The Joshua Centre

Monday, 26 January, 2015

Richard White, former Canon for Mission and Evangelism at Liverpool Cathedral and now Director of the Joshua Centre for Pioneer Ministry, introduces a new partnership between the cathedral and diocese.

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Richard White: I'm Richard White, Canon for Mission and Evangelism here at Liverpool Cathedral, which really is focusing on reaching out from the cathedral but, more and more, that's being done through multiplying congregations.

Over the last three years we've taken very seriously opportunities to plant new congregations of worshippers. So that started three years ago with us beginning a weekly, all-age, café-style service called Zone 2, which is really bedded in now as part of the cathedral and from that helping some other churches who are interested in starting something similar themselves. So one parish in south Liverpool started something which recently had its first birthday, so that's been tremendously exciting.

Then to our amazement, we suddenly had an influx of people from Iran and we've started an Iranian congregation a year ago, called Seppas, which is the Persian word for thanksgiving.

And more recently working towards a youth missional community which has been going for a few months, still quite small, but through that process, really excitingly; the cathedral, the Dean and the Chapter committed ourselves to the fact that this is core business for us as a cathedral. And that's now coming together with a similar emphasis in Liverpool diocese in something new and really exciting called The Joshua Centre for Pioneer Ministry which gets underway early in 2015.

So, it's a partnership between cathedral and diocese. Liverpool diocese I think is quite known, quite well known, for taking pioneer ministry really seriously. We've got a permission-giving attitude as a diocese; we're willing to take risks, recognising that right across the diocese, in every parish, actually a pioneering mind set is going to be needed. So there's that kind of a culture across the diocese and, because that's bedded in, we recognise that there are broadly speaking three kinds of groups of people who are doing pioneer ministry.

There's, at one end of the spectrum, there's the challenge for every parish to think in a pioneer way. You know the old days of Christendom are long gone; every parish, every vicar, in one sense is a pioneer. And the diocese is absolutely committed to resourcing and supporting that.

Other end of the spectrum would be people who are right out on the edge. So pioneers who are working to build bridges with people who might be a million miles away from the church and, hopefully, one day they will be part of a worshipping community but that might be quite a long process.

And then the third group is people who are working to plant new congregations, new groups of worshippers who are growing as disciples and so you could call that multiplying congregations, the same emphasis as what's been happening here at the cathedral.

So to specifically focus on that third group, not trying to cover all of Liverpool's pioneer ministry but specifically focused on multiplying congregations – a congregation could be a new church, it could be a new community, it could be a new congregation within a church - cathedral and diocese coming together in a partnership forming this umbrella, trying to give support to that, called The Joshua Centre.

So as we've thought, 'What should be the emphasis of this Joshua Centre; what does it mean to continue the kind of culture that's been established and, at the same time, to offer the support that's needed to then consolidate and go on to the next phase?' We reckon there are four core values that need to be seen in every new congregation if it's going to be sustained and have the kind of life we want it to. Actually they're four core values you'd want in any church. But that means for a new church or congregation, to show these is going to be essential – and conveniently they start with the letters C, O, R, E – four core values:

So, first of all, Christ-centred. That might seem really obvious but there's a danger that it could be about how to prop up the reputation of Liverpool diocese or a particular parish or this café church or The Joshua Centre. And we want to say, 'No, this is about making Jesus more famous; this is about making disciples of Jesus and helping to keep that as the very heart of it.' So, that's the C.

The O is about being open and accountable so the diocese has really been quite radical in giving permission, in taking risks, in having a 'go for it' mentality and, with that, comes quite a radical expectation of openness and accountability so that someone who is planting something new in the far reaches of the diocese or amongst a very different group of people can fell like, 'Well actually, what I'm doing matters. I've not just been given permission and then left to it. There's a right, a healthy, sense of accountability there where I'm connected back to the centre'. But it's a two-way thing; that actually I'm also holding the centre accountable. I am saying to the diocese, 'Great, you said go and do this but where's the ongoing support? I'm floundering here, or I need help here.' So that's two-way openness and accountability. That's the O.

The R kind of flows naturally from that and it's about being Relationally Supported. It seems quite easy for pioneers to become isolated, perhaps because geographically they're a long way away from others or perhaps because people just round them don't seem to get it and they can feel like, 'no-one really understands me, I feel quite lonely here'. So it's really important there's a feeling of warm relationships and knowing that you're cared for and being relationally supported in that kind of way.

And then the E, the fourth one, is about being Evangelistic. Again, hopefully, that goes without saying but we recognise there's a danger in pioneering new congregations that we're just shuffling Christians around, giving them something novel so that they don't get bored – and that's not the point, that's not why we're doing it. We're doing it to reach people who currently are not part of the church.

We recognise there are a couple of things that people might misunderstand from the name, The Joshua Centre. First of all, Centre can sound like a building and it's not – at heart – a building; it's a centre of attention, a centre of support, a 'hub' if you like. So, there are plans down the road for it to be housed in a new build we've got planned but that's not the meaning of Centre. It's really important to be clear about that.

Secondly, it's absolutely not trying to take the place of, or compete with, lots of the other networks and support that's out there. It's not an academic centre, it's not trying to replace a lot of the national networks; this is very much on the ground, in Liverpool diocese with the churches and leaders who are part of Liverpool diocese, saying, 'what does it mean for us, as a diocese and as a cathedral, to offer the kind of support that's needed to go into the next phase. So, it's not a building.

What it is, and the way we're imagining it emerging, is based on three different levels of involvement. And just like CORE is hopefully easy to remember, we've got three Cs to make those easy to remember:

So the first C is Conversation, that a parish or a team or a leader might say, 'I think there might be a possibility here to plant something new. Is that a good idea? So we've got this new group of people who we've suddenly turned up or we've got an estate that we don't seem to be making a dent into, or new housing going up there, or whatever it is'. And so we want to offer that kind of a conversation; a bit like consultancy but there's much more of relationship because we're in this diocese together, we're kind of in the same area, we know each other. And hopefully through that conversation, asking some of the questions that will make it much clearer whether to go for it and giving it the best chance of being able to really be fruitful. It's very easy when we hear about different models out there to think, 'OK well, we'll just copy what they're doing, put a date in the diary, we'll start it then.' And that might work but we think it'll have much more chance of being fruitful if we go through that kind of process of saying, 'well, why would we do this? What's the vision? How are we going to reach people? Who are the team? Then let's start making the practical plans. So, that's Conversation.

We're really hoping that some people, some groups through the conversation, say 'yes, we're going to go for it' and that would then move to the second C, the second circle, which we're calling Commitment, and that will be where a leader has a team that says, 'right, we're going to start this new congregation'. They will have the opportunity to become an Associate of The Joshua Centre. And by being an Associate, we – as cathedral and diocese – would commit to a support package for them so that those four Core Values can really be lived out, can be encouraged, can be nurtured. That would mean the leader is invited to be part of a small group of other pioneer leaders with a mentor who's a bit further down the road, helping them in that process. It would mean some one-to-one coaching for them. We'll bring all those pioneer teams, not just the leaders but the leadership teams, together in a learning community where they can look at what's happening and what the possibilities might be. And then also retreats, time to be spiritually refreshed. So, quite a substantial support package for people who want to be associated with The Joshua Centre. That's the way the diocese will express it.

That's quite ambitious so, to make that happen, the third circle – at the very centre of it – is Covenant. There'll be a small group of people I think who will covenant each year to make this happen, to give away their own experience and their own time and energy to resource it in this kind of way; people who are commissioned by the Bishop of Liverpool, people who aren't experts in all the answers but they've got some miles under their belt. They've had a go, they've learned some things. We recognise there's a level of expertise there and so they will be commissioned by the Bishop as fellows of The Joshua Centre to lead those groups of leaders, to help people though the conversation, to make the rest of it happen.


May God bless this project and everyone who is involved in it. :-)

Well done Richard, hold on to the DREAM

Hi Richard
my name is Thomas and I am a pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church. I liked what you said and I'm very interested in starting fx in my church. I will be in Liverpool together with my wife at the end of this month, 26./27. of September. Could we meet you or somebody of your team to get to know as much about what you do or better: what Jesus does in your midst?
I look forward to your answer.
Blessings, Thomas

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