Learning to Start Fresh Expressions of Church (Mission-Shaped Ministry Course)

There is clear evidence these days that one of the most effective forms of evangelism in contemporary North America is church planting. More people come to faith in Christ through new churches than through long-established churches.

So how do you begin a new Christian community where none exists at present and where there is little or no “Christian memory” to help it get jump-started in the community?  After all, it is no longer the case that “If you build it, they will come.”

These days, in order to begin a new Christian community these days, you need to start much “further back” than was the case fifty years ago. But what does “further back” mean?

The process often seems to happen like this:

(a)    Try to discern what God is doing in your community: look, listen, pray

(b)   Build relationships, meet whatever needs you can

(c)    Encourage natural, relational evangelism

(d)   Offer discussion groups or Bible studies or Christianity 101 for those who are interested

(e)    As people come to faith and are baptized, start a Eucharistic community.

This is not a formal “system” (these things by their nature resist systematization) and events do not usually unfold as neatly as this implies.

But this outline does show that a process is involved, and that growth from tiny beginnings into a mature church takes time—maybe several years. It’s like human growth: embryos can’t do most of the things that mature adults can do. However, unless a human being goes through the embryo stage, they will never become a mature adult. For that reason, nobody criticizes an embryo for not being on facebook.

But how do we learn in practice to do this new, post-Christendom kind of church planting? This September, Wycliffe College in Toronto is for the second time offering the course, Mission Shaped Ministry. Here’s the basic information:

1.      What is this course?

 Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) is an eight-month (September to April) ministry-based, practical orientation to church planting and fresh expressions of church. It is adapted for Canada from the materials developed by Fresh Expressions UK.

2.      Who is it for?

MSM is primarily for teams (ideally, lay and ordained together) who are thinking and praying about the possibility of pioneering a fresh expression of church, as well as for those who are already involved in one. Over the eight months, the course will enable you to take practical steps forward towards the realization and growth of that vision.

The course is also suitable for senior church leaders (equippers and encouragers—“permission givers”) who can check it out, and then encourage others to take the course and to become involved in pioneering ministries.

3.      The teaching

Connie denBok

The lead teacher is the Rev Dr. Connie denBok. Connie is a pastor in the United Church of Canada, has herself planted three churches, and is an outstanding teacher who taught Mission-Shaped Ministry last year. Connie has an extensive network of church planting friends in different denominations and of varying ethnicities, who will be helping with the course at different points.

  4.      The dates

The course runs from September till April. The schedule involves nine Thursdays (7.00-9.00) and two Saturdays (9.30-4.30) at Wycliffe College, and a residential weekend to be held at the Mount St Mary retreat centre in Ancaster, outside Hamilton, ON. The exact dates for the coming year are these:

Saturday Sept. 17

Thursday evening Sept. 29

Thursday evening Oct. 13

Thursday evening Nov. 3

Thursday evening Nov. 17

Thursday evening Dec. 1

Thursday evening Jan. 12

Weekend of January 27-29 (not January 20-22, as previously posted)

Thursday evening Feb. 16

Thursday evening Mar. 1

Thursday evening Mar. 15

Saturday Mar. 24

5.      Distance learning

The first time we ran MSM we had groups of distance learners from points as far apart as Edmonton, Fredericton and Barbados! So you will be glad to know it is perfectly possible for a team or group to participate from a distance.

The way it will work is this: Each classroom session will be videoed and (within a couple of days) uploaded to a website. You will then be able to download the session and watch it at a time to suit yourselves at any point during the following week. Then, one week after each classroom session, Connie or another member of the MSM Canada team will be available for live interaction by phone, to discuss the content and to answer questions.

Important proviso: As you will see from the schedule above, a residential weekend is part of the course. If you are within driving distance of Toronto, we will expect you to attend the weekend in person. If distance makes this impossible, we will figure out with you the most worthwhile way for you to access the content of the weekend.

6.      Cost

For those attending the classes live at Wycliffe College, the cost is $295 for the eight months. The cost of the residential weekend is a further $200.

Since MSM works best with teams, we will be offering a special rate of $245 for each person who comes as a member of a team, a saving of almost 20% over the normal rate! (The residential weekend, of course, still costs $200.)

For those watching the classes on video from a distance, the cost for the whole course is $195.

If you attended the course last year, and are returning this year with a team, you can take the course for free! Please indicate this on the registration form.

7.      Registration

The registration form with details of how to pay, can be found here.

8.      What if I am a student at TST?

(TST is the Toronto School of Theology and comprises seven federated seminaries—Wycliffe, Trinity, Emmanuel, Knox, Regis, St Michael’s and St. Augustine’s.)

It is possible to take this course for credit towards your Master’s degree. See information, see the TST website here or contact me, John Bowen, at john.bowen@utoronto.ca for further information.

John Bowen



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