In my last couple of posts, I’ve began to share about key prophetic messages that have been heard by Oxford Community Church since it was founded in 1985, and which we have seen fulfilled.
What an encouragement, then, to hear Martin Dunkley at our Area Celebration on Sunday, as he spoke from Deuteronomy 11:8-15 about us receiving an ‘upgrade in grace and favour.’ I do believe that God is leading us out the heaviness that many in the church described just last autumn, first into fresh hope, and now into fresh faith. I can see the level of expectation rising all around me, and it’s good!
I am soon going to be writing about prophetic promises still to be fulfilled, but I first want to finish off my list of some already realised.
#6 – Lego Bricks
In 2005, Graham Hipwell had a vision of the church becoming like Lego bricks, which was about being able to reconfigure our organisation easily for the sake of growth.
Until that time, our church meetings were very much about Sundays and Thursdays. On Sundays, we all gathered together in one place, and on Thursdays we gathered together in smaller groups in people homes. We met at 10.30 on Sunday, and 7.45pm on Thursdays. And, if we were honest, we all rather liked it, because we all knew where we were at!
But God was speaking to us about us becoming more flexible and, despite it sometimes feeling less comfortable, that promise has been realised.
We have learnt that the whole point of meetings is that they are for people. People are not made for meetings, but meetings are for people! Our groups now meet according to the needs of the people in them, and the people who might join them.
It is easy to miss how big a culture change this has been. As we continue our pursuit of ‘communities that bring heaven to earth,’ but we now do so with a flexibility that once seemed impossible.
#7 – Tents of Meeting
Another few years later, another vision. This was seen by Stuart Clare in 2008:
I saw the inside of The King’s Centre and there were tents pitched indoors all around the hall. Families and groups in the church were trying to recreate how things are at our summer camp, but it wasn't quite right because we were all inside The King’s Centre.
Then I saw groups of people taking down their tents and going back out to where they live and pitching them again in the neighbourhood where they live, and started to invite people in - make hot chocolate or dinner - for others around, just like at the camps, but to those outside the church.
I then saw the inside of The King’s Centre again, and with all the tents removed, the centre was like one of those large distribution centre's you see organisations like Oxfam use to send out emergency supplies from in a crisis. There was a real buzz about the centre, as people felt that they were responding to a real need (emergency) outside the church.
This was received as a prophetic promise that we could see our church community include people from outside the church.
Again, it would be easy to miss just how far-fetched this seemed. At that time, I had been overseeing our ‘community groups’ for about 7 years, and I could not remember any occasion when anyone from outside the church had attended any regular meeting of a small group in the church.
And so, prompted by this vision, we began to question what we had, and to explore what could be.
Now, in 2016, there are groups meeting every single week where church members enjoy time together with people outside the church, sharing the love we have found in Christ for one another. These groups may meet to do craft or to play games, or as a book club or in a café. They may read the Bible, or pray, or simply share stories of what is happening in our lives as we follow Jesus.
This degree of inclusivity, which we read about in the gospels, was once beyond our experience – but now it is a promise fulfilled.
#8 – Lighthouse School
When I began leading Oxford Community Church in 2005, there was already a dream of a new Christian school in Oxford. At one point, it has been thought that the hundred-or-so seniors at The King’s School in Witney might move to the city, but that proved not to be right.
In 2007, I was visiting family and took time out to walk on Cleeve Common near Cheltenham and to pray. Somewhere near Castle Rock, I suddenly had the phrase, ‘A Lighthouse School,’ and I could see in my mind’s eye a school into which light streamed from heaven, and out from which light streamed into the local community. This brought together two things that had previously seemed incompatible: a distinctively Christian, dynamically spiritual school, and a school focused on a local community.
As I began to share this vision, I found that people across the church came together behind it. This surprising unity, where there had previously been some strongly-held disagreement, was the first miracle of many that would eventually be seen, as a small group of people then set themselves to pray regularly for this dream of a new ‘Local Community School’ to become a reality.
In 2008, I ran a half marathon to raise funds to assess a Victorian school building in Cowley, thinking we could maybe create an infant school for about 50 children, but that also proved not to be right.
In 2012, with Chapel St Community Schools, we put in a bid for Tyndale Community School, which opened in September 2013. It now has 180 children, which will grow to over 400, as word spreads through the community that there is a new Christian school that will meet local needs.
#9 – One to Three
Ten years ago, I had a number of conversations with friends in established Christian denominations about the likely future of churches like OCC, and they were far from encouraging!
The widespread perception was that the churches then known as ‘New Churches,’ which had formed with great enthusiasm around key charismatic leaders in the 1970s, would mostly likely peter out or implode when the founding father(s) retired, because of the difficulty of transitioning to a second generation.
Thankfully, God had a better word to speak.
Once again, it came through Bryn Franklin, who received a vision of a house that had been repeatedly extended as the family had grown. He saw that its plumbing was now very complex and he felt God say that it was time to rip out the plumbing, and to replace the plumbing with three hearths around which people could gather and find fellowship and warmth again.
These words spoke a promise of seeing through a major organisational change in good order and with ongoing life! They led to a great deal of prayer, and to the development of numerous leaders, as many people stepped up to become pillars of the church for the next generation.
Now, in 2016, Steve Thomas has handed on leadership of the whole of Oxfordshire Community Churches, and there are three groups of churches – around Oxford, and to the South and West – that are healthy, and still planting churches, and also attracting other churches to join our family.
There is much that we do not yet know about the future, but we do know that God will continue to lead us and to do more than we can ask or would ever imagine!
(Next: Cities, children and nations; the poor; the nations; supernatural young adults)