Andrew Vertigan on a new partnership

Monday, 23 September, 2013

Andrew Vertigan discusses the exciting challenges of his new role as Salvation Army Missioner for Fresh Expressions, how the church has got is wrong and how he is looking forward to putting new things in front of the Salvation Army and encouraging them towards mission.

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Transcript

Andrew Vertigan: The Salvation Army, as you'll all be aware, has partnered with Fresh Expressions. As part of that they have asked me to work closely as a Missioner.

What does that mean? Well, it means lots of things – primarily learning about fresh expressions but it also means trying to communicate that to The Salvation Army. What does that mean for us as an agency, as a church, as a denomination? How do we go about doing new things? What can we learn from each other?

Primarily it's about putting new things in front of our denomination and encouraging them towards mission. The Salvation Army needs to look at new ways of being church and it has been doing so for the last 20 years in that we recognise, today, church and society have had a bigger disconnect than ever before.

We too... have found that disconnect but we are now trying to find new ways of connecting once more with local communities and with people. Therefore, for me, Fresh Expressions makes total sense. It gives me permission; it gives us permission to do new things no matter what, where or how. And I'm inspired by the whole fresh expressions' movement; there are great stories of community transformation, of lives transformed. The question I would say is, 'Well, why on earth wouldn't The Salvation Army be part of this?'

The DNA of The Salvation Army, that which we were birthed in the Holy Spirit, was mission. We were called to communities to transform people's lives with the good news. As we - as The Salvation Army - move forward in the UK in the years to come, we've got to recognise that we face massive challenges; that is that people see us as a Victorian institution that is dated. We aren't – but we have our role to play. That is, we've got to move forward; we have to bring about change. If we believe in change in community, we have to believe in change in our own organisation. We need to recognise that's what we are about.

We are about serving broken humanity, we are about suffering people, we are about bringing healing, we are about souls and their transformation. We believe in a gospel that's full in Christ, that Christ came to redeem brokenness – that's who we are, that's the message of The Salvation Army. It isn't tambourines, brass bands; there is far more to who we are.

To be church today, we do face the challenge of how we go about reaching people. The challenge is also there that people may not want to come to us; the message from the UK church – across traditions and denominations - has been, 'Come to us' for too many years whereas fresh expressions is about, 'Can I come to you? Can I meet with you? How can we journey together?' And then not, 'Come back with me' but 'I stay out there with you'. As I look at the gospel in Jesus he went to people, he didn't expect them to keep coming to himself.

And I think we've got it wrong. I'd be brave enough to say that, I think the church has got it wrong. We have expected them to come and sit in our wooden pews, or in our Salvation Army citadels, and listen to what we say. Today's society doesn't want to hear my words, they want to see my actions; they want to see if this Christ is real. They want to see how he can bring about something of meaning and purpose; that's going to happen on the rugby field for me, in the street, working, alongside people. It's all about relationship.

When I have encountered people, and we have had faith conversations, it's been in loads of different places. You may not be aware but I used to play rugby and refereed rugby at high level and I had more faith conversations linked to rugby than probably linked to church. People just ask me, 'Why? How? What?'

I was also a brickie (a bricklayer) and I still teach people how to brick lay today in schools in the work we do and I have more conversations there. For me, it's really interesting because I seem to have more conversations about Christ in the world than I do when I'm dressed in my Salvation Army uniform, in the pulpit, on a Sunday – and, to be honest, they already know the message. That's why I'm out there.

(And for me) as I look at the challenges facing The Salvation Army – and we do have massive challenges - our social institutions used to be about, 'We love these people because Jesus loved them.' We've got legislation changes now that tie our hands – we're not the only ones. We get young people through our doors; our children's work is brilliant but how do we hold them when they're 18-25?

I'm thankful to God that where we're ministering right now in very much a new expression, a fresh expression of church, we are holding them and now they're going into ministry themselves. That, for me, makes life worthwhile.

Comments

There is nothing new about getting out on the streets and meeting people where they are. Jesus did it and surely if Gods word is being preached fromthe pulpit, those who hear the word shpuld do the same. Living the truth is fundamental to our 'being Church'. WE are church, not the building - the living body of Christ inthe world today. Just as the word became flesh inChrist so too, the Word, Christ Jesus, desires to become flesh in us.

Where I think you should be careful is in aligning yourself with the heresies of many who see themselves as leaders in the Emerging Church. You only have to check out the things that Bishop John Shelby Spong to see how the devil has infiltrated the movement.
I was therefore dissapointed at the answer given onyour own web site to the question 'What is the difference between fresh expressions and emerging church?' Watch out - there's a roaring lion about.

In terms of theology or understanding of mission, there is no fundamental difference. Those who prefer the phrase fresh expressions and those who prefer the phrase emerging church are both seeking to develop new ways of being church that are culturally and contextually relevant. There is a very high degree of commonality in the values of fresh expressions and emerging church.

I love reading about how people are getting in touch with others outside the church, but I would like to balance this out a little bit. After a major breakdown in 1986/87 as a Christian I spent five years recovering outside the church because the church did not know how to minister to me or help me. It was from this tragic situation that Focus supports groups were developed and as founder for five years I ran a project for the marginalized. It was very evident that the people I helped could not go straight into a church, so Focus became the stepping stone. Focus groups are down to earth and relevant to those who were broken. Many came including addicts, and the mentally ill. It worked. They came. Just a more humane, loving, accepting non-judgmental environment. Something the church should be but sadly isn't. There is no room in the church for broken people, because they are disruptive, smelly, different, scary. Equally, church people need teaching on this area. I set up a drama for that purpose and have offered a Focus presentation to help churches understand why Focus groups are important. Because from that stepping stone integration into the body of Christ is possible. While the project ran in Cambridge it won two awards but unfortunately I could not get the support I wanted in the church to keep it going so after five years I stopped the project. Fear in Christians was a big problem. Unless we teach and show Christians about their own self indulgent life style that they must not only repent from but have a fear of God more than fear of man, it will not change.

Firstly a brief word of thanks to Billy Cowgill for introducing me to Bishop John Selby Spong. Its so encouraging to find another thinker who can shake up the narrow mindset of much of the evangelical world. Jesus was a heretic and if Spong is a heretic its just a matter of perspective. We should listen to the man before taking cheap shots at our brother http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=92yp1u0yfl4

Alongside Rob Bell, Hugh Halter, Michael Frost and many others Bishop Spong has much to say that we should listen to and allow God to use to change us by the renewing of our mind. Its challenging just because these guys are 100 progressive questions further on that we are. Start asking questions (seeking truth) and its highly likely anyone will journey to a similar place.

On the subject of Fresh Expressions, I am pleased to discover that The Salvation Army is tentatively exploring new ways of doing things but I am conscious that most significant changes always come from the ground up.

As a shepherd in a Salvation Army congregation that has transitioned light years from the norm, I would say that this has to be about more than practices and methodologies if it is going to make a difference.

There has to be a change of attitude / mindset before there will be any real impact. There has to be a re-framing of what it means to be good news people if its not just going to be another form of attractional evangelicalism. Let's stop trying to save the church and start trying to BE kingdom minded change agents outside the Christian bubble where every day life matters to God. When we have worked that out we will be able to shepherd others out of the pen to find new pastures.

Go for it Andrew!!

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