The Affiliation Conversation

We thought it would be helpful to put a number of resources around this conversation in the same place, for easy reference. The most recent resources appear first.

April 2024 – FAQs

Why are we naming Salt & Light specifically in the “alternative proposal”?

The “alternative proposal” we’re putting to the church on Wednesday contains this point:

We acknowledge the breadth of opinion on church networks which has emerged over the recent process, but positively affirm the desire of a significant number of WCCers to connect more closely with the Salt & Light network. Where people choose to do so, they do it with our blessing, as is the case with any who connect and interact with other church networks.

The question has been raised of why we included the reference to connecting with Salt & Light in addition to mentioning “any who connect with other church networks”. If (as we now expect) the church votes not to affiliate to Salt & Light, there is a range of ways in which that vote could be interpreted. At one end would be, “we feel positively about Salt & Light, but don’t want to affiliate”; at the other end might be, “we have grave concerns about Salt & Light, to the point where we are uncomfortable with people relating to them”. If we don’t clarify this further, there will undoubtedly be interpretations across that whole spectrum, and subsequently discontent from a good number of people as to how we relate to Salt & Light going forward.

This is not a trivial matter: our young people have just been on a youth camp run by Salt & Light; Caroline and Al are received as leaders in the network, and at the time of Al’s appointment the church leadership enthusiastically endorsed his request to continue to receive mentoring from the network; Gordon chairs the board of one of their mercy ministries; two of our church have just got to the end of a nine-month course run through Salt & Light – and there are other looser connections too. If as a church we cannot bless people connecting with the church network where our pastor was trained and where he is currently mentored, and are at odds with our leadership team sending their children to their youth camp and chairing their charities, we have a significant problem that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. It seems both wise and wholly necessary to draw this out in our “alternative proposal”. We don’t anticipate this second motion failing, but if it did, WCC would be in the very serious position of needing to think hard about whether Al could continue as pastor and Gordon as a church leader, as well as needing to reassess a range of our activities for adults and young people.

March 2024 – FAQs (with downloads)

What is meant by the “Advance” bit of “Salt & Light Advance”?

We have generally talked about “Salt & Light” during the affiliation discussion, however if we were to affiliate, we would actually be joining “Salt & Light Advance”.

Salt & Light is an international family of churches, spanning four continents. It operates as a “family of families”, with local expressions in different nations which have their own indigenous leadership but share the same values. In the UK, there are two such expressions: one (Momentum) based in Sheffield and the other (Advance) based in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wales. Our relational connections and geographic location make it logical to look at joining the Advance group.

A word that is often used to describe these “families within Salt & Light” is “spheres” – so you might sometimes hear mention of the “Advance sphere”.

What is the process for adoption, and what queries have been raised about it?

So far, the focus of our discussions has been around exploring different church networks, and asking probing questions in order to determine which one would be a best fit for us. The coming weeks are a time for us to decide whether we want to “approach”enter orbit” around Salt & Light, more intentionally exploring whether we want to connect formally.

However, the relationship is of course a two-way one! The other side of it is that, if we vote to “orbit” on April 24th, the leadership of Salt & Light Advance will want to get to know us too, and probably to ask us some questions! This is a really positive step – some of our main aims in looking at affiliation relate to having meaningful oversight, accountability and input from external sources who really know us. As we’ve highlighted, this wouldn’t be starting from scratch by any means, as we already have extensive connections with S&L – however, there would be a more intentional engagement, and I hope we would want to approach that process with the same humility that S&L have shown in engaging with us.

S&L describe this process in relational terms – there’s an introduction phase (which happened 10+ years back), then a friendship phase (currently ongoing). Next is a “pre-adoption phase”, in which both sides are intentional about getting to know each other, and exploring what it might look like to relate. This phase would normally be measured in months. Lastly, if both parties are willing, there would be a more formal joining.

This process is laid out in a document called, “Adopting churches into the family”, which can be downloaded below. It is worth saying that while it is publicly available on their website, the document was written for internal use by S&L teams – as a result, terminology is not explained and the document takes a number of things for granted. A particular concern has been raised about one phrase: namely, that S&L leaders should keep an eye out for “unwillingness from leaders to lead the church into new truths or practices”. At a Trustees’ meeting, concerns were raised about what is meant by “new truths”, so we approached Steve Thomas, who oversaw the team that produced the document. His response is included verbatim below:

I think this is a very fair question, and feel that your trustees are absolutely right to exercise due diligence! Clearly the scripture is still our plumbline and guide, and therefore any “new truths and practices” have to be weighed in the light of scripture. This is all a question of culture and attitude, really. Some churches are very stuck in their historic and traditional ways of looking at things, and are most unlikely to be willing to change treasured positions and perspectives.
We in Salt & Light feel very much called to be an apostolic movement, akin to the Acts of the Apostles in terms of being led by the Holy Spirit, being gospel-centred and finding new ways of expressing the good news of Jesus, and following prophetic direction. The apostolic, while being a call to build strong and dynamic churches, is a commitment to pioneering and extension ministries, which involved boldness to move with God, “follow the cloud”, and be unashamedly experimental! The apostles learnt as they went along, had to examine their commitments, and redefine in some ways how they went about gospel-centred ministry. We definitely don’t want to “trade in” precious truths about God or the gospel, but we may be living in some old truths about church practices and ways of doing things that need re-examination for really advancing the gospel in today’s world. It’s a bold adventure, but vital at the same time.

Al adds:

For me, the key section of that response is towards the end: “we definitely don’t want to ‘trade in’ precious truths about God or the gospel, but we may be living in some old truths about church practices and ways of doing things that need re-examining for really advancing the gospel in today’s world.” This has certainly been my experience of S&L over twenty-odd years now: having previously volunteered for a year in a church where (no joke) there was a church meeting required to decide whether to move the piano to the other side of the hall, I’ve really appreciated being in a setting where there’s a keenness to ask, “Why do we structure Sunday mornings like that?”, “Could our small groups be more evangelistic?”, or “Are there things about our meeting style that prevent ethnic minorities from sticking with us?” The push for change has been in culture and practice (not doctrine), and almost always motivated by seeking to be more effective in mission.

As with many evangelical churches of all persuasions, S&L leaders have had to swim against the tide to hold to biblical faithfulness on a range of issues, and between them they mostly take that as read – it’s enough to say (as they do earlier in the document) that churches must have clear, biblical foundations. This document was intended for use by S&L leaders, so they don’t lay all of that out explicitly – if it had been intended for the public domain, I am sure that more attention would have been given to explaining those turns of phrase more fully.

What would this mean for how women and men lead together in WCC?

There would be no immediate or direct change to our current practice. However, there would be some boundaries around future changes we might look to make to our church leadership structure. This is covered fully in the church forum video, starting at 46:49.

Salt & Light talk about “apostolic ministry” – what do they mean by this?

Having looked carefully at what is and is not meant by S&L’s use of the word “apostolic”, the leadership are happy that the substance of what is being offered is good and desirable, while acknowledging that some will maintain a personal conviction that the term “apostolic” is not intended to describe that ministry.

We discussed the S&L usage of the term apostolic quite extensively in the church forum – the relevant part of the recording starts at 1:02:11.

As part of our investigation of what Salt & Light means by apostleship / apostolic ministry, we asked ten questions of them and received back a very thoughtful and considered set of answers, which can be downloaded below. For a more detailed look at the theology and outworking of this kind of ministry in churches, you may want to read the booklet “Unity in Diversity” by Steve Thomas, former leader of the Salt & Light international team – you can download the full PDF below, or read a short excerpt that he has published as a blog post.

Would joining Salt & Light “make us more charismatic”?

We talked about this in some detail at the church forum – the relevant section of the video starts at 1:10:43. Some points in particular are worth drawing out:

  • It’s worth establishing what we mean by “charismatic” – are we thinking about a style of worship, an emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit in worship, or perhaps some of the ways in which those two came together at the end of the last century in movements such as the “Toronto blessing”? Salt & Light break their use of the term into four areas: Living in the Spirit, Building the church, Seeking the Kingdom, and Focusing on mission. You can read more about those points here.
  • We state in our vision & values that we want to be a people “guided and equipped by the Holy Spirit”. That remains our aim going forward.
  • We already live in mutual submission to one another on this, and desire to keep doing so. All of us make concessions in how we worship on a Sunday, in order to serve and love the church. This is in keeping with the Scriptures! (e.g. Romans 15)
  • Our stated aims in seeking affiliation is not to shape our Sunday culture or our theology – it is relationship, accountability and informed input. Of course, this is not to say that nothing will ever change as a result of that relationship – but shaping Sunday culture and theology are not the aim.

Would joining Salt & Light affect our church governance?

The simple answer is “no”. We have discussed before now that our current setup of membership voting has its strengths and weaknesses, and has at times proved problematic – however that is a separate conversation unrelated to affiliation.

The Salt & Light family includes a church with a congregationalist baptist setup, and would not require us to move away from that governance model.

We discuss this in more detail in the church forum – the relevant section starts at 1:15:52.

March 2024 – Church Forum video, audio, & slides

Here’s the video from the church forum. Other than cutting out the 5-minute break, it’s exactly what was presented at the forum, with no edits. You may want to click the “watch on YouTube” button on the video so you can save your place as you watch, and return to it later.

Part 1 – history & context
Part 2a – leadership proposal
Part 2b – four big questions
Part 3 – Q&A

February 2024 – How & why should we explore affiliation – videos & accompanying resources

Gordon, Tim and Al explain why we’re exploring connection with a church network and how we’re going to land the discussion in the coming months.

The timeline and explanation for how we’re landing the affiliation discussion in the coming months. Also a helpful 2023 reflection from a WCC member on the topic of fasting.

February 2022 – What matters to us in exploring affiliation – survey

These are the results of the survey from early 2022. You can click the picture to see a larger view of the image.

Additional priorities suggested by respondents were (most frequent first) “accountability for leadership”, “combined events” and “credibility for those seeking a church”.

January 2022 – We’re revisiting the affiliation conversation – video

A video from January 2022, explaining that we’re revisiting the conversation around affiliation.