A while ago I asked God to show me how we can join him in building our community into a family. I have since discovered that it’s a complex process, but at its heart is a simple ethic: one of inviting people inwards.
As well as Sunday worship, we have a variety of events that extend that invitation – fun days, festivals and suchlike – but our most fruitful approach is through our fortnightly Thursday Tea: a free meal that brings together the whole community.
We intentionally make ourselves dependent on people... because that’s how a family operates.
At first people come because it’s free food. Then, over time they see the benefit of meeting unknown neighbours and making new friends, discovering that this involves investing a bit more of yourself. At Thursday Tea, we intentionally make ourselves dependent on people to bring food, help in the kitchen, set up, clear away and look after the kids and the elderly, because that’s how a family operates. From small beginnings in late 2015, it now regularly attracts 60 to 70 people.
Our role as a church is emphatically not that of the bountiful host providing handouts to the needy, but rather as fellow family members pointing the way to Jesus. We have embraced five core values that help us create this culture, adapted from the fivefold ministry described in Ephesians 4 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
The essence of an apostle is to see a church thrive and grow. So, our first value as a church is to see everybody thrive. We have committed ourselves to discover spaces and opportunities where people thrive. Thursday Tea is one of those spaces.
Our second value is that we should be a place where people experience true freedom, where people are confronted with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, the prophet’s role is to speak God’s word, which brings freedom and release. Most importantly we want to see people experience freedom from sin, but also for them to experience freedom from other kinds of captivity like debt and social isolation.
We should be a place where people experience true freedom, where people are confronted with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
I think that if Sunday really scratched where it itched for people, our churches would be full. We have something amazing and profound to say, but there is something wrong with the way that, over time, we have tried to say it. Over the last few years I have become convinced that we’ve got to be much more creative, more radical in our thinking and far more welcoming in the way that we do church.
I wholeheartedly believe that Thursday Tea is church – a space where God is worshipped and the gospel proclaimed. The essence of evangelism is to extend God’s welcome to the world and this is why our third value is to be a place where people always feel welcome.
Traditionally the pastor cares for the community of believers. As a pastor myself, one of my greatest desires is to see those in my care experience true freedom. And if we are all made in God’s image, doesn’t God’s desire to see people experience true freedom extend to everyone?
Healthy families don't exclude people because they see things differently.
Healthy families don’t exclude people because they see things differently. Your brother or sister, your son or daughter might adopt a lifestyle that you feel deeply uncomfortable about, they may even cut themselves off completely, but you don’t stop loving them, pursuing them and long to see them come back to play their part in the family because we know we are incomplete without them. Churches need to see their communities like that.
None of us would expect a toddler to sit their GCSEs, they need to be given the building blocks so that, over time, they can grow and develop to one day sit their exams. Thursday Tea is like a kindergarten church, We accept people the way they are, though that doesn’t mean we want them to stay that way. The work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives takes time, often years. Learning is a lifelong process and building blocks need to be put in place and then built upon.
Therefore, the last of our five values is that we should be a place where people continue to learn. This process is called discipleship and we are all invited to participate. The truth is that I have experienced God’s spirit profoundly in my interactions with the community and have been changed as a result.