A musing on sustainability (David Muir)

Sunday, 23 August, 2009

David MuirDavid Muir has been musing about sustainability.

I have been musing about sustainability in fresh expressions. Perhaps there are two levels of sustainability.

The first is when people who have no church background begin to serve the purposes of God in the same way that the 'starter group' first served them. The weakness of some fresh expressions is that the 'serving centre' reflects the culture of mainstream church, well schooled in Christian teaching and practice. So from the start we need to think about how an unchurched person can become a full part of its community life, and begin to serve others as they were once served. It is as if the process has come full circle – like a rope going around something and creating a kind of knot. It secures the day to day life of the fresh expression. If the initial team collapsed, the fresh expression would hold, at least for a time. Before this point the whole rope would simply unravel and all the initial energy would be lost. So from the beginning we need to think about how to get to that first point of sustainability.

Then I wonder if there is a second 'loop' of the rope – when the unchurched person initially served is enabled into leadership. This is like putting a double knot on the rope and securing it properly. So from early on in a fresh expression we need to be looking at people who are being drawn into faith, and asking how these people are going to share in its leadership. If the way we model leadership requires being comfortable with (even keen on) the ways of mainstream church, this fresh expression is never going to become entirely secure. It will always depend on importing leaders with the right credentials. 

Both these tests of sustainability help to focus my mind. In offering to serve others in the name of Christ, can I see how new people can start to help others in the same way they have been served, albeit relying on the grace of God as they do so? Is it too 'expert' a form of service for this to happen very soon? Does it require too much theological understanding, or pastoral expertise, or public speaking skills, or group facilitation skills, or whatever? If so, it is going to be absolutely ages before this fresh expression even achieves the basic level of sustainability. During that time it could fail.

And then, how could ordinary people enter into leadership fairly quickly? Is the leadership task massively complex? Does it require awesome organisational skills? Is it a 'burnout' model that no one in their right mind would take on? Is it deeply fulfilling to do, albeit also a lot of hard work? Is it a shared and meaningful experience, rather than a long and lonely road?

In other words, how can my new fresh expression be something that new members get involved in fairly quickly and the more able ones move into leadership fairly easily?

Does any of that make sense?

About the author: 

David Muir is an Ordained Pioneer Minister supporting 23 largely rural parishes to create fresh expressions of church. He is also course leader of The Pioneer Disciple, msm in Devon.


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