Story 2 - Missional Listening
One ear to God, one ear to the community
Ben and Ez Lucas, Dorset - Southern Counties Baptist Association
In the middle of beautiful Dorset countryside lies a unique village where husband and wife Baptist ministers are carving out a different kind of ministry. In 2017 Ben and Ez Lucas moved to the small village of Charlton Down for Ben to take up the role of Missional Listener, a role which is now being shared between the two of them, part funded by Rural Ministries and the SCBA.
Ben describes the village as ‘a bit of a housing estate in the middle of the countryside’, with no common amenities in the village apart from one shop and a gym and perhaps most unusually, no church of any kind. This is due in part to the fact that until 1992 the village was a mental health village comprising of a hospital, cricket pitch, bowling green and tennis courts. Since the closure of the hospital, houses have been built and former buildings converted into residential apartments. Whilst there have been several attempts over the years to plant churches in the village nothing has ever fully taken.
After 14 years in ministry and in a large Baptist church in Bristol, Ben sensed a growing awareness that it was almost impossible for someone who has never heard of God to meet Him in a traditional church context and become an integral part of church community. So much so that in 2016 when challenged about what he would be doing if money and family weren’t an issue his clear answer was ‘I'd be planting missional communities across Dorset!’ Fast forward a few years and, with the recognition of others that there was indeed a calling for this kind of approach to certain villages in Dorset, Ben and his family are now involved in the early stages of doing just that.
But what does the term missional listening mean? And what does it look like in practice? Whilst the answer to this will undoubtedly be unique to each person and their community, there is a general characteristic which Ben recognized early on, ‘to listen and find out what the cry of a community is before trying to discern what it looks like for God’s Kingdom to come and what church might look like in that context’. Ben recounts that for their situation it was a calling to ‘just hang out, see where God's at work, to come as a guest not as a host, join in with what's going on and somehow hear their stories but find permission to share your own’.
In practice for Ben and Ez this meant not only just moving to live in the village but also to take part in the life of the community there. For Ben this meant joining the village cricket team, serving on the parish council and most recently chairing the committee in charge of turning one of the old village buildings into a community café. For Ez, this meant attending the local baby and toddler group which was facing closure and had struggled for some time. She was soon handed the keys and asked along with another mum to take on leading it! Now the group receives over 90 to 100 people every week, meeting over 35 families and perhaps most importantly, there is a completely changed atmosphere and sense of values within the group.
Ben has noticed a change in atmosphere across the whole village, observing that all the key stakeholders in the village are now beginning to work together. Once where there was fall out and division there now seems to be a stronger sense of unity.
When asked what advice or encouragement he would give to others embarking on a similar journey to himself, or to any believer who is simply seeking to listen more to the missional needs of their community, Ben highlights the importance of recognizing the agendas we all carry around with us. He says that, ‘I had to realise how massive my agenda was, how I saw success, how I was affirmed by numbers or by people coming to faith, or by the big stories I could share.....I think we just have to be honest and say, we've got agendas but just keep trying to work, not out of the agendas, but out of (God’s) light, peace and joy’.
This may mean a challenge to join in with our communities in ways that surrender the idea of constantly doing things for others by instead doing life with others. Rather than just praying against the culture around us it may mean (literally!) eating at the table of those we would condemn, getting to know our communities on their terms. Ben notes that if the good news of the Great Commission is that Jesus will be with us as we go and make disciples then surely our news is by being with people too. Ben captures this well saying, ‘if we do stuff for the elderly, they're still lonely. If we give a food bag for the hungry, they're still hungry. But if we do life with them, if we do community with them then surely that changes everything’.
Words – Suzie Abramian in conversation with Ben Lucas, February 2020.