Fresh expressions are too important to be done without any attempt to discover what works well.
Would you expect to become a top footballer without learning the best techniques? What would you think if your doctor refused to adopt better ways of doing things?
In fresh expressions we are seeking to serve other people. We have a responsibility to them (and to God) to do this the best we can.
The Guide is a resource to help practitioners do their best. They can learn from other people’s experiences – What went wrong? What worked well?
Why keep inventing the wheel?
Content isn’t top down (‘We’re telling you how to do it’), nor is it bottom up (‘Let’s create knowledge Wikipedia style’). Content is created side to side. From one side there is an offering of what we think works best. From the other side is the experience of practitioners and research.
The content is very much our first thoughts on these subjects. We are not at all sure that we have got them right. In some cases we are flying a kite, trying out an idea to see whether it resonates with those who are pioneering new forms of church.
We don’t want the Guide to reflect the opinions of a few, but to be the shared wisdom of the pioneer community as a whole. So please let us know what we have left out, what you disagree with and how far what we have written connects with your experience. Your comment could be a great help to other users of the Guide.
The Guide is based on the following:
The Guide seeks to make available to users the practical wisdom of others. This will help practitioners fulfil God’s intention for human beings – that they care for the world (Genesis 1.26-28; 2.15).
When God came to the world in Jesus, he learnt from human beings the practicalities of everyday life – from table manners to carpentry. He put himself in a position where others knew more than he did and he had to learn from them. The Guide invites users to submit to the wisdom of those who have already made the journey.
To be willing to submit to the knowledge of others, individuals must give up any belief that they already know enough. A Good Friday – Easter experience is involved. Users have to let their ‘I-know-how-to-do-it’ assumption die, so that new understanding can rise up within them.
The Holy Spirit equips people with the knowledge to do things well. The Spirit inspired the artisans to decorate the tabernacle (Exodus 35.31ff) and gives the church practical gifts, such as service and leadership (Romans 12.6ff). We pray that the Guide will be a vehicle for the Spirit, who leads Christ’s followers into truth, to lead them into truths about good practice.
Community – from a local gathering, to the worldwide body of Christ to the ‘communion of saints’ – is a vital aspect of church. However small or large, genuine community involves sharing – of joys, disappointments, resources and lives. Something would be missing if the sharing of wisdom was not involved too. The Guide aims to assist this sharing of wisdom so that the body of Christ can better serve other people – ‘all of us are better than any of us’.
When Christ returns, the results of accumulated, practical wisdom will be celebrated within the kingdom. The kings of the earth and the nations of the world will bring their achievements into the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21.24, 26). The triumphs of civilisation – of good practice – will be included in the kingdom. As we look forward to this future, shouldn’t the church be celebrating the fruits of good practice today?
Don’t things like the Guide exist outside church?
They do indeed, and we have been much helped by the experience of other organisations in what is known as ‘knowledge management’. One way of thinking about how organisations are developing is to see how three roles in particular are growing in importance:
Practitioners, who deal with customers, manage supply chains, carry out back office functions and perform myriad other tasks, are increasingly becoming researchers. They are expected to discover good practice and pass it on. More and more, they form ‘communities of practice’ to learn from their peers.
Senior managers relate to stakeholders, secure agreement on the organisation’s goals, and design and maintain systems to achieve these goals. On top of vision and values, leadership is increasingly about systems design.
They are becoming steadily more important to the success of organisations. They capture knowledge created by practitioners and use it to develop standardised processes throughout the organisation, and they make sure these processes advance the organisation’s goals. In addition, they stand between practitioners and co-ordinators. They funnel the shared learning of practitioners to the co-ordinators (‘our experience is that this goal is getting harder to achieve’). They also turn the expectations of co-ordinators into frameworks for structuring practitioners’ knowledge.
Most organisations are still at an early stage in learning how these three functions can be carried out. In the 1990s, some organisations thought that the best thing to do was to store knowledge in online electronic databases. But they quickly discovered that most people don’t like learning that way. They prefer to learn socially, by engaging with other people. As a result, in recent years the emphasis has been on creating communities of practice, in which people pick each others’ brains by meeting together online and face-to-face.
But what happens when individuals move on, or the team disperses or someone new arrives? There is a need to capture what has been learnt so that others can benefit at a future date. So some organisations are trying to develop online libraries of knowledge, like the Guide, alongside social ways of discovering good practice like learning networks. The idea is that knowledge libraries and social learning support each other. But there is no blueprint for doing all this. Just as other people are having to discover what works, so are we.