It is easy to get in to the numbers game, not just the counting…ignoring them to. You cannot stand at the extremes, numbers do matter but we have to be careful what the narrative behind them is.
Last week we began our new missional community and, with all faith, said that even if nobody outside of family turned up, we would be happy. This soon changed as we had a number of people who committed to attend – 14 in all and my hopes had been raised, space would be a challenge and we were going to have an incredible start. On the day, we had 9 in total – but not from the group that had committed – just 3 from there. It was a fabulous start and I was (initially at least) disappointed.
Numbers are a guide, they cannot and should not be ignored. However, we must be careful to listen to the narrative behind the numbers and look at the long term success or failure. Jesus was deserted and by the time of his crucifixion was completely alone…..years later, the world was changed and numbers are beyond counting now. We need to track our numbers and learn what the figures say but the spreadsheet should not determine direction of travel or key decisions, for this we need the story.
There were good reasons why a number of folk did not turn up for our first meeting, we will be logging the numbers in the next few months and see the trends. However, they will not prevent us sticking to the calling at hand. We will see a community of believers transforming this area because God is at work and his faithful friends are serving. Some of these things can be counted, some cannot.
Numbers matter but numbers alone are a noose around our neck. They are a part of the story, not the whole. Numbers matter, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Something that I wrote for the Ambassadors2020 website in March:
Almost a lifetime ago, Bob Hoskins’ BT adverts reminded us that ‘it’s good to talk’ and ever since we have seen the growth of the telecoms industry and an explosion in social media. Like others, my smartphone addiction needs careful monitoring, and so, I have chosen to say hello to the people that I pass when I walk down the street with the following caveat; to be willing to talk with folk that are up for conversation. It is so much more fun than the handheld screen.
A few weeks in and there have been remarkable results. I wait for eye contact and then nod, smile and say a casual greeting. Most people pass on, yet from this simple gesture, a number of conversations have been sparked. One guy shared the story of his life and the challenges he faces in retirement, and an elderly lady shared about her fears for her future as she is being relocated in a new development. Quite wonderful life stories that began with a simple smile and a ‘hello’.
In both these cases, there was no need to share a full gospel sermon to go into great depths about Jesus love for them, but there was an opportunity to say that the local church is a safe place to talk of these concerns, to find friendship and to learn about faith in Jesus. Perhaps the greatest witness was the time that I gave and the willingness to listen and respond. Both these conversations ended with the individuals saying thank you for taking the time. It cost me nothing but left me with a sense that I had been a friend and that listening to them had been a support.
As an ambassador, I do not need all the answers, to solve all the world’s problems, or correct all the mistakes of others. But providing a little salt or a smidgen of light can make a big difference in the lives of those we meet. When we make ourselves available, in Jesus name, who knows what can be achieved?
As Ambassadors, it is ‘good to talk’, what conversations can you have today?
Gathering a prayer team is critical for us as we begin the new community. There are those that pray on the ground in a local setting and those that are more distant. Our target is 100 people praying from outside the locality and this has been surprisingly simple to set up, the age of social media is your friend in this.
We have spread the net wide and have chosen a ‘zero policing’ policy, so I will not be checking up on who is following through on their commitment but have deliberately kept the bar low – pray intentionally at least once a month and I will commit to pray for them too, as well as informing them regularly. So the plan is as follows;
- 100 people in the wide net – these folk are gathered from friendships, contacts and social media. They commit to pray intentionally once a month and in return they receive information to fuel their prayer and I have committed to pray for them too. They receive information via email or a private Facebook group, maximum twice a month.
- 12 people in the boat – these 12 are close friends where I can share more deeply in the issues for prayer. These folk will be those that have shared a much deeper interest and are known to be warriors in prayer. This takes a while longer to set up and is still a work in progress, but vital.
- 3 Officers in charge – 3 prayer commandoes who meet to share guts and all, for prayer and encouragement.
It is impossible to know who wants to join prayer lists for ‘nosey faith encouragement’ but if people make a level of commitment, you must trust them. The close at hand people have to be trusted friends because you are sharing more personally. This is only right.
I have been blessed with a prayer team and whilst still in formation, we have seen many good answers to prayer and have known our arm is strengthened in ministry. We value our prayer support team, they are incredible.
In my previous post on starting a missional community from scratch the first point was to “adopt the posture of a learner” but what does this mean? How do we do this?
Adopting the posture of a learner demands patience, time, listening, observation and most of all, an attitude of continuous learning. When you are in a new environment and do not know people, where do you begin? How do you progress?
- Observe: where do people gravitate to? Watch were people go shopping, where they gather to relax, which community events are on, what is happening within the community. This will teach something of the lifestyle of the people around you.
- Listen: As you open up conversations, listen to what people are saying and why they are saying those things. This is critical in listening and most often forgotten. As you listen, assume that you know nothing, put aside your own viewpoints, your own learning. The people whom you are listening to are the professors and you are the child in kindergarten – this may help you to listen well.
- Patience and Time: Do not rush your listening, you will never have all the answers and if you jump to the wrong conclusions you will find yourself less effective. Time is the greatest gift that you give to your community.
- Attitude of Continuous Learning: There is not a time when you know it all, the community constantly changes (especially if it is living!) and the answers from a previous season do not always translate to the latest season. We are all aware of people who have stopped learning and growing, their stagnation smells horrific, don’t become that person but be willing to learn afresh, change your ways and act accordingly.
The posture of a learner keeps you humble and prevents you from “lording it over others” – missional communities should be a place where we are constantly in change, growing, developing and loving. Adopt the position of a learner and see what happens…..you may be glad you did.
“How To Pioneer” – David Male – A good practical handbook for anyone who wants to engage missional in their community. An excellent resource that is practical, sensible and evidence that anyone can engage in pioneering ministry. 10/10
“Neighborhood Mapping” – John Fuder – A helpful book with practical wisdom for getting under the skin of your community in order to serve as a missionary church. You think you know your community but maybe you need to think again and put a strategy in place for getting to know it better. This book is gold dust for practical thinkers. 9/10
“Church Planting Thresholds” – Clint Clifton – A manual for church planters from a reformed theological perspective. It is very detailed and full of practical wisdom, biblically loaded. It is not for everyone but useful for church leaders who are looking to plant a new church and recruit a team. 6/10
You know that you want you community to be a place where Jesus is seen and accepted but how do you begin with a missional community. Most communities start with a team but there are occasions when you have nobody…..what then?
1)Adopt the posture of a learner – it can be easy to make assumptions and to think that you know a community well. However, demographic studies, stats, maps and more stats are no replacement for legwork in the community and getting under the skin of the place. You need to be ready to learn more, listen more, observe continually and accept things may be different to what you perceive. Be ready to learn, be willing to learn and spend a great deal of time listening. Adopt a learning attitude.
2)Seek someone who will inform you – who is the person of peace, someone who imbibes the community, who will share their knowledge and is a friend. They do not necessarily hold your beliefs of faith but they are willing to share with you. Their willingness usual strengthens when you adopt the posture of a learner and not that of teacher.
3) Build relationships – as you talk with people, seek them out again, develop friendships, go deeper and let this rootedness in the community help you to flourish. Not all relationships will be tight, see it more of a spiders web with a central strength and a growing network beyond the fringes. Relationships are critical.
These first three steps are very practical and the holy people reading will ask, ‘what about prayer?’ Prayer is the most necessary component and I have assumed it will underpin, surround and inhabit everything. Without prayer you have nothing and the steps above only help begin a social club, not a missional community. Prayer is the blood running through our veins….do not abandon it.
All the above takes time….it is worth it!
“The best ever…..” titles can sell music albums, provoke debate and allow for wide differences of opinion. Some things are near impossible to determine – which team was better, the Liverpool team of the late 70s or the Manchester United team of the late 90s? It is all subjective and there are so many variables that comparison is nigh on impossible.
When Mike Pilavachi says that “the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically”, you would be wise to listen and reflect but let’s take a moment…what are the markers? What are the reference points? Mike follows by saying that many of the best youth leaders are moving on to ordination and so there is a wider context to this statement that we must consider; the ‘quality pool’ maybe more shallow because of other extenuating circumstances.
Martin Saunders, another highly credible voice, responded to Mike’s original interview with an article that sought to support and clarify what Mike was saying. This article was more troubling for me. As someone who was a salaried youth leaders from circa 25 years ago, and currently a volunteer leader, it is important that we do not compare the incomparable and we must not look back with rose tinted spectacles of the reality of those years. Some things back then were exceptional, some things not – it is no different today – some things are exceptional, some are not. The references to ‘average youth leader’ in the differing generations are unhelpful, inaccurate (even allowing for artistic licence) and prevents proper engagement with the meat of the discussion
In every generation, the same struggles exist for us all – living as Children of Light. The context of todays culture is different but the struggles are the same. If the issues of holiness, bible reading, devotional life etc. are the issues at stake (and I agree that we may need to look at this more consistently) then this is not something that should be placed upon youth leaders alone but every ministry of the Church. Discipleship is a whole Church responsibility.
In the bigger picture of life, this storm will pass. However, I hope that the heart of both Mike and Martin continue to inspire us all – they are such important figures in championing youth ministry and I value them both. I also hope that others involved in youth ministry do not feel undervalued or discouraged as they serve – you are loved, valued and are appreciated.
Thank you to everyone who engages in youth ministry – you are AMAZING!