In her book, Pioneer Minister and Fresh Expressions of Church, Angela Shier-Jones offers a theological framework for discussing and implementing fresh expressions. I’ve only just begun reading it and will discuss it as I go though.
From chapter 1, defines the terms and contexts of pioneer ministry and in a few sentences knocks down some of the assumption. Pioneers are by no means all ordained, men, or tech-savvy culturally-edgy people. Neither are they all working with youth or by using all the latest multimedia gadgets. They come form all walks of life and work in many varieties of contexts. Similarly, not every fresh expression is started by a pioneer. They are, she says, not trying to draw people into the church, but encouraging communities to be church wherever they are:
Not church in the sense of a building with a gathered community and a weekly God-slot with its predicable diet of liturgy and worship, teaching and fellowship and , of course, the offertory. But church in the sense of a Christian community aware of the presence of God, seeking to follow the way of Christ and open to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit wherever [he] happens to he in the world.
I believe such a church is possible, which doesn’t neglect the essential building blocks which make a community ‘church’, namely, fellowship in Jesus’ name around His word, prayer, and sacrament. But any truly contextual church which grows up from an unchurched community will have to re-imagine what this fellowship, sacrament and Bible input will look like.
Shier-Jones goes on to talk about the role and characteristics of the pioneer seeking to grow such a church. Instead of retreating away from ‘the world’ once a week to find nourishment and sanctuary, they will:
find or form sanctuary in the everyday spaces and places in their life, in the workplace, the home, the gymnasium, bingo hall, and so on. The pioneer’s calling is to help people do just that.
A person called to such a role, she says, needs to be devotional, evangelical and incarnational. That is, they must seek and long after God in their own lives and desire to communicate and inhabit His story in the places they are living – actively being present to the community.