The Inspire Network
by Philip Meadows
Inspire is ‘a network of people who are committed to the growth of mission spirituality in the leadership and life of the church’. The term ‘mission spirituality’ may be unfamiliar to many people, but it simply means a way of life that integrates passionate personal spirituality with a commitment to evangelistic mission.
I have observed that spirituality and mission are often treated as two different departments of the Christian life, and this causes real problems for our discipleship.
On the one hand, spirituality is thought of as having an inward focus on the heart, the experience of ‘being’ in relationship with God, and an emphasis on seeking growth through the spiritual disciplines. There have never been more resources available for individuals, small groups and churches, aimed at developing and deepening our spiritual life. And yet, for all the courses, seminars and workshops, many people still struggle to pray and to know the presence of God in daily life. We have expended huge amounts of time and energy putting on retreats and revival meetings in the hope that God will rekindle our passion and bring us back to life. But we often find that these infusions of spiritual zeal tend to dissipate under the pressures of living from day to day. Ironically, the more we hop from one celebration to another, and the harder we try to pray in the meantime, the more weary and dry our everyday lives seem to become.
On the other hand, mission is thought of as having an outward focus on the world, a commitment to ‘doing’ things for God, with an emphasis on social outreach and evangelism. Again, there have never been more readily available projects and programmes for us to buy into, from Alpha-type courses to Fresh Expressions of church, in the hope that these will be bring others to know the gospel. From time to time, we see some fruit for all our endeavours, but by and large we find ourselves disappointed with the outcomes. We begin to wonder whether it is really worthwhile to pour ourselves into such things, at great personal and material cost to the church, when so little seems to ‘work’. As we run from one thing to another, always on the lookout for the next best idea, we can find ourselves getting more and more disillusioned and burned out.
The problem is not that we desire a deeper spirituality - we should! Nor is it that we desire to be more creative in our mission strategies - we must! The real problem is that these two dimensions of the Christian life have become ‘decoupled’, so that we either focus on one at the expense of the other, or we try to find time for both but the connection between them gets lost. The vision of Inspire is not for more mission AND spirituality, it is for a mission-SHAPED spirituality. The concept of ‘mission spirituality’ is rooted in two basic assumptions. First, that authentic spirituality is about cultivating a passionate love of God, whose heart is for our broken and lost world. We do not draw near to God without being ‘sent out’ in love for others. Second, that authentic mission is fundamentally a way of life, shaped by the power of love for God and neighbour. We are not sent into the world with projects and programmes, but to share a Jesus-shaped and Spirit-filled life with others.
Spirituality without mission has no purpose and lacks power. Mission without spirituality has no power and lacks purpose. The truth is, authentic spirituality begins with participating in the mission of God as those who receive the gift of new life in Christ, through the power of the Spirit. With this as a starting point, discipleship means engaging in the mission of God as the kind of people through whom this new life is offered to others. Unless we have the life-transforming presence and power of God coursing through our veins, we have nothing to share in mission but hollow words and lifeless deeds. Yet, unless we are engaged in mission, the presence and power of God will cease to fill, transform and flow through our lives, and we are left feeling spiritually cold and empty.
Mission spirituality is the vision of a heart fully alive to God and a life fully surrendered to his purposes; it is a life transformed by the Spirit, in order to be a life-transforming presence in the world. We see this way of life perfectly embodied in Jesus, and discipleship is what it means to follow him.
A Way of Life
The way of life that we call ‘mission spirituality’ has four dimensions, each rooted in the life of Jesus:
Seeking growth - life in God. The heart of authentic discipleship is a longing to be more like Jesus in daily life. We long for the fullness of what Christ has done for us, to bring us into a personal relationship with God the Father, forgiven and adopted into the family of heaven. And we long for the fullness of what the Spirit does in us, to give us hearts that cry out ‘Abba, Father’ and lives of joyful obedience in all things. We seek a life of intimacy and passion, holiness and happiness, surrender and service. Inspire encourages us to pursue a life that is filled, transformed and overflowing with love of God and neighbour.
Using disciplines - life in action. Longing to be more like Jesus motivates us to take up the spiritual disciplines of prayer, searching the scriptures, participating in the Lord’s Supper, fasting or abstinence and works of service. These activities shaped the life of Jesus himself. Through them, his relationship with God was sustained and his mission in the world was empowered. Inspire encourages us to take up these disciplines as a way of life, in which we seek a life-transforming intimacy with God and surrender our lives ever more fully to his purposes for us.
Engaging mission - life in mission. Becoming more like Jesus means sharing God’s own longing for the broken and the lost. His heart and life was moved into the world by making friends with sinners, welcoming strangers and outcasts, caring for the sick and imprisoned and sharing faith with all who would seek the kingdom. The spiritual life that we receive from God is a gift for passing on to others in word and deed, witness and service. Inspire encourages us see how our life with God, shaped by the spiritual disciplines, can transform our relationships in everyday life, as salt and light in the world.
Sharing fellowship - life with others. The longing we have to be more like Jesus is something we cannot satisfy on our own. Although Jesus did seek moments of solitude, he shared his life with others at a number of levels. First, among the crowds he would teach, heal and celebrate the kingdom. Second, he shared closer fellowship with the twelve disciples, mentoring them in the deeper meaning of his kingdom mission. Third, he had a small group of three close friends - Peter, James and John - with whom he shared the most intimate aspects of his own spiritual journey. He took this inner circle of ‘soul friends’ with him to ‘watch and pray’ when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead; when he went up the mount of transfiguration; and when he endured the agonies of Gethsemane. Inspire encourages us to follow the example of Jesus in sharing our longings for the life of discipleship at the deepest level, with a small group of two or three ‘soul friends’.
A Way of Fellowship
In the New Testament, Christian fellowship is described by various forms of ‘one another-ing’. I have found it helpful to group these sayings into three kinds. First, there are those that relate to worship and ministry: such as, ‘practise hospitality to one another’, ‘address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’, ‘instruct one another’ and ‘pray for one another’. Second, those that relate to service and pastoral care: such as, ‘do good to one another’, ‘be servants of one another’, ‘care for one another’, ‘bear one another’s burdens’, ‘comfort one another’, ‘encourage one another’ and ‘abound in love to one another’. Finally, those that relate to mutual accountability and spiritual direction: such as, ‘speak the truth in love to one another’, ‘exhort one another every day’, ‘confess your sins to one another’, ‘be tenderhearted, forgiving one another’, ‘teach and admonish one another in all wisdom’ and ‘stir up one another to love and good works’. Taken together, these actually describe the full range of relationship that Jesus shared with his disciples.
In my experience, our churches are more or less intentional about worship, ministry, service and pastoral care; and this is often strengthened in our small groups. The missing dimension, however, is that of mutual accountability and spiritual direction. Yet this, of all things, best describes the shape of early Methodist fellowship. It was at the heart of the class meeting, in which twelve people would gather to ‘watch over one another in love’. But those who really longed for more were gathered into even smaller groups called ‘bands’, who shared their deepest longings and spiritual struggles, helping one another grow in grace and to live more faithfully from day to day.
Inspire encourages us to form fellowship ‘bands’ of three or four soul friends, in order to develop relationships of mutual accountability and spiritual direction. These are not prayer groups, but they are immersed in prayer. They are not bible study groups, but they are saturated in scripture. They are not counselling groups, but they are bathed in practical wisdom. Fellowship bands are a place for spiritual conversation, based on the fourfold way of life, so that we can help one another discern the presence and leading of the Spirit in our lives. Meeting in band keeps our hearts rooted in God and our lives Jesus-shaped, so that his grace may overflow in everwidening circles: through our families and churches, and into our workplaces and neighbourhoods. Meeting in band is not an end in itself but a means of strengthening our spiritual life in order to support our missionary activities, as individuals and in partnership with others.
A Way of Connecting
Crucial to the Inspire vision is connecting fellowship bands into a network for training, equipping and supporting people in a life of mission spirituality. Inspire is developing a full range of resources and guides to help people reflect on the way of life, relate to one another in band and respond in their daily lives. This pattern of reflecting-relatingresponding is what we call the ‘rhythm of discipleship’, which has meeting in band at its heart. It can help preserve the spiritual fruit of retreats and revivals, by keeping them rooted in the mission of God. And it can help empower the missionary impact of projects and programmes, by keeping them rooted in the life of God.
People are finding this rhythm of discipleship fits well in a number of different contexts. Those who are already meeting in small groups - like prayer triplets - are looking to Inspire as a way of becoming more intentional about their spiritual life and discipleship. Others are starting bands as a way of encouraging discipleship and leadership development in their churches. Some are exploring how Inspire might help add a discipleship dimension to mission activities, such as Fresh Expressions. Inspire is also making an impact among student groups, and some colleges are partnering with us to explore how the vision can help develop their practices of spiritual formation.
If you are interested in exploring the vision of Inspire further, then here are a few ways you might get involved:
Register on the Inspire website and you will have access to a growing set of forums, resources and other news (www.inspire-network.org.uk)
Contact us personally with any questions, and perhaps arrange for us to come and deliver an seminar for your church or area
Consider joining or forming a band, for which we have step by step guides (see the Engage section of the website)
Explore how Inspire can help develop small group ministry in your church
Discern whether you church, organization or network might become a partner with Inspire
The Revd Dr Phillip Meadows us Co-ordinator of the Inspire Network
METConnexion Summer 2010 pp.17-19