Ann Marie Carley

Navigating the Both/And World through Fresh Expressions

Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”?

I would argue that you can. If you have a cake and then ingest it, you still have it. It just simply is in a different form than when it may have been sitting in front of you. I believe Fresh Expressions of Church allow us to have our cake and eat it too!

How?

Fresh Expressions of Church only exist in the reality of a both/and culture. What is a both/and culture you ask? It is a culture in which the current reality is needed in order for the future reality to exist. You can’t possibly eat a cake that isn’t in front of you and you can’t possibly birth a Fresh Expression without an established church!

Fresh Expressions of Church only exist in the reality of a both/and culture- a culture in which the current reality is needed in order for the future reality to exist. Click To Tweet

Realizing it is not just one or the other

If you’re like me, navigating this both/and culture of church can get real draining, real quick, let alone leading in it. As a pioneer at heart, being with people outside the walls of an established church makes my heart sing. Just being with people who are different than I am brings me energy. I love to find God at work in unexpected places. So, when I find myself trying to lead within the walls of an established church and all of the structures and boxed programs that make it feel secure to members, I can feel like Jesus is being held hostage and barricaded by our church walls.

As someone who has given her life to serving within a mainline denomination you can see where God and I have had quite a few conversations about that call He has placed on my life because I have found myself feeling as though my soul was empty from trying so hard to fuel the desires He had placed on my heart while making the established church happy. One of those conversations went something like this:

Me: God, I know You have called me to be a bridge from Your church into the world so that those outside the walls of the church can experience You and those inside the walls of the church can feel equipped to join You in Your work in the world, but have You met these church people?

God: You’re kidding right?

Me: I’m not. I think You called the wrong gal! Either that or maybe You don’t realize where You have sent me.

God: I know exactly where I have sent you and you’re staying there, so don’t get any crazy ideas.

Me: How do You know they are crazy ideas?! You haven’t even heard me out!

God: I created you, I know. You have extended grace so freely to those outside the walls of church so many times. Can you not also extend that grace to those inside the walls as well?

Me: *defeated sigh*

Has anyone else had a similar conversation?

What God was trying to teach me was that He had me right where He wanted me; at the epicenter of a both/and culture.

At the epicenter

To be at the epicenter of something is not to be in a comfortable place, but many times it is at the epicenter that you’re able to see the biggest change.

Jesus sat at the epicenter of a both/and culture. He was living as a Jew and leading into something that was vastly different than anything the Jewish culture had experienced before. He took the examples they knew and loved and tried to teach them a new way of looking at things. A new way of doing ministry.

The gift of discomfort

God has allowed me to lead within the walls of an established church whose 175-year-plus history includes being a church plant to begin with, helping establish a regional hospital and raising up pastors. AND God has given me this heart that wants to plant churches that unchurched people want to be a part of. It is frequently an uncomfortable spot. However, without this discomfort, there is no culture of both/and. There is having your cake and eating it too!

After I got over myself, I began to see more clearly what I had been missing before. I was trying to lead a congregation into new spaces that seemed threatening. Not because my church did not want to reach more people for Jesus, but because the way in which their own faith had developed was so very structured. So, as I would teach and preach on taking Jesus into the world one person at a time, I was missing handles for our established congregation to hold onto.

They could not see how that would lead to anything, but strangers taking over their beloved traditions. As a result, they held on to what they knew even more tightly and become frustrated themselves that there was no clear path for them to be a part of passing on their church or their faith.

Our both/and

This gift of discomfort was the catalyst needed to birth a movement of fresh expressions of church. Without this discomfort, Fresh Expression may have seemed like another fad program. It was clearly not just a new method of doing a bible study. Fresh Expressions provided new handles for my congregation to hold onto as we envision the future of the church together. Handles they can latch onto because they do not threaten the way in which our established church worships. They are not off on their own either, they are dependent upon the deeply rooted established church and become new branches of our family of faith tree. A tree that once seemed to be withering away from fear is now living in abundance.

This allows me, and my pioneering heart, the ability to not only navigate this world of both/and, but lead in ways never imagined.

Ann Marie Carley

Ann Marie Carley

As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.

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