Theological Pictures

Fresh Expressions are all about re-imaging church in ways which are contextual, authentic, missional and ecclesial.  Put more simply we try to build Fresh Expressions which fit where they are, fit the people who are a part of them, reach out to those outside of church and see themselves as church.

Vital to this journey is our theology.  How do we build up an understanding of God and God’s view of the church and the world in this context?

As a movement we are actively re-imagining the shape and practice of a missional church because of a rapidly changing culture (check out Mission Shaped Church 2004 pg1-11.)  That report argues that “the gospel has to meet people where they are, before it can enter and affect their lives¹.”

This task can be hard and complex.  For me, pictures and metaphors help a great deal and so I wanted to share a few that have helped me.

Contextual or culturally appropriate mission is the subject of ‘Doing Local Theology’ by Clemens Sedmak.  Sedmak calls the development of theology a “specifically local adventure” and identifies the local theologian as “village cook² working with local ingredients and creating indigenous dishes.

Another creative metaphor comes from Roger Schroeder in the book ‘Prophetic Dialogue’ (with Steve Bevans.)  Schroeder uses the metaphor of entering someone else’s garden to describe this kind of work.  The task involves listening and reflection, just as “one enters another’s garden not to compare its beauty and variety with one’s own but to appreciate another way of gardening.³”

Ponder these two images for a moment.  Theology as village cook and Mission as garden visiting.  How do they help you think about what you do?

I like their practicality and everyday nature.  I like that both are creative and collaborative.  Schroeder’s model teaches me that respect of others is paramount.

Michael Frost introduces the idea of “prevenient grace” in his book Exiles, which explores his work in Australia to re-imagine Church.    His approach is to “to assume that God goes before us even into the most irreligious situations and creates fields or environments in which our Christ like example can be received (4.)”

Imagine God going before us in all we do.  Karl Barth called this concept the Missio Dei, that mission is God’s work not ours, started at the creation of the world.  We join in with what he does, and we are co-collaborators with God, joining his own Spirit-movement.

Think about your Fresh Expression of Church or missional project.  Which elements of the Bible and theology have helped you and shaped you?  What elements of the ministry of Jesus inspire you in what you do?

Can you come up with a metaphor or picture that helps describe the theology of your work?  We’d love to hear it.

Article by Andy Freeman

¹ Mission Shaped Church 2004 pg.6 

² Sedmak ‘Doing Local Theology’ 2002 pg. 3, 17

³ Bevans/Schroeder ‘Prophetic Dialogue’ pg. 32

4 Frost Exiles 2010 pg. 141.

Photo Rosie Kerr on Unsplash