“Would you mind if I prayed for your leg?” I asked, I was staying at a retreat centre near St. Austell and the guy who was showing me around was clearly in a lot of pain.
“That’d be lovely!” he said, -I wondered why, even talking to Christians, can offering to pay for someone who is obviously in discomfort still feels a bit socially awkward!
I prayed for him and for healing for his leg, he thanked me and limped off, I felt disappointed, I realised I that over passed few years had gradually become more and more jaded and cynical, as had not always seeing the breakthroughs and answer to prayers that I wanted. Even though the guy was not healed, I did wonder if God was renewing my expectancy.
I recalled the previous evening wandering around uneventfully around Penzance praying for Cornwall, really wanting to have an amazing divine encounter and Jesus-y conversation with a stranger, but none happened. Yet as I thought further about this, I realised I had spent a couple of hours with my friend Joe yesterday, and wondered sometimes we get more excited about new people and fresh opportunities than blessing and encouraging those people we already know? I thought about our Churches and know that often we are very good at welcoming people through the front-door but not always so good when they drift out the backdoor.
I sat down to read a book about Cornish Saints that was at the retreat house with my coffee and my phone received a text message from Paul Taylor who was my first appointment of the day, saying he could fit me in between his work jobs and sent me the postcode of a coffee shop over-looking a stunning beach and cliffs.
Paul was a friend of Mark Rich, Mark had worked alongside me setting up Town-Pastors and I had worked alongside him with some of the work he did with Christians Against Poverty which was seeking to bless and assist those people struggling with debt. Mark is a Godly guy and those people that he respects are worth checking out! I had met Paul once before at a prayer event in London, and really liked him, a guy that will spend a day driving from Cornwall to London to pray for our nation has a heart and commitment to prayer and the Kingdom that I admire.
Paul Taylor, had recently given up pastoring a Church in Crawley to go and live in Bude in Cornwall, and had joined a local fellowship, the Pastor there was struggling with many of the questions that I have been wrestling with, primarily how can we see ordinary Christians sharing their faith in a normal and cringe-free way.
Paul also was friends with a Vicar called Richard Poole who led a Church in Crawley, but before that had worked with me in a Church in Wakefield, who had been a really inspiration figure in my Christian walk, a guy who could pull of ‘normal’ and was ‘a laugh’ but really serious about the Jesus stuff, a natural evangelist, and was very good at gently coming alongside people with an encouraging word and wisdom; he was also a straight talking Northerner and so I could imagine when needed he wouldn’t pull his punches!
I smiled as I remembered this memory of my time in Wakefield which really was for me something of a spiritual green house, I arrived screwed up with lots of doubts and baggage, and left not completely sorted (are we ever completely sorted?) but knowing deeply that I was loved by God and that God could use a broken mess like me for his glory.
A moment later, Paul’s work van arrived, and he joined us for a coffee in a cafe surrounded by surfboards and surfers that was (more or less) filled the coffee shop, making me wish I surfed!
For a moment I remembered the first sermon I preached in my previous parish of Kingswood urging us to be surfers, not canoeist (doing it in our own strength and burning out) nor a Lilo-lounger (waiting for God to do it all, sanctified laziness that leads to fading out) but instead catching the wind -or the wave- of God’s Spirit being ready and actively seeking and anticipating and riding it to the shore, God and his creation partnering in his Kingdom plan.
Paul and I did the coffee debate:-
“I’ll get you a coffee…”
“No, No, I’ll get it!”
We got chatting and Paul told me that he felt call not to plant a Church from his denomination (although they would have liked him too, and probably financially more secure too) but to join a local fellowship at get involved in serving there.
We spoke about that it is difficult to move from leading a Church (or Churches) to serving someone else who is leading a Church, sometimes leading in a way we would not have done ourselves, requiring grace and humility. The Pastor at this Church has clearly come to trust Paul and asked him to look at the Church homegroups and was worried that these were not the outward Missional catalysts that they longed for and the Pastor asked Paul to look and see if he could make them more Missional.
I believe this is a problem in many Churches and often the group’s get a new name/branding but rarely achieve a more Missional result.
People become comfortable in their groups, they often think they are friendly, welcoming and outward looking it looks very different when you are at the heart of a clique to being on the outside of it.
Is the group happy as it is, or are they yearning to grow?
Is it a place where crazy ideas and bonkers dreams can be birthed and shared? -And are everyone’s ideas listened too, or is it just a privileged few?
Are there opportunities to invite along friends that aren’t Christians and would they be made welcome?
Good questions to explore when thinking about the Missional fruitfulness of our homegroups!
Back in Cornwall Paul did some training and teaching with the group before giving the groups, before going to a local estate their church was blessing and encouraging people to get to know folk, to do things like help at local fayres and do face-painting positive things to make an impact.
One lady said: “I want to be on the prayer team”, yet Paul persuaded her to give it a go in the community team. First few times out with him he did most of the talking and she listened, and then she grew in confidence and began to chip into the conversation and soon she was happy and comfortable chatting to people.
A couple of days before I visited Paul in Cornwall, he was sharing about how they had got chatting with someone with a painful knee, and Paul asked this lady to lay her hands on the ladies’ knee and pray for healing for her. The ladies knee got very hot, and so Paul encouraged his friend to continue to pray, and remarkably her knee was completely healed.
I wondered about my praying earlier that day, I prayed once and stopped, and looked embarrassed, rather than continuing to push on in prayer. I was reminded of a phrase Bill Wilson (leader of the Worlds Largest Sunday School) once said: “Too often Christians quit before the miracles kick in!”
I thought about this, Paul taught the group and helped them to re-discover the Missional dream of the homegroup, he gave them opportunities to put it into practice with real people. He stretched people, inspiring the last from the prayer group to join those chatting to people. He modelled what he was seeking and took people with him, allowing them to find their voice, walked with and allowed them to grow and flourish with him there encouraging them.
Paul challenged them to go beyond where they thought they could go and discover something of the “more of God” that the Holy Spirit has for each of us. So often our discipleship plateaus when we become comfortable and stop doing things that stretch us, we develop our excuses (however well dressed up they are) to justify staying where they are.
It is easy to think of straplines and strategies but harder to slowly walk with people until they gain the courage to do it themselves, yet it is I believe vital on rising up missionaries from their local communities and releasing them to speak to and bless those who cross their path.
I had a chance to pray for Paul, and he prayed for me and my journey, he also (later) sent me a fascinating document he wrote about how the Church needs to look if it is to be fruitful in the 21st century, and he drove off to his next electricians job.
Sat by the beach, the wind whistling through my hair I began to type up a few notes about “missional mentoring” and began to dream what that might look like.