Originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2020 Chinook
“Community of Christ,” your name, given as a divine blessing, is your identity and calling. If you will discern and embrace its full meaning, you will not only discover your future, you will become a blessing to the whole creation. Do not be afraid to go where it beckons you to go.” – Doctrine & Covenants 163:1
We are on a journey in Community of Christ. A journey of discovery. A journey that is constantly inviting us to re-examine who we are and where we are being called to go. For far too long we have relied on current, well-known, assumedly “safe” structures and ways of being in Christian community to define how we are supposed to gather as a people. But an invitation is before you! An invitation to risk something new! To risk fresh and relevant ministries within the context of our congregational structures. To risk and form new communities of Christian expression in the common spaces found in our local neighborhoods.
“Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.” – Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
At Mission Center Conference 2019, we launched our vision for New Expressions of Community. In New Expressions, we explore the rhythm of God’s love in relational-based ministry that is beyond the norms and walls of congregational life. These expressions of community show up in living rooms, coffee shops, street corners, city parks, online, retreats, and so on. They may be focused on a specific population or open to anyone. It is living out and sharing Christian principles in the public and private spaces of our lives. It is breaking bread. It is sharing life. It is experimenting in ways that allow for people who have left religion, are in a place of transition and not sure of what’s next for them, or who never knew it in the first place, to have entry points for sacred, communal living. It is being open to the ways in which God is inviting us to join God and others in our communities. A New Expression of Community isn’t one that provides for life’s basic needs such as food banks, shelter minister, and so on. Those are important, missional endeavors for a congregation or a group to engage in, if they sense that the Holy Spirit is inviting them to do that work, but they aren’t what we are talking about with New Expressions. What New Expressions is, is ministry that is centered specifically on spiritually formed relationships with others and God in community. That’s it. You have now been hearing us for years say that relationships are what we are to be about. New Expressions is a way for us to explore that call.
“They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.” ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
As our mission center leadership have explored New Expressions of Community, we have heard voices of excitement and great hope. We have also heard voices of concern that this means we will reduce or stop supporting local congregations. Let me be clear, this is not the case. Congregations are still a powerful and important way to experience Christian community. We have also heard voices of indifference from those who do not see this as being a ministry for them since they focus their discipleship heavily in the context of congregational life. We understand that new Expressions won’t be for everyone. In fact, they are beginning because congregational expressions of ministry aren’t for everyone either. So, as I was reflecting on our Mission Center Conference experience, I sensed a need to provide a focus for new ministry in congregational life as well. A focus to help shape our path forward as we explore Christian community within the context of congregational life. Shortly thereafter I was visiting with one of our world church leaders about this and he offered the term “Fresh Expressions”. It is a term that he has begun using as well. So that while New Expressions invite us to explore Christian community outside of congregational life, Fresh Expressions encourage a new way of looking at ministry within congregational life.
With Fresh Expressions of Ministry, we experiment with worship, outreach, social, and witness ministries in the life of our congregations. So how can you explore fresh expressions of ministry in your congregation? In what ways can your congregation risk by giving yourselves permission to step out of the box and try something that might be radically new but incredibly welcoming to someone searching for a congregation in your community?
“Our journey into the future will continue through more congregations becoming willing to transform in response to new opportunities. It also will occur through starting new expressions of the church to model what we are talking about.” – Steve Veazey, “A Time to Act!”
The invitation is before us. We can turn it down. We can keep moving on and do what we have always done. Though, let’s be completely honest with ourselves, that hasn’t really been working for us either, has it? So… maybe… just maybe… we can leap into the unknown. Even baby steps into the unfamiliar. For moving forward, quickly or slowly, is still a step in the right direction. Whether our calling is focused in congregational life, being discovered in the other spaces of your community, or a blending of both, let’s move forward. Let’s collectively support each other in the varied ways we respond to God’s invitation. Let’s risk something new as New Expressions of Community are created, and Fresh Expressions of Ministry are explored! You have received your invitation. Will you accept?
To further explore Fresh Expressions of Ministry or New Expressions of Community, please contact Sean Langdon (email@example.com, 425-293-6366) or another member of the Mission Center Leadership Team.