Pursuing Transformation In Your Local Community. PT 2.

This is the second half of a seminar from New Wine in Sligo 2017.

SKILLS AND GIFTS

Another important fact is that local non-churched community members have many important skills and gifts – not least of which is community knowledge and community relationship. Of course church members have great skills and gifts too, often complementary ones. However,  my experience is that they often lack the knowledge of the difficult issues that need addressed.

Public ServiceChurches are also full of doctors, nurses, teachers, civil servants in various government departments, policemen…all of whom have a good knowledge of the issues in civic society. Sadly they are rarely used for this unique skills set.

Do we pray for these people in our own churches and send them out into their weekly jobs with God’s blessing, our prayers and the support of their congregation?  Could their knowledge be tapped into in addressing some of the local issues? Have we asked local community members for their opinions and suggestions of how the church could pray for them and support them?

Because my experience is that with knowledge and understanding comes action. For example mobilised by local ministers wives, a group of women in Newtownards in N. Ireland came together to pray for the needs of the local community. They realised quickly that they really did not know enough about the local needs to pray in a meaningful way. However because of my work through The Link I was able to introduce them to women in the community from organisations like Women’s Aid and Homestart who could talk about the needs from their charities perspective. Soon the women were not only praying, but volunteering in the local organisations and putting together packs for the women’s refuge. The prayer ministry grew into a group called “Christians Connecting with Community” and many voluntary groups and statutory organisations were prayed for on a regular basis. All the time the Christians praying were learning about the needs of their local community through prayer.

However, much more than learning and action took place. At a prayer breakfast about two years into the prayer ministry some of the women spoke. They talked about how judgemental they had been about some of the groups and activities within the local community. But as they had prayed and learned about the needs, so their hearts had changed.

Our judgement of others is important to recognise as we seek to bring transformation to our local community.

Pointing finger

As I began work in The Link and met with many people from different backgrounds and experiences to myself, I realised that I was very judgemental and was categorising people into the deserving and undeserving poor.

But here are a few local poverty facts:

“A man who lives in an area identified as one of poverty in N. Ireland lives – on average,17 years less than that of someone who lives in a middle class area.”

“25% of children in Northern Ireland live in poverty, 45,000 live in severe poverty and almost 1 in 5 live in persistent poverty.”

“53% of older people in N. Ireland say that television is their main source of company and 1 in 4 people aged 65 and over spend more than 15 hours alone each day.”

ThriveLogo (1)

As a Christian I believe deeply that we are called to be salt and light wherever we are – right here on our doorstep. To shine the light of Christ into the darkness that encompasses much of our society. Many Christians in local churches feel the same way. However, I have worked with many churches right across the province and have been involved in research that shows that churches are struggling to understand how to better reach out within their communities. There is division within congregations and competing agenda’s mean that often churches spend much more time maintaining their own structures, and fire-fighting than building the Kingdom of God.

Thrive Ireland has been set up to enable the local church to realise its local mission and vision. Supporting the development of authentic relationships with the local unchurched community – to meet identified need and enable people to thrive, flourish and become the people that God created them to be.

Thrive Ireland’s Vision is

“The transformation of church and community to thrive as God intends.”

Our mission is “To equip churches in Ireland for transformation and relational engagement, through global learning, community engagement and leadership development.”

All that we do recognises that God wants His Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” – he wants thriving and flourishing communities of healthy, happy, whole people.

One element is supporting local congregations – both individually and in partnership with others geographically – for Kingdom benefit.

Thrive Ireland uses Umoja, a Swahili word meaning togetherness and a model which Tearfund uses around the world to enable church and community transformation. Umoja enables churches to develop an understanding of community development and whole life mission, and engage with issues on their doorstep. Partnership 1

Christ's hands and feet

Part of this is recognising that you – clergy and lay folk alike – all of you here are also members of your local community – at the same time as being members of the church – and your everyday engagement with others in the community is part of the churches mission and witness.  You are it!! You are Christ’s hands and feet. His eyes and ears and his heart. So how you treat others in every social interaction is bringing Christ to them  – in the post office, in the supermarket, at the golf club, in the street…..We just need to be a little bit more strategic about what we do – and how we show who we are –as well as communicating more effectively both with each other and the community around us.

Umoja is not a course or a series of bible studies – though it includes elements of both  – it is a process. It creates space to enable a congregation to listen to God, each other and the local community to build relationships and begin to look at how they can help and support the community.

Stop Look Listen

“The process has four simples steps to help you cross the road into your community”.

Stop, Look, Listen, Walk

STOP – Take time to pause, assess, reflect and celebrate what your church is already doing both locally and globally and to explore God’s heart for mission. (Theological understanding) Take time to understand the complex nature of poverty and our different attitudes to local and global poverty.

Understand what God has already put in our hands, what we already know and understand of our community because many of us are members of that community as well as members of the church.

LOOK at what others within our congregation are already doing within that community and how that can enable us to build better relationships. (Church and skills audit)

LISTEN. Taking time to build relationships with our local community by listening and talking with people. Finding out about local needs, pain and suffering. Opening our hearts as well as our ears. Taking time to listen to God. (Community Audit)

WALK. Taking into account the learning from stop, look and listen, we begin to work and dream dreams with our community to make a difference. The congregation will vote on the actions to take, based on what they have discovered through the process. (Strategic Plan).

Thrive also helps support the training of church leaders in places like Edgehill Theological College, Union College and Belfast Bible College to enable ministers, pastors and churches leaders to be better equipped in the whole area of local community mission.

We are also seeking to promote understanding in civic society of the special role and skill of the church in supporting social justice issues. We seek to be salt and light in the secular community and voluntary sector.

Building on Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals model – Thrive Ireland is currently developing a bespoke leadership programme particularly aimed at Christian leaders in areas of socio-economic deprivation. Using a biblical model, it will offer pastoral, mentoring and coaching support, the chance for Christian leaders to meet with others in similar areas of ministry for mutual support and learning as well as leadership training and support for organisational/congregational development.

Thrive Ireland is also involved in the development of resources for the church. Our first resource is entitled Lessons from Rwanda – Biblical Reflections for the Church in Northern Ireland. 

Thrive Ireland in partnership with Contemporary Christianity produced a peace and reconciliation resource for churches in Northern Ireland. The material is based on the Rwandan churches response to the need for post-conflict National healing following the Genocide. The resource is designed to facilitated biblical reflection with Christians to consider how the Rwandan experience might inspire and inform our commitment to peace building. The resource explores, in the context of Northern Ireland, four essential themes: Forgiveness, Justice, Reconciliation and Repentance. Thrive Ireland provides facilitated workshops which include opportunity for study, reflection and interactive learning.

Thrive Ireland also facilitates workshops on understanding conflict, managing conflict and conflict transformation both within churches or the workplace and in local and national contexts. We also offer support to those in difficult conflict situations.

If you need further information or would like to discuss getting support from Thrive Ireland email: info@thriveireland.org

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