Offering a glimpse of hope

Monday, 10 December, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Our society is short on hope. The one thing that truly contextual churches should offer is a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of a believable alternative way of life. The power of any social vision is at its height when it is seen to deliver what it promises.

Our consumer society promised increasing prosperity and happiness but has delivered austerity; it is vulnerable to a better vision. The power of any society is also at its height when it seems inevitable. It may not be delivering what it promised, but what else is there? People may be fatalistic, even cynical, but without a credible alternative nothing changes. Our culture is also suspicious of grand schemes and big stories. For an alternative to be credible, it must be local and visible.

How then can fresh expressions of church offer hope through an alternative vision? For Christians, faith in what Christ has already done is the foundation of our hope for the future. We believe in a future transformed creation, heaven and earth renewed, begun with the resurrection, experienced in anticipation and the ultimate destination of our journey as disciples. We assess the present in the light of that future. We can't live it perfectly now, but we make it our aim. Anything unacceptable in that future world is unacceptable now, even though we can't change it all. We are to be future in advance people. In each context we live for the future which Christ has won and which Christ intends.

As we plan or develop fresh expressions, part of our discernment should be to ask:

  • what would hope look like here?
  • who is excluded, unloved or powerless here?
  • what makes people afraid here?
  • how can we be an authentic community here?
  • what would be a glimpse of the kingdom of God here?
  • what could be transformed by the power of the gospel here?

These are large questions which need specific answers, bringing real transformation.

Hope is demonstrated both by the quality of the fresh expression as a Christian community and by the impact of its service to the wider community. What we are together and what we do for others are the foundations of this ministry of hope. We are not simply trying to cheer people up or make them a little less cynical. We are showing that the only true foundation for hope is Christ and we need to be prepared to say so, at the right time and in the right way. Both deeds and words are needed.

The newly published book Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God offers theology, good practice and inspiring stories, to encourage us to share in Christ's ministry of transformation. In this Advent and Christmas season we are reminded where our hope truly lies. Hope in Christ focuses our vision, sustains us for the long patient work to which we have been called and assures us that our work is not in vain.

+Graham Cray


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