This short paper is part of a forthcoming collection on ‘Learning theology while avoiding academic culture.’ (which I will from now refer to as ‘non-academic theology’) written by practitioners in England and Wales. Key elements of this are:
– Moving away from applying learned theology toward growing reflective practioners from . their experience.
– Moving away from learning as abstract toward learning as ‘creating a future’
– Theology as an activism that takes us further into mission and social action.
– Moving from ‘Knowing as learning’ to ‘Wisdom as doing’.
What is Jesus Shaped People?
Jesus Shaped People is a whole Church development journey that designed specifically for the needs of Churches on outer social housing estates. It therefore fits contexts in which theology is often naturally from a non-academic culture (for this reason, JSP also works well in inner urban areas).
JSP describes itself as a ‘whole church discipleship adventure’. It offers both a ‘vision’ and a ‘method’ that whole congregations can capture and own and then apply to their own life and work.
The core of JSP is to take Jesus’ ministry and to distil it into a 15 week opportunity to allow the whole of a Church (importantly including children and young people) to examine practically and prayerfully how this might shape them.
It challenges Churches to measure themselves against the life of Jesus, enabling them to reshape their life and work in response. It identifies five key features of the life and work of Jesus:
- Team Building / Gifting
- Prophetic Challenge
We have discovered that Churches that have adopted Jesus Shaped People have discovered fresh vision, depth and purpose; found new ways of reaching out to their local communities; begun to attract new members. It really gives time and space for the Holy Spirit to work within Churches where most of the traditional approaches and resources for mission and engagement often do not fit well. The clear-sighted focus on the person and teaching of Jesus has meant that JSP has worked well across Anglican Churches of all traditions.
An important part of JSP is that a Companion from outside the parish helps the Church prepare for Jesus Shaped People and then offers a relationship of long-term missional support afterwards, helping the Church discern where it is being led next, and ensuring that the Church is equipped to take the next step on the journey. JSP Companions are people who are experienced in the needs and cultures of Churches in areas of multiple deprivation. 2
JSP has a particularly strong focus on including children. It takes seriously the call of Jesus that we are to become like children if we are to be genuinely Jesus Shaped. There is therefore a wealth of resources available for children to benefit from, and it encourages churches to listen to the voices of their children.
Methodology – Why Jesus Shaped People fits Outer Estate Churches
Jesus Shaped People has grown out of the needs of Churches in outer social housing estates and their people. It attempts as far as possible to fit this context.
It does this in a number of ways.
It is not reliant on people being able to or wanting to read. When we engaged with the 15 week main programme in my parishes, the only thing we gave out that people needed to read was a sheet reminding people what was happening and where.
The materials aim to utilise a broad range of learning styles, but especially those that fit estate culture best. They try to minimise reliance on purely conceptual questioning and thinking. Similarly, the material is often practical. People are challenged to do things together and then to learn by reflecting on the experience. The practical exercises are geared towards the Church and its members making a real difference in their local community.
There is a strong emphasis on the use of story. People are encouraged to discern how God might be working in their own lives and stories and to articulate this. Sunday worship often becomes more dialogical, with people playing a part; it has the potential to transform things towards being a team meeting.
This all encourages local people to grow and flourish, and for the Church to be a key place in which this can happen. It is perhaps too early in the life of JSP to be able to see this, but I am sure that it will become one of the ways in which the Church can raise up local people to be the leadership of their Churches. There certainly seems to be some evidence in Birmingham of JSP having an effect on this.
There is a strong emphasis on group, congregation and community rather than individuals. It is clearly not about some individuals within a Church increasing their knowledge base. Rather, it is an attempt to allow the whole of a Church to shape themselves more according to the teaching and life of Jesus.
Jesus Shaped People is becoming increasingly embedded in parishes in areas of deprivation in the North of England and the Midlands. If you would like more information, please look on the website:
or contact Gordon Dey who originated JSP: firstname.lastname@example.org
or Andy Delmege, JSP Missioner in Birmingham email@example.com