What have I been doing? Hope Whitby

One of my other trips this year was to visit Hope Whitby. Hope is a new church planted by Leigh and Bec Coates based on a network church model. It has grown from a planting team of 7 people to a network of 20 missional communities spread across the Yorkshire Coast connecting with at least 140 people.

1

The Hope journey sounds like it has been quite a whirlwind and much of it is driven by the Coates’ passion and commitment to mission. They are the kind of people who just want to love people and help them discover Jesus! That passion is infectious and it was exciting to see meet some of their key people and see how they were catching the disciple-making bug.

Hope Whitby is messy and fast moving, but very exciting. This growth seems to be sustained by three things.

Worship, prayer, discipleship. The way Leigh and Bec tell the Hope story they did nothing but pray for the first 2 years. They are convinced that the mission is Gods and that their ability to participate relies on their friendship with him. Their communities prioritise time in prayer, bible study and life-changing discipleship. This gives a joy and strength to their planting and pioneering work – even in the tough times!

Community Engagement. There a regular points in the month where Missional Communities engage with the wider community. They run gig nights, youth clubs, old-folk’s drop-ins etc. and are deliberately looking for ways to connect with as many people as possible at these events. Much of their energy and time as a church seems to go into creating and maintaining these community events, where relationships are established and built.

Missional Impulse. I’ve been with few people who have such a drive to take risks, try new things and plant different MSCs. Leigh seems to have taken it as a challenge start as many gospel shaped communities as he can! This is a deliberate strategy, Leigh told me that he believed one of the key secrets to the church’s growth was that he was trying to get each MSC to multiply or plant a community beyond itself.

These three commitments, to real connection with God, to serving the Whitby Area and to going into new places with God’s gospel help explain some of the joy, dynamism and growth Hope is experiencing!

Wisdom and Crying

We’ve got our leaders learning community this weekend,  I’m excited because they are always good!

H and I are doing bits of final preparation today. As I prayed this morning 2 bits from the lectionary readings struck me –

Ephesians 3:10 talks about a church that displays God’s wisdom.  That’s the goal!  That’s one of the main reasons we do missional communities and all the training events.

Psalm 107 has a repeated refrain:  “they cried out to the Lord and he delivered them…”. God’s wisdom,  God’s glory is so often displayed by turning back to him.  By changing minds, and living differently. 

I’m hopeful that the learning community tonight and tommorrow will give lots of opportunity for our communities, and for the churches joining in with us, to turn to God, to change minds, to stretch into new ways of living.  Then maybe we’ll better display God’s wisdom so that even more people will realise they can cry out to him in their distress and experience his rescue.

You can find out more about learning communities and the people who have helped us with them here.

I’m bored

When you have the same conversation with a few different people you start to take a bit of notice. Recently I’ve had a few Groundhog Day style discussions about boredom. Friends: brilliant, faithful, trying-to-follow-Jesus people, thinking of opting out of aspects of church life because… well frankly because they are dull (apologies if you think I’m talking about you, I probably am but not just about you).

What do we do with boredom? I find myself drawn immediately to 2 conflicting directions.

Tendancy 1:  Get over it! There is a disturbing grouchy-old-man part of my character that wants to say “Your bored? Tough! Everyone is bored in church sometimes.  The rest of the world is frying your brain with sensation and communication so the effort you need to put in to connect with God in church is good for you.  Learn to deal with being bored and maybe you’ll turn out to be a better person for it. ” While I recognise some truth in this,  it probably isn’t a very helpful response.

Tendancy 2: Let me entertain you!  Initially more attractive,  but probably just as damaging is the desire to cure boredom with pizazz! Perhaps if we find the right combination better songs,  a funnier joke,  some more relevant references, a livelier delivery, then at least people won’t be bored in our church.  We can just keep the tricks coming and keep the audience engaged.

Ultimately neither approach works, because neither treat boredom as an opportunity for discipleship.  If that just sounds like a slightly repackaged version of tendancy 1 then remember the opportunity goes both ways.  If your bored in the church I’m part of then you and I probably both need to to learn and grow.

The approach to discipleship I find most helpful is about getting the right calibration of invitation and challenge. Boredom is a symptom of low invitation and low challenge (this is an idea unpacked more in the book “Building a Discipleship Culture.“)   Approaching the issue with that in mind reframes the tendencies I see in my response.  The desire to entertain,  has within it kernals of an impulse to extend invitation – to make things as attractive and welcoming as possible.  The desire to say “get over it” is challenge.

A discipleship approach to boredom extends invitation and challenge, but if it just flits between “get over it” and “let me entertain you” then it doesn’t really deal with the issue.  Both approaches assume that I am in charge and you are at the receiving end of what I do… you are the audience I’m trying to entertain or the target of my efforts to teach and train.

So to a better response to boredom: Participate!  Move from being a either a consumer or pupil towards belonging and contributing.  This approach requires aspects of invitation (to feel welcomed and like space has been made for you) and challenge (to get involved and make things better,  to stay engaged even in the bits that aren’t designed with you as the target demographic, to commit to a group for the long term).

To be honest, probably just like you, I get bored in church.  It can be dull in so many different ways, (it can also be amazing).  Learning to approach this as a discipleship issue will help churches, and people, become more effective.

Do you lead a church/small group/missional community leader.  How do you spot bored people and use invitation and challenge to help them become participants?

Are you bored in church?  What are the opportunities around you to increase your participation?

The image with this post is by Adam Jones and was found on wikipedia.

Story and Practice

I was reading on another blog that 2014 is going to be a big year for biblical epics. Apparently studios in the US noticed the interest in the television series “The Bible” and have decided. God’s story is going to have a bit of a moment. So get ready for cinemas showing interpretations of Noah, the escape from Egypt, David and Goliath and a prequel to “The passion of the Christ” focussing on Mary.

I guess when they come out these will be varied in quality, and there’ll be lots of discussion about how accurate they are and how faithfully they interpret the original material. Of course there’ll be lots more discussion attempting to enlighten Christians to the fact that their getting upset about fairy tails. I guess this all is probably a good thing, the story of the bible will be shown and discussed after all.

Over Christmas I was watching a couple of documentaries on TV. Christmas is one of those times when the BBC does religion and so you get a few things springing up across that network. One was exploring pilgrimages across the world. The other was studying sacred places around the world. As a Christian history geek I love that kind of thing, but I also thought that both programmes showed well the depth of passion and feeling that religious practice gives.

Story and practice, 2 ways of engaging with faith. I think often Christian mission focuses on one or the other. Either we attempt to get people to understand the story, and why it is really important to them or we try to share practice with them, for example praying for healing, engaging in Christian social action or practicing contemplation. I think we need both.

One way of looking at the bible that has gained popularity recently is as an unfinished story or a play with a missing final act. In this story the present day, and the 2000 or so years before it, are an important part of the drama. This approach offers a way to link story and practice well and a way to tell and show the message of Jesus. Lots of churches are finding ways to do that.

Missional Communities are one great way of linking story and practice together. In these small-ish groups people gather to engage in practices that have been at the heart of Christianity for centuries. We try to be like extended family on mission, sharing what we have, praying, serving others and so on. We’re also trying not to keep this to ourselves, but invite others into the fun! They offer a place for people to put the story into practice and a place for them to encounter the story through practice.

How else can we link the story of what God has done with the practice of what he is doing?