I’m following the comments against Richard’s Fresh Expressions post with great interest.
I’ve just had a look on the Fresh Expressions web site and peeked into their directory of fresh expressions of church. In it I note what appears to be a 100% tendency to label one’s church. Now, in a way that is a stupid thing for me to say, because if they didn’t have labels they wouldn’t be in the directory.
Whilst I don’t think that labelling yourself is wrong – after all it is quite a handy way for people to refer to you (and it helps if you want a web site) – it is interesting to give labelling some thought. The points that I’m tending to ponder are these:
- Do labels tend to straightjacket your practices? e.g. ‘Baptists’ aren’t ever going to not Baptise are they?
- Do labels tend to limit your mission to a particular demographic? e.g. pensioners aren’t going to turn up to ‘Loud Rave Church’ are they? Does this make us exclusive rather than inclusive in mission?
- Do labels enable you to exert controlling power? After all, if one person is the founder, inventor and owner of the label, aren’t others more likely to go along with what they say, so that they can retain some of the benefits of that label? Having an ‘owner’ of the label can surely get in the way of God raising up other key figures within that group.
- Do labels tend to go hand in hand with formalised procedures?
- Weren’t labels first applied by those outside of the group? People who looked at the church, from the outside, and found a way of referring to it.
- Do labels push you towards becoming a legally recognised organisation? Whilst this may give benefits (e.g. Gift Aid tax reimbursement) does this then put you in a position of subservience to societal law?
- Do labels enable us to shortcut relationships? If we have a label is there then less need to know each other so well?
So, whilst I don’t want to argue for not having labels, I think that we have to be aware that our natural tendency can cause negative things to arise from having a label. In my mind we constantly have to fight our temptation of implement rules and routines that will suffocate the movement of the Holy Spirit.