Fresh Expression National Gathering 2018
This past March 14-17, I attended the Fresh Expressions National Gathering in Reston, VA, along with several other conference leaders from New Church Development and our Fresh Expressions team. Here are a few quick insights I took away from the conference as a whole. There were more detailed insights as well which I will save for later or be glad to discuss with you.
First, I was encouraged by how well the UMC of Kentucky was represented there. There were other, bigger UM Conferences that had not developed Fresh Expressions quite as much as we have here in Kentucky. The FX National Team had several KY members as speakers and teachers - especially with the new Expressiones Divinas, the Fresh Expressions being developed specifically for Hispanic/Latino ministries. I had the opportunity to share strategies with leaders of churches much larger than my own and even some larger conferences, such as the Virginia Baptists - which have churches all across the US and Canada.1 I received some affirmation of our desire to bring together our FX leaders in KY in a somewhat similar kind of gathering, in order to better network, pray together, share best practices, and learn about the challenges we all face in a front-lines kind of ministry like Fresh Expression.
We faced a little discouragement for some of the same reasons that we were encouraged. I had hoped to learn a clearer, step-by-step process to help us grow Fresh Expressions across KY. We participated in a full-day session specifically on that subject, led by Phil Potter - the director of Fresh Expressions in the UK.
His presentation did not give step-by-step directions, but, true to the nature of Fresh Expressions, he told the narrative of how they developed in England and brought out the values they discovered have led them along the way... values like Investment, Integration, and Innovation. There was a lot of wisdom to be gleaned in this history, but we were a little frustrated that it was not easier to apply directly to our context.
My work in leading Fresh Expressions across the conference these past 6 months has focused in on one task in particular: defining our reach. Defining is a term that is often used in a restrictive or restraining way. I'm actually trying to take the opposite approach, especially when working alongside local churches. I hope to broaden our perspective of the mission field to which we have been sent to work.
What I have discovered though is that those "fields" are not necessarily geographical areas anymore. Instead our "fields" have become networks of relationships that may or may not share geographical similarities. For instance, my church has potentially disciple-making relationships with people across several counties, as well as China and Pakistan. Our reach sometimes goes well beyond the area surrounding our local church building.
Amidst this work of helping local church leaders define their reach, we are moving from permission giving to blessing. This is occurring both within the local churches, as well as among conference leadership as well. Fresh Expressions has grown in popularity across our conference, but there is still a lot of confusion about what it means for us and how to get started.
Why does this move from permission giving to blessing matter? Both the conference leadership and especially the local churches provide important support and resources for Fresh Expressions. Yes, money is involved... but I'm learning that there are a lot of other needs as well. Serving dinners and leading some bible lessons is one thing, but what happens when you are requested to do a funeral for one of your FX members and you have not had pastoral training? What happens if the theological questions your people grapple with are outside of your own experience and expertise? (This could apply to pastors as well.) Perhaps the most important part of this is to maintain relationships within the body, and specifically those connections between ministries that work better together than they do apart.
What will this entail? The patient work of redefining leadership. We've already had some conference leadership transition in the past few years and with more and more retirements along the way and important debates about how the UM Church will be connected in the years to come, I expect there to be a lot more.
The bigger issue with groups as large as ours is that we, like sheep, like to have a central leadership that points us in the direction we need to go, rather than becoming leaders ourselves and following the Holy Spirit moving on the margins of our membership. As I mentioned above, it's just more natural to think about who we need to reach that lives close to our church, rather than thinking about how we can be making disciples and transforming lives in other countries or even with local people who live in a culture very different from our own. For those of us with pioneering spirits, it still takes awhile for us to wrap our own minds and hearts around that ministry... consider then how much more patient then we should be with those who have not experienced ministry in the trenches. Moving from permission giving, to blessing is being the spokes that continually connect the hub with the outer edge of the wheel so that God moves us together without us shattering apart and breaking down, and in this way, we actually make healthy room to grow as disciples, as churches, and as the people of God.
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
All Anger Bible Children Community Culture Disciplines Fear Fresh Expressions Funerals Generations Grace Hurt Injury Jesus Law Leadership Longevity Ministry Models Perseverance Politics Preaching Reactions Scripture Time Truth Values VBS