Transforming Neighbourhoods: Discipling Communities.

Last Saturday we had the 11th annual South Reading Churches Fun Day with an estimated 5000 community members in attendance. It was just fabulous watching people move from being spectators to participators and having a whale of a time! It had me reminiscing about the different communities where I have helped facilitate community building festivals; across South Africa, northern Ghana, Kaduna in Nigeria, Trench Town in Jamaica… to mention just a few.

In each of these communities there are local people plugging away using various programs as ways to mentor others. On Sunday night I caught up with Derrick Trout who leads the work in South Africa, he had had a roller coaster week. When you are working to see your community transformed there are times of incredible breakthrough and encouragement, and there are times when you wonder if it’s all worthwhile. Communities are transformed when paradigms shift and people make different life choices, lives are changed and the very systems and structures of the community are renewed: that’s no small feat!

Jesus called us to make disciples of all people teaching them to live the way he taught; this is what he was talking about – it’s not just about working to see individuals find freedom, it’s about seeing whole communities and societies transformed.

Jesus came declaring that there was a new king on the throne whose rule was now paramount; God himself was now king. This meant that there was a different way of doing life that was all about harmonising with the will of the new King. The implications were for individuals, families, politicians, leaders, and society as a whole. To prove the reality of this new Kingdom, Jesus embarked in a systematic demolition of the kingdom of darkness. Everywhere he went God’s rule overturned and reversed every form of death, darkness and destruction. And once his part of the mission was completed, he sent us out to continue the same.

In fellowship with local believers, every Fusion team in each community they operate asks ‘What does the will of the King look like here? What works of death and darkness are to be overturned here?’. The answers to these questions are then born out in a long haul journey punctuated by events and programs, seasons of fruitfulness and of dearth. There are moments of celebration and moments when, like Jesus, we cry out in exasperation ‘How long must I bear with you?!’. But all the while individuals, families, politicians and leaders, and even society as a whole are being challenged and mentored in a different way of doing life. This is community transformation!

A Fusion Community building Festival is just one small microcosm of this transformation taking place…

So let us not grow weary in doing good, but keep going, because in due time we will see the harvest! This Saturday morning Fusion Y&C UK is running a training event to equip leaders and laity alike for the long haul journey of discipling communities and seeing our neighbourhoods transformed. Each of the 5 workshops is about declaring the rule of the King and demolishing the kingdom of darkness in a particular sphere. Why not join us if you can? Click here to find out more.

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Debating British Values … Why bother?

Last week I took part in a survey by the Evangelical Alliance on British values. The survey was in response to assertions by the British Government on what the Nation’s values are. This subject is one that is close to my heart so I thought I would share three short reflections.

Values don’t just happen, they come from somewhere. The children’s charity Barnardos has a value never to turn away a destitute child. If you were to ask a member of the charity why this was so, they would tell you how in 1870 an 11-year old boy, John Somers (nicknamed ‘Carrots’) was turned away because the shelter was full. Two days later Carrots was found dead, the cause malnutrition and exposure.  From then on Barnardo vowed never to turn another child away.

Sociologists have defined values as ‘self limiting choices that we express at least 80% of the time’. To never turn a child away is a costly commitment, at times inconvenient and often stretching beyond current means. But because we know why we do it, we know the story (and we have reflected on the outcomes from alternative course of action), we keep making the choice.

The second thing is that values aren’t just things we aspire to, they determine how we act and shape the culture within which we exist. This one value of Barnardos’ would have had a huge impact on every area of the work from the day to day running of shelters to fundraising and training of staff; it will impact policy and procedure at every level. Values aren’t just nice ideas they shape current and future reality by determining the choices we make. As a nation, in thinking about what values we want to hold, we need to consider what kind of a culture we want to create; our values will (and do) permeate every area of public and social life.

One of the many issues we face as a nation is the weakening of some core values which we have held for generations. This in part is because we have stopped telling the stories that remind us why we have those values. I do not believe for a moment that we need to ‘go back to the good old days’; but I do believe the nation needs to have a conversation about what is important and why.

Which brings me onto the third thing. Values cannot be imposed, they must be chosen. It is strange indeed for any unrepresentative group to come up with a list of ‘values’ for the nation to subscribe to. To review or shape our nation’s values requires not a directive but a movement; storytelling and reflection: we need the space to seriously consider what the outcomes will be a couple of generations down the line if we adopt or drop certain values. Only after all that will come the decisions and policy making…

From seed to full grown tree

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A couple of weeks back I experienced two days that I think will change my journey of discipleship forever. It wont take long but I’d like to share what I experienced with you. The Monday was my team’s usual prayer and supporter day and as I spent the first half of the day alone with […]

Of Priests and Kings

Our team in Whitley, Reading have recently completed a research project into the needs and resources of the community. Our motivation was to discover God’s heart for the community and find out some of his plans in bringing us to this community. I am slowly understanding more of what it means to be part of His royal priesthood.
As Christians we are a Holy Nation of royal priests. This has been what God wanted of ‘his people’ since the very beginning. His plan has been that the whole of creation would consciously experience his loving rule and redemption. Jesus came announcing the Gospel that His Kingdom rule had begun and that it extended across the entire world, not just over Israel. The arrival of Jesus was the commencement of the Kingdom of God and his rule, the commencement of New Creation where everything is put to rights – Shalom! (take a moment to experience the joy of this news that never tires!)
As royalty and priests in this Kingdom it appears we have a fairly clear role to play. Firstly as priests our job is to intercede for and bless the whole of creation around us – the people we meet, our neighbours and family, our community, the whole land, the water ways and atmosphere, our society and all its structures and systems. Whatever we find our hearts turn to, but also the rest of it too. Our job is to bless in the name of our God, it should be obvious to spot where the people of God have been carrying out their role as priests in a place; both the land and the people with all their wholesome endeavours will be evidence of the blessings spoken over them day after day.
Secondly as royalty we carry the authority of the King and his house, we are his family members and he has given us the keys to his entire Kingdom! As royal ambassadors it’s our job to establish and express his Kingdom rule as he expands his Kingdom across the world. By His Spirit in us we have the authority to permit or to disallow things on earth based on whether or not they are in line with the King’s ways and rule. We are to take on the things in our communities and society that are not in line with God’s ways. At the top of the list, we are to ensure that the poor and the orphans are cared for and the weak and voiceless are protected. It’s our job, not someone else’s.
So, in Whitley, we will continue to stand with the rest of the family of God in the community and bless that place! We will keep interceding in prayer for the people and the land. And we will put our hands to the things that will bring God’s Kingdom rule to the community.

“Let him run his race, Darlin'”

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I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from the movies we love – the ones that move us. I recently watched the movie ‘Secretariat’ again, it is one of my favourites. Its a true story of a remarkable race horse and his owner. I cried in a few places this time – haven’t […]

Crazy thing called Church

I’m just home after attending a church service in which the speaker talked about the mission of the church and our passion for the church. This week I have engaged with a couple of conversations taking place on social media where the central themes are around the role and nature of church. Last weekend Fusion Y&C UK had our national conference during which we explored and celebrated God’s hand transforming our society on every level – from our own individual lives to our neighbourhoods and up into our nation as a whole; this too, I believe is the expression of church.
The church seems to be a slippery thing that people struggle to lay hold of and define. As I have listened to people this week I can see different models of church in operation behind what they say. Then as we engage in conversation, bringing different perspectives, the struggle ensues as we try to squeeze another insight into our current model.

I don’t pretend to have the answers but here’s what I have observed this week:

When we start from a place of defining church as the organisation that gathers to worship once a week, be it in different places and with different traditions; it’s hard to fit in each new thing we discover from the scriptures that the church ‘should be’. The church should be missional, the church should be equipping the believers, the church should be a place of worship, the church should be transforming society, the church should be a place of encounter with the living God, the church should be relevant, the church should be a place where healing happens, the church should be heaven on earth… and the list goes on! If the church is the agent of new creation in the world, what exactly do we mean when we say church?

My experience has sometimes been, as a member of a congregation, that for me to belong I need to be personally invested in the specific mission and vision of that congregation. There have been times when what God was calling me to coincided with the congregation’s mission – that was good! There have been other times when the two didn’t match – that was lonely. Twice, though, God’s call on my life was nurtured and celebrated, and although it didn’t exactly fit the stated mission of the congregation, it was embraced by them simply because I was part of the family – that was the BEST! I imagine our pastor in those days when asked to share the mission of the church, describing with great love and excitement all the various roles and callings that the different members of his congregation were expressing in the city! Church to him wasn’t a discrete organisation he was leading with a unique mission, church was something organic that was greater than, but made up of, the sum of all the members each with their unique gifts, brokenness and calling. He loved us and he loved what God was doing in, among and through us.

I think we have successfully made the shift away from thinking of church as a building. The problem is, although we now talk about church being the people, we are still referring to an organisation that we expect people to align themselves to; both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. When the organisation’s mission becomes much narrower than living, worshiping, growing and gathering as Christ followers, we end up excluding members of our own body. I am not talking about different styles and traditions, I love that diversity when it is honoured and celebrated, it means that there is a place for everyone. It is one thing to connect to one congregation over another based on personal taste, it’s another thing to have to make that choice based one’s ministry. What if God decides to do a new thing in the congregation? What if he does it through members of the congregation… how will that go? As someone leading a service prayed recently ‘Father, we invite you to our church.’ ….a Freudian slip, and I trust not representative of that person’s theology, but sobering nonetheless!

the Benign Perogative

What happens when we lose hope of being shown mercy and receiving justice? It’s interesting that those who have been the victims of injustice seek more for mercy than justice. I think it’s because mercy is the process of being seen, heard and understood. Justice is the affirmation of true boundaries. Without mercy there can be no real justice. Justice without mercy is arbitrary a kind of pseudo-justice that is rarely just. Sometimes we fear mercy, hiding behind the excuse that we ‘want justice to be done’; the reality is that deep down we know that mercy is inordinately powerful, able to transform our simplistic notions of justice into the creative, life forming, God honouring thing that Justice really is. If we pursue mercy, our yearnings for ‘justice’ (perhaps more accurately, vengeance) may never be realised – mercy opens us up to seeing the world differently and allowing our paradigm to be challenged. Mercy is dangerous to the status quo.

It’s not surprising therefore that mercy is hard to come by in this world; that when mercy is shown, people experience the face of God, and when there is no hope of mercy, people give up the will to continue in this life. There is one exception, documented in the concentration camps of Nazzi Germany by Dr Victor Frankl, even in the face of no hope of mercy, some somehow managed to find within themselves the capacity to love, hope and live for another person or cause. Life was no longer about experiencing mercy one’s self but about contributing to the mercy of another. We were created to exist in a setting where mercy and justice are normal, but when these are missing in our immediate circumstances we have a capacity to bring them to others.

We have been made wonderfully complex, carrying eternity in our hearts yet incapable of fathoming it. We all have the power to bring hope and dash it to pieces. We each hold the lives of others in the balance whether through the weakness of dominance or the power of mercy, justice and compassion. Yet frighteningly we seem completely unaware of this. Until that is, someone comes along and demonstrates the force of agape and we catch for a moment a fleeting shadow of our own capacity to bring hope and life, or to destroy it.

I just watched the benign prerogative, an episode in series 5 of the West Wing…. and we are getting ready for this year’s British Pilgrimage of Hope which starts this weekend.