Reaching Your Community… what would Jesus do?
By Diane Holt and Stephen Lynas
In Thrive Ireland, we often ask ourselves, “What does it mean to pray ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’? How do we enable the thriving and flourishing communities that God wants for us?” It’s a pressing question for many churches across Ireland today.
Thrive Ireland was born out of Tearfund UK and builds on Tearfund’s experience in supporting churches overseas and in the UK to understand God’s call to be salt and light and to equip them in the ‘how’.
Tearfund’s pioneering work in the 1960s fused what it means to ‘bring good news to the poor’ both spiritually and practically and brought a fresh perspective on the outworking of faith overseas and locally.
With the blessing of Tearfund, Thrive Ireland became a separate entity in 2015 and continues to help and equip churches here in Ireland (both north and south) to reach out to their communities and be effective in their mission.
Thrive Ireland can help churches who are unsure about how to start, churches who have made great progress but are facing challenges, and churches who are unsure about how to reach those in their communities who have little or no interest in faith.
Both Tearfund Ireland and Thrive Ireland share a common heart and mission – that the local church in Ireland will show and tell of Jesus’ love in their local communities.
Thrive Ireland comes alongside churches to provide them with the tools to reach out to people in their communities. These tools are based on the approach that Tearfund uses in its work across the world. ‘Integral Mission’ or ‘Holistic Mission’ meets both people’s spiritual and physical needs with the belief that bringing ‘life in all its fullness’ is a founding biblical imperative.
One of Tearfund Ireland’s goals is to envision, equip and mobilise churches to reach those in greatest need in some of the world’s poorest communities and in their own communities.
Excited about partnering with Thrive Ireland, Tearfund Ireland’s Chief Executive Officer, Sharan Kelly, said, “While the world is in turmoil and our own country struggles out of recession, the Lord is very much at work in people’s hearts – the soil is being prepared for seeds to be planted. People are being stirred to live like Jesus – to show compassion, to act justly and to stand with and for those who are poor, oppressed, those who are hurting due to addiction, mental health, poverty, and homelessness and those who lack hope. Tearfund Ireland’s heart is to walk alongside churches as they do this.
“The church working together is so important. Tearfund Ireland loves to partner with like-minded ministries. Thrive Ireland and Tearfund Ireland have much in common, and we are excited about what the Lord will achieve as we work together in the years ahead.”
Thrive Ireland is headed up by Diane Holt, better known as Diane Petherick from her days in Lucan in the 1990’s. Diane formerly worked with Tearfund (UK) as its Church and Community Advisor in Northern Ireland and was also a Presbyterian Irish Mission worker.
UMOJA - HOW TO BE ‘SALT AND LIGHT’
Thrive Ireland’s approached is summed up by a Swahili word “Umoja,” meaning togetherness. It is about doing things alongside and with people rather than to and for them. Diane explains, “It’s an opportunity for people to listen to God, to listen to each other and to listen to the members of their whole community and find what God’s intention is for them in that context.”
The process facilitated by Thrive Ireland starts with a celebration service, applauding what a congregation is already doing and all that is good about the community and the congregation, inspiring people and celebrating their skills and gifts.
Members then share their knowledge of the needs of the community. “I enable the congregation to have a conversation with themselves,” explains Diane. “They find out what they know and pool that knowledge before moving to the next stage, which is listening to their community and building relationships as they do.”
When the congregation knows their skills and resources, the needs of the community and what is being done, they begin to come up with ideas about how they can get involved. It might mean partnering with someone else or starting something new either with others or themselves. Ultimately, they list six or seven possibilities and then vote on their priorities. Then all that remains in the “Umoja” process is to plan how and when the talk turns into action.
“Umoja is not trying to challenge what churches do,” says Diane. “It’s enabling congregations to listen to God in their situation, facilitating them in something they want to do but are unsure how. It involves anyone who wants to play their part. Everyone’s knowledge and opinion is valued and everyone votes.”
The process also helps address issues of time and talent. “Congregations have full calendars. Umoja helps set priorities about where time is best spent while identifying new talents that can free others to take up fresh challenges.”
One example is Waringstown Prebyterian church in Northern Ireland. The church’s vision was “to offer hope to our community through the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.” They knew this involved engaging with the whole community but realised that they did not know where to begin.
“The Umoja process forced us to think about the community we are part of and ask hard questions about our relevance and place,” says minister Rev Philip Thompson. “It gave structure to our conversations, grounded our discussion in Scripture and enabled us to translate conclusions into action.”
Identifying problems around community cohesion and isolation, the ‘action’ included developing a community newsletter and a ‘Know Your Neighbour’ initiative. The parent and toddler group has been revitalised, and a ‘Messy Church’ for the whole family now happens once a month.
“There were unexpected benefits and blessings as well,” adds Philip Thompson. “It helped invigorate our worship, fellowship and discipleship and enabled people in our church family who perhaps felt on the fringes to have a voice, engage in prayer for our community and get involved.”
As all Christian churches wrestle with the reality of growing apathy and the perceived irrelevance of faith, holistic mission provides a radical approach to outreach.
“Umoja is about seeing long-term Kingdom transformation in our communities. It isn’t a quick fix or six-week programme; it takes time. I love that Umoja takes the whole church community on a journey to discern what God is calling them to in their particular place with their unique experiences, gifts and skills. I love the fact that Umoja helps us learn from the global church,” said Sam Moore, director of Innovista Ireland.
Diane Holt sees “Umoja” in the story of Bartimaeus: “While the crowd tried to hide the blind beggar from Jesus, Jesus set us the example of valuing people. Then, rather than restoring his sight immediately, Jesus asked Bartimaeus, ‘What would you like me to do for you?’ If we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and ears, we need to value people and build trusting relationships, just like He did.
“If we live the life as well as pray the prayer, then His Kingdom will come, His will will be done on earth as is in heaven.”