The Story We Belong To
Our story begins in a garden (Genesis 2:8) – a garden that was full of the patterns of heaven, with mankind and maker in intimate relationship. As we walked and talked together, a breathtaking privilege was extended to us: to work with God to extend the life of the garden to the whole earth (Genesis 1:28). To paint the earth with patterns of heaven.
But seduced by a life revolving around ourselves – a life where we are God – we took our own path (Genesis 3:6). The garden cracked under the weight of our rebellion, and human life – intended for so much more – became a pattern of death (Genesis 6:11). We filled the earth with violence instead of goodness. And we have lurched through the course of human history affected by the consequences ever since.
But amidst the turbulence, amidst the pain, hope lived on. Hope of a One who would jump into the mess we had made to pull us out of it. Hope of a One who would find us wandering around lost and show us the way home. Hope of a One who would mend all we had broken. Hope that the God we gave up on, had not given up on us.
And that hope was not disappointed. Life itself came in love (John 3:16). Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, broke the grip of death in the world and made a way home (Colossians 1:20). He repainted the patterns of heaven for all to see: sinners forgiven, lepers healed, corruption exposed. Women liberated, the poor defended, prodigals embraced. Outcasts and royalty equally loved and equally pursued.
He came as the great renovator and restorer, taking all that was broken and making it new again. In doing so, he forever altered the trajectory of our world. It no longer bends towards death but life; no longer towards fear but hope; no longer towards slavery but freedom. It bends towards a future where there is no more pain or death or sickness (Revelation 21:1-5).
This, we believe, is the context for our discipleship. This is the story we belong to. As Jesus went about his life of reconciliation and renewal he gathered around him a small group of people who were unremarkable in the world's eyes. He showed them up close the patterns of heaven and invited them to live with the same contagious life (Matthew 10:1-15).
As Jesus' church, that invitation extends to us (Matthew 28:18-20). We are now those unremarkables, called out to be co-workers with Christ. A people daily being made new by his grace and filled with his Holy Spirit, renewing the world around us.
We are called to be incessantly motivated artists re-writing the story of this world and re-painting the landscape of culture with patterns of heaven so that all who see them may come to know the radical love of Jesus Christ.
Apprentices of Jesus
When Jesus gathered that group of unremarkables and commanded them to "go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19) he used the Greek word mathetes, which meant student – or, perhaps more accurately, apprentices. Go and make apprentices.
Apprentices of rabbis in Jesus' time had three priorities: being with the rabbi (Mark 3:13), becoming like the rabbi and seeing the world the way they did (Luke 11:1), and doing what the rabbi did (Matthew 10:1-15). This required everything of the apprentices, and it was considered a privilege to be called into this way of life.
This is how we understand discipleship today, too. We want to be apprentices of Jesus who – over time and from one degree to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18) – learn ways of living each day in this city that enable us to be with him, become like him and do the things he did. We want to be students learning the patterns of heaven and how to paint them ourselves.
As we do this together, we believe we'll see not just see our own lives changed, but our city changed too.
The Power of Patterns
A city like London is a formation-machine. It’s a ‘concrete rabbi’ demanding its inhabitants become like it and adopt its lifestyle. For better and for worse but never for neutral.
It does so because it is fundamentally an habitual city. Our time, our energy and our resources get drawn into daily rituals, embodied practices. And these habits are powerful. As Tish Warren puts it: "the crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines". They re-wire us from the core to see the world in a certain way, and to desire certain things. It means the habits of our lives shape the desires of our lives which in turn shape the direction of our lives. And we're convinced that the message of Jesus and the testimony of history is that misdirected loves lead to misdirected lives.
All this means that if we wake up tomorrow and just live out a normal day in the city, we will be shaped; we will be 'discipled'. The question is simply, ‘into whose likeness and towards what kingdom?’ Are we being apprentices of the city or apprentices of Jesus?
If these patterns of living are shaping how we love, then the goal of discipleship is – as James KA Smith puts it – "to curate our hearts to be attentive to and intentional about what we love". And that is the purpose of these groups: to contend for patterns of living in this city that re-direct our loves towards Jesus and his kingdom; to form patterns of living that renew the world. We want to be apprentices of Jesus – learning his unforced rhythms of grace – so that we can live right in the thick of this extraordinary city in order to shape it and renew it. A creative minority on a mission to serve God's purpose to make all things new.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
This Jesus-shaped way of life is only made possible by the Holy Spirit: the power and presence of Jesus in us (John 14:16-17). If we want to see renewal in the our city, we need a move of the Spirit in our lives.
These spirit-filled patterns are the daily architecture for that renewal: simple, daily and unforced rhythms of grace that help us host and keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) in such a way that we are shaped and in turn shape the culture around us. Renewal must start with us and no amount of our will power will bring it about: only a move of his power.