Monday, August 01, 2011

Leapers or baby steppers? Is this fresh expressions? Or simply different expressions

The Adelaide mission-shaped ministry course course kicked off last week. With 44 folk registered – add to the fact that it’s pioneering in the sense of being spread across Uniting, Lutheran and Anglican denominations and being a first ever in Australia, let alone in a brand new building, there was a good deal of nervous energy in the room.

As usual, as speaker, I end up probably learning more than those who attended. For me, this was around fresh expressions. Are we talking “fresh” expressions or “different” expressions? And does it matter?

The question emerged most clearly during a part of the evening involving some Fresh expression storytelling. I could have showed the UK DVD, but I asked if instead there might be any local fresh expressions either being dreamed of, or being explored.

Which led to stories of playgroup church, outdoor labyrinths, someone finding themselves being called Pastor of a social poker club, Friday happy hours that were offering community to local neighbours and the beginnings of ministry to Middle Eastern students.

And then the question (in my words) – Are these fresh expressions? Or just different expressions?

What would you say? Here is what I said

Well, first, from it’s beginnings, fresh expressions was meant to be an inclusive, not exclusive term. I once asked Graham Cray why the term fresh expression. His reply involved the fact that they were looking for a term that was not elitist, that suggested something exclusive or elitist. So invariably, what for one is fresh will for another be different.

Second, by implication we all need to see ourselves as on a journey. There is no such thing as a pure fresh expression. All have small beginnings, none are mature. So the challenge, whether we feel fresh or different, is to refuse to settle. We do this by always keeping alive among us the mission questions – is this primarily for us, or for others? Because, whether fresh or different, if it becomes for us, we are simply being selfish.

Third (I thought afterward), we need to have multiple approaches. We need both leapers and baby steppers.

We need pioneers who can leap, can parachute into a new sub-culture, listen deeply, find a person of peace and with them form a radical fresh expression. But that will take years to see fruit and requires a very unique skillset.

And meantime the church trundles on it’s merry way, Sunday after Sunday, hymn after chorus.

So we also need little short baby steps, achievable experiments. These will never become immediately a fresh expression. But they are vital because they open up micro-moments, a flash of insight into a different way of being. If those moments, those flashes, are listened to carefully, humbly, then they can clarify the next little baby step. And so the process continues.

The danger is that leapers scorn babysteppers, while baby-steppers stop stepping. Fresh expressions needs multiple strokes for diverse folks.

Posted by steve at 06:40 PM


  1. Hi Steve. I like the inclusiveness of your statement. I was beginning to get a twinge of a doubt that ‘Fresh Expressions’ was starting to get exclusive before it really ever got started here in Adelaide. The exploratory and creative nature of ‘Fresh Expressions’, alongside a strong desire to make real connections with people in our communities probably makes it stand out from ‘traditional church’. I’m tending, these days, to explore the term ’emerging church’ a little further, as an umbrella term, which suggests pushing us a little further into transforming existing church alongside growing ‘fresh expressions’; mixing them up a bit. Traditional ‘main-line’ is stuffed really, and can’t afford to make ‘fresh expressions’ just fringe dwellers to humour the ‘arty’ types. Future church is ‘fresh’ or nothing, I think. Thanks, as per-usual, for providing the space to think out loud.

    Comment by Chris McLeod — August 2, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

  2. Thanks Chris. The irony is that the term fresh expressions emerged (pun intended) after the term emerging church and in response to the way that term had become exclusive, often used to dismiss inherited expressions.

    The word “fresh” was chosen rather than “new” – to indicate that every generation through history needs to meet God “fresh” and to communicate “fresh” ie to be constantly renewed.

    As for f ex only being for arty types, don’t get me started on that particular rant …

    Glad to have you thinking a-loud


    Comment by steve — August 2, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

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