The fantasy cycle and fresh expressions - 1 (Ben Edson)

Monday, 1 November, 2010

Ben EdsonBen Edson begins a look at the fantasy cycle and fresh expressions.

Recently I've been thinking about life cycle and fresh expressions of church, with specific reference to a framework called the fantasy cycle. The cycle (though not very cyclical at all) is: Anticipation - Dream - Frustration - Nightmare - Death wish.

Anticipation

I think there is the danger that we front-load with anticipation. Typically, a person, if training to be an Ordained Pioneer Minister, will do two or three years of theological training before they actually start something. This is all about anticipation; they're dreaming about what will be and what will happen ... anticipating. At the same time, a permission giver is dreaming up possibilities. Anticipating.

One obvious problem with this is that when the pioneer arrives they are immediately in a goldfish bowl of their own expectancy and the local expectancies. When I was first employed as a pioneer in the city centre of Manchester, there was no Mission-shaped Church, no Fresh Expressions and no expectations! Just realistic hopes.

If the community is indigenous, then this anticipation is part of the formation of the church, happening as it does in the birthing community. If anticipation is part of the cycle, then I think that it should be done in context. It is a time of dreaming in community and of working out the possibilities, but it is predominantly about trying to live that anticipated dream.

Dream

The dream stage is not when you're dreaming about all the possibilities; it's when you're living the dream. The fresh expression is flourishing; there is energy and excitement about what the future holds and all that you seem to touch turns to gold. Please note ... it doesn't last!

The problem with the dream stage is that it creates unrealistic expectations as to what the fresh expression will be like in the long term

However, the problem with the dream stage is that it creates unrealistic expectations as to what the fresh expression will be like in the long term. People start to think that it will always be like this, always be easy, and hence when things change - as they will - the memory of what has been becomes a powerful comparison to the present. The dream is an unsustainable phase; it attracts the consumer rather than the disciple and hence the dream needs to be a phase of high cost discipleship.

Frustration

I think it's no surprise that Frustration comes straight after Dream. In many ways the dream opens our eyes to the possibility of what could be, perhaps in a somewhat utopian way, but nevertheless once the eyes have been opened there is no turning back. Frustrations come because the dream will not last for ever, and hence I think that the first point of learning is to let people know that!

The challenge is negotiating a pathway through the frustration that does not necessarily lead to death. We accomplished this a few times when I was with Sanctus1 by reinventing ourselves; this would happen through a change in group set-up or venue. This seemed to re-energise people and bring the Dream stage back. However, this was temporary and we still remained in the cycle, the real challenge being to break it and move into something more permanent.

I'm becoming more convinced that the way in which the cycle will be broken is by a process of aggregation with the wider church. It will be an aggregation process that involves both parties learning together so that the fresh expression of church can move out of this cycle and move towards something more permanent. In the Anglican Church, ways in which the fresh expression can break the cycle may involve a Bishop's Mission Order or paying into the parish share. Without this reference to something 'other', I think that the fresh expression may become too self-absorbed and concerned about reclaiming the dream.

Next week, Nightmare and Death wish...

About the author: 

Ben Edson is the Diocese of Manchester's Fresh Expressions Missioner.

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