An interview with Dave Male

Thursday, 22 March, 2012

The Fresh Expressions Canada team interview Dave Male - what is a pioneer, what led you to start the Net, we would like to start something new..., what is church, how soon do we start public worship, how are new Christian communities formed, how do we form community outside the church walls, what is Christian love, is there hope for the future and is it possible to wait too long?

Duration: 14:37   | Download Download video (flv)


What is a pioneer?

Dave Male: A pioneer is really someone who is going to be leading a fresh expression of church. It could be a lay person, an ordained person, and it's people with skills that are going to be creative, entrepreneurial, ability to create and form community, the ability to articulate their faith and see a church beginning to take shape. I think the important thing though to say is there isn't one type of pioneer, there's lots of different types of pioneers and pioneering and we're finding people from different walks of life, different personalities, different characteristics able to do those kind of things.

What led you to start the Net?

The Net church which I was part of forming in Huddersfield was a Church of England church aimed at trying to connect with people in their 20s and 30s who didn't necessarily live in a kind of geographical way but would live in one place, have their work in one place, their social life in another place. And trying to work out how we connected with those kind of people led us to forming the church. The strands that led me to that are various really and probably began 10, 15 years before the whole thing happened. And a lot of it was asking the question I've got lots of friends who aren't part of church, would I bring them to my church? And that led me to ask some serious questions. And then we started something in a local pub out of the church I was at that point curate of. And again we began to understand the cultural gap between what we were doing there on a Sunday evening in a local pub and the church was still a huge gap. And that led us to start thinking about starting something new. And I suppose the final catalyst was I went to see my bishop, he said to me what are you thinking about your next job, here are a couple of possibilities, to which I said I really don't want to do either of those things, so I think in exasperation he said to me, well what do you want to do? And this was my moment and I said well I'd love to try and create a church to connect with people who are not part of church. And that became the kind of catalyst. And then I read in the local newspaper just after that that 53% of people in Huddersfield had no connection with any religious organisation and I thought those are exactly the people that we want to connect with. And so I began to form a team around me and that was our simple aim – how do we connect with those people who live in that kind of mobile social way and enable us to connect with them and them to connect with God.

When we first proposed the Net I think the diocese did kind of wonder what on earth we were suggesting was going to happen. And my argument to them was you've got 214 parishes that are effectively all working in the same way. Would it be possible to try 1 church that was trying to do something different. And the diocese saw that. I think they saw that that was a very sensible option and we did need to start experimenting to connect with the people that we wanted to connect with.

We would like to start something new but we don't have any money. What do we do?

I've always felt that finances follow vision and if you get the vision right the finances will follow. When we started the Net, my pay was covered but apart from that nothing else was provided by the diocese. And so as the team, anything we wanted to do or to have we had to provide for ourselves. And I think that's a really important part of discipleship, is helping people to understand as they come to faith and grow in their faith, that actually their money is part of that whole thing of discipleship. And we found actually amazingly within three years we had the highest per capita giving in our diocese. Many of those people, people who had come to faith from no Christian background. So I think that… I do think the resources will follow and sometimes we've got to be bold and start and trust that that will happen, but my experience has been in this whole thing that the finances will follow – if people really share that vision and want to be part of it and are excited by it, they will give not just financially but they'll give of themselves to support that.

What is church?

I like to say that church I think is defined by relationships, how we… our relationship to God, our relationship to each other, our relationship to God's world and our relationship with other churches and the church in general. And in some ways church is about the integration and the overlapping of those four relationships. And the way that's worked out will then depend on the context. So it will look different in the cathedral to where it will in the town centre or a city centre or a rural place. And I think part of the problem over the last few hundred years is we've had a one-size-fits-all model of what church looks like. And that's not always been true during church history and I think we're beginning to understand now more about diversity as well as the unity of the church. That that unity can be expressed in diverse forms and that we have a God who is creative – we see that in creation, the diversity of creation – and it seems to me there is a great model for church. That there are these central relationships that must mean these things have to happen to have church and that's going to involve sacraments and other parts of that, but the ways that gets expressed are myriad and are open to our imagination and God's leading.

How soon do we start public worship?

I think one of the big changes, particularly for us traditional denominations, has been that before our thinking has always been around what we would call public worship and therefore what we looked at was how might we change our services to attract more people to come. And I think a) we're finding that that's not working but b) probably more importantly that that's not the way the church has always worked and that public worship is at the end of a process not at the beginning of a process, and actually it's about loving people and beginning to build community and through that community seeing faith shared. That then leads to a new body centred around Christ who are saying what do we need to do together that expresses this faith that we're finding – and we call that public worship. And so it's the end of that process rather than just tweaking a few things in the way that we do services that I think is going to be the way forward for more and more churches. And that's going to take boldness and courage because we're used to making some changes, but actually this is far more radical and I think far more profound of God's mission, that God is always looking firstly to build relationships before he's looking for us to create services.

How are new Christian communities formed?

In building new community there are a number of steps and there is process, though it's more complex, it's not that you do one and then you move onto the other, but there does seem to be a proper order – and I think it begins with actually loving people and that love leading to kind of listening therefore to people and to God. And that often leads to kind of serving and building of community through that and a new community being formed together. And in that new community people sharing their faith, people beginning to connect to Jesus, to grow in their faith and everyone in a sense growing in different ways and in different places in their faith. And out of that this organic growing community beginning to worship God together and express their faith in the context in which they're in. So there is a real process there. And as I said my concern is that we don't seal each one and say when you've completed this then you do the next part, it's slightly more complex than that, but it is recognising there's a real process that begins to operate.

How do we form community outside the church walls?

I think building community outside of the church building is really this whole thing of loving people and relating to them and finding the places where those relationships happen. So it might be anything from a coffee shop to a sports team to a social club to places of work, just those places where people are already often having relationships and rethinking their normal life in a sense and saying what is it that God might be saying to me about the knitting club that I'm part of, or what is it that God is saying to me through the relationships that I have at work, and how is that working out into the mission of God. I think one of the problems is we only think church when we're in church, whereas actually we need to be thinking church when we're outside church much more, and asking those kind of church questions in terms of actually where is God at work here and how can I work with him and how can I begin to form relationships that might develop and grow and enable people to connect with Christ.

What is Christian love?

I think there can be some confusion in our world today when we use that word love and I think sometimes we can put people off by the use of that word love and it has lots of connotations. But the illustration for me is of Christ showing us what God's love looks like and it's a kind of compassionate love, a caring love, but it's also… it's not a weak love, it is a strong love that is willing to say at times hard things and difficult things. But the basis of it is that driving love that God has for his own creation and that he calls us to have for people around us – some of whom we will like and identify with and enjoy being with, but some who we won't. And that's always the call of God's love, is to in a sense step out of our comfort zone and to inhabit somewhere else and some other people. And to find in doing that, that actually these people are made in the image of God and that we have something to give them, but we also have something to learn from them and that we love them because we love them – they're not targets, they are there because God has put them there and because he loves them and we're called to love them and build relationships with them because they are like us: we are all made in the image of God. And part of it is discovering that image in them and enabling that relationship to grow.

Is there hope for the future?

I do have hope for the future of the church. Sometimes the picture does look black and I can go round churches and feel what is happening here. But I also see real seedlings beginning to come out of what feels like barren ground and it is around these issues of churches beginning to say how do we re-engage with our community. We've kind of withdrawn into our church building, how do we now begin to come out of there and engage with people and engage with our community. So many churches asking this question now, well what is church? And are the things that we're beginning to do not on a Sunday, could they be church? And how might they do that? And then this whole thing of well what does it mean to be a Christian, what does it mean to be a human, what does it mean to be formed in God's image and how is the community that I'm belonging to as a Christian helping me to do that. And in all those places I see real signs of hope. I think sometimes it feels like kind of Easter Saturday and we're in the dark and there are days when I kind of think oh, actually it's all finished. But I think there are real signs of hope. Someone was saying to me the other day that it's a bit like the Emmaus Road experience, with the two disciples walking along thinking do you know what, the game's up, it's all finished. And there are times when, if we're honest, we feel that. And yet actually they met with Jesus and the situation was transformed – and I hope and I pray that this is an Emmaus experience, where we think that maybe this is the end, but actually this is a new beginning.

Is it possible to wait too long?

I think the danger sometimes with this is that it can seem incredibly complicated to do and you've got to go through all these processes, you've got to go through all these committees, you've got to go to all these courses. And I think my encouragement would be, try some things. See where God is at work and build on those. One of my favourite things to say is there aren't failures, there are only prototypes. And don't be scared of trying something and it not working, but then asking the question well why didn't it work? What might we do that would enable this to work? And you will learn far more from that than you ever will from any book or from any course. In actually trying it in your community, reflecting on it, developing it. I would really urge you not just to sit and think about it, but to think what would be some first steps that you could take to enable this to happen, and to get going on those and learn in that process, so that you can really take part in God's mission in your community.


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