“The practices and ecclesiology of Fresh Expressions have had lots of attention and have developed to meet the needs of the world as it now is, however, often it seems that theology underlying this is stuck in the past. We may be open to ‘doing church in new ways’, but if old thought-patterns reflecting a modernity mind-set run beneath, then we will continue to miss the point.”
What is the point of evangelism? What are we hoping to achieve?
These questions can help illuminate the ways in which the language, theology and sometimes our very starting point for pioneering needs some serious, post-Christendom work. The practices and ecclesiology of FX have had lots of attention and have developed to meet the needs of the world as it now is. However, often it seems that theology underlying this is stuck in the past. We may be open to ‘doing church in new ways’, but if old thought-patterns reflecting a modernity mind-set run beneath, then we will continue to miss the point.
The point, for Cate Williams and for many pioneer practitioners, is Kingdom (not church) building, and the Good News we share through our mission – Fresh Expression or other – is one that can transform communities and society when disentangled from a Christendom world-view that starts with individual salvation. This isn’t to say that our relationship with God isn’t personal, but rather that the invitation is not into a one-to-one relationship but into communion with all creation in God. Our language needs to reflect this: the short-hand of ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ is all too easily co-opted into an individualistic agenda. And the extension of this communion is not that more people will necessarily go to church, but that this transformation will flow into wider relationships, society, attitudes to wealth and power… In other words, our theological telos (or purpose) is not to grow more churches, or church-y people ‘just like us’, but to point through our words and actions to a Kingdom of renewal, transformation and hope. So often people don’t quite get this. If a Fresh Expression develops a church, which evangelises in a way which will develop a new church, then we’re not actually changing anything.
So what does this mean in practical terms? What does it look like to be post-modern, post-Christendom evangelists in Fresh Expressions that point to the Kingdom, not to our own ideas around new and/or bigger churches?
Firstly, what do we talk about first when sharing our faith? Personal salvation might be part of the story, but it’s not the whole truth. We need to share the stories we live by, the difference that the stories make – we need to carefully discern our priorities when we share our faith. Moreover, as fx practitioners we are concerned with looking for signs of God at work in the world, and participating in this work. We need to point to the signs of the Kingdom around us. We are joining in God’s work and can mediate the truth of that through story and metaphor. A good example of this is seen in Cate’s own pioneer work with ‘Forest Church’ – a contemporary movement rooted in the ancient spiritual traditions of engagement with nature as a way of connecting with God.
Complexity, messiness, and faith expressed not as an absolute but as an offer to explore and story to live with.
Post-Christendom evangelism… is about responsive conversation rather than a fixed message. Conversation flows and connection points are sought between life experience and the gospel.
This article was written by Rev. Cate Williams, Environmental Engagement Officer in Gloucester Diocese.
Cate has a particular passion for ‘green’ pioneering including Forest Church and community engagement rooted in shared environmental concerns. She works for Gloucester Diocese as Environmental Engagement Officer.