Sunday, 27 September 2009
There are many ways in which today’s church is engaged in exciting and innovative things – but perhaps one of the best ways to explore this question is through a brief consideration of what is commonly known as ‘fresh expressions’ and, in particular, the programme (if that’s the right word) that is known by the name and of which the United Reformed Church has recently become a full part. Fundamentally, fresh expressions are looking for and at new ways of being and doing church, Messy Church and Café Church perhaps being amongst the most obvious examples to cite. But it is also helpful to look behind some of the specific stories at some of the theory and theology that undergirds what is going on. Indeed, this may prove to be the most helpful part of our consideration. We should admit, as they do, that “a phrase like ‘fresh expressions of church’ can be vague and unclear. Sometimes the label is used to cover almost anything – even a new church noticeboard!” However, they (on the website that offers the theory behind the practice – www.sharetheguide.org – offer two things that describe a fresh expression or what we might want to call a pioneering opportunity and four characteristics that should define that. So what are they looking for if a particular “thing” is to be seen as a fresh expression? It should “come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples” and should “have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.” They then emphasise four characteristics. Fresh expressions are: - Missional – serving people outside the church; - Incarnational – listening to people and entering their culture; - Educational – making discipleship a priority; - Ecclesial – forming church. It is perhaps interesting to consider whether these fit anything we are doing, whether we might emphasise some rather than others and, indeed, more of what we would mean by them. What 'fresh expressions' might we engage in that really contribute something?