With any new pursuit, barriers and obstacles are to be expected.
This can intimidate us, deter us, or even paralyze us from taking steps forward. However, building a healthy relationship with these obstacles can move us from inaction to action, and from fearful to excited.
Developing a healthy view of obstacles is easy enough to talk about, but it’s another thing entirely to start to live into. And when it comes to pioneering into new territory, we may not even be aware of the obstacles to come. With the changing culture, it’s almost as if we’ve just learned how to complete an obstacle course and every year a brand new course is placed in front of us that we need to get acclimated with and learn how to complete.
Here are three major obstacles and some tools to help overcome them when pursuing Fresh Expressions.
1) Leadership Gap
Over time, a leadership gap has grown larger and larger inside our congregations. That is to say, clergy and staff have the largest share of responsibility and leadership while congregants have less. This is a complex barrier, but we can start thinking about it on two levels.
From the clergy and staff standpoint we need to hand over leadership- real leadership. It can be daunting and we might not have anyone immediately in front of us ready for leadership, but we need to start seeing that as part of our work. It can be scary to give leadership to someone else, but ultimately we will see God move in ways we never would have otherwise.
From the congregant standpoint we need to be ready to step into leadership. We should be seeking opportunities to put our faith to the test and excited to see how God moves. If we don’t, we may end up thinking ministry is the pastor’s job and when it comes to sharing our faith we need to rely on someone else to do that for us.
When we start to see this leadership gap close, Fresh Expressions are able to grow and thrive from our local churches in ways that aren’t possible when it’s only one person trying to do the work.
Fresh Expressions, by their very nature are pioneering ministry endeavors. This means that it’s new territory and we shouldn’t think that we have to have it all figured out from the start. For me, I’ve found a couple of specific behaviors that continue to be helpful in learning how to fail quickly, learn from it, and make appropriate adjustments.
Set an end date
When starting a FX initiative, it may be helpful to set a specific end date in order to evaluate if it’s bearing fruit or not. If it is, dig deeper and keep going- but if not, adjust course and take your next steps! Sometimes we start something and think that if we stop it we’re a complete failure. Because of this, we may not be open to the Spirit and unwilling to move when we really should.
If we’re not failing, we’re not trying anything. And if we celebrate failures we have the opportunity to learn from them. Pioneers need to know it’s okay to fail and when they do (not if) they will be met will open arms. Cultivating a culture where trying new things is valued is extremely important to the health of Fresh Expressions in your context.
When it comes to casting the vision of Fresh Expressions to a congregation, finding ways to communicate can be difficult. Gone are the days when a church newsletter served as the primary source of information for a congregation. People receive information in an increasing number of ways, and part of our job is to figure out how best to invite others into this vision.
Communicating on a Macro level vs. Micro level
Communicating on a macro level is a broad sweep of information: newsletters, Facebook, Instagram, websites, and verbal announcements Sunday morning. It’s easy to rely too heavily on macro level communicating inside of churches. We sometimes fool ourselves thinking that we’ve truly communicated something if it’s only been communicated through this medium.
Micro communications are the conversations we have one-on-one with our congregation. It’s the dinners we invite people to so we can dream together about what a Fresh Expression might look like in our context. It’s the church meetings where we introduce the possibilities and take time to talk about what is exciting about this and what makes us uncomfortable. This type of communicating allows us to dig deeper together and move from a top-down approach to organic growth in our churches.
Without communicating in both of these ways effectively, the buy-in and movement of FX in our local churches will be more difficult. Too much macro-level communicating and the broad sweep of information may miss those who most need to hear it. Too much micro communication and we may isolate ourselves from the rest of the church.
In ministry, I need to constantly be reminded of my “north star,” the reason for why I’m doing this work: to share the love of Jesus Christ. When I don’t remember this, these obstacles overwhelm me and I can start to go off course.
So remember your north star, celebrate some failures, lift up some leaders, let things get messy, and take joy in this wonderful creation of His.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Mitch is a missional entreprenuer and current Director of the Acts Network at First UMC in Williamsport, PA and trainer/coach with Fresh Expressions US. He helps create and lead new communities of faith and equips leaders to do likewise. Before creating these communities, Mitch served as campus minister with mechanics at Wyotech, and has worked as the Director of College and Community Outreach with First UMC, Williamsport. Mitch's love for the Gospel and passion to play and explore in His creation push him to continually find news ways for people to engage with their faith. Some of Mitch's interests include dancing, good coffee, not eating onions and spending time with his wife Elizabeth.