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Getting in deeper by stages

21 September 2012

Stephen Cottrell looks at pioneer ministry

Fresh! An introduction to fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry
David Goodhew, Andrew Roberts and Michael Volland
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.99 (Use code CT857 )

THERE are some who have looked down their noses at fresh expressions, thinking them to be the shallow end of the ecclesiological pool. "If you are planning to take the plunge," they say, "don't jump here. You will either stub your toe, or just splash around, not getting anywhere in particular, but making a lot of noise."

This book, an introduction to fresh expressions and pioneer ministry, written by two members of staff from Cranmer Hall, Dur­ham, and one, Andrew Roberts, director of training for Fresh Expressions, who have each been deeply involved with this ministry over many years, changes all that. Al­though they em­ploy the image of a boat to describe the different stages of understand­ing what fresh expres­sions are, and how they can be developed and resourced in the contemporary Church, I will stick with the image of the swimming pool; for this book helps us rediscover an import­ant and overlooked truth: the shallow end is where you learn to swim.

Fresh expressions of church may of course lack some of the depths of other expressions, but the water is the same, and the accessibility means that those who are far away from Christian faith can take their first strokes. To the depth of Chris­tian tradition we can now, again, add breadth, a much needed ability to reach outside ourselves to those who have little knowledge of Christ.

By examining fresh expressions in the light of scripture and tradition, this book shows that fresh expres­sions and pioneer ministry are part of the one Church we are meant to be. This will, I hope, encourage others to think about how they can respond more creatively to the context in which they minister. It will also be an invaluable resource for those who are already involved in fresh expressions or who want to get involved.

As such, this is a book of practical and accessible theology, helping the Church to become itself, a missionary community whose instinct is always to find ways of re-expressing its life in the cultures it encounters, so that others may be drawn to Christ.

With the recently published Anglican-Methodist report on Fresh Expressions, I hope this book will put paid to the irksome moan that fresh expressions have no theolo­gical stamina and that they will fade away. On the contrary, God is draw­ing fresh springs of living water from within his Church and for his world. In these waters, people are learning to drink and swim, and the Church itself has a new credibility and breadth.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford.

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