Our learning community of 6 fresh expression leadership teams recently spent a day considering the relationship between fresh expressions of church and the wider church.
First of all we spent some time exploring the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. This gave insight into how the new Gentile dominated church began to negotiate its identity within what was essentially a Jewish sect. The fact that a delegation was sent to the ‘mother church’ to discuss the issues that concerned them was interesting. As was the degree to which the Jerusalem church listened not just to the facts of the issue, but also to what they sensed the Holy Spirit was doing amongst them. The accommodation of the new church in Antioch was very much a result of the Jerusalem church listening and responding to what God was doing.
We also engaged with some thinking on systems change. The Berkana Institute in the US has been working on paradigm shifts and systems change for sometime. It notes the pattern by which pioneers of various types begin to innovate the new when old systems become less willing or able to respond to the changes going on around them. These pioneers need to be connected and to learn from one another. And another key role is that of the ‘illuminator’, someone who can help show the value of what is emerging and communicate it to the old system. The illuminator is a key player in creating more space, more support, more resource for the pioneers to do their work.
We were then joined by Antony Macrow-Wood our local Archdeacon to apply our thinking to our local context, asking one another what we appreciated about our relationship with the wider church, what we hoped for, and what that might look like. Two themes connected themes emerged from this. Firstly of the key value of affirmation and validation from the wider church – perhaps in terms of licensed pioneers, but also in terms of permission, encouragement, support. Secondly the importance of storytelling, of two-way communication between fresh expressions and the established churches. Like the Christians at Antioch we have a story to tell of this new thing God is doing. It might well be that we need to make a point of telling that story, we might need to ‘send a delegation’ rather than expect the established church to come visiting. At PMC we have recently appointed someone a few hours a week to make video stories of the ministry of the fresh expressions in the region. Video is such a powerful way of illuminating the impact that fresh expressions of church are making. We look forward to sharing these videos with you in due course.