Real Life, Real Discipleship

In 2005 Jenny and myself were involved in leading a Sunday Evening celebration for young adults at our church called Engage.  It was an incredible time of going on a journey of faith, worship, discipleship and asking ourselves ‘What does church look like for this generation?’

We quickly realised that we needed a team.  So we invited about 12 people, mostly in their twenties, to take some sort of responsibility for the week by week running of the event.  Some would host up front, some would lead worship, others would preach, or run the cafe, be on welcome, set down or prayer.

We invited them to a team huddle at our house on a Friday evening, initially once a fortnight, and later once a month.  There was one important rule – for the first hour of the huddle, nobody was allowed to talk about the event.  You could only talk about yourself.  We used a variety of tools – sometimes we’d use a bunch of questions based on character development, or on skills, or on what God had been speaking to us about.

Once we’d gone round the group, prayed and listened to the Holy Spirit together, we’d then feed them all some food.  Over dinner, we’d chat about how the evening service was going, how people were getting on in their roles, and where we thought we should be putting our energies into.  If people complained about things they weren’t happy about, we’d use the Learning Circle* to process what first their response would be, before widening to what the group’s collective response would be, if anything.

A really interesting thing happened.  Initially, lots of the group didn’t like the fact that, in their mind, the ‘business’ aspect of the meeting – the reason we’d asked them into a role – was minimised, and done over an informal setting at the end of the evening.
They’d say things like:
When are we going to stop talking about relationships and talk about the rota?

I’m not a leader – I just move the chairs

I don’t need to hear God as much as the hosts do – I just run the cafe

I don’t need to think about welcome – I’m in the band

But we persisted, and within a short space of time, people got what we were trying to do.  It wasn’t really about the event anymore, although that gave us a common experience on which to reflect and practice being influencers instead of passengers in a culture where consumer church was becoming a real danger for everyone.  It was about shaping a culture of discipleship – of taking a bunch of young people who were wanting to follow Jesus and learning together in the context of a shared task.  What was God wanting to show us, teach us, reveal to us – not just as individuals who have our own part to play in a Sunday service – but as a community of people hungry for the presence of God in our lives?

Over time, everyone in the team opened up and started sharing more of their lives with each other, and the group moved from the slightly awkward and unsure to an amazing sense of co-ownership and mutual inter-dependance, and a desire for deep discipleship.

Six years on, and although Engage no longer exists as an evening service, the culture has multiplied across the church.  Many of the original team are now leading missional communities in their own right, some of the team even got married to each other and have started families, and others are now on core staff at our church.

Our story has taught us some key principles in leading individuals and teams into an environment where missional communities thrive:

  • Relationship between the leaders/followers is more important than the Role they might perform
  • Time spent together socially is more important than the Task we do together
  • Invest in the Culture not just the Event – Healthy culture thrives and multiplies yet events come and go
  • Perseverance is more important than Consensus when we’re trying to catalyze a shift in culture.
How would these inform your current practice of leading and growing healthy missional communities?

Gareth Irvine
We’re Gareth & Jenny Irvine, and in 2012 we will be planting a new missional community base called Saint Aidan’s in the north of the city of Coventry.  We’re taking a small team of young adults with us, to live as in incarnational community focused around prayer and mission.  We’re currently involved in Kidz Klub which works with children from challenging housing estates, and visit about 30 families each week on the estate where we’ll be be moving in July.
* For more on the Learning Circle please visit 3DM.

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