When I started full-time employment in Oxfordshire Community Churches in 1995, I was taken on as effectively an Operations Director (although we didn't use that term then). We talked instead about the gift of 'steersman' or 'pilot' - a word with nautical roots that appears in 1 Co 12.28 and is variously translated leadership, administration, guidance and governing.
The idea of belonging to a church - or any other organisation for that matter - is increasingly alien in the world today. Tim Keller tweets: "Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way." Krish Kandiah discerns a movement "towards a more eclectic individualistic spirituality.”
Why then does OCC hold to a habit of 'formal church membership'?
Recently I came across this tweet, which could sum up pretty much all that needs saying on this topic: "Church is a Spirit-filled family, not a weekly experience."
Assistant Pastor Sanjay Mahtani often puts it this way: "OCC: Community is our middle name!" And I can sometimes be heard to complain, "We don't go to church, we are the church!"
A couple of weeks ago I was talking to one of the leaders in our sister church Lifehouse (Bicester and Banbury) about the opportunities presented in Bicester as the town undergoes planned growth from 30,000 to 80,000 people, with 18,500 new jobs, by 2031.
We were talking about the sort of church we needed to be to respond to what God was doing in the town. In our conversation one phrase stood out starkly: "A church for those not yet there."
A few years back I was talking to a friend about a particular city in the UK. We both knew undergraduate students in this city, and we were lamenting the lack of churches who were willing to nurture, train and disciple students. While churches in the city were happy for students to serve on rotas, there was a 'glass ceiling' in terms of their development as disciples and as leader.
Part 2 of an article on missional communities - click here for part 1
In case you are concerned that this is just an OCC thing, most western church networks and denominations are asking the same sort of questions about church life. As the centrality of church in our national life diminishes, we are being compelled to find a fresh expression of church life that is actually truer to our New Testament roots.