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Posts Tagged "CPAS":

To Be Or Not To Be … Fresh?

Simon Martin is the Training & Resources Officer at the Arthur Rank Centre – the national ecumenical resourcing & network hub for the rural church. He kindly agreed to write a piece for Lay Anglicana on their recent discussions on rural ministry.



Very recently I’ve attended the latest meeting of the Fresh Expressions Rural Round Table. The theme we returned to yet again is the developing of lay leaders within rural fresh expressions of church. This time we had quality input from James Lawrence from CPAS, and during both his presentation and our subsequent discussions we needed to be drawn back repeatedly to discuss the needs of Fresh Expressions … the implications for developing rural fresh expressions of church.

While this was necessary for the purpose that the group was created, I’m not sure I feel entirely happy about it! The reason is very simple: what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander; if it is good & relevant for rural fresh expressions of church, then it is almost certainly also good for the multitude of traditional rural churches.

This is best illustrated by: (a) thinking about some of the rural case studies we gathered together, and (b) reflecting on some of James Lawrence’s key points.

Rural Case Studies

Actually, we didn’t all come up with case studies that were genuine Fresh Expressions, but represented rural churches across a wide spectrum. And they had a remarkable set of commonalities related to encouraging & developing lay leaders – none of which are exclusively ‘fresh’:

• The significant role of small groups at some stage in the process.
• Small opportunities being provided for new lay leaders – i.e. responsibility being offered & accepted.
• Provision of both space & support (with the implicit possibility of ‘failure’).
• Existing mature & willing leaders – prepared to take a risk with new lay leaders.

Some of James Lawrence’s key points

Again, very few of these actually required a Fresh Expressions context, although the overarching missional ethos of Fresh Expressions does major on some of the elements identified:

• Don’t start with leadership, start with discipleship. But the general level of discipleship in most (rural) congregations is scarily low.
• Focus on character (not the same as personality) rather than just competences. Yet many of our current lay development programmes do focus on competence – and often of a knowledge-based rather than pragmatic bent.
• Recognise a heart for those outside the church – not just those who are comfortable with or in it. Alongside the discipleship gap this is a real issue for many rural churches – converting neighbourliness into the shared life of Christ.
• Think young people, not just adults. To be frank, this is problematic in many rural situations with communities and congregations that are predominantly elderly. We cannot simply magic up young(er) people.

Life-on-life learning

And there are other potential problem areas, since the reality of most effective church leadership development (whether ordained or lay) seems to be life-on-life, relational learning – following the rabbinic model employed by Jesus in the Gospels. This has a number of tough consequences:

• It downplays the emphasis on a recognised educational component to lay leadership development – at most about 20% of the requirement, and this not necessarily through a formal educational programme.
• It is hugely demanding of time for both parties – the mentor and the mentee.
• It means moving away from a model of current leadership which promises equal access for all (in congregation or community). If the current leader is to mentor a new leader effectively, it means doing less with and for others: “for the sake of the many, invest in the few”.
• The wider congregation needs to both understand and accept what is being done. This is hard as there will always be the possibility of feelings of neglect, accusations of favouritism, factionalism, and jealousy – especially where multiple churches are concerned.

None of these things are exclusive to fresh expressions of church, and all of them are relevant to the encouragement, development & support of new lay leadership in rural churches. Fortunately the members of the Fresh Expressions Rural Round Table are actually committed to a ‘mixed economy’ model of mission – not Fresh Expressions instead of the traditional church, but both together. And in the context of lay leadership development, the overlap is enormous!


The need for local lay leadership

A final reflection here is that the development of effective lay leadership in rural churches should not be seen as the “solution to a problem” – as if this is exclusively an answer to reducing clergy numbers, or to the grouping of churches together in ever-larger numbers, or to increasing budgetary constraints. These conditions are the reality in which we minister and engage in mission, but they highlight a much deeper issue, which is the fundamental theological & ecclesiological rationale that demands local lay leadership. And maybe it is here that “being fresh” is vital because – God knows – there has been very little impact to this point without “being fresh”.


Simon Martin is blogging in an entirely personal capacity, and is not representing the views of any other organisation or individual.

The illustration is Corton Denham Somerset by David Crosbie via Shutterstock

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