What is the true language of incarnational mission? (Paul Bradbury)

Paul BradburyPaul Bradbury asks what the true language of incarnational mission is.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

Mark 4.26-27

Three years into a pioneer post in Poole, Dorset, I get asked a lot: 'How's it going?' I hate this question. I haven't really worked out how to answer it. We've made progress, built some good relationships, seen people start to explore faith. But the questions behind the question seem to be: 'How big are you now?'; 'Have you seen much growth?'; 'Are people becoming Christians?' The answer should be in the form of a number. A big one would be nice. But somehow, even though I could, I don't want to answer that question in that kind of way.

It's not that I'm not interested in people becoming Christians – I am, passionately. It's just that the kind of culture and approach that those sort of questions and assumptions are associated with does not do justice to the mission I am engaged in. These questions, this hunger for results, numbers, growth, etc, seems to belie an impatience, a belief that God, who we rightly believe to be capable of extraordinary things, is somehow in a hurry.

Our culture is saturated with hurry and urgency, with growth and with graphs that head ever upwards and to the right. At times we import this culture, its assumptions and techniques into our mission, and in the most part it is in danger of killing us.

I am trying then to explore and give voice to a different language to describe mission and its progress. The roots of that language are in the gospels and in the parables of the kingdom. They are in the trajectory of the gospel story which climaxes in an event that is about as far from growth language as you can imagine. The cross was an utter failure to those disciples who witnessed it. A hopeful, fruitful ministry had come to an end. Three years of building momentum, with a growing following, seemed to be about to climax with a major PR launch in the nation's capital. But it didn't work out that way. It was shattering.

Kingdom mission is organic, not mechanistic – it will not fit the sort of charts we dream in our minds

'How's it going, Jesus?' After three years, not very well perhaps. But Jesus was working to a different beat. The disciples were in a hurry too. The completion of the project was surely round the corner when Jesus came triumphantly into Jerusalem. Yet Jesus had laid down enough clues to suggest that that was not the scenario they should have expected. The parables speak a different language, one of organic, slow, patient transformation. A process that starts with the death of a seed. The burying of a small insignificant grain of matter. The humble, vulnerable downward movement into darkness and hiddenness of something that holds great hope.

Kingdom mission, mission in the wake of Jesus, is organic. Not mechanistic. It beats to a different drum. It speaks a different language. It will not fit the sort of charts we dream in our minds. It will not bend to our logic and our demands. It is paradoxical and out of our control. Our call is to partner with it, not manage it for our own schemes. And it requires a spirituality and life that is downwardly mobile, able to walk humbly in step with it.

I've been invited to explore this theme in a series of pieces on the Share blog. What does an organic approach to mission and ministry look like? What does it require of us? How can we be faithful to the pace and rhythm of God's Spirit and his kingdom? We need to tell an authentic story of incarnational mission in a language that is true.

Sustaining pioneer ministry in Poole (Paul Bradbury)

Paul BradburyPaul Bradbury discusses sustaining pioneer ministry in Poole.

Why have we decided to create something called Poole Missional Communities? I guess there are a number of reasons.

Since I started as Pioneer Minister in Poole in September 2008, three projects have emerged that increasingly have lives of their own – even though they share common values. We began Reconnect to draw together a community of people who wanted to live radically and missionally, as well as be intentional about community.

They were challenged to think and pray about how they could be missionaries in different contexts and use their gifts to connect with others. In the process of our listening in the first few months, I talked to people who didn't go to church – but many of them spoke of having an experience of God, of praying and meditating.

I felt it right to get into workplaces in Poole because if we were going to make new connections outside church then the workplace had to be part of it. About six months later, work:space began in the Barclays HQ building. It offers a space for quiet and silence and contemplation in the workplace and it now runs in the RNLI training college as well.

Wild Spirit developed from a kind of one-off pilgrimage with my mates into a weekend camp. This in turn became a series of events over the year aimed at giving men some space and adventure in the wilderness.

Underlying values – in particular, incarnational mission and forming community – are held by all these projects, so we began to wonder how to look after what seemed to be emerging.

Why have we decided to create something called Poole Missional Communities? There are a number of reasons…

Practically speaking, there was also the issue of sustaining the pioneer ministry that had been started. Funding from the diocese was to finish in August 2012 and we set up a working group to look at how to ensure it didn't all end there. It was then decided that we should set up a charity which could raise funds to support the development of the work. This was named to reflect the values that underpinned the work – hence Poole Missional Communities.

However, we very much wanted to remain integrated with Poole Deanery and be part of the life and mission there. Trustees for the charity are drawn from local churches, so there is integration at that level, and many people involved in work:space and Wild Spirit also worship in fellowships and congregations across the area.

We organised an official launch event for Poole Missional Communities (PMC) because we wanted to give the wider church the opportunity to both hear about the work and get involved, either practically or in a more supportive role through prayer or giving.

The charity is being launched today (4th April) at St Mary's, Longfleet, by the leader of the Fresh Expressions team, Bishop Graham Cray, and the event is hosted by the Bishop of Sherborne, Dr Graham Kings. I think this a really good example of the mixed economy at work, with new structures being created to foster new life through the hard work and continued support of the more traditional structures.

I believe that partnership isn't just for the start-up phase but that PMC and the wider church will continue to be a synergy in mission for Poole.

It’s time to let go (Paul Bradbury)

Paul BradburyPaul Bradbury asks whether it's time to let go.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

Mark 4.26-27

I am exploring a language to describe a mission and ministry that is organic. When I go back to the gospels in order to shape my approach to mission I find simple parables filled with organic metaphors. I do not find a Jesus driven by a strategic vision or a plethora of programmes. I find a humble nomad content to carry out his ministry at the edges, amongst the unwanted, and to give his full attention to individuals of little importance.

Tom Wright makes this observation on the organic parable of Mark 4 (verses above) – that the seed and the man are doing the same thing. Organic life starts with a seed. Organic ministry starts by doing the same thing as the seed, namely dying. Abraham, the archetypal missionary of God, dies when he is called to leave everything and venture into the unknown with the promise that God would show him where to go. The missionary people of God only really find their true selves when they willingly let go of the architecture of their own self-importance and look for God in places where they are not in control. True incarnational mission is therefore nomadic in nature. We have no home. We are not at the centre of anywhere. We are drawn by the Spirit of God into the unknown, the desert, the territory of strangers, because that is where God is.

The Mission-shaped Church report was originally titled 'Dying to Live'. Withdrawn for fear of possible headlines about the church's demise, 'Dying to Live' nevertheless does much better in getting to root of how to be a missional people of God. We have to begin by dying. We might worry less about the future of the church and focus instead on the mission of God and where we might be called to participate in it.

Alan Roxburgh talks of the 'ecclesiocentric trap', the myopic approach to mission that starts with church – doing it better, doing it differently, doing it like the churches that are doing it better than we are. Church will shape its mission more authentically when it dies to the church it has become, or the one it wants to be, and stops long enough to really listen to the gospel, to the community around it and to God's Spirit.

We have to begin by dying – we might worry less about the future of the church and focus instead on the mission of God and where we might be called to participate in it

Over the past two years, Reconnect, the missional community I am involved in, have found ourselves hosted in much of what we do by a small independent café. I have an office there. We have been meeting at the café, and lots of other groups and networks use it as a hub for relationship building. I was beginning to think this was our home. We could use it to run all sorts of stuff, and with a worshipping community using the place on Sundays, a strategy for church growth began to emerge in my imagination.

But the café recently went out of business… a small footnote in the story of economic recession and the globalised nature of our coffee culture. We are homeless it seems. All our plans seem to have been put on hold. Except that what we have invested in primarily is not a place, but a set of relationships and a set of values. These are highly portable; they can morph at will and find a new home. The morning after the news of the café's demise went out there was a knock at our door. A lady who comes to one of the groups we run offered to see if it could be housed in the communal lounge of the sheltered housing unit she lives in. Only that would mean we would have to make it open to all the residents there! So out of dying comes the potential for new relationships, new life.

Reconnect – Apr15

Pioneer Minister Paul Bradbury gives an update on Reconnect and Space for Life in Poole.

Food and hospitality have always been an important part of the 'missional DNA' of our fresh expression, Reconnect. Our fundamental understanding right from the start was that community, as had been deliberately formed by Jesus, offered the key means by which the gospel would continue to be spread. As you read the gospels, and the rest of the New Testament, you see how important eating together is for these new communities. Jesus also left us a foundational means of remembering and understanding his death in communion which happens in the context of a meal.

So food is important, not just as fuel for the body but as a fuel for mission. Eugene Peterson wonders whether 'by marginalising meals of hospitality in our daily lives we have inadvertently diminished the work of evangelism?' I thank we have, and in re-emphasising eating together as part of our communal life we are beginning to rediscover how important it can be.

We now do much of our community building, worship and discipleship around food. We have a community meal once a month where everyone brings something and where we invite friends and neighbours to join us as we eat together. At community worship once a month we sing, pray, study the Bible and share communion, all in the context of a meal. Discipleship happens around the kitchen table too. Two 'Pudding Clubs' meet weekly to eat together, explore the gospels and pray.

The dinner table is a great place to do many things at once – grow community, discuss, learn, pray, worship – intimacy happens around the table, with one another and with God. It is discipleship and worship in the midst of life, church in the midst of life.

ReconnectWith the closure of our Poole town centre café premises, No34, we were looking for a new home for our Space for Life gathering. As part our vision is to enable mission in every context, this was very important to us.

Space for Life, a creative community for women based around a shared interest in textile art, has grown from felt-making workshops five years ago to a thriving group of women that meets weekly. They needed a space that was welcoming, relaxed and enabled them to have ten minutes of silence! My wife, Emily, and her team began praying. After a few weeks they discovered The Lookout Café tucked away in The Project Climbing Centre, Poole. The woman who runs it at the Dolphin Shopping Centre has welcomed them, allowed them to store things there and opened up two hours early to allow them to use the space!

Space for Life now continues to thrive there, drawing new members into the community regularly. They have also started a new discipleship group ('Cake Club') which meets weekly.

As to what happens next, Poole Missional Communities will be holding a Vision Evening on 20th May 2015 at Saint Mary's, Longfleet, Church Centre. We will catch up on stories from the various areas of our ministry and talk about our vision for the future.

Reconnect – update Jun12

It has been a time of great change for Reconnect. Its leader, Paul Bradbury, describes how the missional community in Poole is now running the café which it previously used as its office base.

The Old Stables Café went out of business in October last year, which was all a bit of a surprise and I was left as a sitting tenant. We prayed a great deal about whether we should take it on or not but it really seemed like a God-given opportunity to use a place to build relationship and form community.

We went on to form a team and took on responsibility for all sorts of things associated with a project of this kind – including refurbishing the premises, recruiting volunteers and sorting out the legal issues. We also raised £17,000, renamed it No34 and transformed the look and feel of the place. We opened to the public at the beginning of February and it has been quite a steep learning curve ever since.

The model that we have started to present is not one that can be taken off the shelf because it isn't 'just' a café; it's a community café with a missional community at its heart. Trying to work out what this might look like as we go along has stretched us enormously.

No34 is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 3pm. We also have a first floor lounge available for various events and meetings – and Space for Life, which met in the previous cafe for over a year, is continuing on Tuesday mornings as a group using textile art in creative ways.

Reconnect - beachAt one point I was doing all the marketing for the café as well as trying to lead a fresh expression of church. I have certainly diversified in my work but I just try to follow what I feel God’s Spirit is asking me to do – and do it. Now we are trying to get the right resources to make that work sustainable because there were points in the café's opening few months where I needed those resources a lot quicker. I was getting overwhelmed by it all.

Thankfully, we employed a café manager who had experience in catering and understood the business. This will become all the more important in the summer months because we have some tables out on the street and it's a real attraction. As soon as the sun comes out, it's really busy.

We have a growing, volunteer team but that has its own challenges because volunteers come and go very quickly – much faster than anticipated. As part of our sustainability plans, we are trying to find someone for a part-time role involving fund-raising and communication for Poole Missional Communities.

Diocesan funding came to an end in August 2011 after three years and we are now independent financially. As a result, we need to make some more applications to funders and attempt to increase the numbers of individuals who give to PMC. We are also promoting PMC in the local area, suggesting that people might want to give to PMC as a mission organisation to unchurched people on their doorstep. We highlight the fact that we are very local and deliberately so. In a further development, local churches are encouraged to become partner churches with PMC.

This is all positive but I don't think that's ever going to get us to a point where we might be able to fund a minister's salary and housing costs. We are in the process of applying for funding from various organisations, including the Church Commissioners, but it is very time-consuming.

Reconnect - gardenTaking on the cafe had an interesting impact on Reconnect with four to five people joining us – one way or another – as a result of having the shop. I had shied away from premises right from the start because we didn't want to describe ourselves as, 'the church that meets in a specific place'. Our focus was on the unconventional but now, for three Sundays out of four, Reconnect meets in the café! But things are happening as a result of that. One lady, not from a church background, started coming to Reconnect because she had been in the café during the week, saw our notices and asked about it.

It's great seeing new people but it raises the issue of how we maintain that.

We are not simply another church with a slightly different approach; we are a missional community trying to engage incarnationally wherever we are. Holding on to that vision is proving to be challenging.

Work:space continues in Barclays, RNLI and the local government offices. We are still continuing to offer relaxation and space and stillness with work:space but it's certainly not church as such. We are asking if we are at a point where we could say to people, 'What would discipleship look like for you in your workplace? Could we create something in the offices where we meet?'

It's difficult to see how we can add to work:space in terms of further time together. It's hard enough to get people to leave their desks for a quiet half hour – never mind do anything in addition to that. The work environment is so pressurised now for most people, to meet for another 'thing' would be hugely challenging. As it is, it takes huge commitment and discipline from those really committed to their faith to take 30 minutes out of a busy day.

The need to take a break is something I was reminded of because I got to a point where I was pretty worn out and ministry had stopped being fun. The café added another layer for which I was ultimately responsible and I was suffering from 'decision overload'. My answer was to take a couple of weeks to enjoy time with friends and family and remember that unless you take leisure and friendships seriously, you will wither. The important thing for me is to continue to preserve my role as a pioneer and get the point where others are managing the café and overseeing newer elements of the ministry here.

Conversations are continuing about the way forward but I'm hoping and praying for the support of a skilled, experienced fund-raising/marketing person and the possibility of Poole Missional Communities becoming a training partnership so that we could take on two pioneer curates. There are a couple of specific areas on our patch which need to have focused support and planning; one is a high rise housing block in a deprived estate which needs an Eden Network-style approach in forming church/'doing' church around the community.

There is also big area of new housing stock going up on the other side of a new bridge in Poole. Thinking of what Bart Woodhouse has done at The Beacon in Dartford, we should be looking for someone now to talk to the developers and council about what kind of community there could be in that area. I don't think I'm the person to do that.

Our Wild Spirit series of outdoor events for men is also continuing and we will run a retreat again in the summer. I'm hopeful that it will attract a handful of non-Christian men who nonetheless want to explore some spiritual matters as well as the great outdoors.

I can look at all of these things because we have grown and developed as a community and I think we have a greater confidence as a result of what we have seen God doing here.


A time of 'quiet and contemplative spirituality in the workplace' may seem like a pipe dream in these difficult days of economic downturn but that is exactly what is happening in several locations across Poole. Paul Bradbury explains.

Reconnect is a missional community in the heart of Poole. One of several initiatives growing from this community is work:space which is a resource for people in the workplace, offering half an hour of stillness and silence at the centre of a busy working week.

I had spent time listening to people talk about their spirituality and found that many of them pray or meditate. I wanted to connect with people in the workplace because we are trying to meet people where they are in a setting where they spend so much of their time.

Barclays Bankwork:space started in Barclays Bank headquarters in Poole and it is open to people of any faith and none. Using resources from the Christian tradition, it offers people an opportunity to reflect and explore their spirituality within a work context.

work:space has continued to develop in Barclays House and we now offer a small library of books on spirituality and work that people can borrow. The Barclays work:space group is small because a number of employees have come to the end of their contracts while others have taken leave due to stress but there is no doubt that it is making a difference to those who come and helping to nurture faith in them.

More recently, work:space started in the training college of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Poole is home to the charity's purpose-built conference and training venue in the Old Town area.

RNLIThe college hosts teams from lifeboat stations across the country for training and development. Within the building is a beautiful room with amazing views across Holes Bay – a great setting to host work:space. The group will be meeting monthly at first but we hope in time to be able to make it a weekly get-together. It has been really well received by the people within the organization and I'm quite excited about the possibility of it also developing within the council offices here.

It really does feel like we doing the right thing at the right time with this because employees are under such pressure and this is a valuable resource for them – though it can be hard to get people to drag themselves away from their desks, even for half an hour, because they are worried about how that may be seen or what workload will be there when they return.


Known and loved by many as a tourist hotspot on the Dorset coast, Poole is also home to missional community Reconnect. The community, which has been meeting in the area since September last year, celebrated its commissioning in a town centre café in March. Revd Paul Bradbury, Pioneer Minister for Poole Town Centre and Hamworthy, and Community Leader of Reconnect, explains more.

Reconnect's intention, our vision, right from the start was very much to see people become Christians from an unchurched background. We are still finding out what happens after that. Reconnect may help to create new communities for these people, or perhaps they will ultimately feed into existing churches, or join us. We are not sure really, but we do know that we are open to what the Spirit is saying, and are working closely with other churches in a bid to do what God wants us to do.

When I became Pioneer Minister in September 2008, the then Bishop of Sherborne, Tim Thornton, conducted the licensing ceremony at St James' Church, Poole Old Town and then on the Quay. We walked from the church in a bit of a rabble down to the seafront where there was an exchange of symbols – I was given a bucket of seeds and a fishing net to represent the Kingdom and  the work I'm doing.

Reconnect - rule of lifeOn 21st March, the Bishop, Dr Graham Kings, came and commissioned us as a community at a café in the town. We had about 70 people there and started off with some children's activities before the bishop led the commissioning and we signed the rule of life – something we had been developing in our meetings since Christmas by looking at Acts and the gospels to find out what it means to be a community of disciples. The rule was signed by all the community and the commissioning was essentially a commitment by us all to seek to live the life expressed in the rule.

Reconnect - BishopWe organise felt making sessions as part of our outreach activity, and we made felt 'stones' on the commissioning day to be included in a prayer cairn. People came up and prayed for Reconnect as they put down one of the stones. The bishop also seemed to enjoy the day, even having his face painted (after the ceremony!)

The vision to gather together a missional community emerged after six months of prayer and listening, and Reconnect came into being in September 2009.

As Pioneer Minister to central Poole, my area includes the town centre and lower Hamworthy. This area is undergoing large amount of development and a huge proportional increase in population. It's a relatively small area, ranging from a small housing estate which is in one of the most deprived wards in England to converted warehouse apartments whose owners have a yacht just off the Quay. Tourism is also a major factor with people coming to work here, usually seasonally, from all over the country.

Reconnect - prayer cairnWe see Reconnect as a shop window to say Church is not just about Sunday mornings, it's about many other things. Our aim for Sundays is to meet in such a way that our energy can be put into making friends with non-Christians in the area and serve the community. One of the most effective ways so far has been to clean the local beach a couple of times! It was an easy thing for us to go and do. The first time we did it we had various people ask us what were we doing, and the second time we had four local residents come and join us to help.

Avenues for mission that we are exploring include workplace ministry, a felt-making group and a grow-your-own project on a small housing estate. As a community we are generally nomadic, quite deliberately so, as that offers a chance for people to reflect on where they are in this journey.  But it soon became clear that people felt they needed a place as a focus, a place to meet that is central to our mission.

Reconnect - Corfe CastleWe have a monthly pattern of meeting one Sunday in a local school, the second Sunday in our homes, third Sunday 'out and about' serving the community and fourth Sunday worshipping at other local churches. We dub this 'Festival' Sunday when Reconnect regulars go to a church somewhere else. We can't provide the experience of a bigger church, worshipping in a larger fellowship, so we say go and enjoy that experience and feed back into Reconnect. We also meet as adults on a Tuesday evening to worship, pray and explore our mission and community values together.

Funding was made available for three years, and I'm very aware how things take time to come to fruition. At the moment, we are really just feeling our way but we remain very committed to laying down firm foundations for a community. We aim to be invitational and participative in everything we get involved in, and work towards living out that rule of life which will provide us with our core values and shape all we do.