Sunday, June 05, 2011

some new church tensions I can’t resolve

1. If team Taylor are part of starting something fresh expression wise in the Southern suburbs, then it would be great to have a few local folk to be part of it (especially given we’re still pretty disconnected migrants). But folk we talk with who want something new could also be used quite profitably to prop up some existing struggling causes. Shouldn’t we just do that? (Or might some new models actually provide some new options that become helpful for existing causes?)

2. Personally, I have a demanding day job. So do lots of other folk. So the idea of “spare-time” church makes sense of current realities. But would “spare-time church” be lifegiving? Or would it simply end up a bunch of tired folk gathered tiredly? (But doesn’t that sound like a good few established churches anyhow)?

3. Given that I am quite well-known in terms of Fresh Expressions, how to start something that has lots of permission to experiment, risk and fail?

Posted by steve at 09:47 PM

Saturday, May 28, 2011

a magic mission morning

I was up early, leaving home at 7:20 am on a Saturday morning, to drive to Murray Bridge. I was giving the opening plenary (60 minute) address for the Lutheran District of South Australia and the Northern Territories, followed by a 60 minute elective.

The first talk sought to place fresh expressions with the frame of global mission and contemporary theology. The second talk (with over 100 folk turning up) focused on leadership in mission today, along with information about Fresh expressions and mission and ministry training being offered here in South Australia today – the mission-shaped ministry pilot being offered later this year, the new pioneer stream in the Bachelor of Ministry, the new Missional masters.

It was a simply beautiful drive. Salmonella Dub (Longtime) on the stereo.

Don’t you fall from grace
be cool with your space
check your place
in the race

Mist in the hollows of the Adelaide Hills. Sun stroking the tree tops. A chance to be with part of God’s wider church, to talk mission, to simply participate in the ongoing mission of God.

It was the second time this week that I have addressed a mainline denomination about fresh expressions, mission and leadership. It follows the spending of Thursday and Friday with 16 folk from 4 denominations and 4 states, all key folk in their denominations, all highly skilled ministry practioners, together plotting mission training. An enormous privilege to be among such insight, experience and passion.

It sort of feels like God is up to something, in Australia and across a number of denominations and church systems.

Posted by steve at 10:42 PM

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

leading and fresh expressions

I’m back from a rich and thought-provoking time with the Anglican clergy of South Australia. Throat a bit sore and grateful for all those who prayed. One of their requests – to reflect on leadership and fresh expressions – involved me reworking some previous work, plus developing some entirely new material. Time consuming, but quite rich personally. It involved reflecting on the leaders who had helped shape my understandings of leadership in fresh expression

I explored the postures toward culture and the habits at work. This included some contemporary leadership and change insights, including appreciative inquiry and Roxburgh’s three zone model. Plus some stories, via God Next door and my Opawa experiences.

We ended by praying for each other (the person next to us), aware that we are all uniquely gifted, we are all uniquely called to keep growing as disciples and thus (for this group) as leaders and ministers.

It seemed to be helpful – as someone commented “You took what was beyond us and made us feel like we could be part of it.”

Posted by steve at 11:04 AM

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Fresh expressions suddenly made me claustrophobic

It’s Lent. A time to focus on Christ and what it means to live as Christ followers. So I’ve started to tuck into Rooted in Jesus Christ: Towards a Radical Ecclesiology. Daniel is a younger leader, born in Spain, studied in United States, now back in Europe working with migrants. It’s a rich and fertile bed for theological reflection.

A few pages in he discusses the place of martyrs for theology.

“In recent decades, liberation theology has become a theology of martyrdom. A number of bishops (the best known being Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Bishop Enrique Angelelli in Argentina, and Bishop Juan Gerardi in Guatemala), various priests and nuns (including the six Jesuits of the Universidad Centro-americano Jose Simeon Canas in San Salvador), and thousands of catechists and members of base communities have been killed for their commitment to the gospel of liberation. These martyrs offer a witness to the meaning and implications of following Christ in a violent world, Their testimony is much needed to overcome the effects of a cultural context that emphasises comfort and tends to forget the anonymous victims of injustice.” (4)

Why martyrs only four pages into a book on Jesus today? Well he is arguing that these martyrs, not just one, but many, are one of the four key permanent contributions of liberation theology to the ongoing task of theological reflection. That you can’t think and act on Jesus without a struggle that is radical, so radical it might even be life-giving.

Suddenly some of the fresh expressions talk I’ve been part of began to feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t think of many martyrs, although I can think of hours spent arguing about American authors, or the use or otherwise of pop culture, or candles, in worship.

Recently I reflected that mission is a 3D triangle. It needs to include

  • words, the talking of the Jesus story
  • deeds, the practical helps of listening well, of offering mercy, of seeking justice
  • prayer, whether in monastic patterns of faithful prayer, or of worship performed in representation of a hurting world, or in “power evangelism” in which the sick are prayed for
  • societal rebuilding in which Christians join with Nehemiah in rebuilding broken walls, follow Daniel who gave himself to just administration, echo Dueteronomy and seek to build cities of refuge

Fresh expressions claims to be about mission. But it runs the danger of becoming a church-centric, worship-focused program.

The feelings of claustrophobia lifted as I read on. Daniel offers a few critiques of liberation theology. One is that the use of praxis was too narrow. Praxis is not only political – it is also about ordinary, daily life, the real practices and lives of the people, “the whole reality as it really is, not as we would like it to be.” (7) In Australia this might not be matyrdom, but it is the way we eat, it is the way we shop, it is how we culture-make.

This offers a generative moment for fresh expressions. Daniel continues;

“there is a significant ecclesial role in the cause of people’s liberation … we need to strengthen Christian identity – including spirituality, liturgical life, and a factual sense of belonging.” (10)

In other words, Fresh expressions is vital as it encourages a ecclesial role that is contextual for First-world cultures. Fresh expressions remains essential as it seeks to nourish Christian identity in ways that make sense for 21st century disciples.

Fresh expressions is claustrophobic if the goal is fresh expressions. It is full of potential if the hope is cultural transformation in an alignment with God’s inbreaking Kingdom.

But what of where I started? What is the place of martyrs in Fresh expressions? Perhaps in the reminder of a life of love lived freely and radically, the invitation to love our enemies, not as an option for mature Christians who have their act together, but as a core of discipleship.

A radical Lenten following of Jesus?

Posted by steve at 11:49 AM

Friday, March 11, 2011

defining fresh expressions: a local pastor speaks

I sat with a pastoral friend the other day. We were shooting the breeze – talking funerals and spiritual retreats – as pastoral folk do!

And he suddenly talked about a new initiative with families that was happening in the church. And he made what I think is on the best definitions of fresh expressions I’ve heard in a long time.

I think its about people being together, doing stuff around faith and
relationships and something emerging from that, rather than simply a

Posted by steve at 08:59 PM

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 3 – mission and church

“For the Parish”, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so I am engaging the book, chapter by chapter. The Introduction is here, Chapter one is here, Chapter two is here.

Before we plunge into round (chapter) 3 of For the Parish vs Fresh Expressions it is worth gaining an overview. Chapter 3 is a crucial chapter, which in a nutshell, battles over the relationship between church, worship and mission. Did Christus propter ecclesiam venit (Christ come for the sake of the Church)? Or the world?

Before I explore this chapter, I wanted to gain an overview of current debates on the relationship between church and mission. I turned to the The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. Nearly 700 pages, of which chapter 36 is on the theme of church and mission (Ecclesiology and World Mission/Missio Dei, by Paul Collins, 623-636.)

Collins offers some history. First a history in which mission has been understood, based on Matthew 28:19-20, as going. By implication, mission becomes a task performed elsewhere. Second, a history in which the context of Christendom, which meant that “conversion and salvation, church and mission became inextricably bound together.” (624).

Collins urges the “understanding of the world church today [be] rooted in the experiences of the colonial and post-colonial periods of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (623). He then links six themes – salvation, partnership, missio Dei, relationality, inculturation and pluralism – in dialogue with major church councils like Vatican 2 and World Council of Churches. His conclusion is that to be church is to be sent, to participate in God’s mission in the world. “Ideas of ‘mission’ in terms of conversion and recruitment to church membership need to be re-evaluated in the light of God’s cosmic mission: ‘that God may be all in all.” (633, drawing on 1 Cor 15:28)

This overview of global trends in thinking about church and mission, gives us some way to understand For the Parish. The book makes no reference to trends in world Christianity, nor to the conciliar councils. Instead the authors draw on European theologians like John Robinson, Sergei Bulgakov, Henri Lubac. They acknowledge the place of the Kingdom in the Gospels, but choose to place priority on the Pauline epistles to argue that “the goal of salvation … might even be said to be all church.” (48) They conclude that to suggest mission is a proper ultimate goal is “the ultimate heresy within the contemporary Church of England.” (54)

Heresy. A strong word indeed.

They critique Fresh Expressions for having

the fervour of devotees casting around for increasingly precious things to offer up to mission. The favoured sacrifices are the practices and traditions of the inherited church. To mission, every and any treasure must be sacrificed. (For the Parish, 54)

This chapter opens up a crucial, crucial debate. What is the relationship between church and mission? Does church exist for mission? Or for worship? It seems to me, given the overview provided in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church that For the Parish is urging is simply continuing a Christendom, European understanding of church and mission.

Whether Fresh Expressions is doing any better is an equally valid question, which will occupy us in Chapter Four. But first, back to the piles of paper on my desk.

Posted by steve at 10:44 AM

Saturday, January 29, 2011

listening at your local in Lent: step one in a fresh expression?

Updated: Feedback

“The good thing about this is that it’s a process. We’ve been offered in the past so many programmes, which people tend to resist.”

“The best thing about what you did is the homework. So many seminars just give information. You gave us something to do.”

On Sunday I am offering a Lenten mission challenge to a local Uniting Church. I am preaching and then offering an hour long mission seminar. The Lenten focus I am suggesting is not a study or some readings. Nor is it a chance to give some money. Nor even to engage some internal spiritual practices. Rather the focus is on some practical tasks in order to listen outside the church walls and into their community …

Task: Take a project. Decide on a time frame. Do it either individually or as a group. If as a group, why not meet fortnightly for coffee to encourage, pray for each other.

  • Listening project one – some growth questions to ask selected individuals
  • Listening project two – observation walks around the community
  • Listening project three – visual observation of the community, involving creating photo exhibits
  • Listening project four – some Appreciative inquiry questions

I am hoping it is practical and fun and people want to have a go. Why not enjoy a few summer walks around your community.

I am hoping that this becomes a first step in a process, that what they hear clarifies their next steps in mission; that out of listening comes some acts of intentional service, that such acts are designed not as programs but to grow relationships, that those relationships become conduit for gospel stories to be told, that those gospel stories invite an exploration of Jesus, first individually and then in community. (ie a fresh expression).

But those words – fresh expression – are often a step to far.  So first, hey, why not listen in your local ….

Posted by steve at 03:18 PM

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish. A Critique of Fresh Expressions, chapter 2

For the Parish, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so I am engaging the book, chapter by chapter. The Introduction is here, Chapter one is here

Chapter two – Theology and mediation

This chapter introduces a second theological concept, that of “mediation.” This is (dictionary) defined by Davison and Milbank as actions that bring about a gift. They chart a number of implications for Christian faith

  • “the messenger becomes the message; we receive the gift of being gifts to ourselves” (30)
  • the priority of the sacraments as “the chief material means by which we are united to Christ (31)
  • “God works through our actions, words and communities because he is the active, speaking, communal God, whose image we bear.” (33)
  • God is “revealing himself in [human] language” (36)
  • the goal is the divine redemption of human culture

Having dedicated 11 pages to defining mediation, the chapter then finishes with three paragraphs in relation to Fresh expressions, which are accused of lacking this theology. However, no concrete evidence (eg quotes or examples) is provided to back up such accusations.

One way to examine a work is to look at the sources being used. So this chapter affirms culture, as it needs to by advocating a theology of mediation. So does it practice what it preaches ie use cultural sources? If so, what? This chapter does draw on culture, citing poet David Jones (35), Elizabeth Bishop (36), and an opera by Rossini (38). I will be keeping an eye on this as the book develops, but my initial observation is that this book is privileging certain forms of culture – it is quoting poetry but not pop music, opera but not film. In doing so, it might well reveal an exclusive, limiting understanding of what it is to be human and of what cultures can be part of mediation.

As with chapter one, I am again left confused with the fact that the themes being argued here are also being used in the Fresh Expressions discussion. When I teach on “alternative/emerging worship, I use themes of Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, Ascension to argue for the priority of embodiment and thus the use of culture in worship. Pete Ward has written an book titled Participation And Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church in attempting to articulate a theology of pop culture emerging from his experiences in youth ministry. What is going on when a theology of mediation is being used in Fresh Expressions, yet this book is accusing it of lacking such a theology?

Posted by steve at 09:51 AM

Friday, January 14, 2011

the unbiblical banality that is mission-shaped church/fresh expressions

For the Parish, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so over the next weeks, I’ll be engaging the book, chapter by chapter.

The Introduction wastes little time; Mission-shaped church and fresh expressions are defective in methodology, inadequate in theology, and a capitulation to market values (page vii)! Fresh expressions are defined as “independent entities without any relation to the parish in which they operate … special interest groups … that defines the consumerist criterion of membership.” (vii) The book promises a critique on theological, philosophical and Biblical grounds. Fresh expressions is “unbiblical” (viii), a flight toward “segregation” (ix).

The abandonment of stability for novelty and given liturgy for ‘choice’, results in banality and pastiche, as well as a frail and atomized subjectivity. (ix)

Looking forward to chapter one arn’t we! Well, let’s all enjoy the weekend first 🙂

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Thursday, December 16, 2010

emerging churches 10 years on: major research project

Sitting in the international departure lounge at Adelaide Airport, enroute to Christchurch via Auckland, I got the news I’d been hanging out for, the granting by the university of ethics approval for me to conduct a research project, a study of the emerging church over time.

In 2000-1, as part of my PhD research, I conducted major qualitative research on new forms of church/alternative worship in UK and New Zealand. This involved interviewing leaders, conducting participant surveys and running focus groups. It became a 140,000 word PhD thesis.

Now, 10 years later, I was seeking approval to repeat the research – to ask the same questions, to conduct the same surveys, to repeat the focus groups. And in so doing, to begin to gain some concrete data on what has happened inside fresh expressions/new forms of church/alt.worship communities over time, in discipleship, in leadership, in sustainability, in life stage.

And so while the Taylor girls flew onto Christchurch, I stayed on in Auckland for another 24 hours. And turned on the tape recorder and conducted my first interview.

What I heard was far more interesting and useful than I expected (and I tend to have fairly high expectations!) Some fabulous data on what should be a really stimulating piece of research.

Posted by steve at 12:46 PM

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Fresh expressions as church at Advent birth

I’ve been working hard over the last few weeks on an article for the Anvil journal, titled Evaluating Birth narratives: A Missiological Conversation with Fresh Expressions. It’s the write up of what I presented in September in Durham in which I interview UK alternative worship leaders and communities about how they began, and then reflect on implications for being church/ecclesiology.

In trying to make sense of what I was writing on Friday, I made the following graphic, based on the Orans Icon.

And here is a section of the paper, which I post because we are now in Advent.

The most likely place to find a birthing ecclesiology should be with regard to Incarnation. Indeed, for Williams, in Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin “[i]magining Mary in words and pictures has always been one of the most powerful ways of imagining the Church, and so of imagining ourselves freshly.” This is based on a theological meditation on Orthodox icons, specifically The Hodegetria, The Eleous and The Orans.

With regard to the Orans Icon, Mary stands facing us, hands extended in prayer. For Williams, “Here is Christ praying in Mary. Mary becomes, as the Church becomes, a ‘sign’ in virtue of the action of Christ within her … There is plenty here for us to think about in relation to the Church’s life.” Given that “the art of making icons is often termed “writing” rather than “painting”, such an Icon offers what could be termed a birthing ecclesiology, in which the body of Christ is linked with the Body of Christ, most specifically in the pre-natal life of Christ. (here)

Williams’ ecclesiology is formed in the invitation to consider Mary; hands open to God, with eyes open to the world. “If Mary is indeed the image of the true Church … [it is a church] … Hands open to God, eyes open to the world; and within, the hidden energy that soaks the Church with divine action, divine love.” Further, “[t]he church is the humanity Christ has made possible; its real history is the history of particular persons realizing by the Spirit’s gift the new potential for human nature once it has been touched by divine agency, divine freedom, in Christ.” This provides a way to evaluate Fresh Expressions.

With a (birthing) Mary as an image, so can (the birthing) of Fresh Expressions be evaluated by considering how it imitates the posture of Mary, hands open to God, eyes open to the world, a gift of new potential.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

alternative, emerging, fresh in australia: new website

It’s a strange time to be in Australia.  Currently there’s a lot of looking to England under the fresh expression brand. A few years ago it was emerging with Brian McLaren.  Before that it was Forge. Alternative, emerging, fresh in Australia – yes the words mean many different things to many different people.

Brands. Do they create identity? Or do they provide something for groups to push, or be pushed, against. As I said, strange times.

Anyhow, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of online list of “alternative, emerging, fresh” communities in Australia.  So in order to try and provide some sort of database, Cheryl Lawrie has set up a Alternative forms of worship and community in Australia website. Basically a wiki and an invitation to any and all groups who feel they are – alternative, emerging, fresh – to both put up, and update as necessary, their details.

So if that’s you (in Australia) head on over and add your details. If you know of groups, please pass the details on …

Posted by steve at 09:59 PM

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? of Fresh Expressions

My task this weekend including needing to explain (twice, once in seminar, once in sermon) fresh expressions in 25 minutes. I decided to use journalism’s Five Ws as a frame. To give some Biblical grounding, I used Luke 10. So here is a Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? of Fresh expressions, using Luke 10:1-11.

Who? Ordinary “no-name” disciples. In other words, any and all. Fresh expressions invites a lay revolution
What? Fresh expressions began. 36 gatherings of people around Kingdom story and Kingdom activity.
Where? At tables of local villages. In other words, not in church buildings, but in any and all places in our local communities
When? A long time ago. And through church history. And it continues today.
Why? Because of missio Dei: “It’s not the church of God that has a mission, but the God of mission who has a church”.
How? In Luke 10 through six principles and practices of
1: Going (v 1-2)
2: Vulnerability, taking nothing but peace in a willingness to receive hospitality (3-4)
3: Listening, for where God is active in our community in the return of peace (v.5)
4: Dwelling at table, building deeply human relationships in existing communities and networks of relationships (v. 7)
5: Discerning God’s fingerprints, paying attention to where God might be at work in the fullness of shalom (v. 9)
6: Discussing the Kingdom, in response to healing to engaging in conversations about Kingdom of God is near (v. 9, 11)

So there you are, my take on Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? of Fresh expressions.

I also put together some prayer stations, so for those who want to engage Fresh expressions using interactive learning cf just words (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM

Monday, November 22, 2010

Putting legs on the local: fresh expressions in South Australia

On Saturday, I’m involved in this …

What is a fresh expression? How do they emerge? What is the role of sponsors? How do we help the dreamers? How do we support fresh expressions well? What is happening on the ground in South Australia? We’ll be grappling with these questions and more at this Fresh Expressions tasting day, designed to stimulate discussion and action.

The day will include 3 “fresh expressions of mission” telling their story, their struggles, their learnings. We will talk in groups about best practice – how best to support a fresh expression, how best to dream a fresh expression.

27 November from 11am – 3.30pm at Christ Church, Wayville (26 King William Rd). Hosted by Fresh Expressions Synod of South Australia Taskforce. More info: Al Dutton 8236 4271

As mentioned here

Posted by steve at 12:01 PM