Learning to take time

Thursday, 15 March, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

At the changing the landscape event on the Lincoln Showground, Archbishop Rowan reminded us that

Fresh Expressions is not a quick fix. It's not an instant solution to the Church's problems of membership and support, or whatever – it's not a quick fix for the issues and needs of those involved.

We live in an impatient society and an instant culture, often under financial and other pressures to demonstrate 'results'. But some things simply can't be done instantly. They take time and require the right conditions. The planting of a fresh expression of church, and the growth of men and women into Christ, both fall into this category.

As the Archbishop said,

It takes time to be a Christian. There are things that instantly make sense and make a difference and there are things that slowly, and sometimes rather painfully, find their way into your mind and heart.

I found one image from the Lincoln event particularly helpful. Chris Russell, the vicar of St Laurence Reading, spoke of the need to 'lay a path' for young people to Jesus. 'Path laying' is a good image for both the task of establishing a fresh expression, and for the task of helping those who belong to it to grow in Christian maturity.

Through listening to God, and meeting and serving people where they are, we discover where the path has to start. We are also clear where the path is not intended to go. It will not normally lead out of the community or network to which God has called you and will call them. But it is intended to lead to faith in Christ in a community, which will embody and serve him there. But the path will be laid one step at a time as Christ prepares the way. At the simplest level we call the steps 'loving and serving', 'building community', 'exploring discipleship' and 'church taking shape'. But these are only outline descriptions to help provide an overall sense of direction. There is no alternative to the patient process of listening to God and to people as each step is laid. We are path-layers to Jesus for those who don't know him, and don't know how to find him. We should not be surprised that it takes time.

But we are also path-layers, so that those who belong to our fresh expression can grow, with us into Christian maturity. This requires a well-beaten path of Christian habits and practices through which the Holy Spirit forms Christian character. The style and language of these will need to be appropriate to the fresh expression and its content, but we need to be aware that there is something deeply counter cultural about Christian disciplines – regular prayer, learning from scripture, worship, Holy Communion, community and sacrificial service are intended to make us something that we will never become naturally. They are the pathway to becoming like Christ. And that also takes time.



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