Recently when I was reading through an edition of Christianity magazine I spotted a title to an article that took my breath away: ‘The day our church reached 500…’ The reason this stood out was the comparison with my own church which teetered on the brink of reaching not 500, but just five!
If I’m brutally honest the headline left me with a feeling of dejection and, yes I’ll admit it, envy. Five hundred? From where I’m standing that sounds more like a small town than a church.
As I read on I realised that this remarkable achievement had not come without considerable cost and my heart went out to all those who had made such sacrifices and worked so hard to see their church grow so significantly. But the resulting feeling was one of no little insignificance and some despondency too. As a consequence I needed to take some time out to get things back into perspective.
I reminded myself that the God who made whales also made minnows. And so I took comfort in the fact that we may be small but we may also be beautiful.
The reality is that it was only in November 2005 that my wife and I and a dear friend took the plunge and moved lock stock and barrel to a small village in the south lakes with the aim of beginning a new church. We call it ‘Outreach House’. We live a life that might look more monastic than anything. We follow a rhythm of life that seeks to enable us to: Be disciples in order to make disciples.
So everything we do is centred on God not economics. That means each morning we meet together for prayer and Bible study as we set out to study a chapter of the Bible together each day aiming to make our way from Genesis to Revelation over a seven year period. It also means that by necessity our life has to be simple, sacrificial and servant-hearted. No more exotic holidays for us!
After lunch it is work time as we seek to make God known in our locality. We have sought to obtain part-time work in and around our community, not just to earn an income but to give us a chance to work alongside local people, aiming to build relationships, live life together and share our faith. During the evenings we deliberately aim to get involved in our local community in any way we can. Here we seek to put into practice our aim to be: In the community and for the community.
On the 12th February we were joined by a fourth team mate who also left her home in the south of England and downsized to enable her to join us in this rhythm existing on her part-time earnings. Between us we are now actively involved in helping or attending the local village youth group, the WI, the local environment group, and leading a group of volunteers seeking to re-establish a village shop and Post Office having had our local shop close due to the retirement of its previous owners.
However the big question was; would this actually work? Would anyone see what we’re doing and be drawn to Jesus as a result? Well that’s why I am able to write this article because four has now become five! Having become friends at the local table tennis club, a local man with no church affiliation began to visit us and hear what we were all about. As he and his family began to share some of our garden space to grow their own vegetables something else took root. And slowly but surely a real faith began to grow. At dawn on Easter Sunday in the very cold waters of Lake Windermere our first new disciple, and the fifth member of our team, gave witness to his new-found faith with his baptism. Many of his family and friends were there to witness it too (photo left).
We’ve still got a long way to go to reach 500; that’s bigger than the entire population of our village so it’s somewhat unlikely. But it seems that neither large or small really matters only that we each obey God’s call to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. We praise God that we are five and pray on for six and seven.