Dave Saunders tells how his faith journey led him from England's south coast to become a VentureFX pioneer in Scotland.
It all goes back to walking along Eastbourne beach with my church leader, pouring my heart out with frustration at the fact that my schoolmates didn't want anything to do with Church. He then asked, 'What would Church look like for young people?'
After going on to help establish a youth church, which flopped after about six months, I decided to take a year out with Youth for Christ. I had no idea where I might be living following my YFC training but I was looking for the sunniest location, preferably near to Eastbourne. When I heard that YFC was working with the Methodist Church to help plant a youth church, I knew that was where I was to go. I then found out they were doing it in Inverness; I put that down to God's sense of humour!
I was 18 when I came to Inverness for my year out. Nine years later I'm still here. I knew when I first arrived that I loved this city and felt called to the young people who don't 'do' church or want anything to do with Christianity. My heart broke for the young people I met and that we had failed, as church, to communicate the great message of hope to them. In some ways I would say I was angry with the church because of that.
I was placed in a Methodist church. This was completely foreign to what I was used to but I was struck by Peter Howson's deep passion, as minister, to help young people engage with God and life in a way they could understand. He wasn't about getting young people into his service; it was about giving young people a chance to meet their creator.
So Revolution youth church was born and after two years I was asked to be its leader (even though I have had no formal theological training). I had gone from feeling hurt and frustrated by Church to being passionate about what it can be: a force for peace and justice, and a family that truly loves God and the communities around it.
We enjoyed four great years as Revolution and then had a radical rethink. As a result we went from being a programme-led Sunday evening service to being a group of people called to serve all the people of Merkinch and Dalneigh in Inverness. Merkinch is known locally as The Ferry, an area which is in the top 3% of deprived areas of Scotland.
We changed our name from 'Revolution' to 'Reverb' because we want to reverberate the love of God in the community around us.
We are now a group of 8 – with about 25 or so in a larger core group – and between us we have many connections with the community; including all the young people, now in their twenties, who I met while working in the school.
We hold a written 'evolving covenant' which we call the 'invisible bond' with each other to help us to be clear that we only exist to serve God and to share His love and justice with the community around us. Every Sunday we check that this remains our priority before we then try to work out together how we can be better at it. The conversation over dinner is about what opportunities God gave us during that week, what scripture says about it and how we can learn from each other's experience of God in the world. It's where faith and life collide.
We have several local expressions of love:
- dig your heart out. Local businesses and churches sponsor garden makeovers for deserving local people and we get involved in this practical expression of love for the community;
- wash your heart out. This is based on Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet as a way to get to know people. We're willing to be there to get to know people better by saying, 'If you tell us who you are, we'll wash your car';
- sing your heart out. This took place last Christmas when we organised a carol service in the football field.
- path people. A phone number that anyone disadvantaged can ring over the winter months to ask us to clear their path of snow and ice.
This is all relationship-driven ministry, not personality-driven. Looking to the future, I would say failure would involve everything depending on me and all falling apart if I moved on. It's important not to follow me but to follow Christ.
'Success' would involve inspiring people to love God and love their neighbour the best they can in small pockets of churches, maybe 10 communities of 10 members.
However it shapes up, the crucial thing is to have small groups engaged in conversation and meeting over a meal. You don't need a large group to achieve huge difference. It's easy to engage in the 'attractional model' of large events, it's an entirely different ball game to create missional disciples.
Reverb's mission is to instigate and cause holy mischief and I pray that will continue and grow as we see what God is doing in this area.
The missional life is not easy! But the challenges and opportunities it throws up reminds me of St Paul's words,
We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. For we know how dearly God loves us.