02 July 2021

Meeting a Bigger God

The Revd Rach Ward, Leeds South and West Circuit Discipleship Enabler, shares how her church is engaging with the Methodist Way of Life to deepen discipleship amongst its members and develop the mission of the Church.

‘We want to let God out of the box we’ve contained him in’ was the initial dream expressed by the Leadership Team at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Beeston. I was meeting with this committed group of people in my role as the Discipleship Enabler in the Leeds South and West Circuit. I’m no expert, but I am passionate about discipleship and am privileged to work with Church communities who want to review, explore and refocus their vision and direction of travel.

St Andrew’s Leadership Team (aptly named SALT) recognised that while the pandemic had put the brakes on previous conversations about mission development, they realised their focus had been on what ‘projects’ they might do, rather than why they were wanting to develop their mission. Although it might, or even ‘should’, seem obvious to start with the ‘why’ we do something, it was on the Connexional Evangelism for Leaders course that I was introduced to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle which starts with the ‘why’ of mission rather than the ‘what’.[1]

By focusing on ‘why mission?’ the leadership team began to articulate the core of Our Methodist Calling: to respond to the gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission. When the church focuses primarily on ‘what we are going to do’ without intentionally addressing ‘why’, there can be an underlying danger of fulfilling a social need without the parallel spiritual gospel message. Why mission? Because we want people to know the God in Christ, who is bigger than the God we have put in a box of our making!

As we continued to unpack ‘why mission’ it became more apparent that, as a society of believers, we could know about Jesus’ Kingdom manifesto without necessarily knowing the Jesus behind that manifesto, and without believing that we have a valid and critical invitation into that Kingdom proclamation. It wasn’t long before the conversation evolved into: ‘We want to meet with a bigger God!’

Having established the overall direction of travel as ‘Engaging with God – with Community – with Each Other’ we knew this was a long-term piece of work. As a circuit resource, it is anticipated that my time and involvement will be for at least 12 months, including initial planning, specific teaching input, reflection and follow up review. However, we knew that anything we discerned, and indeed the discerning process itself, had to be underpinned with prayer.

My first task was to make a prayer card for St Andrew’s that encouraged the wider church community not simply to pray, but to help focus that prayer with the values we were trying to inspire. I wanted to offer prayer that would gently encourage the church community to make small 1º shifts in their expectation of what God can do, and will do, and chooses to do through them. We printed prayer cards – on one side was a unique ‘St Andrew’s’ prayer, and on the other was a weekly prayer diary with specific focus for prayers for the Church, the community and the individual.

The St Andrew's prayer card, front and back

One of the challenges in any discipleship engagement is how to enable the whole church family to contribute to, capture and be excited by a shared vision. Although the dream to ‘meet a bigger God’ was articulated by the Leadership Team, there had been some initial exploration before lockdown hijacked their conversations. However, the pandemic afforded an invaluable opportunity for reflection, as like all churches, we had to reconsider how to do mission when our church buildings were closed. This also reiterates the need to start with the ‘why mission’ which doesn’t alter even though the vehicle for that mission might change.

To encourage the whole church to enlarge their vision and expectation of gathered church, we hope to use a small group resource – Reshaping the Map.[2] This aims to develop the understanding of gathered church as the time and place to better equip us as disciples of Christ for when we are scattered beyond the Sunday walls.[3] One strand of the Methodist Way of Life already has a weekly focus in our Circuit Prayer diary, so we trust it will be a natural step to build on this to help enlarge the expectations of what God chooses to do in his people called Methodists.

It is an exciting journey ahead – we don’t know what God has in store … if we did we might be too scared to set out on the journey, but we pray-fully, faith-fully put one foot in front of another as we ask ‘to meet with a bigger God’.

 

[1] Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle https://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/online- 1 value-proposition/start-with-why-creating-a-value-proposition-with-the-golden-circle-model/ 11-06-21

[2] Reshaping the Map – written by Rev Rach Ward

[3] As in ‘Beyond these walls of Worship’ from Singing the Fatih, number 547 by Ian Worsfold and Paul Wood

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