In fresh expressions of church, careful attention should be made to ensure that our structures submit to the Spirit. But how we get there is an art form requiring attentiveness to the rhythms of life and a posture deep listening to the needs of others and the community around us. Slowing down and paying attention might keep us from learning these five lessons the hard way.
Here’s the list:
Multiplying leaders or locations too quickly.
I am an entrepreneurial pastor. I relish the leadership potential of those around me. If I’m not careful, I’m at risk of putting my aims and intentions ahead of the people I’m called to journey alongside. Let me give an example. There’s a newlywed couple in our church community who really get what we’re about. They’re co-housing with a friend of theirs in a neighborhood ripe with opportunity. They often host game nights and other gatherings at home with their friends, many of whom are not a part of our core community. To me, this is the perfect place to “expand our reach.” Left to my own devices, it might quickly become an overreach. Instead, I’m learning to slow down and to be patient. Structure (my aims) submits to the Spirit (discerning where God is at work). Instead of seeing this household as a part of a grand strategy in the “structure” of our community, we’re slowing down and paying attention to how they’re doing in their marriage, and where they’re thriving or struggling at work. It’s more important for everyone in our community to have their house in a healthy place than it is to multiply leaders or locations before the time is right. We don’t want to pick the fruit before it is ripe, nor do we want to let it languish on the vine.
Defaulting to old ways of thinking about church.
I grew up in church. I love the church. The trouble is that if we’re not careful, those of us who grew up in church will stifle innovation within fresh expressions of church. Let me explain. When we came to the point that our fresh expression of church needed to begin stepping out on its own organizationally, operating within a denominational family, and needing the appropriate documentation, bylaws and articles of incorporation in order to do this, I began work on the documents. Upon reading an early draft, one of our key leaders made a helpful comment. If this were read by someone with no idea about who we were, could they replicate our forms and our culture just by reading this? Technically, there was nothing wrong with the documents. They were theologically and organizationally sound, but the language I used was more reflective of my experience with church rather than our shared experience with church. I focused more on getting the structure right than on articulating the ways in which our community had been nurtured into being by the Spirit.
Not getting permission.
Most fresh expressions of church function within or alongside inherited forms of church. To avoid administrative and legal pitfalls, it’s important to consider the relational dynamics at every step along the way. The denominational leaders, pastors, and other congregational leaders won’t likely be interested in every detail of your fresh expression of church, but you’ll want their permission and their blessing as you’re getting started. You’ll want them to know enough to be able to tell your story well and you’ll want to seek their guidance and lean on their experience as the fresh expression develops. Without permission, there is a tendency for acrimony to develop within the inherited systems which can lead to fresh expressions pioneers going rogue.
Not following organizational protocols.
Similar to number four above. There is a reason that fresh expressions of church best function with the aid of inherited systems of church. Particularly when a fresh expression of church involves children or at-risk populations; safeguarding measures, background checks for team members, and risk management policies are essential for the credibility and safety of your church community.
Going it alone.
There is an African proverb that says something to this effect: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” While the tendency of many fresh expressions leaders will be to lead out in front, wisdom suggests there is power in slowing down to ensure that everyone is on board. Good leaders pay attention to the dynamics of the group and Christian communities learn to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. My friend Alan Hirsh says that the smartest person isn’t in the room, the smartest person is the room. Whereas many forms of church have relied on leadership from a single expert, fresh expressions of church open tremendous opportunities for shared leadership and participation from everyone involved. This shared DNA will help the fresh expression take root.While the tendency of many fresh expressions leaders will be to lead out in front, wisdom suggests there is power in slowing down to ensure that everyone is on board. Click To Tweet
Now, which one of these are you most likely to learn the hard way? What are you going to do about it?
As you discern which of the five is most important for you and your team, begin listening deeply and discerning in community. Ask how God might be getting your attention. Reflect on possible pitfalls you might experience down the road. Begin developing ways to address these issues head-on and celebrate that you’re able to anticipate and talk about them before they happen. Pray together as a group for continued wisdom and keep going together.
Lastly, let us know what part of this post resonated with you, and let us know how we can help!
Gannon is the Director of Ministry Formation for Fresh Expressions US and leads the Fresh Expressions efforts of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree from Baylor University and the Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. Prior to entering seminary, Gannon worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and as a public affairs officer in the anti-human trafficking office at the U.S. State Department. He enjoys forging partnerships between followers of Jesus from different traditions and has served in various roles at several churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. Gannon is married to Carey, who also is a graduate of Duke Divinity School. Together they work to bring fresh expressions of church to the collegiate community at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.