Fresh Expressions: the continuing journey

Tuesday, 22 April, 2014

Graham Cray looks back on the growth of the fresh expressions movement - and forward to the continuing journey.

As I hand over the leadership of Fresh Expressions to Phil Potter, I have the privilege of looking back – not just over the five years I have spent with the team but at the twelve years since a working party first gathered round a table to write a report for the Church of England.

The journey from that Mission-shaped Church working party to Fresh Expressions 2014 is extraordinary. Who could have imagined that we'd be looking at 2,000 fresh expressions of church in both the Methodist Church and the Church of England, new denominational and mission agency partners in the UK, and friends and colleagues in many different part of the world?

Also extraordinary is the range and depth of local missional imagination it has been our privilege to observe, the wonderful stories we have been able to record and report, and the quantity and quality of new pioneering leadership which God has called into being.

However creative and inspirational this movement has been - and it has been very creative and inspirational - it is all down to grace. God in his mercy has not allowed his church to be paralysed into fatalism by decades of decline. He has forged one of the keys to the future, fresh expressions of church, in a most unlikely place! We have much to be thankful for. That gratitude, and continuing trusting dependence on God, is essential for the future.

Nationally and internationally, we have caught a wave of the Spirit. We have been allowed to share in a charism – a multifaceted gift of the Spirit. Our praxis emphasises following the missionary Spirit, and practising discernment in context. In just the same way, the future of the movement cannot be achieved by merely repeating what has been learned and done so far. Expertise must not supplant prayerful discernment and trusting obedience; the God of surprises still leads the Church. Stay open to the future which God has prepared, but which he reveals only step by step.

One lesson from this team's ten-year ministry is the importance of perseverance. We began in 2004 but the key point of lift-off in the founding denominations was 2010. The team for phase one ploughed and sowed; phase two watered and harvested; perhaps now we are called to secure an annual harvest for years to come? There is no quick fix; persevering with God-given vision in each partner organisation is the only effective pathway to the future.

From my perspective there are two equally important tasks ahead:

  • supporting, equipping and networking of practitioners and pioneers;
  • making space for them in the life of each partner denomination and organisation.

I am convinced that this is not just a matter of leaders making space for the new amid existing structures and practices, but that the mixed economy requires new practices of leadership at the senior level. A missional church requires missional leadership.

Finally I believe there is an outcome to bear in mind beyond the life of the Fresh Expressions team (however long that may be) and beyond the 'shelf life' of the fresh expressions terminology. The long-term task is to see the values which underlie this work embedded within the churches, so that they are assumed as normal.

At Phil Potter's licensing, Archbishop Justin expressed his confidence "that Fresh Expressions will continue to lead the re-imagination of the ministry of the church in this country". Incarnational mission, discerning and following the missionary Spirit, the planting of new communities of disciples by contextual mission: these are simply how we are to be the Church in Western society. They are to be the mainstream.

We work towards the point where the default setting for church instinctively includes these values and practices. We look for the time when church self-evidently means missional church and mixed economy ministry. May God continue to bless us all on that journey.

+Graham Cray

Comments

Bishop Cray,
Let me add my thanks to what I am sure will be a large chorus. I well remember your talk at Refresh in Toronto Canada, some years ago now. You used the liturgy of the Northumbria Community, and since returning home my wife and I have used the same daily. We are now in the novitiate process with the Community. The modern monastic movement will, I am sure, along with Fresh Expressions, be the saviour of the Church. Bless you, and if you are to retire, as I did three years ago, bless that time for ministry as well.
Andrew+

Dear Bishop Graham,

May I add my own sincere and heartfelt thanks to you, alongside those of many many others, for your encouragement, vision, perseverence, guidance wisdom and help at many points throughout the last ten years.

This has been a lonely and hard road, but through the grace of God and the vision and leadership of you, and those around you, this fledgling movement has grown and developed and is now blossoming.

We shall miss your wisdom and encouraging oversight, but hope that we shall still see you at events such as New Wine.

You deserve a well earned retirement.

Every blessing

Nick Crawley
Crossnet Church, Bristol

Dear Graham,

On behalf of all in Canada who have been inspired by the Fresh Expressions movement, I want to thank you so much for all the support, encouragement, wisdom and time you have given us. In fact, I think one of your first tasks as the new Archbishops' Missioner and team leader of Fresh Expressions, was to come to Toronto to address the 2009 Refresh! Conference. You were instrumental in Fresh Expressions Canada being approved to run the Mission Shaped Ministry course, and your contribution to two Vital Church Planting conferences was greatly appreciated. You were incredibly generous with your time despite the many other calls you must have had. We are grateful for your leadership and the part you have played in seeing a more mission-shaped church emerge around the world.

May we take this opportunity to offer you our heartfelt thanks for all you have done, and to wish you and Jackie God's richest blessings in the next chapter of your life together.

Yours in Christ,

Nick Brotherwood
team leader-Fresh Expressions Canada

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