Do you feel called to the pastoral ministry rather than to start new types of church? If so, your pastoral gifts may be exactly what fresh expressions of church need.
Most likely you are not the right person to start new Christian communities in the daily lives of your congregation. That’s because you are not with your church members through the week.
What you can do is support your lay people as they pioneer something new.
You can be a sounding board, an encourager, a source of probing questions, a warning voice, and an advocate for what they are doing, especially to others in your church who do not understand.
Pioneers often feel fragile. They are trying something new, risking failure and feeling anxious. If they are “ahead of the curve” they may feel misunderstood or unappreciated.
What they need is a pastor.
A good pastor who understands them, sympathize with the ups and downs of the task, and provide a listening ear.
In particular, pioneers often make an identity journey. God may use their unease with existing church to call them on a journey of faith, like Abraham. Over time they “break free” of their view of “church.” Along the way, the Spirit leads them on a path to a new view of themselves.
Instead of just being a member of an existing congregation, they begin to see themselves as the founder of a new gathering. Perhaps they start to identify with others who are starting new expressions of church. As they do so, they travel away from existing church.
But paradoxically, many also crave affirmation from the church they are psychologically leaving. They want reassurance that what they are doing is acceptable, and they won’t be rejected.
Good pastors can step in here. Ministers can use their pastoral gifts to understand the hesitancies and tensions involved in this identity journey, and offer much-needed support.
In other words, you do not have to be a pioneer yourself. You can be a pastor to those who are. Your care and backing can release those in your congregation who feel called to start a fresh expression.
Might you go further? Where practical, might you offer to be a pastor to these new communities? Might you be a referral person for individuals with pastoral needs? Might you visit from time to time, and as you get to know the community care for some of its members?
To encourage fresh expressions of church, you don’t need to be a gifted change agent, nor gifted in up-front leadership, nor have pioneering experience. All you need are the gifts to encourage others to have a go, to gently and wisely hold them to account, and to let them come up with the answers.
Rev’d Dr. Michael Moynagh is theological consultant to Fresh Expressions UK. His new book, Being Church, Doing Life: creating gospel communities where life happens, has just been published in the United States.