Self-supporting ministry in fresh expressions of church

Monday, 15 September, 2014

Kevin Colyer looks at how to support yourself financially when leading a fresh expression of church.

'What a huge harvest!' he said to his disciples. 'How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!' (Matthew 6.38, The Message)

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a 'typical' lay leader of a fresh expression of church.

You are part of a significant trend in leadership – as was highlighted in The Church Army Research Unit's study in ten dioceses, released earlier this year, which showed that slightly more than half of the fresh expressions of church surveyed were led by lay people. In my experience, it's also true that many lay people are starting a fresh expression as part of a team, all of whom are giving their free time to make it happen.

Imagine those first months, perhaps slow ones to begin with as the team prays, listens to God, listens to the culture they are planting into and prays some more. Next comes the tentative exploring of service, outreach and intentionally starting to be church together. Before a year is gone there is the nucleus of a functioning fresh expression.

As God gives growth, the whole thing starts to get bigger and bigger, demanding more and more time. One obvious way to create more time is for one or more people to leave paid work and go full time with the project; yet the fresh expression is not generating enough income to support someone and there are precious few coins in the coffers of the regional church mission funds to finance someone. What happens now? Should this cause the fresh expression to stumble and halt? Should institutional finance be a limiting factor? It could be, but it need not. It is time to get creative to solve the problem.

One such solution is to consider becoming self-supporting. This means raising support from a variety of people - most likely starting with those attending the existing church starting the fresh expression; people who believe in the project and the person. It is similar to the way Jesus and his disciples were supported and has been a common practice in the modern missions' movement. It also accelerates people into the harvest field that Jesus was so deeply concerned for.

Starting with self-supporting ministry is not hard. You need to have a high value on relationships, be a self-starter and able to communicate well the vision and realities of your ministry. You can learn how to approach people in a respectful way with a confidence that is appropriate in asking them to support you; they are participating in the grace of giving.

At some point, the fresh expression will need to grow to fund itself and find a way to fit into the financial structure of its own denomination. It takes time to increase the numbers and the depth of discipleship. The goal is that generosity is manifested as:

  • a sign of gratefulness of Christ's sacrificial giving of himself for us;
  • an act of worship and obedience.

Mind you, it must be said that it's not just the fresh expression but the whole mixed-economy of church which needs to grow in its depth of discipleship - especially if we really want to see thousands more relevant churches started for those in our nation.

My family and I have been self-supporting for more than 20 years, and up and down the UK many hundreds more people are doing likewise. Fresh Expressions has published a new Share booklet on self-supporting ministry that goes into the process in much greater depth. My hope and prayer is that this book might provide the impetus and encouragement for leaders and workers in fresh expressions to bridge the funding gap they need to give them the time and freedom to minister.

Kevin Colyer

About the author: 

Kevin Colyer is YWAM Coordinator for Fresh Expressions.

Comments

Just read your book about this - it's very helpful thank you!

We can learn a great deal about this style of self-supporting ministry from the US experience of bivocational ministry. See, for example, http://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/ministers/tentmaking...
or Denis Bickers' blog at http://bivocationalministry.blogspot.co.uk/

The other side of the coin though is that the minister becomes focussed on the fresh expression of church, at the expense of being a minister in their workplace. This isn't a new problem by any means; many non-stipendiary ministers have seen their secular jobs as merely a means of earning rather than as a community to which they belong, to serve, to minister in.

Of course we need ministers in both roles. Let's not lose either.

Rob Fox
Editor, 'Ministers-at-Work'

Thanks Rob - of course the individual may have started a fresh expression of church in his workplace, in which case there isn't a clash!

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