In 2009, I moved to Austin ready to give up my dreams of being a part of a fresh expression of church. I had given a few years to helping with a church plant and a multi-site mega-church. Both were difficult experiences emotionally, spiritually and financially. It was hard to know if any fruit had come from these efforts.
The problem that had sent me looking for fresh expressions of church remained. My experience had primarily been in churches dedicated to the now passed context of the 1960s Bible Belt. I desperately wanted to see the church make sense in the world in which I lived.
This wasn’t an issue of “relevance” or “contextualization.” For me, it was a matter of faith. If Jesus is who the church says he is and the Church really is the people of God, then the people of God should always be able to communicate this in her host culture.
My first three months in Austin were dedicated to visiting churches. Eventually, I found one that seemed to be a truly “Austin” church. I found a job in retail and made myself available to be the church’s super-volunteer.
For three years, I served in a fresh expression of church, until recently, a small group of us were sent out to start a new one. Over that time, I learned what works in our city and witnessed first-hand the difficulty of keeping things fresh.
It wasn’t always easy. There were at least five sacrifices I had to make in order to be a part of a fresh expression.
1. Sacrifice your desire to be in charge.
For years I had been on church staff or running ministries. I was there to learn. This meant I had to follow their lead. Admittedly, having a few good failures under my belt made this easier. Still, I had to wrestle with my ego and learn to be satisfied with following another’s lead.
2. Sacrifice your personal taste.
This church was dedicated to creating environments and sounds that fit in amongst Austin’s night club and independent music scene. A lot of this I liked, some of it I didn’t understand or enjoy. But all of it felt like Austin.
3. Sacrifice your theological and ecclesiological hobby horses.
Often, we claim to choose our churches based on “what they believe” or if they “teach the Word.” This fresh expression of church was orthodox and generally similar to my ideals. But that doesn’t mean I agreed with everything. In fact, there were moments that made me squirm. Sacrificing my pet beliefs was not fun, but it was necessary in order to learn from people who are different from me.
4. Sacrifice your time table.
Once I had become integrated into this church, I had hopes and dreams for what it might become. Some of those things are coming true, but it’s taken longer than I would have liked. A fresh expression is by nature too young to have a clear approach to decision making. This means really good things will happen, but there’s no forcing the timetable.
5. Sacrifice your metrics.
When I joined this fresh expression of church, I was hoping to accomplish certain things. In my mind, the church would grow to a certain size. It would have so many converts and offer specific services to the neighborhood. These were good ideas. But that doesn’t mean they were what the people of God needed to be in our time and place. It’s foolish to have no metrics at all, but they should be held with an open hand and a willingness to reevaluate in light of context in which you find yourself.
After almost four years as part of on fresh expression of church, I was sent out to start another fresh expression on the other side of town. What I didn’t expect was how comfortable I had become.
Each day, I find myself making these sacrifices again. This is okay. This sacrifice is what it’s all about.
And it’s worth any cost to become a fresh expression of church in our neighborhood.
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.