Constant change is here to stay - and that means the church has to change
Canon Phil Potter has just been appointed as the Archbishop's Missioner and new team leader of Fresh Expressions. He speaks here about his vision for the church and how new and traditional forms should complement each other
What is your vision for Fresh Expressions and the future church?
Phil: That's a big question! In our culture, there's no doubt that constant change is here to stay when it comes to thinking about 'future church' but I would say that my vision is to see the culture of the church itself change. That change would see it becoming a culture which welcomes and embraces an ongoing cycle of transformation and renewal for the sake of the Gospel.
To do that with integrity will never mean abandoning our past but rather honouring and harnessing it. That means on the riches of our inheritance but doing it with the confidence and imagination that remembers where all those riches came from - birthed out of fresh vision inspired by the Spirit.
In that context, I believe that Fresh Expressions is a God-given tool for our time, helping us to reimagine - as well as renew - the local church for mission. In my own Diocese of Liverpool, we have now seen nearly one in three of our parishes planting a fresh expression of church. I would love and hope to see that pattern reproduced and increasing throughout the UK and beyond.
How will Fresh Expressions sit alongside traditional church?
Phil: With ease if we'll allow it to. I think there has been a danger at times of seeing this as an either/or vision instead of both/and, where traditional churches and fresh expressions are sometimes seen as polar opposites in every sense. But my own experience as a practitioner has been that where there is a healthy understanding of the church's call to mission, fresh expressions and traditional church truly complement each other as they work in tandem. At the local level, we now see many contrasting Christian communities learning how to appreciate and live alongside each other and that is wonderful news, not least because 'a divided world demands a united Church'.
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Do you have any specific ideas in mind?
Phil: I have lots of them! But, at the moment, the best idea is to sit down with other gifted colleagues and listen to what has been happening through this wave of God's Spirit and see how we can continue to join in. In terms of what I personally bring to the mix, I want to encourage and equip the 'advocates', the people who champion the vision and make it accessible to many others on their doorstep, and who instinctively then provide the support and encouragement to the people on the ground. The first two phases of Fresh Expressions have seen many thousands of local pioneers being mobilised. I believe we all now see the need to connect everyone together, from individuals to organisations, in the common cause of building a mission shaped Church.
What particular areas do you expect to find challenging?
Phil: The single greatest challenge lies within the Church itself and its ability to embrace innovation and change. Our primary task as Christians is to transform the culture and then vision will follow. Many of us know how challenging this can be, but we are also seeing some hugely encouraging signs that the wind of the Spirit is blowing afresh through our denominations. Major changes are happening, and I feel privileged to be invited at this time to help lead a movement that is at the very forefront of genuinely enabling every church to 'proclaim the Gospel afresh'.