What are you doing, and how did you end up doing it?
I am currently part of the pastoral team of Projekt:Gemeinde (Project:Church), a Baptist church plant in Vienna. We were originally planted out of the student work of the Austrian Baptist Union, and are now around equal parts students, refugees and young families. We have services each week in German, Spanish and Farsi (the language of Afghanistan and Iran).
The church continues to occupy an unusual space between established church and ongoing church plant, and it’s a really creative and dynamic place to be. In the last couple of years, we have moved in to a new area of Vienna, where we are working to open a church centre which also has a co-working space, a cafe and coffee roastery, events hall and children’s groups through the week.
I originally ended up working in Vienna as an intern whilst doing a German and Theology degree, so that I could fulfil my year-out language requirements. This went well, and I moved back after I had graduated, and am now one of the pastors of the church.
What’s your biggest passion for the church?
One of my biggest passions for the church is to see people find faith in a way which is relevant and culturally credible for the 21st Century. One of the big things we try to do in Projekt:Gemeinde is to provide space where people can be honest about their struggles with church, and to dream constructively about how it could be different.
As our name suggests, projects have always been at the centre of our church, and we try and to make people’s dreams and visions for projects for the church come true. Out of this DNA, we have started a young adults summer camp called Burning Church, refugee and integration work, the co-working space, a neighbourhood bar, a year out gap year etc etc – all of these were dreams of individuals in the church, where we imagined what it would look like if the church focussed on being a blessing to the people around it.
I long for the church to be a place where people can be honest and breathe out. The story of people burned out by bad experiences of church is all too common – often not through the fault of individual churches, which often act from good motives, but at the same time, the reality of the pain is still there. My hope is that churches can be places where questions and worries and criticisms can be freely voiced, where people can come with all their hurt and pain (not just the nice, socially acceptable bits) and where we can trust that Jesus is big enough to sit in the ambiguity and make something beautiful out of it.
What excites you about Jesus?
One thing I love about Jesus is the way in which he sees each individual. It can be easy in church to see discipleship as ‘one size fits all’. Awkward questions and struggles can sometimes be pushed to the sideline in our attempts to be serious about faith.
Jesus breaks through those moulds, exposes our masks, draws our attention once more to the gulf between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.Jesus resists the broad highways we try and build in our church, gets distracted, falls behind. He goes and talks to the people on the side of the road, helps those who have fallen behind to tie their shoelaces and get up again. He’s not scared of the tensions and messy parts of our lives – instead, he comes to us exactly where we are, and is patient, giving us space and time as we seek to follow him.
And that’s what exciting about Jesus. And it’s what is disarming and worrying about Jesus. Because he comes and upsets the nice furniture of our churches and families and homegroups, gently but insistently reminding us to constantly look back to the cross, constantly reminding us to see those on the outskirts. The question then echoes: are we willing to come and die to our own plans that we might be made alive to his?
Who has most shaped your spirituality/discipleship journey?
Most of the biggest influences on my discipleship have been individuals I have been in community with – whether in home groups, or more informal settings, or just over a beer. The more I hang about church, the more I am convinced it is this day-to-day community which is the real transformative event, not big name campaigns and books. It is in community that we learn what it means to give the gospel hands and feet, a sense of time and place. Some of the people who most consistently disciple me and who have left a lasting influence on me are co-authors of this blog.
Incidentally, this conviction also shapes the way that I think about ministry. Growing up, I had only ever experienced models of ministry where the pastor was the man (it was nearly always a man) at the front who held everything together and needed to be a jack-of-all-trades. Such a role always seemed to me to be impossibly demanding and also lonely. In our current church, we are a pastoral team of eight (all less than part time, we’re not made of money!). This leads to a completely different feel for the pastoral vocation – you learn to listen harder, to defer more. We can be honest with each other – and it is fun to work together! It frees you from the pressure of always having to be the person with the answers and, in the space between people, it is easier to be aware of Jesus as the one who gives everything direction and shape. Having worked in this understanding and shape of pastoral ministry, I think I would find it difficult to go back into the more traditional model.