Disciples on the front line
As church leaders gathered at Muller House in Bristol on 23 October to pray for the city, one question united us. It was the question God asked of Moses:
What have you got in your hand
What is it that each of the different churches has that can reveal something of the glory of God in the city of Bristol?
Roger Allen (Enabler of Mission and Unity for Churches Together in Greater Bristol) had invited Neil Hudson from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) to come to Bristol to share the core discoveries of LICC’s Imagine Project, which has worked with all kinds of churches throughout the UK during the last decade.
The challenge was not about how do we do church better, but how can we reach the UK? Inherited forms of mission and evangelism appear to have had limited impact in changing the culture of the nation and seeing people come to faith. One of the key reasons for this, LICC had found, was the tendency for Christians to see church as the primary context for mission. What happened in the lives of God’s people in all the hours that weren’t being spent doing ‘churchy stuff’ was somehow of secondary significance.
Living well on the frontline
Neil made the very obvious point that God’s mission is going on every day in every part of life, and the true vocation to which Christ calls each Christian is to be a disciple in the whole of life. Their context for mission is wherever God has placed them, whether that be in a school, an office, a hospital, a pub or a gym. The task of the church then becomes one of encouraging and equipping one another to live well on the ‘frontline’ as disciples of Jesus Christ in the whole of life.
The big question then of course was how? Neil went on to introduce an incredibly useful framework for describing different ways that God is at work in us and through us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing - the Six Ms.
The Six Ms
We are being fruitful on our frontlines when we are:
- Making good work
– just doing a great job of installing a central heating system, balancing the accounts, teaching a class of 6-year-olds and so on. God delights in good work!Modelling godly character
– living by the values of the Kingdom.Ministering grace and love
– seen in everyday acts of kindness, service and compassion.Moulding culture
– not so much changing the world but rather changing the part of the world we are inMouthpiece for truth and justice
– having the courage and sensitivity to say and do the things that challenge and confront that which undermines and distorts.Messenger of the Gospel
– taking opportunities that can be part of a person’s journey to faith in Christ.
These are expanded and applied in one of many highly practical resources LICC have produced that enable churches who are committed to forming whole life disciples to be more fully equipped not only to nurture disciples, but to grow the kind of disciples who see making new disciples as an integral and natural part of their discipleship.
Christ Church Downend has been moving in this direction for a number of years now, and Anita Dobson and I were asked to come and share some of the ways that was being worked out in our context in a suburban parish of 28,000 on the edge of Bristol.
It's about life, not about church
Fundamental to our vision are Christ’s words in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and life in all its fullness.” We wanted to say in everything – it’s about LIFE, it’s not about church! So the form of words we now use to describe our purpose is ‘Learning to Live the Life’. This is everywhere at Christ Church and people have got it, and are going with it.
One of the sharpest ideas that LICC offer in their ‘tool box’ of resources is TTT (This Time Tomorrow). We interview all sorts of people in our congregations and simply ask them to tell us what they will be doing on Monday, what is going to be challenging, and how could we pray for them, all in three minutes. Then we pray. This had an instant impact of enabling others to know what their ‘out-of-church’ life looked like, and began to open eyes to see God at work on people’s frontlines.
Anita, who oversees ministry with families, shared how her mindset has shifted from thinking less about involving people in church-based stuff and more to making contact with them in the week, texting them, praying for them and celebrating the amazing things that they are doing every day.
Gathered and scattered
As I reflect on the significance of this day together, I believe the Lord was offering us fresh way of seeing. There are around 500 churches in Bristol; we would love to see them full on Sundays. But we were reminded us that the church is gathered AND scattered. ‘The church’ is in the city, in the suburbs, in the rural communities every day of every week.
It may sound obvious, but the one thing that all the churches have that can reveal the glory of God in Bristol is very simple – people. And as the churches envision, encourage and equip God’s people to see themselves as disciples in the whole
of life, the potential for God’s kingdom to be seen on this part of earth will be released in ways beyond anything we can ask or even imagine!
About the author
Jo Vickery is Vicar at Christ Church Downend, Bristol.