“Reaching the world requires us to release the church to penetrate society, rather than simply offering more centralized services. Such a church, gradually infiltrating subversively through all the networks of society, will birth genuine city transformation. As church history proves, this is the sort of movement that people will give their lives for. This network of tribes will share common values and the same dream, yet each will find unique and tailored ways to express and live them out in their place of service.”
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.
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.
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!
There is a rising number of ‘resource church’ labels being bandied around these days. It is a fresh take on the old latimer model and with the size of the urban centres increasing exponentially the Cathedral system needs greater support. It is not a bad thing but it may be helpful for these churches to know what they are resourcing, what the strategy is and if there is a need for them to be bunched together.
This is not a rant but a plea for some fresh thinking. Local church takes on a whole new understanding in a large urban sprawl that has good transport links. Community looks different in many places and there is a willingness for many to travel. A local church can be a fair distance from where you live because local is smaller (not the same in an estate – there are exceptions, especially for those for whom travel is not an accessible option) but this tends to be less likely for the poorer families and communities. Their local is not quite the same.
Wouldn’t it be great if the resource churches used their resources to enable those with less freedom rather than use resources for ‘bigger and better events’ in their own setting? This is the intention for many but can easily be forgotten…..let’s make sure we keep it on the agenda so that every community has access to ‘local’ christian witness, whatever your definition of local.
“God is up to something in neighborhoods, on the ground in real places. The church, in all its diversity, needs to figure out how to join in. We think God is putting forth a dare that, if practiced, could both revitalize church traditions, and develop a growing unity among members of various denominational expressions in the parish. More than that, it could help the church learn to give itself away in love to the world around it.” Soerens and Friesen
For a while now, English Christian circles have loved the word ‘community’ as an expression of our engagement with the local area. The changing face of the urban landscape challenges our use of the word to a point that it appears to be losing its meaning. What is our ‘community’? Does the Church use it consistently?
It still has value but I do wonder if we need to engage again with using ‘neighbourhood’ as a better term. It has a tighter feel, more depth to its use and is probably a better expression for those engaged in reaching their location with the love of Christ.
I may start using ‘neighbourhood’ more and see if it makes a difference.
Wise words words that we could do with heeding…….
“Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation”
“seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
God loves the city but the way we act as Christians does not always demonstrate this. We have chosen a mission field that fits our comfortable lives rather than the mission field of God. God wants everyone in the city to know Himself but we can act with fear and trembling when it comes to certain ‘no-go’ areas. Our own well being is linked to the well being of ALL the people that live near us and around us….note that…ALL! This is real community and we need to see ‘all’ of the city as our mission field and that includes some people that we will find difficult, uncomfortable and not necessarily those that we would associate with.
In my current role, I speak with churches and groups who desire to make a difference. The first thing that I am asked is for the ‘winner takes all’ strategy, thankfully they do not quit when one is not offered. There are things that can be done;
Pray for your community
Blindingly obvious but often a step that is missed
Be in your community
In a mobile city this step can be ignored but it is often the poorer and more marginalised that are least mobile and forgotten. The organisation that I work for is seeking to adopt a strategy for key workers of ‘live, work and worship’ in the community. Not everyone can adopt this but it is worth considering
Know your community
Be the expert of your community; who lives where? what is available? where are the services? what is the history? Be the sage of the area….it matters!
Love your community
This can be done in many ways. Pick up litter as you pass, open your home to people, be available to people, talk with people, listen to people. Love the people and care for the environment, you will be surprised how people respond.
Seek the welfare of the city….go for it….be amazed at what God can do!