14.12.10

Fresh Expressions




The Revd. Michael Mitton visited college on Friday from Derby diocese. His presentation on Fresh Expressions created fruitful discussions.

Michael has had a long-time interest in Church Renewal. He encouraged us to wonder what happens when the gospel is dropped into a highly particular culture. What kind of church is birthed?


He helps us to think through the kind of healthy disposition that best lends itself to Fresh Expressions and the key to this is to have a listening disposition. I am reminded of John Taylor and his 'Go-between God', Michael discusses the Holy Spirit who initiates, the church has to wait and watch. There seems to be a real coming along side people as they come into relationship with God. The sense of the Holy Spirit as paraclete seems important here. Fresh Expressions are often orientated to people who are not yet members of any church but Fresh Expressions of the church have the potential to become mature expressions, they just look a bit different.

To find out about different ventures for bringing the gospel to particular settings, see the Fresh Expressions website.

Michael discusses Vincent Donovan's ground breaking work which the world heard about in his Christianity Rediscovered of 1982 and how Donovan's aim was to “...go with people to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before.” I like the idea of this journeying together. I believe that w

e need to engage ourselves in an approach that is dialogical, where conversation is two-way and there is a levelling and mutuality truer to the biblical presentation of the body of Christ. Where we seek to bring change, we will find also that we are transformed as we uncover the beauty and diversity of person-hood and thereby discover our own. If our sense of community is rooted in the word κoιvωvία, it is a result of our relation of faith to Christ (1 Cor. 1:9, 1 Cor. 10:16, 2 Cor. 13:13, Gal. 2:9, Phil. 1:5, Philem. 6) and can become the status out of which we function. As Karl Barth discovers, it is Jesus Christ who gives us the ultimate image of what person-hood can be.


Michael's ventures have included Soul Café, Soul Sanctuary and Soul breakfast. I have been to two out of the three of these and I remember on my first visit to Soul Café, the Lord really challenging me to rethink my marriage. I went alone and understood a degree of hospitality and welcome which I was in danger of losing within my own marriage because of the busyness of my life at the time. I kept imagining how it might have felt to be there with him whom I had left at home babysitting; we're in that season of our lives where we often take it in turns to go out, leaving the other one at home caring for children. At other times, we are often pretty exhausted from all the juggling of different schedules. The result of that visit to Soul Café was our finding more time for one another and setting some time aside to read together, light a candle or two and listen to some music. With the loose framework of something like Café, God has an opportunity, I think, to reach us and challenge us exactly where we are at. On that evening, that is how God spoke to me, he probably had a very different message for other people there.

Michael describes how Soul Café is subtle with great coffee, story-telling, montages with accompanying images and live music. It is a presentational evening. It somehow causes people to open up and have conversations with others like never before. Michael also cautions us that we can never exactly replicate what other people are doing with their Fresh Expressions. We have to listen to our own context and its needs. Replicating café at home worked for me, though.

Michael is very confident that Café Church will stay. He talks about church furniture and how changing this around can completely change the feel of a place. His church set out a café at the back of the church itself, doing clever things with lighting to completely change the atmosphere. “We're shifting our furniture!” he says. I think about how this phrase works both literally and metaphorically. He goes on to tell us of the disciplines that he has integrated into his thinking as he has ventured out and into Fresh Expressions. But I will leave you to speak to Michael about this. He can be hired for consultation and I do not think I could do justice to what he said but his thoughts were very illuminating and I have them committed to file for future reference. 

He speaks briefly of the cost, both financially and psychologically for those venturing forward and those who can, for a while, feel left behind and I think that this is encouraging for all of us who are learning to appreciate more the counter-cultural 'seed' planting, in face of the numbers-hungry world we live in.

Michael explains how church should be a place where you can truly be yourself and I am captured by the idea that it should feel like a homecoming and a return to the radical person that Jesus has called you to be. We are encouraged to bless what is already there and join in and to follow a river that is constantly changing its course and learn to live with change, in the transience, with the liminality and within it.

We are encouraged to venture forward in teams so that we can be there to pray together and feel the protection of one another when facing criticism. We discuss how we have to trust that people will be brought to faith through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We wonder about the point at which we explore orthodox beliefs and sets of behaviours and must seek to do this from within an environment of the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit who will lead into all truth.

We are also challenged to think about the problems of syncretism; to wonder about whether there can come a point where we lose Christian distinctives and so we need to also know our principles and keep checking where we are. We also begin to consider those new leaders, born of Fresh Expressions – how do they become the next leaders when they do not have the grounding in the orthodox faith? How do we disciple and mentor? And so to do all this we must hold our nerve and wrestle with the ambiguities and the questions that arise and it at this point that Michael shows the image of the squirrel from the Ice Age film, which I think captures so well what he is describing.


  • So for how long is a Fresh Expression fresh?
  • When those of the Fresh integrate themselves into the traditional, how does it feel for them?
  • When new leaders are born out of the Fresh expressions of Church, how are they nurtured so that Christian distinctives are not lost or compromised?
  • How do we hold together those keen for change with those who are resistant?
  • What are the Fresh Expressions of our day? Which expressions of old have now become standard features of church life?
  • What do we mean by inclusive welcome: what does it look like for the church as it makes decisions about whom it marries ad whom it baptises, about what are compromises not to be made?


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