fresh expression a technology

Has Fresh Expresssion become a technology built the knowledge bases of experimental mission and the emerging church of yesteryear? One of the definitions of technology is machinery or devices built on scientific knowledge. In youth work or social sciences academics are quite used to thinking about practice and processes as a technology, but like any technology the danger is the system becomes the end, it takes on a life of its own and and too easily be seen as THE answer.

In an age where church is struggling to connect with community, it is little wonder that the technology of Fresh Expresssions is being embraced. It is also not surprising That like technology of old, systems are being pulled together and new pathways being created to enable this technology to spread. When steam revolutionised farming, it spread quickly, and created a whole industry, that within a few years was wiped out by the tractor. Steam engines took time to build, new factories and systems were put in place and by the time many were ready for use, they were an obsolete technology, sold off cheaply and now consigned to museums, and wonderful Fred Dibner type characters.

The emerging church that gave birth to FE was more than a technological shift. It was a paradigm move of thinking and practice and the technology developed from it was often done so by those outside the field. It is too easy to see technology as the answer, a short cut and allow it to hide the deeper issues that the original thinkers and practitioners were trying to challenge so the paradigm shift still required remains masked to many by the technology around it. Perhaps even making real change much harder. To stick with the farming analogy, to put the cart before the horse!

The power of campervans and the type of church I long to see…

Often people of faith ask me what type of church I want to see, or to explain my take on mission or faith, sometimes more due to their own insecurities and the need to put that stuff in a box. Others who ask, I know it is about their own journey, and usually in both cases I do my best to be open real and honest. Then I sit with them in the sorrow these answers offer, as they come to terms with the fact that there is no easy path or as they put me in box that captures them more than it holds me.

There is a distinct shift happening around what is church and a shift happening around dialogue and acceptance within more general evangelicalism. When i read THIS my first reaction was probably to box each side,…. but maybe I will just keep that to myself because I am sure boxes and walls don’t matter… what I liked, was that it was localised, real, and gave you glimpses of the dialogue that must have been happening behind the scenes.

Recently we have been selling our campervan as we cant afford the move to Cumbria that we feel called to make, and the conversations with potential buyers have been interesting, as I explain to strangers the reason we are selling. More often than not, it opens discussions on the type of church and faith I want to see. These amazing humans who are fearfully and wonderfully made, open up as talk of journeys (real and metaphorical) are shared, and we joke about life, rust and holidays. I find little need to sit in the sorrow of being put in a box, but liberated to walk the road ahead knowing a few more people are tentatively exploring the path before them. Missionally trying to sell this bloodly van has provoked some of the most meaningful encounters I have had in a long time, yet i still struggle to explain myself.

In world dominated by boxes and walls often the only way to explain is to revert to types and models, so perhaps for those who need to put me in a box, or those who want to continue the journey I offer THIS as perspective on the emerging church as the type of church I want to see…

Tell me why you don’t like Sundays?

(Apologies to Sir Bob Geldof and the rest of the Boomtown rats). But I want to shoot Sunday mornings down. The issue rose it’s head again yesterday and attending a sunday morning “service” and QandA with a potential minister, reinforced what I had been thinking for a long time. That Sunday gathered worship is one of the main stumbling blocks facing the organised/mainstream churches. We know that one size fits all is a myth, that learning rarely happens in large groups, that worship is more than singing, that church is gathered and scattered, that what happens in small groups, youth groups, house groups, mums groups, toddler groups, etc etc is as much church as anything else. BUT the medium of gathered sunday mornings sends a different message. The person from the front may communicate that church is more than this, the elders may believe it and even have it in their strategy documents, vision statements and business plans, but no matter how hard you try to say it, the sunday morning medium sends a different message. We know that sociologically sunday mornings are difficult for people to gather, that people are more dispersed, visit friends and families on Sundays, more people are in patchwork families so weekends can be a difficult and precious time, that with easy of travel, and different social strata, that practically it is hard for people to gather at this time, and near impossible to facilitate something that could possibly reach such a diverse group even if we could get everyone in the same place at the same time.

We know, but continue to persist in the myth and fool ourselves. So the mainstream churches continue to gather on Sundays at about 10.30 but split off the children, the youth know it so most have voted with their feet, and if they do attend are again split off, BUT because we have believed, the message that the medium of sunday mornings has communicated for the past few hundred years, and we have become indoctrinated into an approach that simply doesn’t work, we keep going.

I am not saying gathering across social strata, across different groups and ages is not important, but do something simple that works, eat breakfast, have a BBQ, have a party. Why sing a particular genre, why have the stuff people don’t get, why try to encourage learning when the majority of evidence suggests that people don’t learn much from an upfront approach, why try to exhort one another from a distance rather than across a table, and why pray generic prayers that are at best pat on the back rather than the reality of the hug that person sitting in the balcony needs.

Do the world a favour and stop. Change the medium so the real message of hope can be heard.

The method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom will come as the church, energised by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating…Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright pg 123

Don’t try to Graft new shoots

A lot of our approach has been about how do you grow church from scratch with young people. This is not to say we do this in a vacuum and we seek to reimagine drawing on Bible, Culture, and Tradition (more here). New seeds are planted in fresh soil and tender new shoots/groups emerge. To nurture these saplings one thing we have learnt is that using the word ‘church’ WITH the young people to describe/question what is emerging is helpful, both as a reference point and resource. It helps create the space to dialogue about what is emerging, connecting it tradition, and with care can be used to help co-create and shape the new community. As many of these groups start from scratch without preconceived ideas of faith, as the new community emerges young people begin to connect with others within the christian tradition attending more mainstream expressions of church. At one level this is a really helpful part of the journey as it brings a sense of other, and resource (drawing on the tradition part of the triangle) as the emerging community begins to find it’s feet. A problem is that the more traditional expressions may fail to understand and value the emerging church and so seek to graft on the new sapling to what is already happening. At its heart this attempted graft is generally well meaning but inevitably a top down approach, that undervalues the journey taken so far with the emerging community and the bottom up approach to leadership, truth, that initially enabled the co-creation of the new community.
How can we encourage a generosity of spirit in the more mainstream churches, that will enable emerging expressions to emerge in the way they need to?

The Unfolding Missionary Apologetic – Sobornost

Co-producing New Forms of Christian Community in contemporary culture
Alan Richardson suggests “All Christian doctrine arises from Christian experience”, in many ways this statement validates the praxis approach to mission and ecclesiology (church). It also gives space for developing doctrine and possibly theology in and out of the current context or experience. As people follow the Missio-Dei in today’s context, their mindset and theological paradigms are challenged. As people go deeper into the post modern, post christendom context they recognise the need to find fresh approaches, but often lack a theological framework to develop this. When presented with alternative frameworks that are both theologically rooted and practice (story) driven, new ways of interpreting their already dawning experiences can be developed. A conceptual framework emerging from the practice of StreetSpace and Church on the Edge and subsequent theological reflection, is the notion of seeing Church as both the being and doing, recognising that church and mission are synonymous, and as you engage in mission you are being church with the people around you (whether they believe or not).

As a cultural backdrop to this we will explore the philosopher Bourdieu who builds on earlier ideas of Habitus – cultures way of behaving and norms making society possible, which we are socialised into. Bourdieu suggests that habitus was more than this and that through our participation we contribute to the unfolding “habitus” i.e. it is a two way dialogical or iterative process. Taking Bourdieu’s concept with the findings from Reconnected we can draw two tentative points. Firstly, due to the power of the established paradigm of church, even in the light of the unfolding experiences of practitioners, little has changed in the dominance of established church paradigms. Secondly, that even though much has been said to people that church and mission should be more closely linked, the language and practices used in the mainstream reinforce a divide. What COTE managed to do by coupling the challenge to the established orthodoxy of what is church to it’s own unfolding story, was create a space for a participative habitus in the sense of Bourdieu. So whilst it is argued that “the task of rebuilding Christian theology in a more authentic fashion requires a critique of the points at which tradition has misrepresented the spirit of the gospel; and then a reconstruction of theology according to emancipatory principles”. It can equally be argued that when these emancipatory principles are told, or the traditions misrepresentation critiqued, that it must be accompanied by a liberatory story that enables people to imagine and root a new approach.

Emerging church practitioners rarely have difficulties in relating to people, but the overarching paradigm of church remains problematic. It is steeped in notions of power and will struggle to liberate itself from within, at the same time presenting a barrier to outsiders. However when we collapse the idea of mission as a way into church, realigning alongside the intentional idea of being and growing church, and approach church with the powerlessness of Christ where everyone can belong and the curtain has been torn, something genuinely new begins to emerge. As this missionary apologetic unfolds and is shaped by all present, something is co-produced to which everyone belongs and is not held by boundaries but by relationship and values. There is a christian tradition that encompasses this and it is the concept of ??????????: translated as Sobornost, meaning a spiritual community of many jointly living people. Originally a philosophical term, it was used by Nikolai Lossky and other 20th century Russian thinkers to refer to a middle way of co-operation between several opposing ideas.6 This was based on Hegel’s “dialetic triad”—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—and Lossky defined sobornost as “the combination of freedom and unity of many persons on the basis of their common love for the same absolute values.” Rowan Williams discusses the term a number of times in his study of Eastern Orthodox theologians. In relation to the the emerging church Sobornost offers a third way and a helpful theological backdrop to the notion of an unfolding habitus or a co-producing approach to ecclesiology and community.

A central part of the emerging church following the mission dei is that the journey at times be with non-believers (who may have opposing ideas, antithesis), but whose voice, culture and context help us emancipate the church from what is has become and unfold a new of being as we journey together towards a life in all its fullness, that sobornost affirms. As Williams expounds building on Bulgakov “the church is essentially the fellowship of the Spirit, held together by the ontological bond of God’s love,……. the rest is a matter of conditioned historical decisions and polices.” Whilst it is often the antitheistic/genuine reciprocal nature of having unbelievers influencing the dialogue about what church is that people often struggle with, Sobornost hints at a Christian tradition where genuine reciprocal mission is located and the emancipation can begin.

The Dragons don’t frighten me anymore

We have been playing with the metaphor Here be dragons as a way to describe what we are up to and where we are with Church on the edge. On old maps there is that space simply described as Here be dragons. We are committed to going to a new place with young people and have been off the map for a while now.
We simply do not buy into the language of whos in and whos out, dualism, etc, We recognise the curtain has been torn, the kingdom is now and not yet, the earth and everything it is the lords, follow missio dei and refuse to see mission as a bridge into church but simply collapse the bridge.

We described our approach to being and growing church in this new land to a young person and here is what Sam (18yrs) came up with what do you think? (click it to enlarge)

StreetSpace going to a new place with young people

We build on the idea that we tack (like a ship sailing into the wind) with young people on a journey to become fully human and in the process we discover what it means to be fully human and what it is to be/grow church. In the process I think I have learnt that actually the dragons aren’t that scarey anyway.

Is Fresh Expressions a movement?

Following on from the Permanent Revelation on page 211 there is a summary of movements. Andrew Jones asked Paul Pierson about the characteristics of a movement and the response was:
– They always begin on the periphery of the institutional church
– They are motivated by a transforming experience (grace) of God by an individual or group.
– The result is the desire for a more authentic Christian life that often leads to concern for the church and world.
– Face to face groups for prayer, Bible study, mutual encouragement are important.
– New methods of selecting and training leaders become important. These are less institutional, more grass roots and lay oriented.
– There are theological breakthroughs, that is, rediscovery of aspects of the Biblical message that have been forgotten or overlooked by the Church, usually they involve a focus on the gifts of every believer.
– There is a leveling effect, distance decreases between clergy and laity, social classes, races, men and women, and denominations.
– The movement is countercultural in some ways, often because it reaches out to those who have not been valued by their society.

– Consequently there will be opposition by many in the dominant culture and church.
– There will often be manifestations of spiritual warfare. such movements sense the reality of evil and the need to recognize the vistory of Christ in the cross and resurrection.
– At times there will be unusual manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit; healings, visions, glossalalia, miracles. etc.
– More flexible structures of church and mission will be needed and often emerge, different from traditional structures.
– The movement will be led to significant recontextualization of the Christian message, which will be communicated more widely by lay persons to those outside the church.
– New music is often a characteristic.
– Biblical concepts ignored by the traditional church but relevant to the hearers are often discovered.
– There will be a growing concern for the marginalized, often expressed in ministries of compassion.
– At a later stage this often leads to concern for broader social transformation.
– As the movement matures there will be concern for the renewal of the broader church.
– As the movement continues to mature many will see themselves not only as part of the particular movement but as citizens of the Kingdom of God, transcending their own movement.
– Finally, every movement is less than perfect and often messy at the edges and sometimes, at the center. This is inevitable as long as sinful humans are involved.

Norman asked if FE is a movement. I think many inside Fresh Expressions would see many of the above characteristics but so not sure myself. I can see where Pierson is coming from in relation to christian movements but thinking in the wider context of a movement and particularly about creating a paradigm change I would be unsure FE if can do that and as such be classed as a movement. In fact I think FE may actually hinder change in the longer term because of the gravitational pull of the institution and accompanying orthodoxy. I think we are already seeing dissenting voices being marginalised as FE spreads and the orthodox centre gathers pace. I was talking the other day to someone about how some of the most pioneering imaginative work (both inside the Church of England and outside) i see are not part of FE. The reasons for this are partially because of these projects have a strong bias to the poor, and partially as they are doing some radical recontextualisation and inculuturation, which they feel only able to do this outside of FE. I think this is really telling for FE and a big challenge to FE as so many of Piersons characteristics mention these issues in one way or another.

Incarnation and Disruptive experiences

Last week in after reflecting on Petes interview and our practice around TAZ (check out Kester), Flow and our approaches around being and growing church, that collapse the idea of the idea of mission as a bridge into church I tweeted

“The process of being and growing church should be a disruptive experience that is a series of encounters with the other”

I have been thinking for a while how we are so fixed in our own paradigms that we often take an approach and deceive ourselves that we are using it as intended. A classic example is Messy Church – where people so often use it as an outreach tool into ‘proper’ church. They think they are doing something different but when pushed will not leave established services to free up time to invest in being and growing church in the Messy context.
It is interesting to look at incarnational youth work and how this spawned notions of relational youth ministry – much of which was simply a tool like youth alpha or a youth club to get young people into ‘proper’ church. As such when Pete suggests there does have to be an IN he is right.
However when we think around incarnational youth work to be and grow church (and to help us discover what the church and gospel actually are as we encounter others) there is no in. In order to make this a reality this needs to embrace both the relational nature of the incarnation and the disruptive. This is not a new to my thinking Here I wrote that faith is about the redemptive processes that consistently ruptures our worldview (inc our faith paradigm) and is a series of revolutionary moves that form and shape a new (at the time) but growing (in hindsight) understanding of God.

At the moment I am very hopeful of the work going on around the openness to genuine change both around the missionary encounter with other (Ian Adams posted a series of quotes from Christianity Rediscovered that got people talking) and to changes in the liturgical space Pete mentions that Ikon experimented with. The challenge to not allow the gravitational pull to suck us back remains, and we need to counter this by asking mission/kingdom shaped questions rather than church shaped ones.

Put your wetsuit on

It is not often I write out of a sense of frustration, and accordingly I have held off this post for a while. However I have growing sense that the majority of the missional conversation is still paddling in the shallow end and asking the wrong questions.

Norman Iverson blogged about a sense of a lack of real change around Fresh Expressions and church. It is interesting to see an insider raise some the same questions those on the edge have had for a number of years about the FE Movement, perhaps it is time to review those questions. My comment on the post was “The unwillingness to embrace death (of ideas, orthodox Ecclesiology , power) will mean a lack of interest on real change, so the sense of cognitive dissonance that things that FE bring will be embraced instead. But like the institution I fear they too are not really interested in real change.”
Another place of paddling in Fresh Expressions and the emerging church conversation is around the idea of relevance. As if we listened to the community we would discover how to become a relevant expression of church. But we will never really hear the community whilst we are so rooted in our current models of church and orthodox Ecclesiology . An example was a recent post Is your church too cool. My comment again was rooted in the need to practice a completely new way of being and engaging with the question. “Church can never be relevant in our understanding of the word whilst it remains rooted in a concept of gathering outside of the wider community for a supposed experience of worship. Articles like this are asking the wrong questions”
It is easy to fall into the trap of meeting with other christians and thinking we are doing something new, doing something differently. However this, gathering in an exclusive way (i think we often kid ourselves that we are more open than we are) outside of a wider community is part of the gravitational pull that produces the sense of cogitative dissonance that means a lack of real change and keeps us in the shallow end. It is rooted in our false history that we can suggests we can get closer to G-d through a worship service. There is a brilliant article here exposing this myth and its problems.

I am part of a number of emerging (note not gathered and most of which have christians as a minority) communities, and more and more I am convinced that we need to loose any ideas of coming together for a time of prayer, a time of worship, or a church service. They all simply produce a sense of security that stops us finding out what it really means to love and serve. That is not say we give up meeting together but we meet head on the myth that god is present in the gathering more than anywhere else and work out what it means to put our wetsuits on and ask better questions and swim deeply with G-d.

Uneven Cuts

Hope has sustained me, but as I look at the situation in our country and how uneven, unfair and unjust a situation we find ourselves in, my hope is waning. The reports coming out from organistions such as the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Trust, or the National Council for Voluntary Youth services show how the poorest and most marginalised are bearing the brunt of the cuts. The wholesale dismantling of the youth service at a time of highest youth unemployment is one of the stupidest and shortsighted practices of the last 100 years. Usually the optimist in me would see the idea of the Big Society as an opportunity but already I see that again that it will be the most marginalised that will be most affected. It is already becoming clear that the investment needed to resource work with hardest to reach young people will simply not manifest itself, either in terms of people, skills, or money, as the voices of a powerful few sweep up the crumbs of what money is left, or baton down the hatches and become even more insular, to weather out the storm, and unfortunately this is a pattern I see both in the church and the local authority.
Occupy offered me hope, and as the leader of StreetSpace which has to be one of the fastest growing youth work agenicies my hope is still an ember, but I have to remind myself and challenge to church to recognise the inequality of the cuts, the simple injustice, that the poorest communities and young people are not to blame to for the situation we find ourselves in… so here is my reminder……