Archive for the ‘10 Marks of an Effective Church Plant’ Category

Prayer

Stetzer’s 10th mark is ‘Appreciating & Participating in Ancient Patterns’ (p140) but I have gone with prayer. Without prayer we are lost. It is the engine room of any planting ‘strategy’. When I first arrived at NCC it did what all good churches do – it had a midweek ‘prayer meeting’. I say prayer but it was more like a 45 minute ‘study’ on the importance of praying followed by another 45 of actually getting down to business. There were about a dozen or so people sat in a room having tea and biscuits and ‘fellowshipping’ and when I asked around the room if each knew what the other did for a living or what their main spiritual struggle in life was, I got a horrified and hushed silence. What did that have to do with prayer? When I asked if anybody actually knew the random person in a faraway land that was prayed for by one person (who went to said place on holiday and felt moved to share it with the church), I got silence again? When I asked how many unbelievers on the estate did people actually know by name and, more than that, know specifically some of the battles they were facing, again, more uncomfortable silence.In other words, were we really praying intelligently and with insight or just painting by numbers?

This is not a criticism of my people but an observation which I suspect is played out in churches up and down the country every week. Pastors beside themselves with concern about flagging numbers in the ‘midweek meeting’. Have we ever thought that it might be because it sucks the big one. Who wants to go and sit in a room for an hour and a half and mouth half-hearted words with people they don’t really know about people they have never really met (and have no interest in if they’re honest)? So, I killed the midweek meeting.

We changed one of the Sunday School rooms into a ‘prayer room’ and moved to an early morning 1 hour prayer meeting. We put up a notice board with local needs and individuals we knew, our sick, our church officers, our ministries and we put in a CD player and some Bibles and we began to pray. On Sunday evenings we hand out ‘prayer slips’ to each person in attendance. it has the following questions: ‘Name’, ‘Something to give thanks for’, ‘Items for prayer’, ‘Pray for the salvation of….’ Few people came and few still do, aside from the team and an occasional ‘visitor’. But that is not the point. Prayer is going on. And people are being prayed for specifically and intelligently every day.

We have a prayer meeting an hour before the Sunday service, which again can be hit and miss in terms of attendance but we persevere with it. Once a month we have a ‘missionary Sunday’ prayer slot and we pray for another country in the world, in order to educate our people about world needs. Once a month on Sunday afternoons we have our church Prayer Meeting as a service to pray for the needs of the church and for members to be updated on any ‘changes’ (and there are always some!). One evening a month we come together to pray specifically for the ‘community’ and any and all contacts we have in a concentrated fashion. We encourage people to share any encouragements or discouragements they may have had in sharing the gospel and we praise the Lord for both.

We are very much a work in progress and if we feel an area is going stale then we mercilessly bin it and look for something else more meaningful. The point is we are always learning and looking for ways in which we can pray better. But we need to do it. I think it is the number one reason why we are beginning to make inroads into our community.

Apart from offering Twenty Pound notes, those who don’t want to come or are too tired or too lazy or are busy – there is nothing much else we can do right now to encourage prayer. I don’t think going back to one midweek meeting is the answer and I don’t think what we have now is the best. We are only trying to do old things in new ways. At the end of the day how sexy can a prayer meeting be? We’re just asking for reality, vulnerability and honesty when we come to the Almighty in petition.

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Leading Teams

Teams are important for planting churches. The lone ranger approach just doesn’t cut it, particularly in council housing estates. Often, men ask me for my opinion on planting churches and one of the first questions I ask is this: ‘What is your main spiritual gifting?’ Almost 100% of the time the answer is Bible teacher, or preacher. Great gifts but wrong answer if you want to plant a church in an inner city area, at least.

You need five main abilities to be a lead church planter (in my experience). (1) evangelism (2) a personality (3) an ability to attract and inspire and (4) a desire and ability to train & equip (5) an entrepreneurial spirit. (We will assume an ability to handle the scriptures as axiomatic to our discussion).

Niddrie was a one-man band when I took over and that is why it was relatively dysfunctional in terms of reaching the community. Not because the previous incumbent was bad but because there was only one of him. We now have several full-time members of staff:

(1)  A full time woman’s worker – necessary in an age of single mothers and needy females because it is inappropriate for a man to be carrying out this ministry. If you haven’t got a woman on your team then don’t plant on a housing scheme. More on this to follow.

(2)  A full time youth worker and school’s worker – necessary for obvious reasons. The work needs a fully orbed and comprehensive strategy for reaching children and walking them through the age ranges until they become adults. More on this to follow.

(3)  At least 1 full time pastoral assistant – we currently have 2. One gifted with people and the other in teaching the Bible. How long I keep them both is anybody’s guess. But I have them at the moment and I intend to use them and encourage them to the full extent of their growing abilities. More on this to follow.

(4)  Several ‘interns’ learning a wide range of ministries. Sometimes a person will join us expecting to be great with children but they actually suck and move on to something else. Niddrie is a great proving field for young people wanting to explore if this type of ministry is for them. More on this to follow.

All of my co-workers receive ongoing theological training and are encouraged to either mentor and/or grow a small group of people (believers and unbelievers) around them for the purpose of ministry multiplication. Some rise to the challenge and some are incapable. This, in my opinion, is the best way to grow a work in an area like ours. Otherwise, one man is swamped by the needs of the many and actually becomes relatively ineffective for the gospel.

With teams come problems depending on how you manage them. I like the messy, gamblers approach to team building. There is not a person on my team who has not been a risk. They didn’t come with perfect credentials and fully orbed theological understanding. Some of them have been a bit naughty in the past and some of them require more coaching than others. But, all of them have a desire and a hunger to see the gospel proclaimed in Niddrie. And, they want to learn and grow. All-important factors.

My approach has caused problems over the years both in Brazil and the UK. People haven’t worked out as well as we would have liked. They were not ready, or they couldn’t cope with the cut and thrust of inner city work. Personal and moral failings previously hidden came to the fore. All causing stress and tension in the teams that I have led. But this is normal. We shouldn’t be seeking it but we should be embracing it as an opportunity to learn and to grow as leaders and as team members. What mistakes were made? How do we try and minimise them from happening again? What did we learn about ourselves? What would we do differently? All of these, painful though they are, are a part of the process of growing effective leaders.

The issue, I suspect, for many UK churches is looking for the ‘perfect candidate’ or the ‘safe bet’. The fresh faced eager beaver with his Dick Lucas DVD collection who’ll do a sterling job but is as about as inspirational and charismatic as the chairman of the John Major Underpants Appreciation Society. We will never train ‘indigenous leaders’ in places like Niddrie if we don’t take risks and gamble on the fact that we might hit 50 failures before we strike gold.

At the moment I have imported leaders in, but that’s OK, their job is to make a mess, establish contacts and keep the wider vision in mind. It’s not ideal but it’s a start and we’ll see whom the Lord sends our way over the coming years.

We will return to this topic again because it is so important.

Living Community

I find the whole concept of ‘community’ fascinating. It’s suddenly become very fashionable in ‘forward thinking churches’ (as they very ‘forwardly’ like to call themselves) to throw this whole concept around like a big beach ball. The problem being that people like to bat the thing about but nobody wants to keep it hold of it very long because it is a bit big and cumbersome and keeps getting in the way.

We find it relatively easy to identify with the concept of community in Niddrie because the building we worship in is slap, bang in the middle of the estate. We are open every day of the week and ‘regulars’ come to our café or our Zumba classes, or counselling sessions, or mum’s groups etc and we are constantly building rapport with locals.

I have people who sit in the café and sup a cup of coffee for 4 hours every day of the week because they are sad, or lonely and just want the company of other people around them. Isolation and depression are a huge concern on estates like ours. Part of the reason we do so much around food (too much according to some ‘non communal’ types) is that it offers a non threatening way for people to come and engage with the community of faith. People here don’t want to come and listen to some bloke spout off at a ‘Christianity Explored’ type event (brilliant tool for its context, incidentally) but they will come to a karaoke night or a curry night just to sit and have the crack. Do Christians do that anymore? Just sit and have the crack and talk to people about the normal, mundane things of life? It all seems a bit forced and frenetic. Maybe if we sold it as an ‘Evangelistic Having The Crack Event’ more Christians would buy into it!

Some of the ‘Christian’ attempts to ‘connect’ with people have been painful to listen to (and be on the end of) over the years.

Friendly Christian (hovering in the Niddrie Caff praying silently for ‘opportunities’): ‘Hi, how are you?’

Godless Heathen (Thinking, “Aw, that’s nice of them”): ‘Erm…bad really. Me piles are really playing up and me bum hurts like mad. How are you?’

Friendly Christian (Shocked and offended buy the word “piles” but will suffer the privation and suffering for the glory of the gospel): ‘ooh…sounds painful but not as painful as the agonies that our poor Lord and saviour suffered on the cross. He bled tears you know?

Godless Heathen (I’m sure she said words then but I missed it): ‘What?’

Friendly Christian (moving on to small talk now, exultant that the full gospel has been shared in a warm and meaningful way. She would have something to share at the ‘Monet Prints’ ladies discussion group this evening): ‘So, what are you doing this weekend? Anything nice?’

 Godless Heathen (Thinking, “That’s a bit odd. Maybe she’s a bit mad and can’t keep her mind on one subject at a time. Me gran’s like that. Aww..I’ll be nice to her. She’s probably lonely. That’s why she’s talking to me): ‘Well Friday. I’ll probably go and see me cousin. She’s had cancer and I like to take her a bottle of Lambrusco and have a laugh. Then Saturday I like to go round me sisters and watch the kid’s for her while she goes shopping. They’re a nightmare in Tesco’s otherwise.’ Then Saturday night it’s off on the lash with some pals. And then on Sunday I like to take me gran to grampies graveside, tidy up the grave and have a bit of a chat to him. We do it every week. She misses him, me gran.’

Friendly Christian (Oh my goodness me…. Help me Lord! The Lord of darkness and his evil minions surround this person! Drinking, carousing and praying to the dead. She needs to come to church and hear the Word.): ‘Well, have you thought about coming to church and making new friends and hearing the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ?

Godless Heathen (Uncertain of motives now): ‘No.’

Friendly Christian (not pausing for breath and on a ‘Spirit led’ roll now to rescue this poor individual from her sad and wicked life):Well you really should. We’re doing a series on Deuteronomy this week and that would probably be good for your gran because it talks about not praying to the dead in there. And in our midweek meetings we’ve been talking about how God is good all the time and I am sure your cousin with cancer would love to come and here about that.’

Godless Heathen (unable to think and wondering if this person is a bit mentally unstable): ‘Do you do anything else except talk at people? In church I mean?

Friendly Christian (Thinking, “praise the Lord, a breakthrough’): ‘What do you mean exactly?’

Godless Heathen (Thinking, “Is this a Bible mugging here. Does she really care about me?”): ‘I mean, do you hang out together and have a laugh and that? Or is it just meetings about Jesus and the Bible.’

Friendly Christian (It’s not a party darling. It’s serious business): ‘Well…we love to come together in the spirit of community and worship God together. That’s what we do.’

Godless Heathen (sounds crap): ‘Nah. I’ll stick with me family. They’re a pain but we love one another. Thanks for the offer though love.’

Friendly Christian (thinking, “That went really well. The girls will be so proud of me): ‘Well, enjoy your tea. I’ll be praying for you and your superstitious gran.’

Family bonds in Niddrie are super tight here but they are also super destructive and can be marked by years of feudal, in fighting and petty jealousies. As a result, many people are looking for some sort of non-threatening companionship and an ear to bend, without necessarily expecting any sage advice in return. Often, the regulars at least, just want to speak and live and be in our presence. ‘To escape the madheads‘ as a friend recently shared with me.

The problem comes when the community we are inviting them into is not perhaps the utopian ideal that it claims to be, or even that it ought to be. My experience of many mature Christians is that ‘community’ is almost a dirty word, something to be shied away from and avoided if at all possible. Community is OK as long as it doesn’t interfere with my Pilate’s class or interrupt my Bible study group (ooohh…discuss).

The problem with Niddrie is that everything takes too long and in an era of explosive church growth in the USA and a mass of ‘How to be big like us you poor little, faithless, dying, unsuccessful bunch of losers’ books swamping us at every turn, the temptation is to go for big bang events and sex up our attendance figures.

Couple this with the fact that I see many Niddrie people, by and large, every day of the week. So, I know what is going on in their lives. I have met their mums, their cousins, their gran’s, and their dogs etc. I am involved in their lives and they in mine. They ask after my kids and I ask after theirs. They want to know about my health and very often they want to know about the church (surprisingly). The tension comes when I don’t see my members that often or in that light. Many of them run a mile if I try to ask a personal question. They find the concept of ‘accountability’ both invasive and unnecessary.

I remember first coming to NCC and asking people the question: ‘How is your walk with Jesus?’ In other words, how are you doing spiritually? I wasn’t trying to be hip or clever. As the one given responsibility for the shepherding of their souls I was (am still am) genuinely concerned. Yet one little question caused havoc in the church for many. People avoided me, laughed nervously, refused to answer the question, and in some cases just lied! A few came clean and, interestingly, are now doing really well in our church life. In the end, I stopped asking.

When I first went to NCC I found that people, by and large, were happy to sit and listen on a Sunday, crack out a half decent prayer on a Wednesday and that was it. No further (can I say how much we have moved on since then although there is still much to do). That is not community. That is not attractive to people with existing close and intricate relationships looking for connection. How am I supposed to ‘sell’ (in the right way) the concept of Christian community to an unbeliever on our estate who may sell weed, live with his girlfriend, hang out down the pub with his mates every night, is deeply involved in wider community affairs and knows the name of everybody within a 3 mile radius? What exactly are we inviting this guy into?

It seems a bit dodgy to me to go to great lengths to make contacts with people, tell them about Jesus, be their mates and once a profession has been made, shove them into the Sunday Service with a Bible, a good ‘quiet time book’, encouraged to turn up to the prayer meeting and maybe the odd ‘family’ BBQ. Doesn’t sound like much of an attractive swap, does it?

Christian community? Still working out what that looks like as I feel like John the Baptist with a foot in the Old era trying usher in the promise of the New.

Connecting With technology

 ‘Technology is so much a part of our cultural experience that it’s not optional for a church reaching emerging generation’. (P141)

Stetzer refers to a couple of churches that, in his mind, use technology to good effect in their services. One is www.cornerstone-sf.org who, apparently, like to project stained glass images on to surfaces where there are none. Listen, if you want to save a few quid I know a few boys in the YNT who will do you a favour free of charge (Young Niddrie Team – a delightful bunch of hooded young men and women who will take your car/bike//TV/DVD Player for a free spin late at night. It is an invaluable service offered here on the estate. They also specialise in removing and inspecting drainpipes for any faults. Their real penchant, however, is a combination of demolition and ‘resprays’.  Such is their expertise they are able to effortlessly break anything: cars, doors, windows, wall, fences and I can, from personal experience, recommend their innate ability to project missiles onto glass windows with unerring accuracy.

I can ask them to come and sledge hammer any walls you want (without the bother of pesky health and safety regulations) and we can get some of the neighbourhood children to come and shine laser pens in your eyes through the holes! More tear stained worship that stained glass but hey, it’s all about contextualisation, right?

AT NCC I’m happy, no delirious, if I can get the projector and maybe one mike to actually work. When the miraculous sometimes does occur (we’re not complete cessationists) and the light goes to green, the ‘oohs’ & aahs’of those present can be heard for miles away. In fact, there have been reported cases of people showing up at services, drawn by the noise of our wonder and awe. They didn’t stay, apparently, because the heating wasn’t working that week.

I understand that some churches in the USA now have full -time ‘Cyber Ministers’. Come on, you’ve got to love that! Cyber Ministry! I am signing up right now. That sounds way cooler than plain old pastor.  I can imagine it now at the next ‘How painfully hip is your church plant’ conference:

‘Hi, what do you do?’

‘Well, I hate to brag, but I’m a cyber Minister. What about you?’

‘Me? I’m just a plain old pastor’.

(Sympathetic, almost pitying pat on the shoulder) Don’t worry mate. There’s still a little place for you guys in the world.’

‘Aww, thanks man. Good luck Cyber Minister.’

Personally, I am a techno idiot and I am crushed to think that I will never have a plaque outside my door with the words ‘Mez McConnell – Cyber Minister’ in beautiful typeface.  Unfortunately, talking to me about ‘cyber stuff’ is like taking your Mac Book to the zoo, smearing it in crushed banana and sliding it through the monkey bars. What follows can only be described as a mixture of curiosity, excitement, puzzlement, grunting, licking and banging on keys with no real clue as to what is going on. However, I am in agreement with Stetzer about the whole multi media thing (Cyber Minister aside – still, I can’t get over how cool that title is!). I look at some of the church websites online, particularly in the USA and I admit to fleeting feelings of coveting my neighbours ‘webpage’. We do our best with ours. We don’t have a full-time person doing it and so we just patch it up as best we can. I think we need to spend real money on it because we do have quite a following ‘out there’ and many people email me or tell me that they are still waiting for the next session on Hebrews or whatever series we are teaching. Even guys on the estate who never come to a service sometimes listen in online to see what they think.

So, for me, it is a real concern that if the first thing that people see when they log on to niddrie.org is a half baked, out-of-date site, then it doesn’t bode well for follow up visits. It is such a powerful tool and I would love to employ somebody to do it full time. I can see the necessity even if I mock the job title.

I think churches benefit from things like member’s pages and forums for discussion outside of Sunday services. So, hands up. We suck at number 7 on my list. I am trying with this blog though but it does have huge limitations.

Please pray for us that we would find a website guru willing to help us. Unfortunately, they won’t be called, ‘Cyber Minister’ but maybe something like, ‘person who knows stuff about technology and web pages, is not obscure, speaks in words I understand, get’s the job done, and makes whirry things look good minister’. Not sure how we will fit that on their name badge but I will worry about that if and when the need arises.

Visualising Worship

According to Stetzer, worship has become more visual. When we (at his church) sing of blood we show blood. When we sing of Christ, we use art from the ages to show Christ.’ (P140).

I found this fascinating. In the conservative circles in which I was saved it was noticeable that I never found any images, crosses or anything remotely ‘religious’ either in the church building or in the homes of the believers that I visited. Nothing. Not a thing to signify their faith in Christ. Coming from a staunch catholic background this confused me at first. I was looking for some picture of Jesus or Mary, anything to validate the truth of what this ‘born again crew’ were teaching me. I soon learned that, ‘we don’t bow to graven images, young man’. Gulp.

Interestingly, in our midweek ‘Recover’ meeting here at NCC, I found that if I try to get people to sing a Christian song with the guitar they find it awkward and are extremely self-conscious. On the other hand, if I play the same song with a video clip from YouTube, they openly relax and even begin to sing under their breath and engage more with God through what they are seeing.

In the past I have shown clips from Mel Gibson’s film – The Passion of Christ – in Sunday services in order to highlight the great suffering Christ went through on behalf of his sheep. Interestingly, every single ‘Niddrie person’ (believer and unbeliever) identified with it immediately and became very emotional. Yet, nearly every single ‘long-term Christian’ (part of the original plant) was mightily offended and found it ‘distasteful’ or even ‘idolatrous’ to be depicting Christ thus.

So, what is right? Well, surely it can’t be right to offend the weaker brother just to make a point (although I know many who would disagree) but on the other hand it can’t be right to deprive people of something that they feel brings them closer to understanding the full sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. In this case, I have largely stopped showing the clips on Sundays and now only show them in my midweek meetings, where appropriate.

It’s a tough balance pastoring a church that, at the moment, consists largely of middle class Christians with strongly held convictions on just about everything. The hard work comes in getting them to relax in order to engage with a culture largely alien to them. It’s quite another getting Niddrie folk to understand why people may not like something which, in the words of one local,  ‘made me just love Jesus more. He took some heavy **** fer me, hey?’

In essentials unity…in the rest, have a chill pill. I am almost sure I read that somewhere.

Preaching narrative Expository Messages

There is an increasing argument (in some circles) that the so-called ‘moderns’ of the last century responded well to more ‘concrete’ biblical messages  (on passages like the Epistles, for instance). Whereas, the postmodern mindset responds far better to the story telling approach to biblical preaching.

Certainly, when we look at the NT we find little evidence for a set pattern of preaching. Indeed, the whole idea of the NT ‘pulpit monologue’ has scant evidence full stop. The Bible is full of wonderful ‘true’ stories (I tell my girls the difference between a Bible story and Cinderella – one is made up for our entertainment and the other is true and has been written for our spiritual benefit).

Now, I like to think of Bible teaching as a plate of food. Narrative is one food group. As are, theological, doctrinal, poetic, wisdom, historical, literal and metaphorical genres. Because I want my people to have a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet, I seek, over the course of a year, to educate their palate across the full range. Otherwise, (in my opinion) over fascination with one type of literature inevitably leads to spiritual malnutrition. Telling stories is all well and good but the Bible is a big book!

Often, people will remark: ‘I heard you preached for 40 minutes on Sunday. How did your people handle that?  Implying what exactly? Usually, I will shrug and respond: ‘Fine, thanks’.  It’s not as if we’re reaching out to monkey’s here in Niddrie. Enough of the patronising drivel that seems to suggest that because a person didn’t finish their education they are unable to listen well. I have heard all the stories and read all the reports that talk about the difference between visual and physical stimulation blah blah blah.

In my experience, we open the Word and we bring it to bear in people’s lives. The Bible is the Word of God. It is alive. It is sharper than a double-edged sword. The problem is that it is usually wielded by half-wits who don’t know a sword from a sausage. The problem isn’t the length of the message it is the person stood giving it. People are able to listen to, and retain, far more than we give them credit for. True, they will forget an awful lot. But good, systematic, expository preaching should train our people not only to read the scriptures well but to listen well. We can’t go wrong if we preach the whole counsel of God to our people. It might hurt at first. Like a muscle that hasn’t been used for a while.  But we are remarkably adaptable creatures and before long it will become almost second nature.

The mark of a healthy church plant – indeed any church that takes the scriptures seriously – is good, solid, applied, expository preaching that mixes and matches all of it’s genres and inspires its people to get into the Word for themselves.

Experiential Praise

‘A community that provides people with a dynamic and participative worship is providing a powerful apologetic to people open to the spiritual yet unaware of how to connect with the spirit. Those without Christ cannot worship God. However, through such worship, these “already religious” people can see true believers praising God in spirit and in truth, a worship that will attract them and be unintentionally evangelistic.’ (p138)

Oh dear, where to begin.  I like to think that maybe in another parallel universe this could be true for NCC. That somewhere on another spiritual and metaphysical plane there is a community of people out there worshipping to such an extent that unbelievers who join us from time to time are so moved in their souls that they are immediately convicted of sin and confess Christ as Lord. Unfortunately for me, it is not happening in my world.

We do have a small group of people who labour for Christ in leading our music. They are Godly, genuine, faithful and plug away amongst a rather apathetic congregation (in part at least). We have attempted a more blended style of worship and an early morning communion meal twice a month before the morning service in an effort to encourage more participation. However, That has generally met with an overwhelmingly lukewarm response in terms of attendance, which has grown to biblical scales of indifference over time.

Stetzer goes on to say that ‘emerging churches often provide people with experiences of classic mystical practice or spiritual disciplines’ (p139). Change that to mystifying and I am almost with him. Now, if experiential praise is the hallmark of a healthy church plant then the prognosis here is not the best. If we could, perhaps, say: ‘a small and dedicated band of believers meet together to try and play/sing meaningful songs that honour Christ and glorify God through the Spirit’ then we are doing OK.

At NCC your ‘nearness to God experience’ will be determined by whether you sit at the front of the church or at the back (as is the case in most churches I suspect). If you sit at the back then you can expect to feel more of a breeze from the fire exits than the Spirit of Christ. If you sit near the front then you can marvel at the ‘joyful, if not always tuneful’ noise being made in praise of God. Healthy? I don’t know. Heartfelt? In most cases certainly. Room for improvement? Definitely.  Genuine? I think so.

Right, I’m off to light a candle somewhere.

Engaging in Service

This is an important aspect of what we try to do here at Niddrie. Many of the care professions in the UK are now recognising (rediscovering) the importance of ‘connecting’ people with community. For example, we work closely with a local charity here that cares for people with mental and/or physical needs. ‘Clients’ who used to operate out of a specialist ‘day centre’ now operate out of our community cafe. The carers have full use of our kitchen facilities and an office space with their own secure filing cabinet and the clients have the opportunity to serve in the cafe if they want or to just be around people from the community. It is good for their socialisation skills and it is good for the community to share in that experience with us. One of the great things about Niddrie is that nobody is fazed or discriminates against others and there is a real sense ‘communal mucking in’. This project has allowed us to accomplish several things:

(1) Break down barriers between those who would have once been on the fringe of the community

(2) Break down prejudices with caring ‘professionals’ who would have viewed the church with suspicion

(3) Develop really strong friendships with both carers and clients.

(4) Have the privilege of seeing 2 individuals (to date) come to Christ – one a carer and one client.

(5) Engage in and encourage community members to engage in acts of service for the benefit of the whole.

Oftentimes, we will allow non church members to serve in the cafe or help out around the place. We do have to be both sensitive and selective given that we have money on the premises and some can see us as a soft touch for peddling drugs out the back door. We do find that allowing people to serve opens up a way for us to be able to develop real friendships and closer links as we seek to serve the community together, albeit with different ultimate agendas.

Promoting Incarnational Ministry

I wrote about this earlier in the week so I am not going to repeat myself too much. According to Stetzer:

‘Postmoderns are looking for people who are genuine and transparent. Their questions isn’t, is it true? But, is it real? They want to see Christ through people who’ve earned their respect and trust.’ (p137)

Now, when I read that I feel a couple of emotions: (1) it sounds perfectly reasonable, let’s get on with being genuine and transparent and (2) am I living in a ‘modernist’ time warp of some description? Most of the people around here don’t care whether it’s ‘real’ but whether it’s ‘true’ and, more importantly for them, ‘Does it work’ ? Or, better yet, ‘Is there anything in it for me’? (the last one may appear cynical and jaded but I assure you it is not).

Now, it’s true that most people find the cultural jump from their dominant ‘culture’ to that of the Christian faith, huge. We hold our Sunday meetings in the gym of our building and to get to the gym we have to pass through our cafe area. Many in the community sit in the cafe Monday-Saturday and happily (some not so much) talk about spiritual things. But, the courage needed to get them to walk the two metres through the gym door on a Sunday is often more than most can bear. Oftentimes, I will be preaching and people will be peering through the gym doors to get a look at the weird people sat in a semi-circle and standing up and down from time to time to sing some random songs! The cultural gap between those doors is enormous. That’s why for Niddrie the real gospel work is done Monday-Saturday in the nitty gritty of everyday life within the community.

I see promoting incarnational ministry as encouraging my congregation to get out into the culture around them and try to actively engage with it, even if that is only in a small, low level way to start with. For example, buy your paper from the same shop or come and spend some time in the cafe. Just be visible. This works, largely, for those of my congregation who live in the area but not so much for those who do not and have no contact whatsoever day-to-day with anybody from Niddrie outside of an hour on Sunday. If we are to make evangelism ‘a way of life’, what will this look like for these people?

Recently, my plan has been to encourage all of my members to think of themselves as missionaries to those around them. For example, we don’t have a ‘missionary board’ in our building because I believe ‘every member is a missionary’. So, in the workplace particularly, they should be looking for opportunities to engage with colleagues in meaningful ways.  This doesn’t go down well with some:

Me:Let’s remember that we are all missionaries and we should treat our work colleagues and unbelieving friends and family in the same way we would treat any unreached people group. Let’s live for Jesus everyday and look for opportunities to understand their world-views and engage with them in meaningful ways.

Generic Respondee (GR): ‘What?’

Me: ‘Let’s engage in a truly missional and incarnational lifestyle.”

GR: (Blinks a lot) ‘What?’

Me:  ‘Let’s try and love people for Jesus and actively engage with them’.

GR:  ‘But I’ve got work to do. I haven’t got time for all that. The Bible says we must be repsonsible citizens in the workplace and use our time wisely, not running around trying to convert people.’

Me:I’m not asking you to ticker tape the office with Bible verses or wear a ‘kiss me, cos Jesus loves you’ tee-shirt. I am just saying take a genuine interest in people and seek to engage with them’.

GR: (looking exasperated) ‘I do engage with them. I work with them’.

Me: (feeling exasperated) ‘Look for ways to serve them or enter into their culture. Maybe go for a drink after work to get to know them a bit’.

GR: (shocked) ‘Firstly, I don’t drink, well maybe a crushed tomato juice with a sprig of coriander on special occasions,  and, secondly, I like to catch up on my Dr. Who episodes after work. I’ve got a convention next month.’

Me: (inwardly plucking out one of my own eyeballs and chewing on it) ‘Brilliant! Who don’t you use that time as an opportunity to look for ways to share your faith or, not even that, cement a friendship with somebody from outside the church.’

GR: (sweating) ‘Well, I don’t really have any friends. I just like to sit in the corner dressed as an ‘ood’ and enjoy the pageantry of it all’.

Me: (grasping at straws) ‘Well, what about serving in the cafe once a month then to try to get to know people from Niddrie, then?‘ (realising that in my distress I have used the word ‘then’ too many times in that sentence)

GR: (trying to get into their car) ‘weeeeelllll, I don’t really like the smell of bacon’.

Me: (hand on door handle, sure of the winning line coming up): ‘Ah, yes, but what would Jesus do?

GR: (engine started with triumphant look spreading on face) ‘Well, he wouldn’t have eaten bacon for a start would he?  He was a Jew (thinking, ‘This bloke’s my pastor?’)

Me: (thinking, do I really have to love this person, Lord? A small jab to his ‘Solar Plexus’ would bring me great joy about now)  ‘Good point.’ (lost, now) ‘What was this discussion about again’.

GR:  (gunning the engine) ‘Dunno. I think you were on one of your ‘being missional’ rants and telling me to be more relational with the everyday people the Lord has put into my life. Not to treat them as projects or to make friends solely to bash them with the gospel, but to take a genuine interest in them and try and connect with them at their point of need and naturally bring Christ to bear as I seek to genuinely live out my faith’. (wheel spins out of the car park, small nodding Dalek laughing at me on the dashboard)

Me: (trudge off to the local McDonalds to look for another job)

Seriously, working out what incarnational means to a member who lives 5 miles away, works really hard all week, has a secret guilt complex about not living in Niddrie anyway, is privately bitter about the ministries that go on around them (of which they play no part), who has a full social diary, is only able to spare a couple of hours a week for a kids club at a push and yet gives generously on a Sunday – that is the hardest part of all. It’s a slow and painful process engaging with worldviews unknowingly (and often willingly) entrenched and getting people to buy into incarnational ministry as a biblical concept rather than some new age sounding, soppy, touchy feely approach to evangelism.

It is sometimes just as hard for those who have moved into the area and see every person as ‘evangelistic meat’. Any and every invite is seen as an opportunity to go and ‘look Christian’ by wearing Amish dresses or a nice fleece, rather than just relaxing and loving people and engaging with them at face value. (shouting now) Relax people, the opportunities will come. Just be yourselves (hmm…on second thoughts some of you don’t) and enjoy the fact that we love Jesus and when we love people they will see it clear as day.

We work on. We pray on. We just keep loving Jesus baby!

BEING UNASHAMEDLY SPIRITUAL

According to Ed Stetzer in ‘Planting Missional Churches‘, people in our postmodern culture are open to all sorts of ‘spirituality’. We certainly see this in Niddrie, particularly in our community cafe. People talk about all sorts of things: horoscopes, Ouija boards, tarot cards, spiritists, mediums (still trying to work out the difference between the last two), witches, magic, aliens, mysticism etc.

It can often seem that everybody is open about their ‘spiritual lives’ apart from many believers who seem to shrink from openly espousing their beliefs. Yet, this mishmash of ‘pop culture spirituality’ can give us a real connection point for engaging people in conversation about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘Postmoderns want a spirituality that is applicable to all areas of life, not one that only lasts for an hour on Sunday morning but one they can rely on all week. They eschew a spirituality that doesn’t “work” – bring peace, improve relationships and quality of life’. (p136)

That’s a hard one isn’t it because we have largely reduced the faith to an intellectual series of studies rather than a relationship to live by. What do I mean by that? Christianity Explored or Alpha are great resources for middle class, educated people but they just do not work in our setting. They are too long and too wordy and too structured. About the best thing we have found recently is the ‘SOUL’ DVD produced by Christianity Explored. It is aimed at the teen market but has proved popular amongst some adults in the community. The key for us has been having a little study but then we find the real work gets done in giving a lift home, or to the supermarket or post office or outside the cafe having a quick fag and a 10 minute conversation. It takes more than an ‘event’ – it requires actually engaging with people and getting involved in the mess of their lives. How much of our Christianity in the UK is about that? How many full-time community workers are churches employing? How many people in our churches even have the time to pursue active relationships with people outside of our busy lives and schedules?

People are spiritually hungry and their ears do prick up when they see that the Bible has got some really good things to speak into their lives. But, for us at least, what is most effective is a very steady ‘everyday conversation’ type approach. Is that our avowed ‘strategy’ for reaching Niddrie? Not really. The problem with the ‘postmodern’ is that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘catch all’. Some people like doing DVD studies, some like a buttie and a chat, some will be interested in a topic one day and tell you to get lost the next. The key is being here and being open and intuitive and responsive when the opportunities come.

Now Stetzer goes on to say that ‘people are on a spiritual search and not an intellectual quest…and they are willing to go on that search with us if we are genuine and living a holistic faith’. Nah, mate. That’s a bit hopeful. People are on the run from the living God and once the conversation gets past the nebulous ‘spiritual stuff’ and on to some concrete ‘facts’ (sin fall, wrath, Christ, salvation etc) people start getting jumpy and they want to get off the train! They tend to go so far on the ‘journey’ and then the sinfulness of their hearts kicks in. So, we persevere, striding against the tide, seeking to be ‘counter spiritual’ and we hold out the hope of Christ and the wonder of the gospel and we pray that God by His Holy Spirit would break through the fog and lift the veil. In Niddrie I think we are unashamedly spiritual but I am not sure if it is in the way that is necessarily acceptable to those around us. They think we are odd, they are intrigued by us, they are repelled by us, they are offended by us, they love us, they hate us but at least they know we are here and they know the name of the one we follow.