Last week we visited a couple of different churches, one in Edinburgh called Central and the other was Christ Church Manchester. Let me start by telling you about Central...
Previously known as Morningside Baptist Church, Central is a church that has transitioned from being a fairly traditional Baptist Church in a middle class suburb of Edinburgh to a citywide church made up of a network of Missional Communities. The Lead Pastor is Karl Martin, who was the main morning speaker for the second week of New Wine this summer, who I must add is an exceptional public speaker!
So whilst in Edinburgh I had the opportunity to meet with Aaron Elder, a member of the staff team at Central, we talked through their transition as a church and how the whole process of discipleship and mission works for them. As I said in my last post, the key to successful mission (as proposed by much of the Missional thinkers) is discipleship. And as Aaron told me Missional Communities are like the car that everyone admires and wants to own, but no matter how great the car is, without an engine that car is useless - in other words without the engine of discipleship Missional Communities are just another church programme. Aaron did admit when Central transitioned, they didn't fully realise this and so over the last few years they've had to step back and do some work behind the scenes to build that important culture of discipleship.
As a church they have adopted 3DM's Lifeshapes as their language of discipleship and have a very intentional process for all their leaders. The pastoral staff meet with the Lead Pastors every 3 weeks and there they are very intentional about discipling them through the language of Lifeshapes. During this time they work through two questions: 'what is God saying to me right now?' and 'what am I going to do about it?' Those familiar with Lifeshapes will know this is the Circle tool and the process of identifying a Kairos moment.
Each member of staff then have their own group of leaders they meet with (in their context those that lead Missional Communities) and there they do the same thing that is being done to them. It's then the job of the Missional Community leaders to do the same with the emerging leaders from within their communities and so the process of discipleship begins... Now none of this is a new idea and those who've read some of Mike Breen's stuff or followed 3DM over the years will know this is what they call Huddles.
So what did I take away from my time?
1. Models and in this case Missional Communities are not as important as doing the work of making disciples.
I'm not convinced Central Vineyard needs to run Missional Communities to be better at making disciples or doing mission for that matter. Now that isn't me saying Missional Communities are bad or those who choose to do church that way are wrong. It's also not me saying there aren't lessons that can't be learnt from those who have taken that path.
I just think I've come to the conclusion that the last thing we need is another programme or a different way of doing things. Historically the church throughout the ages has met in large gatherings and small ones - what we call them over the years has changed and on many levels it's really incidental. I think the more important question is what does the process of making disciples and doing mission look like in Northampton right here and right now?
2. Having a language of discipleship (not necessarily Lifeshapes) is a helpful tool in making disciples.
Now this I'm more interested in, what is a disciple? What are some the tools we need to be disciples and then to go and make disciples? What is the Central Vineyard language of discipleship? What are the habits and practices we believe make what a disciple truly is? What tools do we have to help one another grow as disciples? and how then do we put those tools in the hands of our people as we encourage them to go a make disciples too?
This is something I've been doing some work on during our sabbatical and something I plan to work through with our leaders next term. I think we can take our existing structures of Connect Groups and Huddles and apply some of this level of intentionality to them? All with a language and framework that is us... not that of a church in Edinburgh... or Sheffield... or Birmingham... or anywhere else for that matter!