1984 was an expectant year—but maybe not in the way you would think.
Besides being the title of a popular novel and later film, this was the year that what is unofficially known as the “Bible of American pregnancy” was first published. Its title: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. In its past five printings over the last four decades, this book has consistently been a New York Times Bestseller and go-to book for millions of new moms, quite possibly you or your own.
The purpose of the book was simple—for many (most?) new moms, pregnancy can be a scary thing. There are lots of strange, uncomfortable, amazing, interesting, and even embarrassing things that happen to a woman and the baby inside her over the course of nine months. And because a new mom has never “done this” before, most of it can feel quite daunting.
When you’re going to give birth, it helps to know what to expect…
So you have a better understanding of what’s really going on.
So you can be prepared.
So you know you’re not alone.
The same is true when you and your team are about to start something new. The gestation period from God-given discernment, to insight, to possibility, to plan, to execution, can be unnerving. But it can be a comfort to recognize what comes with the process, to know what to expect when you’re expecting.
So what should you expect?
It will take longer than you think
Many a pioneer draws up a plan to present to their pastor, council, board, or team, that depicts a process from start to finish with a timeline of… three months. Many a denominational group has entered the process of training and educating their clergy and laity on fresh expressions of church thinking a year from now they will be running on all cylinders. But the fresh expressions journey is not a sprint but a marathon. You need to be in it for the long haul. Sometimes we hear stories of the neat things people started and don’t realize the five years of groundwork and tilling the soil that preceded it. Everything will take longer than you think—from discerning God’s vision to building a team to loving and serving your community, to finding a person of peace. None of those happen overnight. Of course, this does not mean you wait around or throw away your plan but rather take steps and grasp your plan loosely. Don’t get discouraged if it hasn’t happened yet.The FX journey is not a sprint but a marathon. You need to be in it for the long haul. Sometimes we hear stories of the things people started & don’t realize the years of groundwork & tilling the soil that preceded it. Click To Tweet
You will start smaller than you want
Picture this: you’ve spent time praying for your community, completed trainings, read books, developed a team, and planned your first gathering. You remember the story of a fresh expression gathering that had standing-room only, and you have pictures in your mind of this occurring in your space. When the night finally arrives, twenty people show up. You wonder what happened—but what happened is what we should expect to happen. When you’re engaging in pioneering work, you often will build rapport with a small group of people first—maybe even a handful. This is normal. Invest in those you have, and propel people outward.
Obstacles are part of the territory
When you can begin to expect obstacles—both internal and external—as part of the experience, they become less threatening and more navigable. As a fresh expression is developing, there will be times you don’t know what to do. There will be times you will deal with difficult people. There will be times when you wonder if you were meant to do this at all. Relax. One of the best words of wisdom I’ve received as I’ve ventured to start new things has been “if it were that easy, everybody would be doing it.” What you’re doing is hard—which is why most people aren’t.There will be times when you wonder if you were meant to do this at all. Relax. One of the best words of wisdom I’ve received as I’ve ventured to start new things has been “if it were that easy, everybody would be doing it.” Click To Tweet
Religious people will be your biggest opposition
This often comes as a surprise to many pioneers. Often we’ve been conditioned to think that the “world” is who opposes the spreading of the gospel, but many times we discover it’s not outsiders but insiders. When you’re starting something new, the world often becomes the most receptive, while the Church has the greatest difficulty. Often this is not malicious but rather out of a place of comfort and control. Jesus’ greatest opposition came from those whose jobs were connected to serving God.
Don’t underestimate the power of relationships
Relationships—among your team, in the community, and between church and fresh expression—are perhaps the most powerful element of any fresh expression of church. Don’t miss investing in them while you’re focused on the tasks before you. Relationships are the basis of ministry and have the capacity to sink you or allow you to swim.
Who starts with you will not end with you
Starting a fresh expression of church involves passing seasons—and the truth is, some people operate at their best in certain seasons, but not others. Paul even talks about this in 1 Corinthians 3:6, when he describes how “I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” You can expect certain people to support you in the early phases but transition to more of a backseat in the later days. You can expect permission-givers to come and go. You can expect the people who started on your team to eventually be displaced by people from the community you are reaching. And that’s more than ok. God uses them all.
What to expect when you’re expecting? Though it doesn’t change some of the difficulties, it can give new perspective on what could be otherwise discouraging. When you know other people have been there before, you can continue along the path you started on, towards the worthwhile ministry of birthing something new.
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.