As the pastor of a new form of church in a traditional mainline denomination, the last three years have felt lonely at times. Was the Holy Spirit indeed leading our chaotic little church forming in the saloon, or was I way off? A constant question echoing in my mind was, “Is this ok?”
Encountering the Fresh Expressions movement assured me that I was not alone. Theologians steeped in the rich traditions of the church had worked through theological questions about new forms of church arising alongside traditional church and had come to the conclusion that not only was this ok, but that we were witnessing the next great movement of the Holy Spirit in the Mainline Church.
THE POWER OF LANGUAGE
The greatest gift the fresh expressions movement gave me was language. I had a new form of church that met in a saloon, connected to a high-steeple Methodist church, but I had no idea how to describe it. The fresh expressions movement gave me the language of the mixed-economy: Boone UMC was an inherited church and King Street Church was a fresh expression of church, sent out, yet tethered for support and accountability.
In their newly released book, Bishop Ken Carter and Rev. Audrey Warren offer the additional gift of tailoring the language of the fresh expressions movement to the United Methodist Church. The importance of this language is emphasized by a glossary of terms at the end of each chapter. With the spreading of this book at annual conferences this summer, I eagerly anticipate the language of Fresh Expressions seeping into our denomination’s structures, missional strategies, and practice.
In the opening chapter, it is observed that fresh expressions are not post-denominational, but rather deeply ecumenical.
According to Carter and Warren, “Traditions don’t lose their distinctiveness. Rather in practice the varied expressions found in a particular tradition contribute the riches of who they are to others, and in return receive new and distinct strengths from beyond themselves.”
The traditional church should not fear the loss of their traditions in fresh expressions of church, but rather find hope that their traditions can be passed down to generations to come. In this book, Carter and Warren have offered United Methodist churches an accessible introduction to exploring fresh expressions in the Methodist tradition.
It is not difficult for United Methodists to find the Wesleyan roots of the Fresh Expressions movement in nearly all previously published materials, but it is indeed helpful to have a book written for United Methodists by United Methodists in a language that we can fully understand and embrace.
This book offers the reader a wide view of the movement. Carter and Warren explore the sociological background necessitating the fresh expressions movement as well as a thoughtful introduction in how to start fresh expressions in various contexts, all the while connecting the movement to our denomination’s past, present, and future. Each chapter opens with a story and closes with a Bible study, making this an excellent resource for the local church.
UNITED IN MISSION
As a young clergy person, I cannot pretend to know what the future holds for our denomination. The United Methodist Church is indeed divided, but the Fresh Expressions movement offers an opportunity for unity in mission. I’ve witnessed the vision of this movement catch hold of my most progressive Methodist friends, as well as my most conservative Methodist friends. In distinct ways, we all long for our churches to engage our neighbors with the Good News of Christ, and the fresh expressions movement offers a wide, adaptable model for this to occur.
Carter and Warren ask, “The question at the heart of our reflection together is whether we can imagine a future that is both/and, a mixed ecology of vital traditional churches and life-giving gatherings of the nones and dones far outside the boundaries of Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. Can clergy imagine serving traditional congregations while also developing new forms of community? Do judicatory leaders possess the courage to align resources with new constituencies who are not now in power?”
I’ve witnessed the beauty of this mixed ecology in my own church, worshipping in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and the saloon on Sunday evening. Seeing the two benefit one another, support one another, and bring hope to one another. The both/and nature of Fresh Expressions offers not only the hope of reaching new people with new forms of church, but also offers me hope that our divided denomination could one day be truly united.
With the emphatic support of the Fresh Expressions movement offered by Bishop Carter, Rev. Warren, the Florida Conference, and countless other annual conferences, including my own, we have a denominational revival rising up in the midst of division.
I highly recommend this book for conferences and churches that are ready to explore a new journey in engaging their communities. This book makes an excellent short-term book study with an evangelism committee, mission committee, or any group of folks interested in reaching outside of the walls of their church. The engaging content, timely Bible studies, and thought-provoking questions will lead to invigorating conversations for churches growing weary of the same way of doing things.
Get a copy of Fresh Expressions: A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in Church at Amazon or at annual conference this summer.