freshFresh is a new book written by Michael Volland, Andrew Roberts and David Goodhew. It’s an introduction to fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry. and it does exactly what it says – it’s a very good intro, possibly the best one around at the moment.

It’s in three sections written by the three different authors (in a way this is the weakness of the book – it could have had a more creative edit to weave the different contributions together more seamlessly and creatively).

The first chapter riffs on the word apostolic which i ended up quite liking. The author goes so far as to say that this language is better used by the new churches whereas the maniline denominations get hung up on apostolic succession. That’s a pretty brave, humble and fair point. Here’s a quote or two

Talk of apostles has tended to focus on apostolic succession particularly via the institutions of the papacy and episcopacy… this has the effect of seeing apostolicity in terms of structures and authority. But apostolic can mean something else, namely acting in the manner of the apostles

(this is actually very like the kind of thing former cms general secretary max warren wrote in I Believe in Mission i seem to remember)

Apostolic has too often been defined backwards in terms of continuity… but it can equally be defined forwards in terms of our sentness by the Holy Spirit

There are a couple of attempts to define church. I found the definition early on in the book landed on a really reductionist description with the gravity pulling into just modal structures which was hugely disappointing. There is such a creative conversation going on about church as both gathered and spread out, local and global, that it was a shame that seemed to bypass this section of the book. But you can’t have everything.

The summary chapter of what a fresh expression is and is not is quite brilliant – simple, focused, and very clear but also affording depth and imagination. And in contrast with what i’ve just said about the earlier defining of church, the conversation around church in this chapter I found inspiring rather than limiting. And the section saying what a fresh expression is not should be printed out writ large and put on billboards outside all diocesan offices as an antidote to the tendency to think that all pioneers will grow up one day and become real vicars, and fresh expressions will likewise grow up and become real churches!!!

I liked the sentence that across all inherited and newer churches in the mixed economy of church there is needed a humble view of the local church and a high view of catholicity. This reminded me very much of Doug Gay’s brilliant book remixing the church (though this is not quite such a weighty tome).

There is quite a bit on pioneering which i was pleased to see. For this section Michael Volland contacted a whole load of people including me and has included responses on various issues such as sustaining over the long haul, what a pioneer is, how to get started. There is a lot of practical wisdom tucked in this section and it’s where i underlined the most (i have a bad habit of scribbling on books). I actually thought Beth Keith in one of her responses nailed a pretty good description of a pioneer (and yes i know i am alread in her fan club – this is getting embarrassing)…

A pioneer is someone who sees future possibilities and works to bring them to reality. She is not fazed by the problems or issues, but can imagine something new, something different, something alive. The Church needs people who with the Spirit’s inspiration can imagine and build Church in new ways and in new contexts.

brilliant eh?!

I have dug out my whole list of responses to questions that I sent in for the book unedited and pasted it below in case it’s of interest as only some of these responses were included…

·     Who is a pioneer? What kind of personalities and characteristics are the church in need of at this time?

The church has always had leaders with a range of gifts from the outset. To pick a couple of examples – In Acts at a time of explosive growth you have leaders of house churches and also the apostolic bands going out and pioneering new things. In the middle ages you had something similar with congregations of churches but then your Jesuits and other kinds of friars who travelled out in mission in pioneering ways to inculturate the gospel. The church is always best served when there are both of these types of ministries functioning. From time to time the more pioneering one gets lost – perhaps often in times that appear rosy for the church and then when the pressure is on it comes to the fore again. So for me a pioneer in ministry is someone who is in that stream of ministry in the church that has launched out into new mission – probably mainly evangelists, prophets as opposed to pastors and teachers but these things never fit neat categories. And I would say the church in the last few hundred years has forgotten or not fully understood this kind of ministry so it’s exciting that is coming to the fore again. But I think the church will best be served if it has both kinds of ministries and not just suddenly pioneering.

·     How does the term ‘entrepreneur’ feel to you in relation to pioneer ministry?

An entrepreneur is someone who builds something. And I like people that see opportunities or gaps (entre – between!) and are able to create something there. It’s an exciting word. For those of us who remember Margaret Thatcher it is also tainted with capitalist overtones but it’s pretty clear that it’s not being used in that way in the context of mission.

·     How important is prior pioneering experience?

It’s not always experience that is needed. It’s more discerning who people are and what their unique contribution or gift may be. Some people are made in such a way that they simply don’t fit the mold – it’s who they are and they broker newness. They can gain experience but it is likely that there will be signs in what they have done that reflect who they are and if they are pioneering.

·     Please say something about the balance the pioneer might need to strike between honoring what has been received and being a catalyst for new understandings of church and faith.

The metaphor I like to use around this is faithful improvisation – taken from Tom Wright or Walsh and Middleton (and no doubt others). The best improvisations come from those who are immersed in the tradition whether in music or drama or theology. So it is essential that pioneers know where they are coming from and have a deep repertoire of missiology, theology, ministry, liturgy and so on which will enable their imaginings and improvisations to have depth and be authentic. That’s not to say that the traditions don’t need ruptures – pioneers like St Francis have certainly brought these before. If we are going to talk about balance though the real issue in terms of balance is that there isn’t a good balance in the church towards risk, creativity and imagination – it’s conservative, cautious and risk averse! The whole environment needs shifting.

·     Please say something about the essential need for lay as well as ordained pioneers.

The majority of projects I can think of that’s been new in the mission movements in the church in the last 30 years – whether in youth ministry, alt worship, emerging church and so on have been pioneered by lay people. Some have subsequently discerned a vocation to get ordained as the church has recognised their leadership. It’s a no brainer. The mission societies such as CMS have always been largely lay and voluntary societies. Yet in a lot of places in the structures of the church all the focus and money and power is vested in the ordained – it’s quite a strange scenario. I am not ordained!

The pioneer and Christian community:

·     What is your understanding of the nature & purpose of Christian community?

God is community and calls people to reflect that communal nature in their shared life. So Christian community is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of God with God’s people. Many others have said this I’m sure but it is then a community that exists to join in or participate with God in the healing and transforming of creation. So it is a community that exists for something outside of itself – as a fire exists by burning so the church community exists by mission as Brunner is reported to have said.

·      What do you feel is the key factor/s in the groundwork prior to planting a fresh expression?

Listening, imagination, and discerning the Spirit – none of these are easy things.

·      What do you feel is the key factor/s in growing (to maturity and numerically) a fresh expression?

They grow and evolve in different ways even when the same things are tried. And in my experience the best laid plans often get laid aside and other doors and avenues open up. That’s not to say that planning isn’t important – it is but it needs to be held lightly. But underneath every approach there needs to be a genuineness – care and love for people, a love for the culture and context, a prayerful seeking of God’s presence in the culture, a commitment to people who will be part of the team, and a patience to take people with you at every stage of the journey.

·      What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to evangelism in the emerging culture?

I love Jesus parables about yeast and salt – get in amongst the dough and it will get affected through that transforming presence.

·      What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to Eucharistic worship in a fresh expression?

Read up on inculturation in overseas mission and there’s a gold mine for how to imaginatively engage with worship. The backdrop to this is the realisation in missions that there were hidden expectations around culture that people should use Western forms and patterns and theologies. But through the likes of liberation theology local voices and expressions voiced different approaches to worship that engaged with local cultures (inculturation is the mission term for this stuff). At various international gatherings there have been debates around this which have concluded (certainly in more recent decades) that local people need to be free to imaginatively engage with the liturgies and worship of the church in and out of their context and culture and not be imposed on from outside. Now it seem to me that the whole emerging church and fresh expressions movement has been fuelled by this imagination in relation to forms of church. And it’s now time to engage imaginatively in the same way around forms of worship including the Eucharist. In Grace we have done this over the last seventeen years and found it to be a very exciting area of engagement in theological reflection and practice – we have probably written around fifteen Eucharistic prayers for example. Read the dictionary of liturgy and worship article on eucharist and you discover that improvisation was the norm for the first four hundred years of the church’s practice anyway. So where we engage in inculturation we are doing nothing less than driving to the heart of the church’s tradition.

·      What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to preaching in a fresh expression?

It’s not about preaching and it’s not all about you either. The issue is whether as a leader you are able to create a learning community. Communication will be in the mix but it depends on the culture as to whether preaching is the right form for that to take place. I think it’s hugely over-rated and have written a grove booklet outlining why. It tends to perpetuate a provider/client mindset of experts serving up truth which can run counter to learning. It can of course be an amazing art form but the ‘word’ or the ‘ikon’ of God can be carried in all sorts of creative art forms.

The long haul:

·     What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about sustaining a fresh expression over the long term?

Can you sustain you? i.e. are you in it for the long haul in terms of discipleship. Prophets get a hard time. Pioneers have adventure and excitement but there’s struggle and heartache and often not a lot of money! Make sure your expectations are right – people get disillusioned when there was an illusion. To do that you will need friends for the journey. If you’re not sure where to look connect with a mission community like CMS. I was very interested in Beth Keith’s research for Fresh Expressions on pioneers that demonstrated that pioneers who connected into sodalities like CMS or Church Army were finding the journey a lot better! Then secondly think up front about issues of finical sustainability. What sort of model of community and funding are you imagining? There are a lot of projects with hefty funding for three years who found it hard to keep going when that was no longer there.

·     What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about identifying and enabling local/indigenous leadership in a fresh expression?

Rethink what leadership is about before you start. There are too many models and metaphors of leaders that make identifying indigenous leadership difficult. There’s too much control and power going on unrecognised. Think midwife from day 1 to pick one metaphor or environmentalist (a person who crates an environment) to pick another.

·     How do you think pioneers should evaluate success in a fresh expression?

I am pretty sick of this question. It stems from a managerial culture. If we measured Jesus life when he died it was possibly a failure! But I have come to believe slowly that measurement and evaluation is important if only to help others see and understand what is happen. Sit down with your tean and talk about this. Come up with a set of indicators by which you’ll know. Then think how you might know them. Then set up someone ways of capturing information on the journey. I have done tis with the pioneer leaders training I have developed and it has proved very helpful. Key to it I suspect will be stories of transformation.

·     What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about moving on from a fresh expression?

I have been part of the same community for 15 years as a volunteer so I’m not the best person to ask though I have stepped out of leadership recently. My own view is people move on from communities too quick. Depth is afforded by time and presence. It’s countercultural to commit to people and place. But it does depend on who you are and your gifts and vocation. But listening to God, friends, and the community ought to be the matrix in which this might be discerned. Last time I moved it was due to a growing restlessness.

thanks guys for an excellent book/resource… hope you don’t mind me adding all my responses into the review!

1 thought on “Fresh!”

  1. Thanks for this Jonny, very thought provoking, As a Franciscan I’m always both encouraged and challenged by how often Francis gets name checked in this sort of discussion. He walked a very fine line between bringing in the new and remaining loyal to the old in terms of his relationship to the existing church This was partly self preservation; he needed not to be identified with groups which were being labelled as heretical, but I think he also had a real love of the church. After all, one of his conversion points was being asked by Jesus to ‘rebuild my church’. I guess all fresh expressions are trying to walk something of the same fine line – and that the church as an institution needs to allow them to do so in the same way that the Pope supported Francis in his new way of life.

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