Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Defining Fresh Expressions

‘Fresh Expressions’ has developed a definition of new forms of church – “A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. • It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. • It will 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.” This offers some key indicators. First, it is important to recognise the context in which we are looking to engage. Being “a form of church for our changing culture” requires the making of appropriate links with culture. Just as Peter needed to respond to the challenges of taking the Gospel to a Gentile culture (Acts 10), so we need to adapt to today’s society. Secondly, we need to learn to reach out to “people who are not yet members of any church”. Jesus was clear in his refusal to recognise the barriers that divided up people in his day, thus offering us a model of inclusion and going, rather than waiting for people to come to us. Thirdly, we must recognise that God takes the initiative and is already present in any situation that we might enter. Listening and service are prerequisites for effective engagement with any whom we might encounter. Fourthly, we should accept that we have a mission. The common usage of mission statements in a huge range of contexts should help our understanding, and perhaps our description, of our mission. We certainly need to find good ways to tell the story. Fifthly, we need to ensure that what we are looking for is ‘real church’. “The goal of beginning a fresh expression is not to create a permanent shallow place of faith or ‘Christianity-lite’. The goal is to create a context and community where mature disciples are formed and flourish.”[1] All encounters with people in God’s name are good, and we may not know what has been achieved, but the task is to make disciples. When we talk about disciples we are talking about growth in our faith. The way and the end are Christ shaped. Fresh Expressions are not about new products but transformation of individuals and church to a more open and accessible way, rather than an unmoving model. Church happens when Jesus Christ is around, a verb rather than a noun. [1] Steven Croft’s chapter ‘What counts as a fresh expression of church?’ in “Evaluating Fresh Expressions” ed. by Louise Nelstrop and Martyn Piercy, Canterbury Press, 2008, p. 11.

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