Worship and the fresh expressions journey

Monday, 17 February, 2014

Graham Cray explores the place of worship in a fresh expressions journey.

The recommended best practice for those planting a fresh expression, which we call a fresh expressions journey, recommends that the last phase, not the first, is to establish a regular, public act of worship. Otherwise the danger is that the planting team creates the service they hope the people they want to engage with will like, rather than patiently build relationships and explore discipleship as the process for learning what sort of gathering for worship is appropriate to the members and their context.

The temptation is also to take a complete model of a fresh expression of the shelf, and so bypass the whole process of prayerful discernment, which is the foundation for any contextual mission.

But this doesn't mean that the planting team cannot have a worship life of its own. On the contrary, it is vital that it does. To pray and worship together is vital for team formation. Initially the planting team will be part of two churches or congregations: the one sending them and the embryo one they are hoping to plant. As the process develops they need to be released to focus fully on the new, while continuing to have the support and prayer backing of the sending congregation.

The fresh expressions journey starts with a process of discernment and regular meeting to worship can be the time when all of the insights gathered in the listening exercise – whether conversations with doorkeepers or history keepers in the community, new census data or impressions received while prayer walking, can be brought together and made a matter of focused prayer. This may involve more than a regular gathering. It may be that the team develops a simple rhythm of life, or identifies some personal spiritual disciplines which the whole team commit to for a time. Much will depend on size. Typical teams range from three to twelve members, so this is more a cell worshipping than a congregation.

Worship is more than a meeting, just as a fresh expression is more than a worship event. It is a community of disciples and potential disciples. Worship focuses us on God and God's plans, rather than our own or the task in hand and new perspectives can emerge when we refocus to give God his proper place as the object of our worship and the leader of our mission team.

But there is a warning to note. The team's pattern of worship will not necessarily be a guide to the fresh expression's pattern of worship, once it has been established. Initially the team will worship in the way most suited to their task, but their task is to plant a fresh expression of church whose worship is most suited to those being drawn to faith through it. Be aware of the danger of establishing a pattern and just assuming that it is automatically transferable. This is partly a matter of being appropriate to culture and context, but also a straightforward matter of size. The average size of a Church of England fresh expression is 44. What works for a team of six can't simply be reproduced for forty, unless you are using a cell based model.

The creation of an appropriate form and culture of worship in a fresh expression is just as much a matter of discernment as the earlier stages of the process. The team will bring their experience and understanding of worship to the task, whether they are aware of it or not, but they should not impose it or their initial pattern on those who join them. Instead they need the skill to shape worship with and for others.

+Graham Cray


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