Transforming communities

Monday, 21 January, 2013

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

Fresh expressions of church are intended to be communities of disciples; communities through which God brings the kingdom to bear on the neighbourhoods, networks and areas they serve. They are to be contextual communities of disciples. As we begin a new year of mission and ministry it is worth reminding ourselves of these priorities and how they are to be worked out.

We are seeking to plant and nurture communities, not just events. Yes, events are essential and all Christians are called to the regular event of gathering for worship - but any community we plant and nurture is meant to have shared life beyond meetings and this life will show itself in gathering to worship or acting together in mission and service. Are we being church or simply finding new ways to go to church? To what extent are we building people together?

These communities should have a common core, made up of disciples and those exploring the possibility of becoming disciples. So the call of Jesus to discipleship underlies all their activities. We draw people into fresh expressions of church so that they will have a greater opportunity to hear his call. But we are not concerned with just the beginning of discipleship, but of its growth to maturity. So communities of disciples are communities on the move. They share a common direction, towards Christ, but they travel at different speeds, each person responding at the level of their understanding, ability and willingness. To what extent are our fresh expressions static, maintaining their status quo, and to what extent do they draw their members and seekers into deeper discipleship?

Discipleship has to be contextual or it is not discipleship at all. We grow in our understanding of and obedience to Christ in the place where he has located us. Contextual church is not just about fitting the local culture; it is about faithful Christian living in it. To what extent do we identify the challenges to life in Christ in our context? How can we strengthen the members of our fresh expression so that their lives outshine whatever goes for normal locally, and enrich the places where they live their daily lives?

Fresh expressions are called to be communities through which God's transforming kingdom is brought to bear on our contexts. Our recent book Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God is all about that. The whole point of establishing a fresh expression to bridge the gap between the church and the local community is so that our friends and neighbours can both hear the call of the King and so that his kingdom can engage local society. To what extent do our fresh expressions have a kingdom agenda?

It is easy to lose vision because of the pressure of maintaining all that we have established. The tension between mission and maintenance challenges both parts of the mixed economy equally. As we serve Christ this year may his kingdom take deeper hold in our lives and our contexts.

+Graham Cray


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