If you have been at any Fresh Expressions training, you have probably been introduced to the Fresh Expressions Journey.
Loving and Serving
Church taking shape
This is not necessarily a linear process, but every mature fresh expression of church will have intentionally lived out all of these aspects along the journey of development.
These elements take seriously both the importance of deep engagement with the people God is putting on your heart as well as the importance of allowing opportunities for people to experience aspects of communal life with Jesus.
But what are some of the pitfalls of not attending to these aspects of development?
Assuming instead of listening
How many of us have come up with a grand scheme of what we think people need? Or assumed that others will just love the thing that we want to do? How many church committees have sat at tables in their buildings and strategized a grand plan for a fresh expression of church without ever connecting with the people outside their walls? Because church people are so used to planning programs, we often jump right into programming mode. This often leads to mission that is disconnected and ineffective. Do not underestimate the need for locals, insiders in the community you are seeking to engage, and non-church people to help shape what makes sense for the mission. And don’t underestimate your need to listen for God’s nudgings as you pray for discernment in the mission.How many church committees have sat at tables in their buildings and strategized a grand plan for a fresh expression of church without ever connecting with the people outside their walls? Click To Tweet
Marketing instead of loving and serving
Are you developing a slick marketing plan for your mission project? Or are you discovering ways to love and serve the people God is placing on your heart? Many fresh expression leaders and teams spend hours planning communication strategies for events or programs, but fail to get out there and humbly love and serve in ways that bless and encourage people and communities. Before you start spending hours and resources developing a social media campaign, consider how you are listening and responding to opportunities to serve the people you are encountering. If you are creating publicity flyers but not tangibly loving or serving anyone in the community, you might want to step back and recalibrate. How can you be of earthly good?
Building individual relationships without attending to fostering or deepening the experience of community
Perhaps you’re the life of the party and people flock to you. Or perhaps you have met a lot of people and have developed some deep one-on-one relationships. You have had countless cups of coffee with individuals, but they don’t know each other. You have had some great inside jokes with random people at the gym, but there is no shared community developing. It’s great if people like you…who doesn’t want to be liked?! But if you want to build community, then it will take some intentionality in connecting people with each other, not just to you. Perhaps that means a larger group in the coffee shop with you, or inviting your individual gym buddies to a meet up at the juice bar after your workout. Encouraging shared experience and connection fosters community, and a sense of community is a necessary component for a fresh expression to emerge. Not to mention, if every relationship centers around you, you will run out of relational bandwidth and quickly burn out.
Stuck on hanging out
Not knowing how to begin to introduce discipleship in a fresh expression is probably the most common pitfall people articulate at fresh expressions trainings. Pioneers have gathered groups to share activities and camaraderie together, and then don’t know how to journey into the discipleship arena. Often fear of coming on too strong or “bait-and-switching” the emerging group holds pioneers back from taking the first step of discipleship with people. But exploring discipleship won’t be the great hurdle it seems if, from the onset of building relationships, you’ve “outed” yourself as a follower of Jesus. One of the people who made faith come alive for me prayed the simple prayer, “Yay God!” I knew he was a Jesus follower from the beginning, and I was discipled as I watched his interactions with people and the world. It wasn’t awkward or stilted, but natural, and, frankly, compelling. By the time I was invited to participate in some communal discipleship practices (Bible study and mission initiatives), it was a natural next step. Be honest and real about who you are from the outset and notice opportunities to invite people into natural next steps of faith exploration.Be honest and real about who you are from the outset and notice opportunities to invite people into natural next steps of faith exploration. Click To Tweet
Equating Bible Study with “Church taking Shape”
So your group is engaging in exploring God’s Word together…great! This is something to be celebrated! But it is not the mark of having “arrived” as a full expression of church. It is one aspect of a life of following Jesus. A mature expression of church will also have elements of serving/outreach, mutual care and fellowship, community centered around Jesus, an outflow of worship to God, shared rhythms and spiritual practices, sacramental life, and an identity of being one unique expression of the larger reality we call Christ’s Church. Bible study is a giant step in the with-God life. But Church is more than a good Bible study group.
Remember, this is a journey, not a checklist! And, lastly, remember that the biggest pitfall of all is forgetting that this whole journey is an exercise of dependence on the Holy Spirit. Let God’s Spirit give you strength, guidance, wisdom, imagination, and love… as you join in the mission of God in the places, spaces, and networks into which God is sending you.
Fresh Expressions US wants to help you dream and discern how God might be wanting to use YOU in your local context. Through Vision Days, Local Church workshops, Learning Communities and more, FXUS is ready to partner with you to see fresh expressions of what God is doing birthed in your local context. Click here to find out more about how.
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.