“I think I was a bit naïve…”
After a year of working on a fresh expression of church, a pioneer was reflecting on how the mission wasn’t as far along as he had expected or hoped.
“Maybe I just thought people would like me and everything would build from there. Or maybe I just didn’t believe how slow the work would actually be.”
Perhaps in some pockets of the Bible Belt, fresh expression initiatives can move a little faster into the exploring discipleship/forming church phases of development, but often pioneer leaders are surprised…often frustrated…by how slow the mission is.
However, if we are taking seriously the call to connect with people who currently have no interest in church, it’s going to take some time.
When the going seems SLOOOWWW, here’s some things to keep in mind:
1. Be Present
Be present in the moment not just with people, but in the season of your fresh expression mission. It’s important to be thinking ahead, but it’s also important not to get so strategic toward the next phase of development that you miss the joy of what’s right in front of you. If you are loving and serving the people God has called you to be in mission with, put your heart into loving and serving. Sprinkle in some opportunities to foster community or explore discipleship as the opportunities arise, but it won’t help the mission move faster to force these things…as a matter of fact, it could hinder the mission.When the going is slow, remember to be present in the moment not just with people, but in the season of your fresh expression mission. Click To Tweet
2. Focus on What You Have
Focus on what you DO have, rather than on what you DON’T have. Okay…so you don’t have a group of 20 regulars who are all in and excited about a worship gathering on the hiking trail. But what you DO have is three fellow hikers who just laid bare their souls on a long hike together last Saturday. What you DO have is a good relationship with a couple of people…perhaps persons of peace…at the local outdoor gear store. What you DO have is a couple of people who are interested in working with you to plan and get out the word about a night hike and bonfire. Focusing on what you DO have reminds you that God is at work, and that your time and effort is bearing ministry fruit, even when it’s not as developed as you had hoped it would be.
3. Remember God is Better at Timing
God’s timing is better than ours. Because God is aware of so much more than we are. God knows people’s hearts. God knows people’s longings. God knows what cultivation is needed for openness to encounter God’s love. God knows what preparation is needed in our hearts to be shaped into the kind of leader we need to be.
A pioneering leader in the UK prayer walked for a year around the community before she clearly understood God revealing to her that the building community and exploring discipleship phase of the mission would happen through baking bread together. In that year, she met people, and she loved and served people.
But it took a year for her to have a sense of peace about where to go with the mission. If you’d have interviewed her at month nine, she would have told you she wasn’t sure what God wanted her to do. She may have shared that this was taking way longer than she expected. But she continued to be attentive to the Spirit, and in God’s time, the next step became clear. It turns out, the communal experience of baking bread together was the breakthrough season for the mission.One pioneering leader prayer walked for a year before she clearly understood God revealing to her that the building community and exploring discipleship would happen through baking bread together. Click To Tweet
Take some time to evaluate. Are there some things that you thought would be impactful, but they don’t seem to be working? Are there some other things you’ve attempted that seem to be resonating? One pioneer leader thought that a regular food truck community hangout would be a great way to build a sense of connection and community, but it turns out, the partnership with the local food bank and a monthly food giveaway did far more to connect people and build community…all while feeding hungry families in the neighborhood. It became clear that it was time to pull the plug on food truck night, and pour more energy in community-building through serving together.
5. It Took Longer in the Bible, Too
Remember: all throughout Scripture are stories of things taking longer than the people of God expected. Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a child until years after they thought it was no longer possible. God’s people wandered the wilderness for 40 years before finally crossing over into the Promised Land.
Countless prophets were mocked and ignored for year after year as they tried to speak for God when no one wanted to hear. Paul journeyed for over 400 miles before it became clear he was supposed to get in a boat and head to Macedonia. If the mission you are involved in is going slower than you had thought, you are in good company!
It’s not unusual to discover along the way that the fresh expressions journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And that your pace is much slower than you hoped it would be. But strap on your running shoes and keep going…and look for what God is doing in the slow, faithful work of mission.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.