What Christian principles lie behind fresh expressions?

Lake and mountainThe principles behind fresh expressions will give you:

  • a greater understanding of what fresh expressions involve;
  • biblical support for fresh expressions;
  • a tool to use in planning a fresh expression.

If (as part of a group or with a friend) you are thinking about starting a fresh expression, you might discuss the list of principles and select three:

  • one that most reflects your passion and gives you a buzz;
  • one that would be most difficult for you to practice;
  • one that is important but most easily forgotten.

Keeping the three principles in mind would help you to build your fresh expression on scriptural foundations. Might the result be more long lasting?

Principles that can help inspire fresh expressions

God is revealed as community-in-mission

The Trinity has a community dimension. Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate so closely to each other that they are also (in ways we don't fully understand) one person. But they are not inward-looking. Their love and energy flows outward - creating the universe, keeping it going and saving the world from sin. The Trinity has the feel of community-in-mission. So should fresh expressions. They are Christian communities with love and energy to serve others.

God believes in creative experimentation

God has built experimentation into the fabric of creation. Civilisation is the history of experiments that worked. If experimentation is a vital part of being human, should it not be part of church as well? Many fresh expressions start as experiments, and we pray that they will continue to be filled with the Spirit of creativity.

God works through communities

God works through communities – Israel in the Old Testament, the community of disciples round Jesus and home-based churches in the New Testament. Baptism is a sign of entry into God's community. Building community is an essential part of fresh expressions.

Comment
Why's 'community' so important? Because we've got hints in the Bible that God's new community is the key to the Kingdom. 'No more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female ... but all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3.28). It's radical. It's inclusive. It's God’s family. So it's not just a means to an end, in the sense that God works through community, it is the end.
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese

God immerses himself in human culture

To save the world, God immersed himself in human culture. He became a human being in Jesus, whose daily life was shaped by the culture in which he lived and served. The sacraments remind us that God remains involved in everyday life - in water, and in bread and wine. Fresh expressions seek to be part of, and fit the day-to-day lives of the people they are called to serve.

God seeks to transform society

Dandelion

Jesus did more than just live in a culture and serve people. He called people to change how they lived. He proclaimed the kingdom of God – the reign of God that transforms individuals and society. Fresh expressions are in the business of personal and social transformation.

God wants people to become disciples of Jesus

During his lifetime, Jesus created a community of disciples and told them to make other disciples. This has always been a central task of the church, and it is fundamental to fresh expressions. Fresh expressions seek to help people become mature followers of Christ. They need to avoid being 'discipleship lite'.

God has put dying to live at the centre of his kingdom

Jesus died so that so that human beings and creation could have new life. Dying to live, celebrated in Holy Communion, is part of the fresh expressions journey. Christians may have to allow their preconceptions of what church should be like to die, so that new forms of church can come alive.

God grows church through reproduction

In carrying out the Great Commission, the church has always spread by reproducing itself – not reproducing clones, but Christian communities that have distinct identities while keeping something of a family likeness. Fresh expressions are the church reproducing yet again. But just as Jesus had to leave the church before it reproduced, might those who pioneer a fresh expression also have to move on so that reproduction can more easily take place

God affirms cultural diversity

When the Spirit came at Pentecost, the ethnic groups gathered in Jerusalem did not start speaking the same language; the disciples were empowered to speak in different languages. This was a Godly affirmation of cultural diversity. Fresh expressions respect cultural variations when they take different forms to fit different contexts.

God values unity across diversity

Flock of birdsWhen Christ returns, all ethnic, class, gender, age and other barriers will be destroyed. People will live in unity. Inherited and fresh forms of church make something of that unity real today when they affirm, support and have fellowship with one other - the 'mixed economy'. Fresh expressions are called to exist in the fragments of society so that they can connect those fragments up.

Do we need such a long list?

Graham Cray, for example, building on the Mission-shaped Church report, suggests five theological motives for fresh expressions: the Trinity, incarnation, transformation, discipleship and relationships (Graham Cray, 'Focusing church life on a theology of mission' in Steven Croft [ed], The Future of the Parish System, CHP, 2006, pp61-74).

There are three reasons for a longer list:

It underlines the breadth of biblical support for fresh expressions

Someone commented,

Fresh expressions are based on the incarnation - on God jumping into human culture through Jesus - aren't they?

But that is too limited a view. Fresh expressions are based on sharing culture, but on a lot more.

Graham Cray suggests five theological motives for fresh expressions: the Trinity, incarnation, transformation, discipleship and relationships

It helps a wider range of Christians to connect with fresh expressions

Christians tend to emphasise different aspects of belief - creation, the incarnation, the kingdom, the cross, the Spirit, Christian unity and so on. Because many of these emphases are echoed in the ten principles above, Christians with different focuses of belief can identify more easily with fresh expressions.

It provides a 'menu' from which Christians can select principles that most speak to them

As one person remarked,

I find the list helpful because it allows me to choose principles that are most relevant to my situation. I don't feel shoe-horned into three or four principles. A longer list gives more choice.