One of the things that I love most about the fresh expressions movement is that it is not overly complicated.
While there is a deep theology and ecclesiology behind it, the principles and practices are relatively simple.
However, for much of our collective Christian memory, Christianity has been normative. So, despite the simplicity of the Fresh Expressions approach, we often begin by paying extra attention to learn what it means for the church to have a missionary posture.
Our hope is that thousands of congregations of various sizes will embark on a mission journey. Along the way the “inherited congregation” (an existing congregation that passes on the riches of the gospel from generation to generation) might birth several fresh expressions of church.
With many congregations and denominations so tied to their current approach, how does this become a possibility? Consider these four practices your congregation could begin in the near future that would help develop an eco-system where one day fresh expressions could flourish.
Preaching the Mission of God
We hear pretty often today that preaching is “on its way out.” There is a great deal of truth to those dispositions. However, the most important question is “for whom is preaching on the way out.” The answer is to those who don’t care to hear it. For those that do care to hear preaching, millions of whom show up to communities of worship every week, this is one of our best venues to cultivate a culture for fresh expressions.
Preaching is shaping to a people – not on any given Sunday or during any given series or Church season – but it is shaping over time. In fact, you could easily argue that one of the reasons the church is in the state that it is these days is due to a lack of preaching about the mission of God.
Lets’ proclaim God’s restorative and renewing work in Christ through the church! Let’s proclaim that God sent Jesus on a mission to cultivate a tangible community of the kingdom. Let’s proclaim that God also sends us “as the Father sent him.” Let’s proclaim that we are called to be part of the kingdom revolution that is putting the life of the Son of God closer to where they people the Son loves really are.
Clarify the Need for New Approaches
As many people as I talk to, I am still surprised when someone says that they don’t understand the need to explore a more mission-shaped approach to the mission of the church. Sometimes this is because they are genuinely not aware that the bottom is dropping out of most churches. Sometimes they are aware, but they don’t understand the need to do something “different” as opposed to simply trying to do “better.”
Most lay people are not at the controlling center of church life. When they are given the opportunity to wrestle with the real state of the church and concrete ideas on steps toward faithfulness, they get the need immediately. I usually find that clergy know the situation that the church finds herself in, but they are not yet convinced that something “different” is in order.
Let’s courageously take an honest look at our church’s situation. Let’s have faith God can work through new approaches!
Tell Stories of Good Tries (and those we wish had turned out differently)
There is nothing that crystalizes what a fresh expression of church is like the sharing of a story or example. At Vision Days we hear that the examples we tell are what help make the ideas clear.
People need stories of what fresh expressions look like. They also need the stories of the people attempting to start them. They especially need the stories of those who have tried, and things have not “developed as they wished.”
We are living in an improvisational age as the church. Let’s be clear that what we need at this time is more risk-taking and experimentation, not less! After all, the task of re-evangelizing a previously evangelized western society hasn’t happened in …. over 1300 years.
Let’s take more risks, and encourage one another with all our stories.
There are pioneers in just about every setting. They are old, young, women, men, and even children. They have a passion for doing something new, for the church going beyond where it has been, and usually they are invited to do nothing about it…
More than likely, whether it be a local congregation or regional denominational body, the pioneers are going to come from among the ranks of those we would not expect. When it comes to starting fresh expressions, the task of central church leaders is to preach the mission of God and tell stories of fresh-expressions-style ministry. Then they can begin to gather those who are most interested and responsive into a cohort of some kind.
Here, they can discern how God is calling them. They can share ideas, process the relevant information and become a seedbed for the development of multiple new expressions of the gospel sprouting out of their congregation. The gathering of pioneers happens in concert with teaching on all the equipping gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4 and particularly the gifts of apostle and evangelist.
Let’s create spaces for pioneers to gather, be inspired and equipped to do the work God has gifted them to do.
These four practices, alongside the resources of the Fresh Expressions US team, make a great beginning to launching fresh expressions of church for your context and moving your congregation forward in mission.
Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase. ￼