Formal & informal

In areas like mine, there are not a right lot of Christians about. We are in the middle of a majority Muslim area of town and in a town that is not replete with Christians at any rate. Which means what we are most interested in here is not attracting Christians who aren’t here, but reaching the lost with the gospel.

Knowing that we are seeking to reach the lost, we must also think how we will reach them. It may come as a surprise to some, but unbelievers don’t tend to just wander into churches on Sunday. If we’re going to reach the lost in our community, we’re going to have to either go to them or create the kind of spaces they will want to come into.

One of the ways we do that is by meeting needs. So, we provide things like English Classes and a Food Club as a place for people to come in. There is a need and we are happy to meet it in order to put ourselves in contact with unbelievers. We similarly create other spaces, like our Dialogue Evening, where we can meet with local Muslims and discuss the differences of our faith. Again, these are means of creating the kind of spaces – that do not typically exist in our town – where Christians and Muslims, believer and unbeliever, can spend time together.

It similarly means that we have to think carefully about how we will disciple people in the faith. Most of our members do not come from well taught, brilliant Christian backgrounds. That isn’t to say none of them do. But for the most part, we are made up of people who either converted through coming to the church or became believers shortly before coming along. The benefit of this is that we do not have lots of people (though we have some) who have Christian baggage. We do have to work out how we are going to helpfully teach the people we have.

The danger for us is that in creating all these spaces for meeting unbelievers and groups for training believers, the few of us in any position to run those things end up with our hands very full. We are so busy running the stuff where we can engage Muslims, reach into the community or train up believers, that we don’t have any time left for that softer (but no less important) informal mode of discipleship. We have lots of stuff whereby we can input teaching on a Sunday, midweek and at other points. Lots of formal stuff going on. But the running of all the formal stuff leaves us with much less time to spend with people informally, letting them see the ordinary everyday stuff of what it means to be a Christian in practice.

What we need as a church is people who are free to hang out with other believers. We need people who are able to speak about Jesus in the ordinary everyday bits of life. We need people whose hands are not full of lots of formal ministry but whose timetables are free and flexible to simply read the Bible and chat with people about Jesus. Who are free to read some books with people and then meet up to chew them over. It sounds like a non-job, but it is really quite important.

The formal stuff is really important so we can input Bible teaching. We need Sunday sermons to teach through scripture. We need our theology breakfast to learn systematics and biblical theology. We need our community groups to chew over together the applications of scripture on our lives. These things all need running and doing and serve people meaningfully. But we also need that softer hanging out. That one anothering. That informal discipling. Both are vital. But it can be hard to do both well when you’re small and the work rests on only a few shoulders.