am here to help the church with its mission,” towards, “I am actively involved in mission every day of my life.”
It’s broadened my imagination on where and how and in whom God works. It’s changed how I view Christian leadership. I’ve become convicted of the need for us to learn how to build capacity in congregations.
It’s changed my leadership away from needing to be involved in everything to trusting people to work stuff out themselves. And having appropriate spaces for them to reflect and learn and grow.
It’s about discipleship growing in the midst of doing and trying and experimenting. And my role is not necessarily making events happen, but rather to nurture and enable people, and to be okay with the fact that it isn’t always pristine or the way I’d envisage it to be. But that becomes a learning space for people.
I just haven’t seen anything else that has had the same transformational impact on individuals and in congregations. PMC offers a scalability and capacity as well. Because you cease to be dependent upon a few people driving things.
This will help you discern for yourselves the activity of God in your local context – and how God is calling you as a church very specifically at this time in this place to act and engage with his mission in the world.
Find out more about PMC and how your church could get involved at churchmissionsociety.org/pmc