Part I: Inevitable Outcome?
Today most of us are more mindful of the effects of terrorism than we are about atomic bombs. But in the 1950’s, when atomic bombs became real to a world where nations were trying to one-up one another month by month, people devised ways to protect themselves in case of an attack. I remember once talking to my dad at a family gathering, along with uncles and aunts, who told me about their grade school days of diving under desks and covering their heads when a bell sounded.
Fast forward to Father’s Day 2013, when my church handed out little keychain flashlights to all the men as a gift, reminding them to be “lights in the world.” Since we had to order the flashlights in bulk, I got to take one home—and it survived a good 24 hours until it started to flicker like a light in a zombie movie. Fail. I tried a bunch more, but apparently, the combination of cheap factory production and user error did not allow me to shine my light very well.
Epic flashlight fail.
Surprisingly, bombs and flashlights might have more to do with fresh expressions of church than you might think. Those of us experimenting with starting new and different fresh expressions—no matter where we are in the process—are all headed towards becoming one or the other. In my own observation, many new ministries start naturally as sharers of light, but over time, we are led into a default state of becoming bomb shelters: protecting an “US” from what’s going on “OUT THERE,” safe but isolated, and difficult for anyone outside to find. We may actually shield people from experiencing the true Light of the World because we naturally become content to huddle together in the dark with the people with whom we feel safe. However, fresh expressions of church that become flashlight factories not only gather and mix different materials to produce light-giving tools, but they also send them out into the world (John 20:21).
I’ve witnessed that the maintenance and protection of institutions—a.k.a. the bomb shelter model– often become what we gravitate to once we’re established, even in fresh expressions of church. Perhaps the neighborhood teens’ group you started keeps students from attending school-sponsored activities. Maybe the only folks coming to your theology pub are seminary students. Perhaps the ministry has undercurrents of maintaining us verses ‘them.’
It’s a common story of many institutional churches: commission outward slowly reversed to mission coming inward. But it’s time to change that default setting from bomb shelter to flashlight factory.
But that means we have to ask a difficult question: HOW?
Kris Beckert is Communications Associate for Fresh Expressions US and Associate Pastor and Church Planter-in-Residence at Real Life Chapel in Easton, Maryland.
Kris Beckert is Coordinator of Operations for Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Associate Pastor of The Vine, A United Methodist Congregation in Falls Church, Virginia.