From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister – Congregation Futures
Last week in the Presbytery email you were invited to consider whether any of the following is true of you:
- You have a nagging sense that there must be a way to be church differently that would resonate with your friends, neighbours, family and work colleagues who are not part of a church.
- You’ve heard stories of others having a go at being church differently, so you know there are possible alternatives.
- You are wondering whether there are others in your congregation or neighbouring congregations who are thinking the same as you.
- If these are a fit for you, then David Male’s book How to Pioneer (Even if you Haven’t a Clue) would be a very handy book for you. He wrote his book for those who want to start a new small Christian community that is for and with those who do not normally go to church. If that is you, then you may well be a pioneer.
You may be thinking that this sounds very similar to what you have heard about Fresh Expressions of Church, and Mission Shaped Ministry, and the Godsend App. I agree, they are similar. Part of the value of these different approaches to essentially the same thing is that one of them might make more sense to you than the others. One of them might inspire you in ways that the others don’t. Together they give us a fuller picture of what is important as we seek to become church for those who do not normally go to church.
David offers three simple principles or habits you need for making a start on becoming church in such a new way. They are “love-relate-create”.
Love is about our motivation. It is not unusual for people to get involved with Fresh Expressions of Church, or undertake the Mission Shaped Ministry course, with a mixture of motivations. Some are concerned about the general decline in their congregation, and want to turn it around so that their congregation will continue into the future. Sometimes this is also about recruiting people to the particular way that we like to have church. But David points out that the ultimate answer to the question of why you are doing this, is love.
It is to know and experience that you are loved by God. Our understanding of God as Trinity tells us that at God’s centre is the communion – the loving relationship – of Father, Son and Spirit. That loving relationality of God is not limited to the Godhead itself, but pours out in generous grace toward the world: ‘For God so loved the world.’ That is to say, so great is the love shared within God’s self, that it cannot help but overflow outwards into the world. The very nature of who God is means that you are loved. Not because of anything you have done, but because of who God is.
We get caught up in this overflow of love, and it sends us outward in love to others. This is the ‘relate’ part of ‘love-relate-create’. David Male writes:
“We begin to comprehend as we are loved by God that so are the many people God has put around us. We start to see and understand our family, friends, neighbours, work mates and others in light of God’s love for them …. People are not targets to get into church but creatures beloved by the Creator”
As we think about relating to those around us, we ask: How can we genuinely love and serve the people in our local community with whom we are in relationship. To start with, we need to pay attention to who we know in the local community, where relationships are developing and where we sense God in those relationships. This leads on to the third stage of ‘create’. What can we, with others, create to help people we know in our local communities reconnect with God – to have the best opportunity of meeting God who loves them and us.
These are David Male’s simple principles or habits – love-relate-create. He points out that the order is important. Often the church gets them around the wrong way, doing them in the reverse order. We get a bright idea of some you-beaut event or program that we want to run. We put energy in to get it ready, and then set about finding the people we can relate to so that we invite them to come along. If they do start coming to whatever we are running, we now have to love them!
It makes a lot more sense to do it the other way round, so that what is created emerges from relationships and love.
To help your thinking about this love-relate-create approach, I encourage you to have a look at this interview with fresh expressions practitioner Dan Pratt about how he started a fresh expression of church called 57 West. As you watch the video, listen out for the stages of love-relate-create.
Here is a link to the video: