Being Modal or Sodal: Fresh Expressions, pioneers and the future

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to wrestle with chapter 1,2 and 3 of my PhD work. Like any journey in this world of academics some days I write a sentence, others a paragraph or some times I just delete what I wrote a day before. One of the challenges is time. When I have other things that crop up and steal time away from reading, thinking and writing. Sometimes I just need to stare out the window for an hour whilst I try to work out how to integrate something I have come across. Being an ENFP I see the world as a big complex puzzle where everything is interconnected (but I’m not analytical so I couldn’t give a stuff about how its interconnected). Today I’m hot desking at Inyathelo in Woodstock so get out of the office and be somewhere different. So as an ENFP I’m going to try and integrate a load of different things I’ve been reading about over the past few weeks. George Lings and bits of Newbigin all in the context of the St John’s Leadership academy which I’ve written about before.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some interactive teaching with the 13 students of the Leadership Academy on Monday afternoon. I set out a little course with readings over 4 weeks on the Missio dei. One of the aims of the Academy is to identify, train and release a new generation of pioneers for the Anglican church. As I look around the room of some exceptional young leaders, as I hear their stories, as I get to know them better I wonder a number of things. Tragically outside of our Parish there are no opportunities for pioneer ministry in the traditional context.More worryingly within our Parish we have a very limited understand of mission shaped ministry and pioneers are going to struggle mostly because some of us are worried about filling our churches and having a new generation of Clergy who will carry on doing more of the same. We use the term pioneer but what does that actually mean? Irediscovered a George Lings article recently on Modality and Sodality which I found very useful.

Picking up some of the work of Ralph Winter George writes a helpful paper (here) on why the ideas of Modality and Sodality are valuable for the future church. Ling (:1) says “understood aright its a wonderful tool which works elegantly with the twinning dynamics of continuity and change that are rooted in Incarnation and Christology.” Modality comes from the word mode which speaks ofthe ways things are, the default position, the prevailing fashion. Sodality comes from the Latin Sodalis which can get translated as comrade, or others words (Comrade is a bit too ANC cadre talk for me) like companion or associate. Sodality can refer to guilds or fraternities…both task orientated by relationally shaped too.

Lings, following Winter, paints a picture of these Modal and Sodal ways of being church throughout Christian history asking pertinently, ‘Anglican’s may care to reflect on the existence of parishes and missionary societies.’ CMS, USPG are Sodal expressions that find their roots in the 18/19th century protestant missionary movement. Interestingly though they tended to plant churches that are predominantly modal.

It’s probably better however not to see Modal or Sodal as diametrically opposed or to see them in binary/dualistic terms pitted against each other but rather on a spectrum or continuum. Essentially Sodality pioneers and Modalist sustains. And this is really what I like about the Lings article. Towards the end of thepaper he speaks of Sodal pioneers being released to do things differently and asks again if we have deployed pioneers properly or simply forced them into the system and expect them to operate in Modal sustainer capacity which eventually will kill them. In conversation with my writing colleague today here at Inyathelo we reflected on how many Sodal/pioneer types leave the church either to plant something new but totally disconnected from church or pioneer something in the NGO sector because the church is ill equipped to contain them. History is replete with examples.

Lings identifies 4 categories (and of course there will be permutations of these) on the continuum. Firstly pioneer starters who are brilliant at initiating things (Revd Annie Kirk is a prime example) – they are phenomenal networkers, have singular gifts at evangelism. They can get bored quickly and need to know when to move on. Secondly are what Lings calls pioneer sustainers (me probably) who have a wide range of gifts and ability to select what is needed. They tend to be genuinely interested in seeing things mature and can enable indigenous leadership to flourish. Thirdly sustainer innovators who may have been trained traditionally in the system but are gifted at bringing new ventures to birth within the church context. Fourthly the sustainer developer those whogifts are primary in inherited modal forms of church but are committed to slow forms of growth over the long haul. Fifthly and finally I include another of my own which I call sustainer resister because its important to acknowledge whilst perhaps few in number there are those for whom any type of genesis or change is to be resisted or proactively challenged.

What is important is to remember that these sit on a continuum. They need each other. But what tends to happen in some Anglican contexts is that they fight each other, dismiss each other and ridicule one another. That is tragic and will result in not only inertia but in calcification and eroding of ecclesial life in the long run.

Below I have drawn a continuum to show nodes of Sodal or Modal engagement or calling but overlaid onto the continuum is a lemniscate (sometimes called an infinity symbol). The lemniscate overlaid on the continuum reveals the way in which there two, perhaps seemingly diametrically opposed positions in fact are interconnected. These two foci of Sodal and Modal in fact have a reciprocity about them. In the best possible scenario the Modal church gives stability, historicity, depth and a picture of the marks of maturity to the Sodal manifestation. Likewise the Sodal church reminds the Modal and inherited form that the call to join God in his mission to the world is not a second step (Moynagh 2012;2017) but a first step. That at DNA of the church is to reach out in and to make its life orientated towards the ‘other’, the outsider those not yet found or embraced.

FullSizeRenderIt would be interesting to me to see where the students in the Leadership academy identity themselves on the spectrum and in conjunction with their own sense of calling, their own self awareness and their own theological and missiological training, how we deploy them in the future. The horizon is endless…


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