As I write this, I am flying back home from Richmond Virginia where I spent three days at the Fresh Expressions National Conference called "ReMission." If you aren't familiar with the Fresh Expressions movement, "Fresh Expressions makes space for denominational leaders and pastors to use both traditional services as well as innovative forms of church to live out Christ’s mission. One does not replace the other, but rather creates a mutual benefit for both—a 'mixed economy of church.'" ^1
The conference was called "ReMission" to signify that we are in the midst of changing times, and we must begin to take stock and re-evaluate the way we do ministry if we are going to continue our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. The pandemic has accelerated the decline of the church and has forced us to adapt and change in ways faster than we normally might have otherwise.
It was a great conference filled with engaging speakers and powerful worship. I came away from the conference with a ton of ideas and notes. I am still reflecting and thinking about what to do with it all, especially in light of the fact that I am being re-appointed this year and really can't start anything new. There are three things I took away from the conference though; three things that I think are important for all of us to remember as we attempt to live into the great commission.
- We are living in a changing world that is ever more divided and complicated. Often times we don't know what to make of the changes we are seeing. We have had to explore new ways of doing ministry; Facebook Live, Zoom, Youtube, TickTock, and even virtual reality worship. But in the midst of all this change, there is one thing that has stayed the same. We are called to love God and our neighbor. We are called to make disciples for Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that Jesus commanded. (Matt. 29:19-20) Even though the world and method may change, the mission and calling stay the same.
- God is already present in the world. God is already working in the world. We have an obligation to pay attention, to listen, and be on the lookout for what God is already doing. Ministry is contextual. What works in one location may not work in another because circumstances and people are different. Just because a Fresh Expression at a bowling alley works in one place, doesn't mean it will work every place.
- Finally, and just as importantly as the first two, is that we need to go TO the people. Jesus didn't say wait for people to come to us so we can make disciples. He said, "GO!" Studies and statistics have been showing for awhile now that the church has been in decline, and people are seeing the church as less and less relevant in their lives. This is largely our fault for not practicing what we preach. The pandemic has only accelerated this. We keep hoping that people will come back to in-person stuff at the church, but the reality is: some may, but most won't. They got used to not coming, they liked worshiping from home in their PJ's with a cup of coffee on their couch or in their recliner. Some realized that their lives really didn't change all that much by not going to church, so why go back. If we are going to be true to our calling and mission, we must begin practicing what we claim to believe, and GO TO the people, so they can see the light of Christ shined through us.
St. Theresa of Avila said that Christ has no body but ours. No feet but ours, no hands but ours, no eyes but ours. If we aren't out in the world acting on God's behalf, God will find someone else. I am looking forward to having conversations with the congregation I serve, and the one I will be serving come July 1. May God's Spirit ignite a fire within us.