Preparing to re-imagine (Phil Potter)

Monday, 19 May, 2014

Phil Potter prepares to re-imagine.

Over the past few months, as I've been preparing to take on the team leader role for Fresh Expressions, there have been quite a few significant moments for me along the way. Two in particular spring to mind.

My commissioning at Lambeth Palace

Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues in a place steeped in Church history and the richness of its past, it was wonderful to hear Archbishop Justin speak inspiringly and affirmingly about the future, saying,

I am confident that Fresh Expressions will continue to lead the re-imagination of the ministry of the Church in this country.

'Re-imagining' of course is never about discarding what has gone before, but about re-discovering core values and applying them in fresh ways for a new generation. There's a lovely illustration of that in the movie Hook, where Peter Pan has grown up, become old and overweight and looks nothing like the Peter the lost boys knew. As the boys are shouting that this is NOT Peter, one of the smallest boys takes him by the hand and pulls him down to his level. Then he places his hands on Peter's face and proceeds to move the skin around, reshaping his face. The boy then looks into his eyes and says, 'There you are... Peter!'

In the same way, the past 10 years have seen some of the 'smallest people' in the Church completely re-shaping it missionally. The word 'laity' literally means 'little people', and the fresh expressions movement has been unique in releasing an army of lay people to help lead in the re-imagining of our Church. Some of my fondest memories as a local church leader are of the joy of seeing the whole body of Christ released effectively in mission, and Fresh Expressions has always been - and will increasingly major on being - a champion of the little people in the uniqueness and power of that call.

Visiting the place where I grew up

As I passed some of the old haunts where I used to play as a child, building dams and dens in the woods, I felt God reminding me of my roots and my imagination as a boy - and the sense that he created a pioneer from the beginning who was destined for the kind of ministry I've had for some time now. I remembered how we used to collect branches, stones and logs and spend our days in creating wonderful structures out of seemingly random 'ingredients'. To the uninitiated, fresh expressions of church can seem equally random, but those of us who are called to pioneer have, I believe, a gift from God to create and re-imagine; to illustrate what the Church might look like in the not too distant future. Like the small boy in Hook, our instinct is to move around the 'skin' of the Church until we see afresh how it used to look in the beginning.

Of course, that is a risky, vulnerable and sometimes costly call, and Fresh Expressions exists primarily to encourage, support and connect those who have it.

Over the coming months and years, then, we will go on seeking to be pioneers for the pioneers, from the little people to the permission-givers, re-imagining how they all can best be supported, connected and empowered to pursue their God-given call. I am sure that will also mean the continual re-imagining of Fresh Expressions itself, and so I look forward immensely in the coming months to hearing from the whole Church about how we might best do that together, and then participating with you in the fresh initiatives that the missionary Spirit is sharing with us all.

Phil Potter


Where does this idea that laity means literally little people come from?

I am not aware that 'laos' has this meaning.

from the Greek λαϊκός, laikos, of the people, from λαός, laos, the people at large. So large people...excellent, and hopefully FX will recalibrate accordingly and be rather less patronising.

Laity are often large people but like dry sponges they need some living water and space to spring into their true shape. Or like, as Mr Potter will realise, dry lumps of clay which can be worked with water and care into large useful vessels.

Good to see the "taking stock" and also the "return to roots" work.

Two things I'm less sure of:

1) concepts of size and the implication of big "permission givers" sanctioning little people. Often the true permission-givers are the followers whose actions empower quite hesitant leaders - and all of them are the same size.... ants in the game. Perhaps these unhelpful size ideas need some fresh expression work!

2) FX as a pioneer exercise detached or remote from the existing church.

I need a process of "battery charging" or a FX-type restarting that works in a typical small(in numbers!!!) elderly congregation that is suffering really from (a) chronic lack of good leadership and (b) "big people" - the lethargy - who exhibit many characteristics of both the clergy and the laity apart from any purposeful movement.

How do we start?

Atkins elsewhere notes the quick and the dead FX circuits - why are some "dead" and what will rapidly change that? Are the "quick" moving ahead or just running round in circles?

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