Mark Russell poses two challenges for fresh expressions.
I hope this post will be an interesting thought from my perspective as CEO of a church organisation. Church Army is at the forefront of the fresh expressions agenda and our people all over the UK and Ireland are establishing fresh expressions of church, seeking to connect the transforming good news of Christ with those who would otherwise never enter a church. You can view some short films of them doing this. I love seeing how God is releasing his people to pioneer new things to help people to come to faith through creative new Christian communities.
I am a huge supporter of the fresh expressions agenda, both personally and as the CEO of Church Army, but (yes, you've guessed it, there is a 'but' … two, in fact!) I have two worries that niggle me. Nothing I can prove, but I wonder if this is what you think as well?
- Many stories of fresh expressions of church seem only to be about Christians who are disaffected with church. OK, so all of us know people who dislike church, but my fear is that sometimes fresh expressions are set up by these people just to satisfy their own needs and the needs of people like them. The great purpose of church, though, is mission, not congregation, and I wonder if fresh expressions are at their best when they reach out to new people outside our church walls.
- Many fresh expressions are for middle class, educated white people. I am hardly one to talk – most of those in my church are white and middle class. But I recognise the major need for the whole church, not just fresh expressions, to be more respresentative of our communities. Running through Church Army's DNA is the call to reach those on the margins of society. Our founder said: 'Go for the worst' – those on the edges.
I passionately believe fresh expressions are the best way to engage the poor, those on the edges, those in marginalised groups. Colleagues working on estates in London, Sheffield and Belfast are discovering that fresh expressions enable church to happen with the poor in a way that traditional church cannot. I passionately want to see more fresh expressions on the edge, and I dream of them reaching different ethnic groups of people as well.
So, the two buts become two challenges for us.
Let's together ask God to raise up more pioneers, more evangelists, people who want to help us create relevant Christian communities that reach those on the edge, and help disciple people beyond the reach of traditional church.
We have come a long way with fresh expressions. Let's catch a fresh vision and keep pressing on towards the goal!