Gannon Sims: The Church as surprise

“To encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the church.” So says South African Theologian David Bosh in his magisterial work: Transforming Mission. Bosh notes that the Japanese character for ‘crisis’ is a combination of the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. So, in his estimation, crisis is not the end of opportunity but the beginning.

Statistics indicate that the average church attendance in the United States is about 18 percent.  The emerging generation is largely indifferent to matters of faith.  The word evangelical has been co-opted by both extremes of the political spectrum.   And we—the Church—have before us a dangerous opportunity.

The opportunity is that we might recognize our role as a sending Church in the service of a sending God. God the Father sent God the Son across the boundary between heaven and earth. God the Father and the Son sent God the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the places where earth and heaven meet. And God sends people to do his work. We, the Church, are a visible representation of this holy mystery.

This is the Missio-Dei. Bosch puts a fine point on this when he says that “it is not the Church of God who has a mission in the world. It is the mission of God who has a Church in the world.”

We are God’s transforming agents. And we face a dangerous opportunity. Thankfully, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we know CPR. If that comes as a surprise to some of us, it’s okay. Ivan Illich defines missiology as “the study of Church as surprise.” Sometimes we are used to breathe life into the places we least expect.

In our conversations around the country, we’re often asked what sorts of programming local churches should institute to bring about the work of Fresh Expressions. And our answer often catches them by surprise. The work of Fresh Expressions is not as much a program as it is participation in the life happening all around us.

We take our relationship with God wherever we go and the same should be true for our relationship with the local church. So where do you live, work and play? Where are the people you want to meet but haven’t? The sending God who inaugurated the sending Church might just want to send (and use) you there.

As you go, chances are you’ll be surprised at the people you meet, the relationships that form and the community that develops.

Gannon Sims serves as Director of Communications for Fresh Expressions, US. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia where he works to bring Fresh Expressions of church to the collegiate community at University of Mary Washington.

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Gannon Sims

Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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