Oikos: Helen’s story
Over the past couple of weeks it’s been great to read some of the very practical ways that Oikos can be lived out in Christian community. As I’ve reflected on my experience of Oikos I felt it was important this week to share a more personal testimony of how this lifestyle principle can have a significant impact, in practice.
Two years ago, when I was first invited into an Oikos in Sheffield, my understanding of what it meant to ‘do family’ with people was pretty sketchy. My Mum had died when I was 18 and my Dad worked away most of the time. As a young adult, family life meant ‘responsibility’ to me; I was afraid of taking on the burden of family relationships and I was also afraid of becoming burdensome to others.
One of the first challenges I faced with Oikos was believing that I was actually invited. Rich and Anna who lead us told me time and time again that they loved having me involved, that I was always welcome at their house, that they considered me to be part of their family. Despite such clearly stated truths, I was always slightly apprehensive about whether they really meant it. My life was so geared towards independence it was hard to readjust to the idea of daily and weekly connection with a particular community of people.
It took about a year for the message to finally sink in. But the culmination of trips to the park, dinners, cups of tea, bathing the kids and being told umpteen times ‘we want you here’, finally led me to a place where I no longer questioned whether it was really true.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Another key shift was learning that life in Oikos means that people see your good bits and your bad bits.
Before I joined our Oikos I guess most people who knew me probably thought I pretty much had it together. And to a certain level I probably did – I was just keeping the broken parts of me very well hidden(!) Being in Oikos made it very difficult to ignore the grief, the disappointment and the loneliness that was really there. When you do life-on-life discipleship it’s hard for people not to spot your reactions and it’s hard to avoid clashing with each other at points. For years I’d been part of a church with amazing support structures, discipleship programmes and leaders who had invested in me, but it has been the true experience of being part of a family that has both brought brokenness to the surface and allowed God to bring healing to it. What excites me for the future is beginning to look at how I can offer this same investment to other young adults around me.
Belonging not obligating
The level of healing that God has brought me by being part of an Oikos is revealed in the way that I operate in my marriage, my community and within the wider church. Whereas in the past ‘family’ had conjured up a sense of responsibility and obligation, I now have such a strong sense of belonging that opportunities for service are both a normal part of life but also a real blessing to me. It’s fun to be in a family where you get to help assemble Ikea furniture for a new home, stack the dishwasher together at the end of an event, or help the youngest member of Oikos spoon peas onto their fork at dinner.
When you first look at the concept of Oikos it’s easy to wonder whether as a leader it’s going to be really hard work and quite a risky venture to pursue. And to a certain extent Oikos is hard work – it involves real people, with real issues, who need real love and investment. But my testimony is one of breakthrough and healing – which leads me to wonder what the church would look like if we all lived in family-based community?
My conversation with God is now about who I can invite into an Oikos where I can invest in them and get to see God’s transformation and breakthrough in greater measure.
Helen and her husband Jon live in Sheffield and are part of St Thomas’ Church, Philadelphia. They’ve been part of and led missional communities for the past 5 years and are passionate about seeing young adults released into their missional vision. Helen works for 3dmUK, a ministry which trains and equips church leaders in missional discipleship, whilst doing her MA in Global Politics and Law.