Messy Church NZ . . . . Where to from here?

Welcome to Debbie’s blog.

This is a space where I will be sharing some of the key stuff that’s going on in shaping the future of messy church here in NZ.
There’s a lot happening, far too much to cover in one blog. My intention is that about every two months I will keep you up to date.
In the meantime I welcome your feedback and comment. These are exciting times and with the launch of this new website I want to emphasise that it is here to serve you in the ministry God has called you to. My hope is that together we can network and support each other, sharing stories and resources and in listening to God’s heartbeat for messy church.
An exciting development for me is that an ecumenical Board of Governance for messy church NZ is now forming. These are key leaders. The main purpose of the Board will be to shape the future of messy church in NZ and a group to whom I can be accountable in my national role.

Debbie’s blog April 2015
Spending time with Lucy during her visit to NZ last year our conversations raised the questions:
• Do messy church teams need to be released from other responsibilities in order to invest fully in messy church?
• Is messy church recognised as a congregation in its own right, or is it just seen as an optional extra to ‘normal’ church?
• What is the best way of building on the usual once a month pattern of messy church in order to be intentional in growing disciples?
• How is the messy church team nurtured?
• Are messy churches staying on track with the core values of hospitality, creativity, all-age and celebration?
• Are we truly inter-generational in our monthly programme, or does the default position tend to focus solely on children?
Within a year of running the messy church we launched in Christchurch back in 2008 we recognised the need to release the messy church team from other responsibilities. This was particularly apparent in relation to the usual children’s church. Some of the team ended up with a foot in two camps, serving messy church and also maintaining the Sunday morning children’s church. Realistically, we couldn’t do both!
At the church where we served we inherited what was known as Sunday School. For some years the number of children attending had dwindled to a handful. Their attendance was spasmodic. In addition we struggled to maintain a Sunday School roster of leaders. Our children’s ministry was in danger of being relegated to ‘keeping the children occupied’ with someone minding them for the allocated time. In contrast, a large number of children attended our messy church on a regular basis. Within the messy church environment they flourished. In our Sunday school the church had grown accustomed to a ‘provider-client’ mentality, with the Sunday school leader understood to be the ‘expert’ from whom the children should learn. In messy church the children engaged in a different way. Within a very short time it was clear that they were flourishing in this environment. They began to pray in profound and creative ways. They grew as young leaders taking on responsibilities. Many invited their friends to messy church and began to nurture them, witnessing to the love of Jesus.
One of the precious moments I encountered was when one of our 82 year old church members said to me, ‘Debbie I’ve learnt something new about Jesus today from a two year old’.
I am always inspired by such stories and reminded that Jesus taught all ages together. He didn’t segregate people into age groups. There are occasions when people need age-appropriate learning, but a community where everyone comes together enriches the church in a profound way.
Young families often say to me: ‘My children find ‘normal’ church boring so we stopped coming.’ ‘I am always tense trying to keep the children still and quiet.’ ‘Getting my kids ready and the family organised in time for Sunday morning church is just too hard.’ ‘In a busy week and where family time is scarce we want to do other things and the children are just involved in so much.’
During Lucy’s visit we met with Bishop Justin from Wellington. It was a lively and challenging discussion. Bishop Justin helped us focus and go deeper into the key issues some of us have been grappling with for some time. Bishop Justin’s encouragement and support for messy church is evident. One of the things we discussed was the possibility of messy church teams being released from other responsibilities to have time and energy to invest fully in messy church, both in nurturing the team in their discipleship and with the messy church families in their congregations.
We pondered, ‘What if messy church teams were to take the bold step of treating their messy church not as a ministry to take or leave alongside ‘real church’, but rather as a church plant in its own right? What impact might that have?’
Without wanting to create panic I am not encouraging people to leave usual Sunday church or just to drop everything and run. However, I find myself wondering how your church minister would respond to your being released from other responsibilities? Could it be that messy church might become your main spiritual resource and discipline and that you go along to Sunday church only occasionally? In this way we could throw our heart and soul, our energy, our priorities into our messy churches with the same vigour as we have thrown our lot into traditional church up to now.
I recognise that this is bold stuff, but if messy church is going to fly it needs people who are passionate and have ‘burned their bridges’. When pioneer ministries don’t go the distance, it’s often because of a lack of recognition and support. messy church needs teams of people at their core who are ‘nothing but-ers’ that is, not propping up structures that maybe aren’t working anymore.
As Bishop Justin said: ‘A church doesn’t need to kill off messy church if it doesn’t approve of it; it merely has to quietly suffocate it through lack of support and encouragement. messy church will die off over time if teams try to respond to needs in both traditional church and messy church. Teams will then never be released to invest fully in messy church and it will remain as an optional extra.’

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