I was twenty-two when I had a mystical experience which I remember vividly. I was crossing a wide street, heavy with traffic, in downtown Caracas, Venezuela. Somewhat similar to (albeit less dramatic than) Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, I had an awakening. It hit me: “There aren’t many people who love this kind of life like I do.” And with that came a deep and moving sense of rightness. I was immediately certain that I’d been called by the Creator to enjoy other cultures and languages and be some kind of missionary. Literally between the sidewalk on one side of the wide and treacherous street, and the sidewalk on the other side, my life had taken a new direction. I knew God had called me—wired me for, prepared me for, and set my heart ablaze for—cross-cultural ministry.
By age twenty-four I was in seminary where I fell in love with learning for the first time and ended up getting a Ph.D. in the study of Missions. Within three months of my graduation we were in Nigeria immersed in the study of the Yoruba language, then soon teaching in a seminary and living a wonderfully fulfilling life.
During our first “furlough” my father had a massive and debilitating stroke. I am my mother’s only child, so we made the decision not to return to Nigeria. Yet I never have been able to shake my original calling to be a missionary.
My involvement in Fresh Expressions has been like a return to that missions calling. The study of indigenous churches…the fact that North America is a “mission field”…engaging people far from God and not just attracting dissatisfied members from other churches…all of that is part of this Fresh Expressions movement.
The Fresh Expressions movement reflects the best of both worlds. On the one hand, it helps existing churches decide against helplessness in the face of change. It’s about
congregations with a great history deciding to have a great future of Kingdom investment.
On the other hand, the Fresh Expressions movement is encouraging and enabling Pioneers—people with an apostolic gifting and a love for God and people—to follow God’s call into innovative ventures. A fresh expression of church is simply a new form of church for a changing world intended to reach people who need Jesus and who are highly unlikely ever to walk through the doors of your church or any other church. The Fresh Expressions movement offers a valuable, viable and replicable approach to gospel-ing (evangelizing) in a rapidly changing society.
I pray that, as you learn more about this movement, you will become as enthusiastic about fresh expressions of church as I am.
Travis Collins is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and Director of Mission Advancement for Fresh Expressions US. He holds a PhD in Christian Mission and is the author of From the Steeple to the Street and Fresh Expressions of Church.