Challenges facing fresh expressions of church (Andrew Roberts)

Monday, 17 February, 2014

Andrew Roberts explores the challenges facing fresh expressions of church.

What a great privilege it has been to serve alongside the rest of the Fresh Expressions team for just over eight years! As I move on to my new role with the Methodist Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network, here are some personal reflections on what has been achieved and what lies ahead.

When I was interviewed for a post with Fresh Expressions in 2005 I was asked many things, including my thoughts surrounding the hope that 10,000 fresh expressions would form. I thought it was a great thing to aim for and said something along the lines of, 'With God all things are possible'. And of course they are... Now, eight years on with hard data being produced, we are well on the way to seeing that figure realized! If the growth of the fresh expressions movement follows the pattern of other significant movements of mission, then it is not unreasonable to expect to see the rate of growth accelerating (and again the research produced by the Methodist Church and Church Army in both cases shows that happening).

There is so much to be hopeful for as the fresh expressions movement looks to the future. There also continue to be significant challenges:

The movement needs to become younger, deeper and more diverse

Whilst there are very encouraging developments in the number of children and young people involved in fresh expressions, in leadership terms the movement remains very 'middle-aged plus'. The identifying, releasing and supporting of young leaders (and by young I'm thinking 15 – 30) is an urgent task. I accept that you have to start where you are, but if we remain where we are the fresh expressions movement risks heading into retirement with the early adopters.

There is an urgent need to identify those upon whom God's anointing lies who can lead his people into the future

I am very struck by how the emerging generation of young Christians can navigate the big issues like sexuality, interfaith relations and post-denominationalism. The point needs to come –and come sooner rather than later - when the emerging generation leads the older generations, with those of us who are older being their minders and mentors.

Much good work has been done in the areas of theology and discipleship but more, and deeper, work is still needed

The theology that is emerging from fresh expressions needs to be given its rightful place within the theology of a mixed economy church. Whilst the Anglican-Methodist report Fresh expressions in the mission of the church helpfully affirmed the validity of fresh expressions as churches; it disappointed in that it failed to explore in depth the theological lessons being leant (or relearnt) within fresh expressions. In evaluating fresh expressions (and inherited churches) we need to embrace fresh as well as inherited theology.

Broadening ethnicity

One of the highlights of my time with Fresh Expressions (not surprisingly!) was a trip to Barbados to work with Christians there on a mission shaped ministry course. Initially I felt conspicuously 'obvious' due to the colour of my skin but, of course, I was made to feel incredibly welcome and at home. One of my prayers for the ongoing fresh expressions movement in the UK, and around the world, is that it will embrace - and be embraced by - all ethnicities. There are some great examples of this emerging, not least in South Africa, but again more needs to be done.

Looking ahead, the good news is that the partners and supporters of Fresh Expressions have recommitted to the future of the team and are securing the resources for the work that needs to be done. So, as I move on, I pray God's blessing on all involved and look forward to those 10,000 fresh expressions forming.

About the author: 

Andrew is a Discipleship Specialist and Regional Training Officer with the Methodist Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network (DMLN).

Comments

Good thoughts. Thanks. Esp. the diversity issue. Every blessing for the next step!!!

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