Michael Moynagh draws out the learning points from the story of Scarborough Deanery.
The Deanery is far from being wealthy, but
they decided to channel their resources in a different and more creative way.
When a minister retired, they redesigned the post and appointed a pioneer to catalyse fresh expressions in the area. If the inherited church wants to become more missional, it must create missional posts to enable this. Otherwise, if we keep on doing what we are doing, we shall go on declining as we are doing. As Sam Foster says, Scarborough did what any group of local churches could do.
Some ministers fear that a local fresh expression will sheep-steal from their congregation, or weaken it by siphoning off individuals with key gifts. Sam met these fears head-on by recruiting individuals who would not leave their local churches but be advocates of fresh expressions within them. In other contexts, many fresh expressions are led by lay people who 'blend' their church experience; they worship in their fresh expression but also in their parent church from time to time. Nowhere does the New Testament say that you cannot belong to two local churches!
Sam refers to missional communities whose members not only meet together, but are active in local mission as a group. This illustrates how fresh expressions are challenging the inherited model of personal mission. The church traditionally gathers for worship on Sundays and then disperses as individuals through the week but often it is very difficult to do mission on your own. You need to do it with other Christians who can pool their gifts and support each other. Jesus did not do mission alone. He gathered a group of disciples round him. Fresh expressions, like the missional communities Sam refers to, are modelling a Jesus-based community approach to mission.
Sam talks about the need for something new, alongside the existing church. This is one way that the church can be a gift to the world. Through the Spirit, the church offers the gift of community with Jesus. Like any gift, this must suit the recipients. Would a bottle of wine be much of a gift if the other person was tee-total? Offering community appropriately could mean inviting someone to an existing church. But other people will need something different. If a church meets at a time, place and in a style that is inaccessible, it won't be a gift because it cannot be reached. In these cases, the gift of the church will take the form a new community with Jesus – a new expression of church that is available. Fresh expressions offer Christian community to people who find existing congregations practically and culturally inaccessible. They echo communion: a piece of the church is broken off to become a new community, which is shared with others.
Sam is thinking ahead. She knows she will leave at some stage, so she is already thinking about equipping leaders to continue her work. She is copying Jesus: raising up others to take forward the mission. Growing into Christian leadership is a key way that individuals mature in their faith. Fresh expressions will disappoint in the long term if not enough attention is paid to home-grown leadership.