Lately, I’ve been hearing Fresh Expressions referred to as “trendy, cool, church for middle-class millenials.” While some fresh expressions might fit this description, it is at best a superficial description of the fresh expressions movement that I have come to know.
When King Street Church took shape we had two goals in mind: create a Christian community for those excluded from traditional church, and establish a presence with marginalized populations in our community. What has taken shape is a messy, chaotic, beautiful community of children of God who’ve been robbed of the gift of belonging.
An Invitation to the Excluded
Jacob is a man who has been kicked out of four churches since I’ve known him. He struggles with social interaction and ends up sending the wrong messages with his actions. When confronted he gets upset and his actions get worse. Every church and group he’s been a part of has eventually asked him to leave. When he acted up at King Street Church, we asked him to stay.
Fresh expressions of church have the explicit DNA of welcoming our neighbors who are not yet part of any church. It’s a refreshing shift from church planting models that prioritize self-sustainability above the people Jesus loves. When your church sustainability depends on givers, you inevitably prioritize the givers. When you start a fresh expression, often times with no need for even a basic budget, you’re free to welcome the people Jesus welcomes. Jesus prioritized the excluded. A true fresh expression prioritizes belonging for the excluded.
Over the past three years I’ve witnessed several family-sized Christian communities take shape among men and women that society has called felons, addicts, the mentally ill, widows, and the poor. We just call each other by our names. I’ve witnessed the kind of belonging that Jean Vanier describes,
“Belonging calls forth what is most beautiful in our capacity to love and accept others but is also can awaken anger, jealousy, violence and the refusal to cooperate…Little by little, as we live and work with others, especially if we are well guided, we learn to break out of the shell of selfishness and self-centeredness where we seek to be brilliant and to prove our goodness, wisdom, and power. We receive and give the knocks of life. It is like the polishing of diamonds as they rub together.”
Our churches are full of the good intentions of improving the lives of our neighbors. Indeed, we should never stop serving our neighbors. Yet, we are an incomplete church until we offer a place of belonging to the excluded.
The Gift of Belonging
I recently heard the story of two eighty-year-old women in Australia who became excited about the vision of fresh expressions. They listened to their community and realized there were many widowers in their community who didn’t know how to cook. They put an ad in the local paper for cooking lessons for widowers. The kitchen was full the first week. They taught the men to cook and then set a table and ate together. Imagine the gift of belonging this was for a group of men dealing with the loss of their life-long partners. This is what the fresh expressions movement is all about: diamonds polishing diamonds in the context of loving Christian community.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog Faithful Community at www.faithfulcommunity.com