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Church Uncorked: Releasing missional fizzle and sparkle 

Like champagne in a bottle, our churches are full of potential. The cork, ironically, can be a leadership team and their big, one size fits all vision. By Catherine Cowell

“No, the church won’t be able to support your project, because it’s not part of what we do, ” said Rev Simon.

ChurchuncorkedI met a bubbly enthusiastic Sally on the train. Her story is a familiar one. Sally passionately takes the love of Christ to vulnerable women. Her ministry is growing and she would like the backing of a bigger organisation. The obvious choice would have been her home church. Her Christian family.

“I suppose I could find another church, where the leaders will support my ministry, but I really don’t want to do that. I don’t know what to do next.”

The Rev Simon had a clear vision which did not involve ministry to vulnerable women. In his view, allowing ‘mission creep’ into areas outside what he saw as the church’s calling would be a distraction.

Have you ever been involved in a scenario like this? Perhaps you’ve been the minister needing to disappoint someone in order to keep a church focussed. Maybe you’ve been Sally. Desperately hoping your church will support you.

My colleague Sean and I were confronted with this dilemma when we were asked to facilitate a conversation with a congregation about reaching out to the local community. Easy! A couple of reams of flipchart paper, a handful of cunning questions and a bit of strategic goal setting and bob’s your uncle.

But then we asked ourselves a question that sent us on an unexpected journey of discovery. “What if not everyone there is called to reach out to the council estate? What if some people have a different calling?”

Our inconvenient questions put into words something we had both unconsciously known for years.

Namely, that when people are cajoled and persuaded to ignore and abandon their own calling and vision to serve the vision and purposes of an organisation, something precious dies and everyone loses out.

By contrast, there is nothing more joyous and powerful than people who have discovered their personal calling and are following it with all their hearts.

No longer could we help the vicar organise the good people of the parish into fulfilling his vision to reach the people on the estate. We knew we would be selling everyone short. Now our nicely planned workshop needed a major overhaul.

Thankfully the vicar graciously agreed to us running a somewhat different workshop; helping each person explore their own, personal vision and life-calling. We were all astonished and blessed as some people articulated their God given passion and purpose for the very first time. Their energy and potential was palpable.

Many of us have been led to believe that it’s the responsibility of a leader is to cast a vision for their church and the job of church members to use their gifts to support that vision. And we have believed it is the leaders responsibility to vet the ideas of members like Sally according to whether they think the idea fits with the ‘bigger picture’.

This is as barmy as the mother that decides from an early age that her kids will all become doctors. But what if Johnny decides he loves all things mechanical and wants to find an engineering apprenticeship? What if Sarah loves athletics and wants to become a PE teacher. We would want to call social services if she said, “This is mission creep. I simply can’t support you. You both know perfectly well the family vision is to become world class medics.”

Our research and experience tells us that exciting things happen when leaders decide their role is not to cast vision for everyone else to follow, but to facilitate the creation of a community in which each person is encouraged to discover his or her own calling and vision. A community where everyone is loved and supported by one another as they fulfil their calling to bring the Kingdom of God to our broken world.

Interestingly, although Rev Brian did not want to support Sally’s ministry, her church family loved her and were cheering her on. She had friends in the congregation who prayed for her and gave her baby clothes and boxes of chocolates to pass on to the women she was befriending.

Sally left the train at Milton Keynes. I don’t know what happened next. I do know that there are many frustrated people, waiting for someone to give them permission to do something about the Holy Spirit inspired dreams they carry. Like champagne in a bottle, our churches are full of potential but looking at them from the outside, you wouldn’t guess what fizz and sparkle was sitting inside. The cork, ironically, can be a leadership team and their big, one size fits all vision.  

Maybe it’s time to consider Church Uncorked. Because when the ‘Sally’s’ are set free, things get really interesting…


Church Uncorked, paperback £12.99, by Catherine Cowell and Sean Kennedy is published by Instant Apostle and available from Christian bookshops and on-line retailers.


Baptist Times, 07/07/2015
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