Britain: On the Road to Movements

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My Journey travelling systematically across Britain began in Jan 2009. It seemed like a fairly straightforward project: ‘Mission Britain: 12 Regions in 12 Months‘. The idea was to travel to the 12 regions of Britain (according to the EU), Spy the Land, without really knowing what would happen next

To begin with, I had little to no contacts in any of these regions. Saying goodbye to family and friends locally, setting off for 12 days each month, at that time in a 17 seater white mini-bus to drive the length and breadth of the region I was about to explore was no lighthearted task

The main purpose was simply to follow the leading of the Spirit, and pray in the places He directed me to. First task was to find free places to park the mini-bus on the outskirts of towns and cities (as we had no budget…and still don’t), then walk into towns, villages, hamlets and cities to await further instructions…

It was not long before the next instructions came: ‘Google the name of the region, and simple, organic, missional churches and communities and church planters‘…any contact, website, or connection that came up on the browser, I emailed with this simple message:

“Hi, I’m Peter J Farmer and I’m passionate about Simple Organic Church. I’m visiting your region over the next 12 days. Would you like to meet up for a cuppa tea and a chat?”

It was fairly surprising that anyone returned these messages at all, written from a complete stranger, but in each region there were between 4-12 different people or groups or churches who did! (you know who you are)

I would then arrange to meet those brave people, usually either in their home or in a cafe or pub. Some People of Peace even fed me and let me stay at their house overnight or for a few nights, for which I’m eternal grateful!

In those days, many I met were individuals or married couples who longed for what they felt was a more authentic form of church that returned to Jesus and early church patterns of spiritual christ-centred communities meeting from house to house. Where church wasn’t simply a service, building or performance but tight-knit communities of Christ who shared food, finance and resources so there was no-one in need and poverty was eradicated amongst them and who listened together to the voice of God and determined to live out the teachings and example of Jesus together with no hierarchical form of leadership or control getting in the way.

As I continued these journey’s from one home and cafe to another across a region, I began to hear more and more stories of people who had decided for one reason or another to leave the ‘institutional church’…this phrase, most often referred to churches that had actually only started in the last 20-40 years during the Charismatic Renewal and New Church Movement in the UK (and some that were started in America but have been planting in Britain too)

Some people had left these churches, because they had a commitment to connect with and form new communities with people who are far from being reached by the current churches they had left. But many had, unfortunately, left due to issues relating to hurt, spiritual abuse or controlling leadership.

However…most of these individuals could not find others within 20 miles distance who were also interested or willing to meet together in this way. In the early days I met only a few ‘groups’ and ‘communities’ in each region and a lot of isolated individuals. Those who were meeting as groups were very small (maybe 3-6 people). So when these people asked if we knew of others in their area…the answer was, ‘Well actually, we DO know of others in your region, but only because we met some yesterday and we are about to meet some more tomorrow’

So we began hosting Newforms Regional Days (Tasters), where people who were involved or exploring the idea of simple organic communities could come together, meet, eat and share stories. This was immediately fruitful as those who felt isolated were suddenly connected with others in their region who were like-minded

At these Newforms Tasters, we also shared Kingdom Vision- what would it take to see the multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches across a Region

This struck a chord with some, who were longing to move beyond the exclusivity of a ‘community’ type atmosphere made up mainly of those already Christian meeting together to eat and share life, to a missional movement that connected with those who were not previously church goers and could multiply into public spaces- cafes, pubs, workplaces (wherever life happens) and change the world

Unfortunately…when we began to communicate Kingdom Vision and the intentionality of making disciples, many turned back or stopped contacting us! (‘this isn’t for us, we are about “house church”, or “we don’t think we need to organize anything, or strategise, we just need to BE church”‘ and ‘this is all a bit too intense we just want to whine, dine and drink wine’ – okay, so they didn’t really say this last one out loud! To some extent I could understand some of these sentiments…but I also longed to connect with those who wanted to move beyond what they were not and move towards what their Christ-centred purpose was…

Happily, many others also had a desire to move beyond gathering only for themselves but didn’t know how to go about it…

Our journey into all things simple, organic and missional (or whatever phrase is in current usage) began in the year 2000 when I left university as a ‘Contemporary Artist’ and moved into an inner-city estate in the heart of Nottingham to work with the local parish church. This involved engaging young people and families that would never darken the doors of the church on a Sunday morning. One of the first projects, DREAM, emerged contextually out of the soil of the local community and is still growing and starting up in new areas across the UK

Next, I opened up my cottage (I lived next door to the Anglican Church) and would have a full house pretty much every night of the week with young people and families from the local area! We shared food, games, prayed for each other, created new forms of art and music and it started to spread across the estate overflowing into the homes of others, praying for whole families, giving away Bibles, training children to hear the voice of God in the local schools and preaching and rapping on the streets

So when I met other followers of Jesus who were meeting in homes, I assumed they, like me, were passionate about spreading the message to those who hadn’t only come out of an ‘institutional church’ (not necessarily my phrase) and moving beyond the ‘us four no more’ holy huddle

So those who were interested in forming simple communities with non-religious and un-churched people, but didn’t know how to go about it, registered for a Newforms Level 1 Training where we spend usually a weekend, looking at what Jesus did; how he sent out 12 and 72 Pioneers to find People of Peace who in turn, gather their communities and share stories of Jesus in homes, work and leisure spaces and how this catalyses movements locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. We also shared from the 10 or so years of experience we had had learning from trial and error and many mistakes to form spiritual communities with people who were 3-4 generations unchurched

Over the years some of the people I met on my first journey in 2009, have become close friends and subsequently opened their homes and hearts to me as I returned repeatedly to their areas over the past 4 years, to meet and connect more new groups, to host more Tasters and Trainings and to Pioneer Mission

In the past 3 years we began to train ‘established churches’ looking to reorientate their churches around these missional and disciple making principles. At first these were mainly Anglican, Baptist, URC and Methodist. But in the last 2 years this has extended to almost every stream of church, including even the newer charismatic churches that many in the early days of simple church, had left…Then in the past year or so, we trained many mission agencies that had heard about the movement through things like Discovery Bible Studies and T4T

Now, many simple organic missional communities and leaders of established churches and mission agencies come together once a year at the Newforms UK Gathering (also people who are just beginning to explore simple organic missional movements) for a weekend to connect, hear from the NewformsResources Team, and learn from experienced missional trainers and practitioners from around the world

Some have even become co-workers in the movement that is emerging across the Nation…for example…

19 of us met recently for our first Newforms BaseCamp, where we came together over a weekend in a countryside retreat to report back where we are in the development of networks of simple missional communities in our regions.

All 19 had been through Tasters and Level 1 Training and were now committed to a monthly skype we call ‘MissionCircle

The 19 of us represented 9 of the 12 regions and together we prayed that Kingdom Movements (that multiply disciples, leaders, churches and kingdom businesses) would accelerate in each of these regions, then looked at how the movement Jesus Started, continued by the Early Church in the book of Acts could continue throughout Britain in our Generation and beyond

The diversity of this group is astounding, from Anglican vicars, to Baptist team leaders, Elim ministers, Fresh Expressions pioneers and those connected to no established denomination. Some are involved in multiplying simple communities from scratch and others are transitioning congregations with buildings and services into missional multiplication movements (and these are not the only 19 pioneering regional leaders involved in the simple organic missional movement spreading across the UK)

It’s been a fun filled and challenging 4 years since this particular adventure began. But we are excited about the friendships that have been forged, the new communities that have come into existence, the churches that have begun to re-orientate themselves around the Mission of God and the multiplication of disciples, leaders and communities and the lives that are being transformed

At this point in the journey, I can even say I’m thankful for the opposition (and there has been lots of it) from false brothers, those who came against us for no real reason, those who cut us off from relationship, but pretend they haven’t and those who have spoken against us publicly and have brought divisions between friends and churches…this all keeps me dependent on my Heavenly Father forcing me to return to the place of abiding and prayer, grounded, recognising that I’m dust God breathes his life into and helps me to develop the much needed character that still often eludes me…

And of course the journey now continues with many teams mobilised for mission and disciple-making across the UK…some we’ve trained, others have learnt from others and the domino effect gains movementum

This year at the start of 2013, I began a new expedition! This time, to the 50 or so countries of Europe…I’m both excited and filled with trepidation! I remember how fun the MissionBritain journeys have been, but I also know how hard it’s been on me and my family.

There are some things that are familiar…setting off with few contacts (www.simplechurch.eu), going without knowing fully what to expect; only that trials and difficulties await me at each step of the journey and in each country. But hopefully there are also new friends and co-workers to connect with and the joy of experiencing and learning from new cultures and people groups…

If you live or work in Britain and would like to connect, hear more simple stories of what is happening in the UK or receive training, then please get in touch

Maybe you are leading an established church or congregation that is looking to transition into missional communities and organic movements?

Maybe you live in another European Country and would like to connect as I travel across the continent?

If you are on a similar journey of hope for the country you live in, please also get in touch

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda April 29, 2013 at 10:35 am

I suppose what really bothers me is how folks have trampled those who have worked in and toiled in the house church movement since the 1970s. You seem to have little or no respect for those who have gone before you. You did not write to them, or at least most of the ones i know have no recollection of you writing to them. Would it not be easier to ask for help rather than try to recreate the wheel? I know the answer. That would take humility because you might not be in control then…It really is sad, but I can tell you without a doubt there are three times more than what you have met who have never heard of you and are doing what your only writing about and playing with. I find it very sad!! Little arrogant experts…

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admin April 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Hi Linda

Thanks for your comment! We are indebted to the House Church and Charismatic Movements that have helped to shape Christianity in Britain and beyond over the past 40+ years (and continues to do so!)

We are very much inspired by previous movements throughout the ages including the early days of Celtic Monastic, Lollards, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Brethren, Salvation Army, Pentecostals and more recently the Charismatic

As far as I’m aware…there is nothing in my post disparaging any of these previous movements…if there is, I apologise (I’ve written elsewhere of how we learn constantly from these movements)

There is much to learn from the movements that God has initiated in the past and those He is initiating in the present

I didn’t set out to find people in any previous movement, but only to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit…going wherever He led, and through the doors He opened…also accepting the invitations of those who welcomed me

When I refer to simple organic missional communities, I’m not referring to ‘house churches’ (in the way you connect this to the movement in the 70’s)…but to groups who began in the last 10 or so years (most began in the past 2-3 years)

Some know of the previous movements and really appreciate them…some don’t know much about them at all

I love to meet any and all brothers and sisters in Christ who the Holy Spirit leads me to, to learn and be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith

Thanks for your comments…my intention is to glorify Christ…and if you have detected any pride in what I write its good that you are calling this to my attention…as God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (your post has humbled me…so thank-you)

In the end…it’s all about Jesus and His Kingdom…He directs his workers and the work in the ways He sees fit

Thanks again for your comments…

Grace and Peace,

Pete

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