This is Part 1 of a 2 part article posting for www.askwhatnow.org
I live in a community with 59,000 other individuals. I haven’t met them all yet but the ones I have are a varied mix of personalities; they have differing views on themselves, each other and what they want from their one and only life. In my experience the one thing that unites them, whether they know it or not, is their pursuit of hope; no one votes for a life run by fear and insecurity.
We as a church love the whole community, so much so that when we are asked how many people are in our church we will answer “59,000 people but not all of them know it yet”. We have developed and are continuing to develop a posture that leans towards our city; we want to become the best church for our community rather than the best church in our community.
This reorientation of thinking came in 2003 when the Lord spoke to us saying;
“If you’ll go after the lost, I’ll look after the church”
This was a pretty interesting statement to consider; it was simple, straight to the point, but deeply challenging. It was a statement that caused us to rethink, re-evaluate and ultimately react.
The call was clear.
He was asking us to reach out to the hurt, the broken and the lost; to lay down our best thinking and get on our knees to wash the feet of our city so that she could stand tall.
We always had a value for those far from Jesus and were involved in various outreach projects, but it was clear that Jesus was calling us to more. This was more than simply increasing the evangelistic efforts we were involved with, this was a call to orientate the entire church towards the lost. We like to compare it to the difference between having a conservatory built onto the side of your house and having the entire heating system and electrics replaced. One of these options can continue with minimal disruption to the house and the other causes a complete reworking of everything within that home.
We were getting a new heating system.
That set us on a new journey that we are still learning and walking. We turned our church outwards. We looked at how we approached everything within our services, we made every ministry missional, we took the church out of the building and today we are constantly seeking ways to bring the ‘lost’ in, get the ‘found’ out whilst always remaining under the power of the Holy Spirit.
We still want to see those 59,000 people come to life.
My aim in this two-part article is not to set out a chronological history, theological discussion or a step by step model. Instead I want to talk through some practical principles which have helped us on our journey to lead our city into life.
CREATE A VISION THAT IS BIG ENOUGH TO EXCITE AND NARROW ENOUGH TO EXCLUDE
It’s vital to lift peoples’ eyes beyond what they currently see and to unpack God’s view. If the vision we lay before our churches is easily reachable then no one has to stretch, no one has to journey for the impossible. If the vision requires stretch it pushes people into Him, it encourages them to engage.
A desire to reach 59,000 was a fairly lofty vision but the church caught it. People began to dream and think of ways that they could make an impact on the community they loved. Whilst this is encouraging to see, it is important to realise that not everyone is supposed to take the journey.
We were embarking upon something that was more than just a nice idea; it was going to be an incredible journey but one that was going to be a challenge, one that would be uncomfortable at times. On these kinds of journeys we need people who are fully committed to what the Lord has called us to, it’s not the place for anyone who fancies a wee jaunt in the countryside. The Lord had called us to be missional and that mission focused us.
Big visions are great but if they are too wide, no one is ever forced to choose whether they are on board or not. If the vision is too wide, the uncommitted audience will realise that there is enough room for them to watch while the committed core do the stuff.
If we were to take God seriously we needed to keep the vision big but narrow. We began developing clear filters that defined whether we would engage in a particular area of ministry or not. We decided that if it didn’t lead us towards the lost or the lost towards Jesus then we wouldn’t do it.
Existing ministries in the church had to adapt, they had to find ways to reach out to the lost in the community or create pathways that would allow them to come in. Every ministry had to become missional. Many people came alive in the move but many were frustrated. The vision was making it clear that people had to choose whether they were in or not.
We lost some really good people in those days, who made decisions to join other good churches in the area who were reaching for a vision that was a better fit for them. Although this was painful we also saw God bring people who were all in, people who were prepared to journey for the long haul.
As we have pushed on with this vision we have learnt that;
THEORY CHALLENGES : STORY CHANGES
Developing a story telling culture has been a vital part of posturing ourselves towards our community. Please don’t hear that theory is unimportant, it is vital to challenge our thinking and to reposition our understanding but we can’t negate the power of story. Jesus used story throughout His ministry. He would use these stories to bring home the message He had been hoping they would catch.
Each week we tell stories of people who are journeying towards hope through the lives of those who are carrying hope into the community. It’s difficult not to be challenged and charged up when we hear stories of people praying for strangers in Sainsburys, bringing hope in Halfords or leading others to faith in Fitness First.
Stories make what was previously impossible possible because if someone has done it once then it we can know it can be done again.
We often tell the story of an 18 year old girl who prayed for a young girl in a coffee shop who had scars caused by self-harm. The 18 year old had heard stories of God’s healing and had experienced healing in this area before. She offered to pray for the girl and after praying 4 times the scars had pretty much disappeared from her arm; amazing boldness, amazing grace.
From the moment we shared that story we began to hear story after story of people seeing the same thing happening.
What seemed impossible was now possible – the story had changed the scenery.