Ian Adams claims that one of the first things to do in creating pioneer and missional communities is to develop a big idea about what you want to create. I think that this stage comes later. In the beginning, there should be a general idea but one that you are willing to change, adapt or abort. The first few months should simply be spent getting involved in the wider community, developing relationships and listening. This is one of the first stages that fresh expressions recommends.
My job description echoes this, with no proscribed description of what the developing church should look like at the end of it, but a clear framework of milestones – things that should be done on the way. The first milestone is to listen and network:
Milestone 1: The pioneer would be asked to spend the first six months mapping the community and network possibilities within their area. They would be expected to build relationships with the community and identify potential networks for meaningful engagement.
As I’ve now been here two months some relationships are opening up with people in the community. The Residents Association, which is relatively new, was very open to new members so I have joined in with them and started to have a say in forthcoming events. I have also been talking to other pioneers and ministers around here to hear how they conduct mission in their setting.
In the next few months I will want to continue to open doors in the community by involving myself with the Residents association. Turn up to things, help plan events. Run a Christmas service/social in conjunction with Residents and Forefront. Find out if there is enthusiasm to join small interest-specific groups such as a book group, photography group or walking group.
I will join the local health club, to hang out there and get to know people. This gymhas the advantage of being a ‘Health and Wellbeing Centre’, not just a fitness club, which indicated that they are concerned with the whole person in addition to fitness. After a while it might be appropriate to start a ‘Spiritual Fitness’ group that explores faith. I had a conversation with a local vicar yesterday who is developing such a course!
A priority is to form a group of like-minded Christians who are keen to engage in the community. This will not be church and I will not be asking them to leave their current places of worship. But it could be thought of as a missional fellowship group. Together we would study the Bible, pray for the areas in which we are working and discuss opportunities to engage in outreach, and allow ourselves to be guided into the right areas by God’s Spirit. I would initially ask for a 12 month commitment to the group, after which some may decide that they simply want to be supportive in prayer, others may decide to continue and be closely involved in leading whatever comes out from it..
I have also toyed with asking the local church, which is in the old village away from the estate, whether I could take some of their occasional offices for those who live here. I can’t see any objections to this as any baptisms and weddings would still need to take place in the local church. But this would get me known a little more and offer a tangible starting point for conversations of faith.
Tomorrow I’m going to check out the school and meet the headteacher. Any involvement with the school will be with the express aim of getting to know parents through the children, hearing their concerns and seeing what develops – first I’ll listen to the headteacher to find out how I can support the school.
I will need to begin to live a simple pattern, for my own good as well as to help me have a focus to where relationships will be built. When there is a local coffee shop (which I think will now be after Christmas) then that will be a place to hang out and I will attempt to have regular times there. The gym will be another regular weekly place too and will give some more structure to the week.