Making disciples in fresh expressions

Monday, 19 August, 2013

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Disciple making is not an inevitable consequence of church attendance - irrespective of the mode of church, fresh expression or inherited!

Attending once a month or once a week, sitting in pews or around tables, listening to a sermon or taking part in an interactive discussion about the Bible, even taking Holy Communion regularly, does not automatically lead to growth in discipleship. Disciplined participation, word and sacrament are all vital ingredients, but something more intentional is needed. Discipleship can't be an afterthought introduced once the fresh expression has been established; it has to be a vital ingredient from the beginning.

The 'fresh expressions journey' suggests the sequence for the planting team to follow as they develop the fresh expression from the beginning. Although the journey outlines a direction of travel by which the team engage with those who might become disciples, the whole journey must be intentional from the outset. You are planting a seed which has the potential to grow into a fresh expression of church, but only what is in the seed at the beginning can be expected to grow when it is planted. The listening, serving, forming community, evangelism and disciple making, and the church taking shape are all intended from the beginning. Each is intended as the previous step in established, and each needs to be established before it is clear just what shape the next will take.

Although the dominant Western culture which shapes our lives is one of individualist consumerism, the key to discipleship in a fresh expression of church is the local context. That’s why it's important to ask the question, 'What global, national and local forces shape a locality, whether that be a neighbourhood, a network or a combination of the two?' Disciple making involves a process of inculturation.

It involves a process of discernment and the reading of a local culture. We are not rushed consumers who take 'models of church' off the shelf. We follow the Holy Spirit who issues an invitation to improvise. If discipleship is not contextual, applied to the actual circumstances of a place and its people, it is not likely to be discipleship at all because it does not touch real lives.

If people are to become disciples, they need to see what discipleship looks like. The lives of the planting team, the way in which the fresh expression is planted, and the culture it develops, all serve this purpose. Only disciples make disciples. If the planting team are not serious about their own discipleship they cannot expect to make disciples of others. It is only people who are allowing Jesus to teach them how to live their lives as he would, who can expect Jesus to do the same for others through them.

Build sacrifice and service into the culture of the fresh expression from the beginning. Don’t mistake welcome, hospitality and cultural relevance for comfort with no element of challenge and don't create an environment so comfortable that it gives no hint of the cost of discipleship or the call to serve. Becoming part of a fresh expression involves joining a community of disciples, not just attending a culturally relevant event; this is a community on the move, a community whose DNA is that it serves others.

The community life of a fresh expression needs to provide staging posts, opportunities for people to take a step nearer to Christian commitment or deeper in their discipleship. Fresh expressions are often catechumenate communities at the start: comprising people who are exploring faith and are on a journey towards it. They need to belong before they can believe. These days many of them know very little about the Bible or Christian practice, but they are shaped by a culture where they expect to participate, rather than sit and be told.

Once a fresh expression has reached the stage of a regular public gathering for worship, there is no need for all who attend to move forward at the same pace. The gospel meets people where they are and draws them deeper at the pace they can each sustain. The key is to provide regular unpressurized opportunities to go deeper. Fresh expressions of church lay a path to Jesus and to the whole of life as Jesus' disciple. They provide a series of steps along the way; steps in which baptism, renewal of baptismal vows, and confirmation - or however commitment to Christ is publicly expressed in different traditions - have a natural place.

+Graham Cray

This material is drawn from Graham's new booklet, Making disciples in fresh expressions of church, available now.


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