Posted by: rogermitchell | June 2, 2011

Time for action

I firmly believe that we are coming to a new time for concerted action by the ecclesia. In this next season we will need to stand in a new place of intercession on behalf of the world, not so much in prayer and mindset change as in previous times, but in new kinds of political action. In order to facilitate this, new tribes of disciples need to form. On no account, of course, should these repeat or reformulate inwardly gathered expressions of church, networks, ministry organisations and the like. While recognising this we must avoid arrogant “we know better” attitudes towards the existing expressions of church. Nonetheless it is increasingly obvious that intentional, relational connections of friends are needed to encourage and support the repositioned ecclesia as it stands in the place of need for the world.

As I see it there are three main orientations of the ecclesia that these new tribes will draw from. On the one hand are those extraordinary people who are exiles, deliberately or accidentally, outside all recognised expressions of church, and are the ecclesia of Jesus being sown throughout the spheres of society and joining hands with all sons and daughters of peace for the blessing of humanity. On the other hand there are those still embedded in shapes of church hemmed in by hierarchical structures that are still formed by and legitimate the fallen political powers of the West, which in my view include expressions of church from Catholic to Evangelical, Pentecostal to Charismatic, house church to cell church. Among them are good folk who despite their situation are deep down longing to follow the Spirit and testimony of Jesus wherever they lead. In the middle, overlapping both, are those who have friends in both situations and are determined to go all the way to liberation with the exiles yet at the same time subvert and reposition as much of the captive ecclesia as possible.

I am expecting informal learning circles to spring up for a while in strategic places where the love-politics of Jesus can be contemplated and implemented among all three groups of people and by means of which the tribes will form. Alongside these, new ways of learning can be developed to encompass people not yet in any conscious process of faith and discipleship with the intention of giving space to the radical testimony and Spirit of Jesus to work in genuinely new ways and give rise to a spreading wildfire of new spiritual and political activity. I am sensing that God is doing at least two things at the same time. The Spirit is connecting some people with facilitative leadership gifts who can help the formation of the new politics while guarding each other from defaulting to any old hierarchical attitudes. Secondly, the Spirit is joining together some of these complementary personalities and gifts with those looking for facilitative help as they get on with creative and kenarchic activity in the arts, education, social care, the challenges of the environment, agriculture, economics, business and so forth.

My good friend Andy Knox is beginning to see ways in which such tribal developments might then convocate in exciting and different ways in different parts of Europe at various times in the coming few years in order to lend a deeper dimension to all this which would be as inclusive and collaborative as possible within the interests of mutual support, and provide a space for families and youth to meet up together in the radical presence of God. I can see similar initiatives forming across other continents, Africa in particular, and sense that a new configuration of the ecclesia will spring up in this way all around the Mediterranean basin and its hinterland.

If this makes any sense to you, please do one or two things! Correct, nuance, challenge and adapt these ideas by commenting on this post, and then encourage other people to connect with and respond to the content of this blog using whatever forms of social networking and publicising you like. Currently I only blog and tweet. If you want to copy any of this to Facebook or wherever, please go ahead.



  1. I sensed a new season too. I will be interested to see where it leads, and will mull on this some more. I have posted the first couple of sentences and a link to this site on my facebook page

    • Thanks for passing this forward, I’ll look out for the feedback.

  2. Over the last few years I have sensed this shift in my own journey.I have been making new and exciting connections that I would never have thought possible .Meeting with and working with folk who are in all of the categories you mention above.
    Seeking to work together across these will not be easy as there are positions that have been formed over a long period of time and will not shift easily.I don’t want be in the position of causing any difficulties for folk still in the “church” but I think this comes from my calling to be a peacemaker.

  3. I think the clue will be to focus on the new kinds of loving politics that unite us. Some folk may misunderstand, but I have been positively surprised by the lack of negativity, controversy and nastiness in response to any stuff on this blog over the 19 months of its existence despite the many thousands of visitors. So I am hopeful of understanding and interest on the part of those, like you, motivated to action, and a healthy silence from those not.

  4. Okay Roger – I’ve mulled on this one for a couple of days. I have to say I’m kind of confused. Sorry. I’m confused because the title is “time for action”. I saw that and thought ‘okay, time to go’. In light of my depression over the latest news on the environment (2 degree C will be almost impossible now and we are heading to 4 degrees C by the end of the century, food prices to double in the next 20 years but we all know it will go faster) I was ready to be poked and prodded and given wisdom on how to move. But no, this is all about what the church will look like in the future. “Learning circles”? That sounds like another form of house church to me. What prevents ‘learning circles’ from becoming the next ’emerging’ church scenario? I realize humans are social animals and organization and communal support are important but how is this different from the old ecclesia? What would make it different? What do we do – leap off of that boat when the imperialistic forms and spirit come in as we know they will?

    So I feel like I must have missed something. Sure, people will have varied degrees of commitment to the existing church for a number of reasons. Some will be clear-eyed on that and many will not. But so what? I’m not sure where that leaves us. People have always had varied degrees of commitment and involvement in imperial-invaded ecclesia. That’s nothing new. And a varied amount of clear, non-deceptive, honest appraisal of the situation is also nothing new.

    So, so, so. What is the Spirit doing here? Where and how are we being led in this critical time? Humans are not going to pull through on this one without an incredible amount of divine input either in terms of how we live with one another or in terms of how we approach a totally devastated planet (we really do need a million, million miracles on this one). So, so, so? What is the action called for here, in this context, in this moment? I’m to put my time and energy (both limited) into a ‘learning circle’? I don’t know Roger – it doesn’t get my heart going in excitement. In fact, it just adds to my depression at the moment. I’m sure there is action out there that is needful and desperately so – I’m not convinced about a new type (?) of church structure. Tell me what I missed, please.

  5. Thanks for this Cheryl. As ever, great food for thought. But I think you partly missed the purpose of the mobilisation, collaboration and mutual support that I am looking for here. May be your experience of past shapes and forms of church has been so stultifying and soul destroying that any suggestion of a new interconnectedness drowns out the sound of radical political action. The purpose of the previous posts on kenarchy and katargesis has been to sketch out the general area of activity that now needs to be grounded in real projects and strategies. This is all I meant by referring to some kind of learning circles in strategic places where the love-politics of Jesus can be contemplated and implemented.

    I know from past experience when one person comes up with a plan of radical action that isn’t corporately prepared and owned it is neither sufficiently comprehensive in scope nor attractive in its expression for it to get off the drawing board. I’m trying to learn from my own bad practice here. So it will take time to get moving, but I believe that the Holy Spirit will lead many new and sustainable intiatives into his wind.

  6. Okay, I think I get your intent here. But I still have questions. How is this going to be different from the radical silence and potlical/social action of say the Quakers? Or of some branches of the Catholic church with liberation theology and the option for the poor? Or some mainstream churches like the United Church here in Canada that deal with all sorts of social/political issues. Or on the other side of the political spectrum, from the conservative evangelicals in the States who are advancing all sorts of new restrictions on women through anti-abortion laws, and even pushing anti-contraception laws? The church loves political involvement – isn’t that part of the imperial spirit? So the difference here is doing it out of another spirit? Yes? But what does that look like? How will it be understood to be different?

    You are right – I’ve been involved with the charismatic/evangelical arms of the church since the 70’s. I’m tired of them. I feel weary just thinking about them. I am tired of all the worship stuff that has nothing to do with God at all but is relentlessly pushed on congregations. I’m weary of the underlying political/social issues and attempts to influence the culture (oh, evangelism first and foremost so we can create an army of disciples to change the world). And yes, no matter how we resist (are we even resisting?) it seems to get hijacked by imperial forms and structures.

    I do think we are in a new moment if for no reason that the old ways of doing things are literally killing us. I do think the Spirit is up to something so radical we cannot even imagine it – or I hope S/he is. I absolutely appreciate all your amazing work and wish you the best as you hit the finish line . . . but, but, but, I am hungry for something more. In fact I am starving for something more. I’ve tried so many times, thought that somehow things were finally moving, and then realized I was being offered fast food, junk food, or worse, baby food (you know, the seeker-friendly church style). So I am very, very hungry at this moment. I look around at all the young people I teach of every nationality, every religion, and worry about their futures. I know my generation is guilty of abandoning their children in the worst way possible – by stealing their future for today’s comfort (of mind through denial, of body).

    So okay, if the next step is learning circles – fine. At some point though we really have to step out. Leap out. Take a leap. Or something. I vision all sorts of people engaged in the work of restoring this planet. The work combines actual physical labour – cleaning up waste sites, restoring waterways, planting broccoli to remove toxins from soil, whatever, while at the same time healing the planet with prayer. Healing the oceans from acidification (that will kill us if nothing else), removing CO2 from the air, making deserts bloom, restoring species killed off through lack of habitat. I’m still trying to figure out if I have the faith to believe that God can and might restore the 500 mountains leveled in the USA for coal mining. That’s a big one. All of that good work requires prayer and physical engagement. It requires communities committed together to restoration of the planet and of all life.

    So yes, where are the co-workers, the believers ready to test their faith with prayer to remove pharmaceuticals from streams, to farm organically, to train up the next generation in how to live rightly with the rest of the planet? I’m ready to meet those folks. I’m ready to commit to whatever the Spirit wants of us. The work ahead is huge – we need a very, very large vision and an even larger God.

  7. Thanks for working away at this Cheryl. Yes, as I’ve been saying several times a day for the last three days, as I take the opportunity to download Jesus’ radical politics here in Turin, this is a huge challenge. To make the children, the creation, the poor, the exposure and confrontation of the powers and the publicising of the radical gospel our goal and responsibility as the ecclesia is overwhelming. But thank God there are many already immersed in these issues, children of peace and children of God. We are not starting from scratch.

    However if I did not believe that the Holy Spirit has been restored to the ecclesia for exactly this task I would not be on this trajectory. If I did not believe that the prayer movement, for all its limitations and sometimes ridiculous mindsets, is actually resourcing and initiating this moment I would not expect success. And if I did not hear the prophetic voice, often muted, misguided and misinterpreted, announcing a new day, I would not be so abounding in hope. And yes, if I did not believe that despite the irrelevance and triumphalism of so many worship songs, some were penned for such a time as this I would be dying inside. But I do believe and I do hear and sometimes I do sing and yes despite so much I am still abounding in hope.

  8. I think you have answered some of your own questions Cheryl, in your visions of what people will be doing. We need to see how we can be part of the healing of the land, but I also see how we can be a part of the healing of the structures that make living together work. Spirit led Christians moving out into the sphere of the gates that Martin Scott talks about, education, arts, business, family and community, health and science, media and politics – impacting, transforming and healing as they go.

    I am guessing in some ways much of this will be unseen until a tipping point is reached and suddenly a transformation occurs, rather like the bursting of bubbles in reverse.

  9. In further thought I realize that one of the biggest issues facing us is the reconnection of the physical and the spiritual to each other as exemplified in Jesus. There is no way to bring healing to any structure, to people, to the land, to other species, unless we can do so fully connected in the physical and spiritual realms. I don’t know what that looks like other than that it looks like Jesus. He was a carpenter who knew hard physical labour. He hiked and walked everywhere. He ate, drank and enjoyed parties. He could take a nap in a boat and then calm the storm with a word. He could comment on meal preparations but also produce loaves and fishes when food supplies were limited.

    We tend to want to go at things either physically (with a bit of prayer maybe) or ‘spiritually’, ie. pray about an issue that really doesn’t or can’t physically engage us. I don’t really know how a shift looks but I think if people are going to move forward on this and have any real effect in the gates, in society, or whever they are led, then we have to get this down. We have to begin to walk in a new way and that involves fundamentally a rejection of the split between heaven and earth, between the physical and spiritual.

    Roger’s suggestion of communal support in this shift is great but it means that people, if they are actually going to experience support, have to at least be heading the same direction on all of this. I think one of my points of depression is that in my own household, a Christian one, in an environmental house/landscape we appear not to be heading in the same direction and there is a lack of support between us. In other words, I know exactly how difficult this is going to be. We may link up with folks who use all the right words but are actually acting as obstacles to the process. I don’t have any real answers to that either but the issue is real.

    For me, I am trying to find the people who inspire me. I think of Bill McKibbon and James Hansen. I am reading James Hansen’s book, Storms of my Grandchildren, right now. Not an easy read for a number of reasons but here is a man who was the top climate scientist at NASA who at age 70 is so convinced about the need for action that he has placed his body on the front lines. He has now been arrested a number of times protesting mountain top removal, along with Wendall Berry (another Christian) who must be in his 80’s now. I want to have their courage even if I don’t even hit the streets in protest. In fact, at the moment I find it takes courage just to keep reading and to stay informed. I know way too many people, my age and older, who have decided they can’t bear to know what’s happening which becomes a lovely excuse to just go on doing what they are doing in their priviliged lives. Denial is an amazing thing and we humans have such a huge capacity for it.

    So I will keep my eyes and hears open to the Spirit. I’m looking for connections, for people who are also working to live in the body and the Spirit at the same time, to bring heaven and earth together. Who want to act as a whole in order to engage with and bring healing to this planet and those on it.

  10. I think your point about holding together the spiritual and the material like Jesus did and the incarnation is clearly all about is a crucial one. I agree 100%.

  11. If I have understood Roger correctly he is beginning to address my biggest problem, which is now that we understand the impact of empire, what do we do next? This is a particularly interesting question for me going to that rather odd institutional church, called the Church of England, created to be part of empire and now so broad in the beliefs of its membership that you can find anyone from left to right wing and charismatic to liberal or even nominal. Yet I know there are a reasonable number of people in my branch of the C of E who would respond positively to the “anti-empire” message I find here. And it is inevitable that many people who will begin to respond are in what we now call church, just as Jesus and his disciples and early followers went to synagogues and the Temple.
    So perhaps it’s inevitable that, Roger’s “call to arms” feels muted because he doesn’t want to recreate the same old church structure but something more radical. And in modern times we have at least one example of something similar, in the charismatic movement that began in the 60’s. This has affected most church structures to some degree and enabled links across structures and also out into the new structures of the house churches. As a result I feel no contradiction in having regularly worshiped in at least 5 different types of church over the years and could easily end up in another if I have to move to another town. The common factor is Jesus and the Holy Spirit; and the networks created across structures over the last 40 years or so seem like good routes for God to subvert and reposition as Roger suggests. I have more faith in this sort of movement than some new organisation and is much more in keeping with our technologically networked age, with technology making it easier to exchange ideas etc with those in the middle or the “exiles”. Is it too much to suggest an “Ecclesia Spring” after the fashion of the so-called “Arab Spring” but with very different methods and motivation? Or have I, in my very basic struggles to understand Roger, missed something?

  12. Mmmm.. I like the idea of an Ecclesia Spring if by it we mean a new eschatological breakthrough coming in consummation of three generations of Holy Spirit visitation at last. I would put it in parallel with the Arab Spring and pray and work for a genuine connection between the two. I think that could help an Ecclesia Spring push right on into the fulness of Jesus love-politics and help the Arab Spring not to be hijacked by the empires of either Western capital or Islam. On the subject of the Anglican Church I’m impressed by Archbish Rowan’s risk-taking courage in guest editing the New Statesman this week. The brief preview on twitter tonight suggests that he is doing some of the undermining of sovereign power that my latest blog advocates.

  13. It is interesting you mention networking, Paul, as I remember reading one article that talked about how todays generations of gaming entrepreneurs are more likely to network and support their competitors because it makes the gaming scene more interesting than for one person to dominate because they have the knowledge to beat the others. It would be interesting to see how that kind of collaborative approach would play out in society.

    It is difficult to know how to move forward but I don’t think that is cause for concern as the space we create as we move forward will enable those behind us to disseminate more clearly the route. I see it a bit like the way we are managing our woodland, first of all there is the undergrowth to clear, the stuff that ensnares and holds us back, only then can we begin to see clearly what needs to stay and what needs to go, cutting down even healthy trees in the process of leaving a healthier woodland, that has space and light enough to grow. At the moment we are at the stage of clearing the undergrowth, it is difficult to see what is happening, what the picture is but the space created will enable us or others in the future to make the decisions and see what needs doing. Hope that makes sense

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