Our stated vision for the last few years has been “to disciple our city by equipping people to become fully committed followers of Christ.” Up until recently we’ve had no clear understanding of how we were going to fulfil that mandate. The elders and I have, over a number of months, been praying and discussing, trying to discern what God is saying about our future direction.
During this process, a few months ago I had a conversation with Grace Smith about Connect Groups. This conversation highlighted a desire for something more than we were currently experiencing. As the elders prayed and discussed what was going on in the Connect Groups, we got the sense that the momentum in the Spirit was to reimagine how we do Connect Groups around mission and discipleship. One of the values of our church which has been stated by numerous people is that there is a strong sense of family. We felt that this value was important to capture and embed within the life of the church as we considered our vision for our city.
What was presented last Sunday was a culmination of those discussions, prayers and the identifying of the movement of the Holy Spirit capturing our heart for mission, to release us as a church into a new adventure in God. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to last week’s message in which I laid out the Biblical principles which are the driving force behind this new vision, you can do so on our website. Obviously there is much more that has yet to be made clear as we journey together in working this out. Everything is not going to change all of a sudden, but there will be some changes which will be made. Vision sets the course of our travel, so now we begin to walk that path towards the destination God has set for us.
As we move into this new vision, I want to explain four things that it is and four things that it isn’t. Hopefully this will bring some clarity as we begin this new journey.
It is Releasing, Not Restricting
In the way we currently operate, it is easy for things to feel restrictive. Opportunities for ‘ministry’ have typically been programme-driven, requiring people to attend meetings and add more things into their calendar. This happens when ministry occurs primarily in the church building. We want to release people to do ministry and mission in the everyday – in the normal rhythms of life.
The ministries which take place as part of our gathered services will largely be focused on equipping and training people to be effective disciples of Jesus where they are. Our Sunday services will continue to function, including Elim Kids, Elim Youth, the worship team and other ministries which are part of the gathered celebration. However, we want to begin to see Sundays as a point at which all the Connect Groups gather to share and celebrate stories of what God is doing in their communities during the week. We still value gathering on a Sunday, and will continue to do so, but our focus within that will be on what happens during the rest of the week.
What goes on in the Connect Groups will be shaped by each individual group. Groups will be free to meet whenever and wherever suits them, based on what the Holy Spirit is leading them to do. We are asking each Connect Group to identify a missional outlet which they will work towards, while also developing their relationships with one another as a family on mission. We are encouraging the groups to meet around mealtimes and other regular activities, so that meetings don’t become extra add-ons but just fit in with the ordinary aspects of life. This will help us to release groups and their members to be active on mission without feeling like they are filling their diaries with church meetings.
As a church leadership we will be operating on a basis of “high accountability, low control”. This means that the Connect Groups are released to identify their missional outlets and their monthly rhythm of meeting, then inform us. We will hold the groups accountable to what they have decided, by asking the group leaders periodically how things are going and what God is doing. However, we will not be seeking to micro-manage or dictate to the groups once their missional outlet and monthly rhythm is set.
It Is Inclusive, Not Exclusive
In the book of Acts we see the early church welcoming all who came to them. They were a large family which were inclusive and multi-generational. Connect Groups will operate in the same way. They will be family units in which everybody can play a part, and where anyone can feel welcome. We talk about Connect Groups as families deliberately, because families encompass all generations. Nobody is too young or too old to be part of a family, and everyone can be useful and can grow in that context.
It Is Challenging, Not Comforting
This might sound negative, but it isn’t intended that way. This new direction is challenging because it takes us out of what we are used to, and it challenges the culture of individualism and consumerism which is part of our society in the UK. This might be uncomfortable for some of us, at least at first, but it will be to our benefit. As disciples of Jesus, our first priority is growing in Christlikeness and helping others to do the same. Challenge isn’t necessarily negative, because it’s only through challenge that we grow.
It Is Invitation, Not Imposition
Our intention is not to impose upon you a new schedule and set of programmes, but to invite you on an adventure with God which will bring transformation to your heart and this city. This is not a “new idea” or “technique” for mission, it is simply what we see in the New Testament of how the church was intended to function. Our aim is to grab hold of the way God designed the church to be, to fulfil the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples.
This journey is just beginning. We’d love to see as many people as possible embrace it in all its uncertainty, in spite of unanswered questions, with openness to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit to be used by Him for the glory of God. The invitation is open to all, to join us on this adventure.