Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries (WPM) was established in 2007. As its current leader Tim Judson moves on to train for Baptist ministry, he tells how what is now known as Vitalise has successfully developed young and indigenous leaders to continue the work there.
Vitalise features in one of our case studies.
The shape and vision of this fresh expression has steadily evolved over time. I joined in September 2010 and, since then, the focus and direction has shifted again – much as a river will carve out its journey based on the terrain around it.
The vision we adopted at WPM serves as a holistic description of who we are and what we want to be, namely to worship fully, love all and serve the city. There is no doubt that God has used WPM in transforming lives around Wolverhampton but I would want to emphasise and honour the many inherited churches, organisations and people which work alongside us as well. We are a partnership of support and resources from the Church of England, Methodist Church and Youth for Christ, but we have almost every denomination represented in our community and that is without a shadow of doubt a strength for us, if at times requiring a little bit of dialogue!
It has sometimes been argued that WPM is simply a youth church. Whilst we clearly do work with a large number of young people, 47% of the 135 people we serve regularly in our community are aged 19 or over. Our activities include mid-week groups, mentoring, a Sunday gathering and other such events.
The Sunday get-together, Vitalise, currently meets in the basement of Darlington Street Methodist Church. This is focussed on authentic worship, relevant biblical teaching, community, creative prayer, exploring gifts and developing leaders. As things have moved on, the name Vitalise is generally used more widely with people in the community now referring to all that we are as Vitalise, they don't tend to speak of it as Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries – though we are still very much pioneering in outlook.
We serve people from a wide range of church backgrounds, age groups and ethnicities. In terms of church, it breaks down along these lines: Anglican (32%), Methodist (7%), Baptist (5%), Roman Catholic (2%); Non-conformist (23%) and Non-church (31%).
Vitalise has organised, or been heavily involved in, a number of initiatives and events in recent years. These have included:
- three members of staff being trained to deliver the Christians Against Poverty money course;
- the Community of St Chad. We pioneered an exploration of the rule of life known as the rule of St Chad in September 2011, looking at rhythms of grace as a tool for discipleship;
- contemplative prayer. A small group explores the use of contemplation for prayer, based on a lot of teaching from St Benedict, the Iona community and the Northumbria community;
- HIV/AIDS day. Apparently no other church in the city had organised a service to remember those who have died or suffered because of HIV and AIDS. We arranged a service where we invited people, including those from the gay community, at St John's church;
- inter-church relationships. A lot of time has been spent investing in relationships with local church leaders, youth workers and other significant people;
- internships. In 2010, WPM took on four interns, the following year three 'companions' were enrolled and this current year we have an intern from the Methodist One Programme working part-time;
- friday in the pub. Meeting on a Friday morning at the Lady Wulfrun pub for breakfast and Bible study. People from other church or non-church backgrounds come along to join us;
- morning prayer and Bible study. Meeting at a Starbucks from Monday to Friday at 9am to pray for the wider world, our city and each other.
- organic groups. Small groups operating in a cell church model, geared towards food, worship, biblical study and missional growth
- PODs – Prayer, openness and discipleship are the three areas that these prayer triplets look at. The intention is for them to grow and then split so more people are being discipled.
One thing I think we are very strong in is leadership empowerment. WPM's previous leader, Arun Arora, really invested in that when he identified a few people who would have longevity in their leadership potential. I have taken that further and exponentially there are now many people who have developed as leaders, both in church and other work. They are active in various areas of the community's life, including worship leading and speaking.
Some might say, 'You are fortunate to have such a lot of leaders', but the truth is that a culture has grown up where leaders are highlighted, developed and empowered. In the last two years WPM has released five people for ordained ministry, two for Methodist local preacher courses and six for roles as lay workers. Others have been inspired to serve God overseas. This is a real melting pot for leaders!
There have been 10 baptisms in the last two years, one of which was actually at the Vitalise Sunday gathering. Three people have also been confirmed. A number of non-church people have come to faith through WPM, including staff at Starbucks and people in the homeless and homosexual communities.
Quite early on I had to recognise my own strengths and weaknesses in this role. Two people work alongside me and they do brilliant jobs, each of them gifted in different ways. When Arun left, he actually commissioned the three of us as the team with me acting as an overseer. It works really well and means that not everything rests on one person. We are all journeying in this together though, in terms of responsibility for the whole thing, the buck does officially stop with me.
I have heard of fresh expressions where their future and their progress are all tied up in one leader. When he or she leaves it can bring the whole thing down. Whereas, when I leave for ministry training, I know that things will very much continue because there will be plenty of people to carry on with the ministry. I think that, right from the start of our time as leaders, we should be looking to work ourselves 'out of a job' through the development of others.
It's very difficult to define Vitalise in a way. I often refer to it in different ways in different contexts, sometimes it's a project, sometimes an organisation, sometimes a church or community. That happens because everyone who's part of Vitalise would see it differently themselves. For some, they don't go anywhere else in terms of church; it’s where they go for strength and growth and encounter with God. Others are based at local churches but will come to the Sunday gathering or prayer triplets, seeing Vitalise as 'another' church they go to or at least something which is part of their Christian growth. I'd say we are like a hub; a group of disciples making disciples.
Accountability is very important. We continue to be strongly supported by the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District of the Methodist Church, the Diocese of Lichfield and Wolverhampton Youth for Christ, and we have very good relationships with many local churches of various denominations. It's so important to be transparent and for people to know that we are not out to 'sheep steal' from them. It all comes down to relationship with integrity.
We have got secure funding for the next 18 months and we are grateful for continuing discussions about the way forward for that. However a lot of these new schools of church don't have someone on a stipend, and that's why – certainly in our case – we need to keep on finding and encouraging people who are committed to Wolverhampton on a long-term basis to continue the work. Then, by having a team leadership model, we could have something which is sustainable because it doesn't necessarily need any direct funding.