6 Radical Decisions in the Life of a church part one: Jesus First

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Sunrise outside the church building

Last week I wrote that it has been four years since my book 6 Radical Decisions was launched in the U.K.

The last four years have been some of the biggest of my life. I have moved countries, left the organisation I had worked with for 20 years, completed a Masters in Theological Studies and become a Pastor. Of all the changes that last one has been the biggest.

I never saw myself working in a church, but as I reflect on the experience of the last (almost) three years, I am grateful for the opportunity.

As I wrote last week, the starting point of my journey with the church was to hand Jeremy and the team my book and indicate that was where I would want to be heading.

I just pulled up the email that Jeremy sent me in response to our initial meeting. He had just landed in Israel with his wife Lisa, and it was clear that he resonated with what I had written. He wrote:

I have been reading your book again in these wee hours of the morning (just about finished it) and continually find my heart racing as I read it. So much of the language you use is such a reflection of who we are seeking to become (many times over the course of reading the book, I’ve read a section to my wife and she has exclaimed ‘that is completely us!’).

While I felt that my twenty years of experience with Fusion had equipped me well to lead a church into mission, I hadn’t really anticipated the level of learning that was in front of me personally as I started to serve under Jeremy’s leadership.

Over the next couple of weeks I am keen to write some reflections on what it has meant to attempt to bed the 6 Radical Decisions into the D.N.A. of a church. However the first of the decisions, Jesus being first in everything, is more about what I have learned from Jeremy and the team rather than being about anything I brought to the table.

Jeremy is the lead pastor of St. Albert Alliance church, and although he has grown up in the Alliance denomination and his father was a district Superintendent, he is not a typical lead pastor.

The basic formula for growing a successful (in terms of numbers) church in North America is to have a dynamic speaker and surround him with a stadium quality band who can produce an emotional experience. Jeremy isn’t that speaker. In fact Jeremy is an introvert who prefers to do as little preaching as he can manage.

What drives Jeremy is his relationship with Jesus. His deeply personal relationship with  the Son of God is what drives him in every area of life (except perhaps his love for losing football teams). Jeremy’s passion is to help other people also have a deep and personal relationship with Jesus. Since starting at the church I have come to appreciate that this integrated and very personal faith is actually the quality we should be seeking in our senior church leaders. Anyone can put on a show.

What I didn’t understand as I sat across from Jeremy at our first meeting, is that the church had already been on a journey. They had been through a Willow Creek phase. They had been through a Rick Warren phase. A few years before I turned up they had reached the point of being sick of going through American church inspired phases and began a process to name who it was that God was wanting them to become.

This journey led them to produce a simple little booklet (available here) that declared St. Albert Alliance church wanted to be full of people who were “Living as an Apprentice of Jesus.”

The language of apprenticeship became core to what the church was about, and as I arrived they were three quarters of the way through preaching through the book of Mark (a journey that ultimately took two years).

What Jeremy was instinctively doing was putting Jesus front and centre. Each and every week for two years the church had been engaging with the gospel and asking “What does it mean to make Jesus’s priorities our priorities?”

As I begin this series of posts about what it means to build the Six Radical Decisions into the D.N.A. of a church, the first and very simple practise that lays the foundation for everything else is that, no matter what language you use, following Jesus becomes the central thing talked about, prayed about, wrestled with and celebrated.

I like the language of apprenticeship. I’m not a Greek scholar, but my limited understanding of the original language indicates that “apprentice” might be a more accurate description of the word that is most regularly translated “disciple.”

To be an apprentice is about imitating and learning from the actions of someone, not just learning about someone. We are called to imitate Jesus, not just learn about him. That is why instead of talking about values, Jeremy and the team chose to talk about practises. The “core-practises” they outlined, and kept coming back to were not centrally organised programs. They were things that, as they looked at the gospels and wrestled with what it meant to actually live as an apprentice of Jesus, were the things that would help sustain that relationship.

The four Core Practises were:

1) Engaging with a Discover Partner

2) Connecting in a Small Group 

3) Sharing a Meal

4) Adopting a World Need 

Focussing on Jesus in the way we preach, teach and program and then encouraging people to follow Him in every aspect of their day to day lives is the starting point on the journey to embedding the 6 Radical Decisions into the D.N.A. of a church.

St. Albert Alliance church, like many others, used to be about trying to get as many people through the front door as possible. Focussing on Jesus  first has changed what we are about, and has changed the lives of many of our people.

As I talk to many of those who have been at the church through the different eras, there is a kind of wide-eyed excitement about what Jesus seems to be doing amongst us now. There is a sense that as we put our attention on where it should be, other things have started to fall into place.

This is not the whole story, but it is the starting point. The next step is for Jesus to become the functional head of the church. I will write more about  how Jeremy has led in that,  in the next reflection.

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