What about mission-shaped schools?

Ever heard of an “Ideation Director”? or an “Integration Synchronicity Specialist”? These are the names marketing directors and systems engineers go by in some companies. Maybe you’ve heard people joke about garbage collectors called “Public Sanitation Collectors” or cleaners called “Office Hygiene Control Specialists”.

It makes me wonder.

Does changing the name given to a role or task change the way it is done?

No doubt someone somewhere has done a PhD on this

I remember Sunday Schools name changing to Children’s Church in Anglican churches 15 or so years ago. Did the name change alter the content or approach? In some places possibly, but I suspect the change was cosmetic in most.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.

If the church has been saying that schools are missional places for the last fifteen years, has that changed the nature of the ministry done within them?

Before we explore this, a little history…

In 1998 the General Synod of the Church or England declared as part of a resolution that “Church schools stand at the centre of the Church’s mission to the nation.”

This resolution led to an investigation into Church of England Schools which produced the report titled “The Way Ahead”, sometimes referred to as the Dearing Report. This report sought to spell out the nature of schools and mission. Featured were a whole raft of recommendations including that schools be distinctively Christian, in close partnership with their local worshipping community and employ more Christian teachers and leaders.

This renewed focus on schools as a part of the mission of the church was not really surprising.

The church as a whole had slowly been recognising and responding to a new reality: Christendom was gone and new approaches for connecting with the community were needed. That schools, as part of the church, should also come under this kind of scrutiny was to be expected. In effect the church needed to ask the question: Why are we running schools?

The answer to this was always going to have something to do with the God’s mission in the world.

Of course it is not surprising that Dearing had a significant impact on the Anglican Church in Australia as well and in particular the thinking of Bishops with schools in their Dioceses. It wasn’t long after its release that new vision and mission statements began to emerge around the country. If you go back through the last fifteen years of Anglican Schools Australia Conference keynotes you can find plenty of talk of the new missional emphasis.

Which brings us to the original question, slightly reworded: Has the identification of Anglican schools as places for mission changed what has happened within them?

We know that schools are mission spaces but have we moved into mission mode?

I think the answer is both yes and no.

Yes there are new missional things happenings. But no, there hasn’t been a broad missional movement. Let me unpack this.

On the ‘no’ side of things I think that schools have embraced the idea that they are mission spaces. They recognise that many students are non-Christians and have, even before the new mission emphasis came into full swing, tried to communicate with their students in effective and inspiring ways. With Dioceses outlining what they want schools to do in mission and vision statements, there is much that is happening in more focused and intentional ways. An argument could be made that much of this is what was or should have been happening all along.

No doubt some people would say Anglican schools have always been missional because of the large number of non-Christians within them but I think that would be like saying the church has always been missional because they operate in a secular world. It is true and not true. Just because you name something as such doesn’t mean it reflects reality. The landscape has changed and the church is responding, are schools responding in similar ways?

In a 2006 Church Times article reflecting on the mission-shaped church movement,  Canon John Hall suggested, “ it is more about doing new things or the existing things differently than about seeing the opportunity in doing the existing things really well.”

Is anything new happening in Anglican Schools or are the same things just being done with more intention and vigour?

I suspect that in the last fifteen years much existing ministry has been done really well but there has been relatively little that is new or done differently.

It is interesting to note that John Hall’s article was called: Forget churches — what about a mission-shaped school?

It’s also ironic that in a period when numerous books were written around the theme “mission shaped” no book titled “Mission Shaped School” was written. If you type “mission shaped school” into Google eight hits are listed. If you type “mission shaped church” there are 22 000. Doesn’t this say something?

I think it suggests little intentional thought has been put into imagining different missional approaches or new missional activities in schools.

Most Anglican Schools still major in the same four activities – chaplain, chapel, religious education and service.

I am not questioning the importance of these. I think we do them really well in many places. Australia has brilliant and dedicated chaplains and religious educators and service learning professionals. But is this all there is?

No. There is more emerging and even more on the horizon.

On the ‘yes’ side, while the imagining of different missional approaches and futures in Anglican Schools may not have been widespread, new missional activities are happening anyway. All over the country and in many different places.

Just as it has been a slow process for parishes to shift to mission mode this is also the case for schools. But it is happening.

This can be seen in all kinds of experiments that are broadening the Christian mission of the school and moving it into new and exciting territory.

I see it happening in the emergence of community chaplains whose focus is on the wider school community including parents and the local community.

I see it in the emergence of mission and ministry teams in schools who share a common vision and mission which expands beyond what has been possible for solo chaplains.

I see it in the development of congregations planted within school communities.

And I see it in the slow emergence of Directors of Mission, lay and ordained, who oversee the mission and ministry strategy of their school.

What do you see? Have Anglican Schools moved into mission mode? What would a mission shaped school look like?

Stephen Harrison Written by:

Stephen has a passion for exploring mission and ministry. He has worked for the Anglican Church for the last twenty years mostly in the area of youth and children’s ministry. In this time he has worked for two churches, two Anglican schools, as a university chaplain and for the Brisbane Diocese as the Youth, Children’s and Families Officer. Currently he is the Director of Mission for the Anglican Schools Commission. He has degrees in Science, Theology, Community Welfare, Education and has completed a Doctorate in Ministry, focused on the church’s mission in Anglican schools.

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