Fresh Expressions Associate Missioner

It is an exciting time for the church in Britain. This is not because of some great revival breaking out in a major city nor because the whole of the church has begun to grow through an irresistible evangelistic model. Rather the optimism comes from the whole people of God, beginning to grasp that they can go to our world and witness the gospel taking root and transforming the place it is planted. The fresh move of God touching and encouraging all areas of our church is bringing new hope to all areas and traditions within it. In response to this, the Fresh Expression initiative, setup jointly by the Anglican and Methodist church, is seeking to promote at every level the opportunities for God’s people to join Him in His mission to the world and equip them for that task.

There is a wonderful passage in John’s Gospel that demonstrates the pattern of ministry that is emerging, showing us that there is nothing new or gimmicky about what is happening when contemporary Christians seek to reach our world. The passage to which I refer is when Jesus finds himself underneath the colonnades around the pool of Bethesda. (John 5 1-18) In this place, with its atmosphere of pain and struggle, of hope and desire for healing, Christ sees an opportunity to share the good news of God’s kingdom. In the stirrings of the pool He sees the potential to set free a man disabled for thirty-eight years. Christ does not wait for him to come to His territory where He feels safe but enters this world latent with the potential and opportunity for the gospel. Fresh Expressions seeks to be as Christ and go to our surrounding communities and plant churches.

As a Fresh Expressions associate missioner my role is quite simple, for it involves sharing stories from around the country of how God’s people are joining Him in His mission, in the world. The role I fulfil is not because of expertise or professional qualifications; it is instead because of my interest and passion to see the good news be relevant to the many searching in this generation. My Christian journey has taken me to Cliff College for three years and then to Wesley House, Cambridge, for my ministerial training. Both these places opened my eyes to the crisis of the church. Yet, despite the decline of ‘traditional’ church the hope remained, in me and many of my colleagues that God had not finished with His faithful people. Now, from day to day, I am a Methodist minister in rural Norfolk sharing responsibility for ten chapels, ranging from four to one hundred and eighty members. As a ministry team we are not being amazingly creative or innovative but rather seeking to try new models of church that will be fruitful for the community in which we find ourselves. In us, and in church members, there is a growing desire to be relevant to our context, and we have tried and failed many times in this. Some things have proved sustainable and others have never taken root, but we see that as part of the adventure as God’s people.

As an associate missioner I am in the privileged position of sharing the wonderful stories of what fresh expressions of church are springing up throughout the country. From café congregations to skate park church, you name it and people are trying it. I also teach about models of planting church and seek to provide resources for those pioneering Christians striving to reach their communities in new and innovative ways. Hopefully this will help these Christian communities in their infancy to grow strong and become sustainable. It is a joy to report that in East Anglia God is inspiring many Christians to think differently and plant churches which are reaching cultures and people previously untouched by traditional church models. It seems at District leadership levels the Methodist church wants to place church planting once again at its heart rather than simply another item on the agenda. I have spoken at Synods at the invitation of whole Districts wanting to think differently and I have shared at Diocesan steering groups trying to implement strategies for church planting, rather than simply evangelism. It has been interesting teaching at ministerial training institutions where there has often been scepticism about the initiative. Not because of disagreement with its principles but because it calls into question all patterns of ministry and the place of the ordained. Yet, there is great hope in many ordinands that they have permission to not be a ‘standard’ minister but to pursue the passions that God has given them for ministry. In the not too distant future ‘Expressions the course’ will be launched in areas around the country. This is a year long part-time course seeking to equip those interested and those already planting churches. In the midst of all these wonderful opportunities as an associate missioner, the best part of all is witnessing the many lay church members seizing the opportunity to shape church in their context not waiting for someone to come and do it for them. After every Synod I have been inundated with emails and calls asking what people can do to be a part of this move of God. There is passion and excitement for whatever is next for the church in this country.

If there is one thing that I stress most as an associate missioner is that anybody can be a part of what is happening. God does not need any special qualifications for people to be involved in this adventure; a willingness to listen to His voice and follow Him to the places that he calls is qualification enough. There are no experts, just faithful followers who want to see the gospel transforming this country in its multiplicity of contexts. If you want to know more about Fresh Expressions then why not check out the website where you can access lots more information and see what other churches are doing. If you are interested in a mission associate coming to help you do some thinking and share some stories then contact training@freshexpressions.org.uk. If you have stories to share and ideas or would like to chat more, then email me with your thoughts at mattfinch@pleko.co.uk. It would be lovely to hear from you.

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