Pioneering and risk-taking were the themes of the Dare to Dream conference held for pastors and lay leaders across the United Kingdom 29-31 May at the campus of Nazarene Theological College-Manchester. The conference was a cooperative effort of the British Isles North and South districts, Momentum UK, and NTC-Manchester.
Through a series of speakers, guided discussions in small groups, prayer, worship, and visits to innovative ministries, the 110 attendees wrestled with how to be pioneers and embrace risk in ministry when overall attendance of U.K. churches has plateaued.
“For quite some time there’s been a sense that the Nazarene church needs to be reinvigorated in the U.K., and part of that is helping people think about what it means to take risks and dream big dreams and have strong, godly vision,” said Deirdre Brower Latz, NTC-Manchester principal.
The U.K. church has been involved in missional sending and pioneering to other parts of the world over the decades. Sometime around the 1950s, the church domestically became more settled, organized, and structured, which “mitigated that apostolic, pioneering spirit which happens in an organization in the first two generations and needs to be rediscovered,” said Trevor Hutton, director of Momentum UK.
The conference explored the theology of risk-taking, studying how God takes risks and how people in the Bible put their faith in God when taking risks. The group also examined case studies of churches that are engaged in pioneering and innovative ministry within the U.K.
Philip McAlister, superintendent for the British Isles North District, was excited about the potential for the conference to open up the church to trying new things and setting its young leaders loose to be creative and experimental.
“We have ‘centers of excitement,’ that’s how I would describe them, where really good things are happening,” he said. “Some of our churches are doing some really innovative work, partnering with like-minded people in their communities. Out of those centers of excitement, there is a growing number of young people that really want to engage and want to commit their lives to making a difference. Historically in the British Isles, we have had seasons of this happen before and the church has never ever capitalized on what the Lord has been doing with young people and as a consequence …we lost some of our finest young people. We have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on what God is doing in the lives of young people.”
McAlister said he hoped conference participants would leave the weekend with a fresh enthusiasm and a belief that all things are possible, as well as to know they are going to be listened to by district leadership.
Hutton added that he wanted the conference to help the districts identify catalytic people and create opportunities for further development in training, as well as cross-fertilize between the two districts.
The series of speakers — some Nazarene and some from other denominations or organizations — shared stories of real experience with innovative ministries taking chances and dreaming large.
“It’s OK to fail. It’s OK to make a mess of things. It’s OK if things don’t always go right. That’s part of the missional experiment,” said speaker Martin Robinson, author and principal of ForMission, a mission training college.
Attendees gathered several times into different corners of the campus to discuss prepared questions based on the speakers’ presentations, such as “Pioneers work on the edge. What does the edge look like for you?”
“I’m not going to go out and do steam punk ministry tomorrow, but maybe with job seekers,” said a woman in answer to the question, referring to one speaker’s example of a missionary working among people from the steam punk subculture.
The discussion groups were key to helping Kat Wood, associate pastor of Ashton Church of the Nazarene, British Isles South District, in processing the ideas she was hearing.
“The question I was asking myself, ‘What are the risks God is asking me to take in my ministry, maybe with relationships that need to develop more? Is there something God wants me to do in the community?’”
“I’m risk-averse; I sail close to shore,” said Ruth Clarkson, a participant from the Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Perth, British Isles North District. “Living on the edge is not going to be something nice for me, but we’re not called to be comfortable. It’s challenging us and we don’t know what it looks like. We feel God is trying to tell us something.”
David Montgomery, superintendent of the British Isles South District, said the time is now to encourage churches to take risks.
“We felt that we needed to do something new, something different, and just where our churches were at the time, we felt it was a good thing to cause them to dream somewhat as to what could be. If we’re not moving forward, we’re either standing still or going back, and so we need to be moving forward, and that usually takes an element of risk.”