Does 'A fresh expressions journey' risk manipulation?

We have suggested a simple way of thinking about how fresh expressions develop. We have called it A fresh expressions journey and it is summarised in this diagram:

A fresh expressions journey

There is a risk that people will be seen as a means to an end.

Sycamore leaf'Loving and serving' and 'building community' will be valued mainly as steps towards church, and 'love' will become a means of encouraging people into the faith.

Naturally, most people will recoil from such a thought. So how can leaders of fresh expressions prevent this? How can they retain the goal of forming church while at the same time making sure each step of the journey has its own integrity?

Cultivate a healthy spiritual focus

A start might be for leaders to cultivate a healthy spiritual focus, based on:

Valuing unconditional love

Jesus loved people whether or not they followed him.

Trusting the Holy Spirit

It is the Spirit's task to lead people from one stage of the journey to the next. Christians can assist in this, but it is not ultimately our responsibility. So leaders of fresh expressions needn't get over anxious about whether individuals complete the journey.

In my experience, a lot of our struggles with 'outcomes' are about issues of control. At least, they have been for me. And I've found it to be true that, when I've let go of trying to control outcomes, a wonderful sense of freedom and release has followed. It's probably made other people's lives easier too!
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese

Letting God be the judge

Some Christians have a strong doctrine of final judgement, which helps motivate their evangelism. They want to spare individuals eternal separation from God. Leaders of fresh expressions working within this tradition may find it helpful to remember that it is God who is the judge, and that he looks on the inside and not the outside.

He may see how someone was ready to open their heart to him, but childhood hurts, a previous experience of church or the way Christianity has been presented causes the person to hold back. Who are we to say how God views that person?

People may never travel into church, but their hearts may tell God a different story. Which means that believers can be a little more relaxed about whether the goal of the fresh expressions journey - forming church - is finally reached.

Hold light to the journey's destination

Winding pathHolding light to the journey's destination will follow naturally from this. You can celebrate each step of the journey, even if it does not lead to the next one.

Perhaps you started a course on managing money, in the hope that a feeling of community would form and church would eventually emerge. But when the course finished, the group did not want to continue. This doesn't matter.

If people found the course worthwhile, enjoyed themselves and possibly made some new friends, these would be achievements enough.

Success need not mean reaching the end of the journey, as church forms. Fruitfulness is when kingdom values are present each time the group meets.

This may require a degree of soul-searching by some leaders of fresh expressions. Are you driven by the desire to complete the journey, and nothing else will do? If so, you are probably not alone! You may find it helpful:

  • to be aware of this drive. Ambition is healthy, but does your ambition have the right emphasis?
  • to share your feelings with a close friend or spiritual guide. 'I know I am over-anxious that this fresh expression will really work.' Sharing feelings can be wonderfully effective in reducing their power.
  • to pray about it. As you pray, the Spirit can help your motivation become more rounded.

Aware, share and prayer are key words.

Build unconditional love into your project

Building unconditional love into your project's values would be a concrete way to safeguard the integrity of what you are doing.

In Starting and growing, we suggest thinking ahead in How should we start? so as to develop values to guide your fresh expression. One of these values might reflect the idea of unconditional love, such as:

  • 'we'll value individuals whether or not they explore the Christian faith.'
  • 'we'll encourage individuals to be themselves.'
  • 'we'll respect the right of people to disagree.'

As you take steps to avoid manipulating people into faith, you will create an atmosphere that is more conducive to faith.