“Hazel’s been doing children’s work for 30 years. We’ll never get change while she’s in charge.”
Mel, whom I’ve met at a training day, sounds despondent and I’m not surprised. After all the church down the road is doing Messy Church/Godly Play/Fresh Expressions. Mel hopes that one day her church will be able to start something new. Meanwhile they seem stuck in a backwater while everyone else is taking part in a great visionary movement…
Or are they?
Both Godly Play and Messy Church arose out of the vision of one individual (Jerome Berryman and Lucy Moore respectively). Fresh Expressions seems more blurred at the edges as it is an umbrella term covering a variety of different expressions of church. But it is probably true to say that a lot of fresh expressions arose in particular contexts as the vision of particular people.
But what happens next?
Looking at the pattern it seems that over time (often many years) the original vision is caught by other people. They too want to do Cafe Church/cell church/forest church. The idea spreads – and becomes set. Training courses are offered, resources prepared and the institutional church backs it.
There is almost a sense that we have found a magic formula and if we put all our efforts into this, we too will get caught up in the vision and see the fantastic results of the original.
Or will we?
It seems to me that once a visionary idea has reached this stage it can go in one of three directions.
Firstly, there are those who stick to the original template, without alteration. While the original visionaries never stopped experimenting (and still do!) these second generation people can have an almost literalist approach. They may understand the thinking and theology but they don’t want to play with it. Sometimes it seems to me that there is a danger of stifling the vision, but as this isn’t my own approach I don’t know.
The second direction is that of the corner cutters. Often it seems that they haven’t quite understood the underlying principles of the original. I have known someone tell a Godly Play story at the start of an event and then tell everyone exactly what it meant at the end, completely contrary to the idea that we all make our own meaning from the story. I have also watched a Messy Church where the children sat and ate while the adults gathered together at a distance, effectively creating two separate communities instead of one comprising all ages.
The third way is the way of the visionary. These people may use the original vision as a springboard for new ideas. They understand the principles but take them in different directions. These people have let the genie out of the bottle and are not afraid to see where it might go. They have an excitement about what they are doing, for vision is creative. Often they receive criticism from all sides – from those who dislike any change, those who are happy with the original and see no need to do anything other than follow it implicitly and those who think they are putting in far too much work when they don’t actually need to…
Perhaps I am being too harsh. I am sure there is a lot of excellent work going on that fits in with the original vision, and occupies the middle ground between these positions. But I am not sure that it is visionary and without vision the people perish. We need to encourage the creative spark that takes thing in new directions. Vision needs the visionary to continuously reflect, inspire, create and turn things into a practical reality.
There is no magic formula…