Recently I had the joy of joining a Jubilee + Voices gathering and honestly, I’m still smiling about it. As a church leader, who has been involved in planting multiple churches in deprived areas, I spend much of my mental energy wondering whether the churches I have helped build are ‘enough’ for the communities God has asked us to serve.
I worry they have too many ‘middle-class’ people in them, when we really came to reach the ‘working class’. I worry we are ‘too white’, when we want to reach the nations. I worry there aren’t enough miracles, that there isn’t enough money and I continuously pray that there would be more people to help with the mission. Despite having been at this for 17 years now, I have not found a way to fully rid myself of the worries and the weight of leading pioneering works in difficult places.
The work can be so wearing. In recent months we have helped people buy furniture, top up their gas and electric, replace white goods that have broken, tried repeatedly to help someone with lice fumigate their flat and read the bible with handfuls of current, former and somewhere-in-between addicts. There are times you feel you are making progress and times that you see people struggling everyday and wonder what more you can do.
I know Jesus loves me and the churches I’ve belonged to. I know I am not to attach my worth to the ‘success’ of any kingdom venture and yet sometimes I still come back to the questions… ‘have we done enough?’, ‘are we really helping?’ and ‘what should I use as a helpful yard-stick to measure the fruit of our labours?’
And actually these are important questions that every church leader asks. We want to know if we are giving ourselves to the things that make the most difference? No one wants to waste time and no-one wants to spend decades working hard to build churches that actually aren't having measurable kingdom impact. We genuinely want to save people with the gospel and lift people out of poverty. So how do we know if we are doing that?
Thankfully Jubilee+ set up their ‘Voices’ venture to help churches answer these questions. Rosie Hopley, from J+, came to visit our church in Hull and spent time listening to our people, specifically those that have had experience of living in poverty in the last 5 years. She gently put them at ease and spoiled them rotten all day. Every guest enjoyed a great lunch and went away with £170 local supermarket voucher.
Not only that but every suggestion they made regarding how churches could help lift people out of poverty, was listened to and validated. At the end of the day the people from our church and the churches that attended seemed to have made life-long friends with each other and went away feeling that little bit more ‘seen’ and a little less ‘alone’.
We gathered again with Rosie and Natalie Williams and other invited churches recently, this time in Leicester and shared another great lunch. Some of those that I took with me were just so thrilled to be leaving Hull!
The car journey was, in itself, like a therapy session, where like-minded people from different churches shared lived experiences and were able to bond, finding hope in one anothers stories. And that continued throughout the day. Guests were able to identify things that helped and hindered their journey out of poverty and their journey towards Jesus, as well as what helped them feel ‘at home’ in a church family.
There were moments throughout the day that as a leader, I felt challenged and provoked to do more and sometimes I felt challenged to do much less, realising where we could better focus our time and energy. It turns out Foodbank, Recovery Courses and Debt advice (among other things) really ARE worth our time.
But what was really needed, and it impressed on me the simplicity of the Kingdom once more, these people spoke again and again about friendship and love. They had found friendship and love and people who believed in them in the churches they came from. It hadn’t been easy and it hadn’t been quick, but it HAD been life-changing.
As I listened throughout the day, I kept exchanging knowing looks with the other church leader in the room. We were blown away and humbled again and again by those sharing the things that had really helped them on their journey. Things that we had sown our blood sweat and tears into… and it was making a massive difference in the lives of those that sat in front of us.
As I write this I am smiling again. It seems that I need not wonder anymore if we are making a difference. I’ve heard it and seen it afresh.
Thank you Jubilee+ for caring about our people, those that are often not listened to. Thank you for giving them a voice. And thank you from me as a church leader for helping me know how to stay focussed and what we are doing really does matter.
Whether your church is currently full of people facing poverty, debt, depression and addiction, or worryingly empty of individuals facing the greatest need, I highly recommend getting connecting with Jubilee+, and finding out more about how you can reach those facing deprivation, and help amplify their voices.
Written by Abi Flavell (River City Church, Hull)