I argued that we need fresh ways of expressing Christian faith in an emerging culture. In other words, like Paul before us, we need to re-make church so that it is able to challenge the people who live in this culture and help them to become authentic disciples of Christ. Hence the term "fresh expression" should not be capitalised since it defines a phenomenon rather than a movement or programme. A fresh expression is any form of church activity or community that follows a journey from radical listening through community and discipleship to some form of Christ focussed existance.
On the other hand, fresh expressions can only flourish in our age if we have an alternative model of ministry. We need to view ministry as something primarily derived from the local disciple-community; in which ministry and decision making are shared; and which is supported by the wider church. As with fresh expressions I am increasingly keen to see local shared ministry as an emergent phenomenon rather than a strategy, programme or structure. In other words, it is not possible to direct, manage or govern the development of a local shared ministry, but it would be possible to recognise, nurture and encourage its development.
In conversation this innevitable led to questions of authority, organisation, power and decisicion making - as I fully expected that it would. I was interested to see how readilly concepts of local collaboration flowed from the participants. We talked about the self-organising power of the hive - and the need to release people to explore their own calling.
At this point we started to get theological - exploring issues of boundaries and the role of the Spirit. We spoke about the need to recognise God at work in all people and the difficulty this causes with tradtional concepts of a boundaried church. We recognised that the concept of the Holy Spirit means that the voice of God must be listened for in all people - particularly members of the community. Everyone seemed to find it easy to grasp that both local shared ministry and fresh expressions can only flourish if there is a clear understandning of the church as a spirit-filled, collaborative community.
One of the organisers raised the question of power and organisational structure and we could have begun a conversation about collective intelligence and so on, but time was short. I have been thinking about this since then and have been wondering (as I have been recently) about the interplay between conversation and action...
The question that this raises for me is how a group is able to make authentic decisions without resorting to formal business structures. It stikes me that the key to this is a shared vision and purpose - but is it possible for a group to generate these without having them impossed from above in some form. Hence the question: Can you crowdsource vision?
And this drew me back to thinking of a small forgotten element of the SHIFT process in 2001. We asked each church member to write three ideas on a small piece of paper. These could be their hopes or dreams for their church - although they often expressed a fear or a simple statement. When we anlysed the slips we found there were some remarkably common trends. These were then used to create a list of six values - which reflected, as far as we were able, the common mind of the community.
Now some of these values would not have been chosen by those in power - I mention "tradition" in this category - but that is exactly why this process was so interesting and so useful.
Can you crowdsource vision? I would say yes - although it probably requires a very large sample group.