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Story 69 - Update - Mind the Gap Ministries

Paul Ashley
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Paul Ashley - 15/01/2021

In our first few stories for the Missional Adventure Project, we shared about Paul Ashley and Mind the Gap Ministries (https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/582180/Story_08_Naturally.aspx). One year on we catch up with Paul to reflect on the calling and need for this particular missional adventure and to see what impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on a ministry so heavily reliant on personal relationships.

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Based in Dorchester, Dorset and an elder in Dorchester Baptist Church, Paul heads up Mind the Gap Ministries as well as being a co-ordinator for CVM (Christian Vision for Men), however, he first became a Christian as part of a very small church plant. Even then he remembers how he always had a hankering to be outside the church with his friends, with the guys around a pool table or catching up over a pint. As he became increasingly involved in church leadership over the years, he noticed that whilst there may be much good happening within the church walls it was noticeably difficult for those outside of the church, especially men, to connect. Furthermore, he could see how much time and effort was often given over to Church structures and management instead of mission.
In 2011, Paul felt a clear calling from God to step out and be less involved in traditional forms of church in order to spend more time with those who, spiritually speaking, are so far from connecting with the church that the ‘gap’ is too difficult to bridge.
Mind the Gap Ministries first started with Pub Church which Paul makes clear was not a service held within a pub or an outreach event. Rather a slow and small community who were simply sharing life together, sometimes, as Pauls says, ‘we’d have a beer and a laugh, sometimes we’d open the bible, sometimes there would be a testimony…. but doing it in a way that was incredibly natural.’ Paul goes further to say that even at the beginning this desire to be natural also came with the intentionality to, ‘build friendships beyond just the superficialness of acquaintance…and some of those people just happened to be Christians.

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Beginning simply with Paul and his wife, Louise, and one other Christian couple they approached to journey with them, the four of them spent a year practising what could be called missional listening, simply getting to know and spend time with people, listening to where God was leading. Still continuing 10 years on Pub Church has developed and produced different off-shoots along the way such as Quest retreats, Encounter Weekends and a Breakfast Club. With all the various developments along the way, Paul stresses that there have been 3 values that have underpinned this ministry, to be honest, to have an expectation to encounter God and to have fun!
 
These pioneering aspects of Paul’s ministry can sometimes be hard to explain as quantification in the traditional sense does not always apply when, as Paul says, you simply spend three hours going for a walk with someone. Rather, a better description Paul uses instead is, ‘a ministry of availability,’ having the time to develop genuine relationships and being given the permission or invitation to witness the Christian faith to those outside of church.Reflecting on the journey of Mind the Gap, Paul clarifies how it is important to understand that the intention of this ministry has never been to plant a new church nor to act in isolation of the wider church. He puts it well by saying, ‘until such time as an individual is in a place where they desire to know more of God, church doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the moment they are, I don’t think you can replace church.’  This is shown by Paul’s desire to connect those who come to faith to other churches in the local area and by his Kingdom approach to welcoming Christians from different churches to connect and partner together in many of the various ministries he is part of.
So how has this ministry been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic? Is it even possible to practice some of these missional approaches during a time when there are so many restrictions on physical meetings? Encouragingly, Paul has observed that there have been phenomenal ways for mission to happen, often in surprising ways. Of these Paul describes how he initiated his friends from his bi-annual school reunion to try zoom which has now turned into a weekly Friday night zoom gathering for men where Paul says, ‘it has a life of its own,’ continuing without his constant involvement or leadership.

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Other groups, such as the Breakfast Club which would normally just be for 3 other men has enabled more men to join through zoom. Paul observes that in his experience that, ‘there has been a new openness, a new willingness to properly share which I’ve not seen before.’ With the increased ways of connecting online, Paul also notes how his church’s website has been used to witness to those outside of church, putting up video interviews Paul has made with local people, such as shop workers and even creating an online opportunity to “grill a minister” by creating an online hot seat recording for people outside of church to put their questions to. From all this Paul thinks that looking ahead the edges of communities may become more blurred and less territorial, possibly with new communities based around an online community.
Paul gives encouragement to those individuals who may be sensing that God is calling them into a wider ministry not to be deterred if they are not fully sure of its identity. From the support Paul received from regional ministers particularly at the start of this ministry, he describes himself as feeling like Noah, ‘that God had painted a huge picture that I can’t even describe because it’s never been seen before…. and before it’s even started raining, I’ve got to start building.’ He says that it’s ok sometimes to live in that place of not fully knowing, ‘as long as you know that God is calling you forward’
 
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Simon Goddard
Story91-100, MA_Podcast
Suzie Abramian
EMBA, Story91-100, MA_Social Action
Michael Shaw
SWBA, Story91-100, MA_Social Action, MA_Evangelism
Timothy Haines
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Ruth Ward
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Ben Lucas
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