I feel a bit threatened. Phil’s anchor tattoo, shaved head and muscles trigger my flight or fight instincts. He certainly doesn’t look to me like a ‘Christian’. We’re sitting on purple sofas in a building with smooth wooden floors, a thriving café and a gym. It doesn’t look like a church. Confusing day and an intriguing one.
The story that captures me is how this came about. In January 2006 five people, who were disillusioned with normal church in Northern Ireland, met in a rented room. They dreamed together of a different approach to reaching out. A bit later they were meeting in an old scout hut. Then that burned down. Three of the five people left. I’d probably have given up at that point. They didn’t.
So now, 10 years later, we are sitting in a vibrant church centre with over 350 church people and a vital ministry to those in debt, food crisis and in need of God. My friend Diane describes the church as ‘the most diverse I’ve ever seen’ and the wider community talk of the church as ‘the one that loves the community’.
Is there something you and I can learn from this? Here’s three things that stand out to me: relationship, discipleship and prayer.
Phil tells me 'you can't get your church to love their community until they know their community'. As the church has served people with CAP debt counselling and a food bank they've got to know and care about each individual. (And as I get to know Phil I decide he is not so scary after all!).
Discipleship is also hugely important. 'We can only serve our community like this through helping our people to become passionately committed followers of Christ'. But discipleship for them is not mainly about courses. It's mostly about people learning to follow Jesus as they serve alongside more mature Christians. It's what Jesus did with His disciples.
And last but not least 'we pray all the time'. And I love the way they talk about prayer. 'Prayer is just talking with God about what He and I are doing today'.