Remembering the main thing

Monday, 16 September, 2013

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

As a new season of mission shaped ministry begins, it is worth reminding ourselves why we do what we do.

Fresh expressions of church are not primarily for the sake of the church! They are not so that we can:

  • demonstrate better attendance figures than last year;
  • show some return for the investment churches and denominations have made in us;
  • have some good news stories about the church for a change.

There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but we plant fresh expressions because the church exists to announce salvation, to call disciples and to work for the transformation of communities - all for the glory of God. The emphasis on planting and maturing fresh expressions of church, is so that fresh expressions of church can put the emphasis on Jesus, and all that God intends through him.

We are to announce, and offer, salvation which he alone has secured. To be able to do that, we have to go to the people who don't come to us. We have to plant communities who demonstrate what that salvation looks like, and provide a hospitable space it can be explored. This salvation was achieved at great cost so we should not be surprised that it is costly to move out of our comfort zones, enter the day-to-day world of people who know little about it, and create new communities of disciples there.

Church is above all a community of disciples. The salvation we proclaim is simultaneously a call to life-long discipleship because the offer of Christ's salvation is inseparable from his call to follow. Fresh expressions of church are to be those communities of disciples - not just events. We are more interested in followers than attenders. If making disciples is not intentional from the start of a fresh expression, it is much harder to develop later – something I have explore more deeply in making disciples in fresh expressions of church.

Discipleship is not a solo project. Church is a community, an extended family of faith – something which is profoundly counter intuitive and counter cultural in our individualised society. We build people together as we build them up in Christ. We commit together to Christ and his cause.

Neither salvation nor discipleship adequately fulfils the purpose of a church, unless there is also a commitment to serve and transform the community or network for which it is established. Churches exist for the kingdom. Churches, fresh expression or inherited, are 'future in advance' communities, engaging their localities with the promise and first taste of heaven and earth made new. Sometimes this results in real visible change. Sometimes it is demonstrated by a persistent presence that will not give up on a locality - but either way it lies at the heart of a fresh expression's vocation (find out more in Ancient Faith Future Mission: fresh expressions of church and the kingdom of God).

Fresh expressions of church also exist to worship. Worship is as central to their vocation as is mission but what gives the worship real authenticity - as glory is given to God in praise and prayer - is that the worshippers are equally part of a community which proclaims salvation, makes disciples and seeks the kingdom in its locality. Church is not about church. Fresh expressions are not about fresh expressions. Let's keep the main thing as the main thing!

+Graham Cray

Both publications mentioned in this article can be purchase from our online shop or following the links within the text.


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