Mission in a “Done-to” Culture

By Ellie Cook. Ellie worships at Christ Church Gosforth in Newcastle and works for UCCF—The Christian Unions in Durham and Stockton. She blogs at ellidhcook.com and tweets from @ellidh.

In our second Missional Leadership seminar of the year we were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the history of the North East and introduced to the idea of the area as being a ‘done to’ culture. Tribalism, invading hordes, industry, unemployment, poverty, pollution and so much more have all contributed to a feeling of being abused or misused by the rest of Britain.

The questions that have been raised for me are: what difference does that make to ministry and mission? Does the history of being ‘done to’ lead to an inherent suspicion of motives amongst North East communities that makes it hard for the gospel to get a hearing?

I wonder whether the real problem is not so much suspicion of the outsider or the unfamiliar, but more of a weariness about how long anything will last. Factories, office parks, houses and churches lie empty because the money has dried up and moved away. The ‘done to’ culture is lonely and abandoned and wary of having its heart broken and its hopes dashed.

Surely that is the kind of culture that needs to hear the gospel! A message of restoration and community and hopes realised is very good news indeed when that’s everything that you want. The question is, how do we persuade those who are disillusioned and disappointed, that it really is true?

As I’ve reflected on it over this term I wonder whether one answer to that question is to call people to commit to the region for the long term. Since moving to the north east five years ago I have lived and worked in university cities, with an inherently temporary and transient group of people. Many students move from the south for three, four or five years, and then disappear back down south again to be replaced by another temporary, transient group, and another and another, and much of the time Christian students fit into this same pattern. I wonder whether working to persuade some of these students to commit to the region might do wonders for seeing the gospel gain a hearing amongst this ‘done to’ culture. Persuading students to settle in to jobs and houses and church’s and communities, and to make this region their home for longer than just a couple of years.

John’s description of the Word in the opening chapter of his gospel are striking:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” John 1:14

Jesus becomes flesh, becomes human, he tabernacles, he pitches his tent, he joins the community, and in doing so he makes a mysterious and invisible God known to us.

Being a Christian – a ‘little Christ’ – means that we’re called to do something similar. Pitching a tent, joining the community, settling into stay, and living in a way that shows who Jesus is, and invites others to come and know him too.

It’s not the be all and end all, and it’s never going to solve every problem, but perhaps it might be one way to further the growth of the gospel here in the north east.


Missional Adventures over Coffee: Pioneering Café-Style…

[Members of the Missional Leadership Seminar—part of the Free Church Missional Leadership Track at Cranmer Hall, Durham University—will be contributing to this blog under an array of pre-selected topics. Below, Chris Friend writes under our standing category of Pioneering and “Entrepreneurial” Leadership.]


‘So what exactly do you do at Costa?’

I liked the question for two reasons: Firstly, it was not asked to trip me up but rather out of a genuine desire to know more about the buzz word ‘missional’.

Secondly, I liked it because the questioner was very much a traditionalist in thinking; i.e. we come to church and expect (and enjoy) a set out programme of liturgy, bible teaching, worship etc.

As a church, we have over the last few years become more outward focused and reached into the local community by – as our website states – ‘sharing Jesus – words and actions’. This ‘go to them’ approach has led to a growing awareness of the need to try new ways of being church, alongside (but not instead of) the traditional model.

So, back to the question ‘what exactly do you do?’ The reality is that we don’t ‘do’ anything at Costa, but rather we simply ‘are’.

Let me take you back two years…….

In 2013, my wife Caroline and I along with two other couples started a journey of exploration about reaching out to the community around us in a way that was more accessible. With the blessing of our church we called our group the Missional Listening Team because at the heart of what we wanted to do was to keep in step with the Holy Spirit and (to quote a former Archbishop) ‘find out what God was doing in community and join in’.

As we ate, prayed and shared stories together, we realised that we were modelling a way of reaching out to our community. To be ‘relational’ would need to be at the heart of anything that might emerge from our thoughts and ideas.

After a year of seeking God, we approached Costa in Alnwick (who we had relationship with…. just incidentally) and started to meet there on a Thursday evening for an hour.

Our objective was simple: To invite friends, to share lives, to give the opportunities to ask the big questions, all over a cappuccino, and then watch God at work. Relational, accessible, incarnational, safe.

Is it a Fresh Expression as some would view it? Well we don’t pray out loud or sing or even read the bible together so perhaps not but…… it is a Touching Point – a place where the Christian community reaches out to those who haven’t started a journey of faith and simply says ‘let me walk with you wherever you’re at’.

‘I love Costa’ said a young mum, ‘it’s the one time each week when I feel supported, listened to and valued’

There is no agenda.

It is a step before Fresh Expression; recognizing that the starting point for faith in many people in 2015 is a lot further back then we think.

We want our friends to see by who we are that we mirror the Jesus of the Gospels; the Jesus who was fundamentally relational and smashed through convention in order to reach out to those on the very margins of society. If it’s good enough for Jesus……..

Pioneering is by its very nature risky and bears little or no resemblance to the status quo.

To say ‘it’s about shared lives and the opportunity to ask the big questions’ may not fulfil the criteria of church as some would see it but there is a growing acceptance and enthusiasm for the part it is playing in our church life.

Costa @ 7 is very much a work in progress. We will make mistakes along the way and we will learn. It may emerge into something else……it may not.

Make no mistake though, it IS missional.


Chris Friend: Husband to the long suffering Caroline, Dad of much joy and occasional despair to Euan and Katie –Lou. Long suffering supporter of Ipswich Town FC. Reluctant jogger. Community worker for Alnwick Baptist Church with a pioneering heart. I fall down often, dust myself off and go again – a work in progress that will take God a lifetime to complete.