Church of Elsewhere

Much of what I pick up on the soles of my feet is something to be washed off, but at times the dust, the residue of history and kingdom moments I pass through I want to accumulate, I want to bring this with me so that it colours where I go, who I meet and what I do. This is not something you can do with the stuff you need to wash off, it wont be appreciated.

Sometimes we feel a need to visit places, touch the land, meet the people in the hope that pollination takes place. That we become infected with what has infected them and in so doing become transformed, progressed, better enabled to be what we are meant to be, in the service of others.

I had a lovely friend called Zoe who signed up for a discipleship and missions programme where you could make suggestions of where you would want to be for a period of active mission. She wanted to join a dynamic bunch doing education in schools on England’s south coast, instead she woke up to see a cow outside her window in Wales. Amazingly, a place she would stay for more than a decade.

The Jesus followers there were a prayerful prophetically, sensitive bunch called Antioch in Llanelli. At times their prophetic insights were put into video format to be passed around the country like yeast. I liked their symbolism a lot, one of these was the sole of a boot saying ‘dreams with tread on for new terrain.

I think this notion resonated with people, rejected any idea that they had arrived. It suggested that the journey was ongoing and that we needed to prepare for new things.

Perhaps the boots with fresh tread indicated that it was going to be a long walk out, in and through the creation.

I felt I needed to connect with and touch what they were about. I loved it when we got to pray together, I also loved walking down the steps of a local river where hundreds would have queued during the historical revival, to be immersed in the makeshift baptismal. I wanted some of the history to be carried on my feet.

However it was one of the prophetic, poetic videos which would impact me the most and adhere itself to my journey.

The premise was that God had placed Jesus as head of his church, his body, which was the fullness of him in and through the creation. (“And God put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

It was a visit to that verse which brought out the sense that the body was the mobile, integrated aspect of himself through all things, through the creation and through the life and work spheres. This imagery seemed to be the opposite of the church I knew and the one that dominates the landscape. What I saw all around me, I had for a long time referred to as the church of elsewhere.

Perhaps, I can qualify that statement a little more by saying I had experienced several group settings where I would ask those gathered what they considered to be the spheres of society and each time it would be the same, education, healthcare, business, family and church.

The problem for me here is that it was my firm belief that “church” was never to occupy a sphere of its own, but instead have fully embedded itself in all of the actual spheres of life and society. The challenge or should I say challenging question in the video was ‘what does it mean to be the fullness of him in and through education? (cue teachers voice), healthcare? (cue doctors voice), gypsy sites (cue roma) etc

To be honest, because of our occupation and strong orbit around church as a sphere, as church of elsewhere, this is actually a question that still, 2000 years on, we are unable to fully respond to.

I used to be involved in church networks and pastors networks, which I foolishly felt was a gathering of those charged with reaching and transforming our locality.

After the ritual of the male voice choir worship session at one of these, I was allowed to ask a question:

  • Do we believe that our missiology informs our ecclesiology…
  • That those we wish to reach and serve in ‘the mission’, shapes and informs how we ‘do church’?

Almost everyone nodded, in that ‘but of course’ kind of affirming manner.

I asked ‘Who of us has inherited an established ecclesiology which greatly limits or inhibits our missiology’ … cue less enthusiastic nodding.

It is problematic that we are operating out of something, which even to our own thinking I so foundationally conflicted.

The leader of the pastors network, a much respected man once gave me a sound-bite which I have quoted in a multiplicity of settings, ‘If we do what we always did – we get what we always got’ – which isn’t enough. His softly spoken Scottish accent still survives as a formative voice in my head. As someone who was working hard on the impossible task of bringing our institutions closer together, I am not sure he realizes what a critical role he played in my moving away from said restraints.

Once over a cup of tea and some shortbread, we had a philosophical conversation where I was saying that I don’t have any more energy to invest in changing a seemingly immovable object.

My heart had always been to see the church change, but I had seen little of this. Mostly, the church as a whole was pinning its hopes on the next acceptable book to read , which would help them see the changes the previous book had promised but failed to deliver.

I remember saying that I was guessing he had seen the church go through 40 years of incremental, manageable adjustments, instead of significant change to itself, so that it could finally become an agent of change in society.

I said that if this was the case, I’m not going to be sticking around. His answer I felt was deeply honest ‘ yes, I am afraid that I agree with you, the church is likely to opt for another 40 years of minor adjustments’.

Do we have an inherited system that is capable of the kind of change, which can sees its primary function as supporting the saints to come to fullness in all the spheres of society? Has it managed this so far?

When church occupies its own sphere, a physicality and a geography we visit, it can only truly focus energy on perpetuating its own existence, equipping a small percentage of the saints for works ‘in’ the service instead of serving the majority who are unsupported as they stand in and through the creation (perhaps still waiting for a call to the seemingly sacred roles of pastor, youth worker, community worker, house group leader).

The thing that excites me most about a different paradigm is that, if there is no separated off from life ‘church of elsewhere’, then there is no leadership and no ministry gifts of elsewhere.

Instead, we find those abilities helping people come to fullness in all the glorious diversity of where God has placed them to be lovers, servants and agents of change. Suddenly, I feel hope that we can actually find ourselves engaged in systemic change in the world around us, more than topically treating the suffering those broken systems create.

What makes me nervous, is it takes that misplaced sphere of church to take on a John the Baptist mantle and become willing to decrease so that, what is coming can increase. I don’t mean more manageable, incremental, minor adjustments.

It has to be significant mind-blowing paradigm exploding change.

Shepherding the Field

This is the Field

Here is the first post from Gaz Kishere. I have known Gaz n Vic (Gaz is the rather tall gentleman in the photo… and Vic – come on you can work it out!) for some 20 or so years, back when they lived in Bournemouth, and in recent years have heard bits and pieces about what they are up to in Athens. I asked Gaz if he would stick a few posts up here this month. Enjoy!


By way of an introduction my name is Gaz Kishere, dunked a Baptist at 18, Anglicanised because they let me play drums at 22, then a decade exploring the 90’s phenomenon of youth church in club culture and all things church unity.

Somewhere in there we managed to have 4 children and now have 4 grand children.

What I write below are really glimpses of my journey which I hope will provoke interest and folks will push me to draw down my learning. Till now, in terms of speaking back to the body, I am largely silent.

It was 1993, I was told that I had a face like a slapped arse when Roger and Sue Mitchel prayed a Pastoral anointing over me. To me it seemed that during the secret Santa hand out i’d been given a Mrs Miggins Pie Shop embossed tea towel. Nothing of that title spoke of daring adventure or dynamism.

The last three years of my life in organised Christianity was spent as pastor of our ragamuffin crew of co-workers and people we had helped navigate a way from institutionalism to find, for me, we had only travelled a few feet from such ideas.

It was a beautiful human being from YWAM called Jeff Pratt showing up in town which was the final nail in the coffin. He was one of those troubling empathic Jesus types who asks actual questions, ones where everything in you rushes to your mouth to share the truth. ‘Hows things with you guys’? he asked ‘Awful’ I replied , ‘we are burned out and feel total fakers, do we wait to be found out or just confess that we don’t really do people’.

We had considered stepping back for a few months now, doing it all properly, a smiling face handover masking the trauma. Jeff asked how long do you have left in you… my answer ‘Two Weeks !’

It was unfair of me as an extreme introvert who has learned to engage for the sake of others, to suggest I don’t enjoy being around people. I would not discover for another decade that it was simply the wrong context, the fold. We had overstayed beyond our shelf life and my memory of it is that we left with our hair on fire, running.

After 6 years working in community development and counter human trafficking (sex exploited children), my wife and I felt compelled to work in Athens where we have been engaged in the refugee crisis for the last 4 years.

I would like to suggest that this dislodging from the known and the inherited was prophetic and at no point was born out of a desire to leave church, but to pursue it. It was and continues to be a revelation to me what constraints I have had to cast off along the way. I would though have to confess that as one who organised the body to gather in prayer and seek prophetic pathways, I could no longer pray for God to make a space for us, the saints, and for nobody to walk in and occupy it. This was a conflicted time for me trying to live more holistically, move forwards and at the same time not wanting to cause more wounds in the land or to the body.

My first formal meeting in Athens to discuss Child Protection from exploitation would set the scene for most of our time here. I met a young lady in a coffee shop to discuss doing a workshop with unaccompanied Iranian and Afghan minors.

15 minutes into conversation she broke down in tears, talking about burn out and dysfunctions in team and the project.

Have you ever felt made for a moment? I felt like the accumulation of everything I had done, every season I had walked through, my dislodging from inherited thinking and structures was for now.

I simply said ‘I can help with that, I can help with all of that if you let me’.

Since that moment I have been working with grass roots projects, workers, leaders, founders in what I can only refer to as helping them come to fullness.

I invest in them, and I work with them to challenge and uproot ‘life and outcomes limiting structures and organisational cultures’.

I view all of these people, none of them Christian, to be about the work of the Kingdom. All of whom fight for justice, stand between the oppressor and the oppressed, people who break themselves at the feet of the least and the disinherited.

It is in this field, I can finally accept the words ‘shepherd’, and I have.

Everything that is both right and wrong about organised Christianity has prepared me to arrive here and be useful. Having said this, it is my current opinion that very little of organised Christianity can help me stand here. It is not the well that I drink from, nor the context of my learning.

I have deeply imbedded myself amongst those who have not needed to re enter the land nor come from no such alternative universe as the church. They have only, always dwelled fully in the creation, responding to its groans.

I have undergone an immersion, a re baptism back into culture, back into society alongside Kingdom people. The reality of those I see, and what they do, it screams to me that these were their works, prepared in advance for them to do at their conception. I know there is no kingless kingdom, but I cannot ever say they do not flow from the same king as I.

I stand with ordinary extraordinary people who are getting on with it.

This is the field.

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