Rock climbing for a seven-year-old? Really? A year ago, my seven-year-old son Aaron had the opportunity to go with a friend to a local rock climbing center.
Not the type where you climb without ropes on massive walls of granite, but the type of rock climbing where you hook on to a rope and climb a plywood wall covered in hand and foot holds while someone below keeps you on belay.
If you’ve never been rock climbing, to belay a person means to secure or attach a person to the end of a rope to keep them safe as they climb a rock wall. The belay is what keeps a person from free-falling down the face of a wall when their foot slips or their hands finally give to the enormous amount of pain and physical fatigue.
With the belay on, the climber has no worries of negative consequences due to a slip or a fall because the belay is keeping constant tension on the rope, but without it the person who falls is doomed to pain and possible death.
As a leader in both fresh expressions of church and the inherited church, this picture of rock climbing reminds me of the role that traditional, or inherited, churches can play in the mission of God as we develop new ways of doing and being the Church.
Over the past three years of ministry, I have come to appreciate this dance between the inherited church and fresh expressions as they help each other navigate the difficult climb of reaching people for Jesus. Here are just a few ways I believe the inherited church can belay or support the work of fresh expressions of church.
Navigating the Climb of Reaching People for Jesus
Pray and Love
The inherited church has the awesome task of praying for the leaders of fresh expressions.
New forms of church cannot and will not survive if they are not fully supported by a body of believers who are constantly praying for them and loving them through the difficulty of birthing new ministry.
Praying for new leaders and for the gifts of the Spirit to work in fresh expression ministries are the only way to successfully start new expressions of church.
The inherited church can give permission to try new ways to reach people with the Gospel.
As the established church, leaders have the opportunity to support pioneers on the edges of ministry by giving them permission to try new and possibly risky ways to reach the people in our communities with the Good News.
Rather than squash the dreams and aspirations with a simple, “we’ve never done that before,” the church can encourage new types of ministry.
The security of the inherited church allows for pioneers to feel supported to try new types of ministry without the fear of feeling isolated and alone.
Inherited churches also have the ability to give permission for fresh expressions to fail. The goal of every fresh expression is to bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior, but the fact remains that some fresh expressions fail and with failure comes hurt and pain.
Encourage and Resource
The inherited church can support pioneers by giving them the ability to go out and try new things, and when they fail to love them, encourage them, pick them up, and tell them to press on.
When my son climbs a wall, I want to give him permission to try and leap for a new hold and know that if he doesn’t make it, the rope will not fail. This is the role of the inherited church to give permission even if it results in failure.
The inherited church can support fresh expressions of church by providing facilities, funds, and volunteers. When fresh expressions are created and sent out without support, we create a climber who is all alone and isolated without the ability to rest and feel loved and supported.
The inherited church has the ability to help fresh expressions of church through recruiting volunteers to help serve meals, market a ministry event, raise up new leaders and fund their efforts.
As someone who has held the belay line and secured a climber as they traverse the wall, I love to stand below and yell out words of encouragement or tips on how to go up the wall and get through a difficult path. Inherited churches have the opportunity to yell out encouraging words and help pioneers see the wonderful paths ahead.
Challenge and Critique
The inherited church can and should ask the hard questions. Questions such as how do we define success? What is good? Is this ministry developing disciples? How could we improve?
Through some of these questions and so many more, the inherited church has the ability to help pioneering leaders see their ministry from a different perspective.
Not to be pushy or condemning, but to help leaders answer hard questions that get to the heart of why we are trying something new.
Matt Hill currently serves as the associate pastor of missional ministry at Community Evangelical Church in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, where he oversees multiple fresh expressions of church. He is married to Emily and has three kids: Addison, Aaron, and Aubree.