I came to an Activate weekend for the first time in 2016, and not to sound over-dramatic, but it totally changed the way I thought about the gospel, Jesus, His commission to His followers and the church.
I became a Christian at 20 years old (in 2011), and from then I saw church as a place to meet Jesus, be saved, worship God; generally, it was an organisation, and a group of people. Prior to this, I saw church as a building, so this view was certainly an improvement! However, coming to Activate, hearing the heart, the vision and the teaching, it’s like something clicked in my mind that what church is actually all about is genuine, authentic community. All that other stuff is simply a by-product, a happy coincidence.
2016’s weekend away was centred around Isaiah 47:17-21:
Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
-the coyotes and the buzzards-
Because I provided water in the desert,
rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose,
the people I made especially for myself,
a people custom-made to praise me.
This scripture was something that God had really planted in my mind months before going to the weekend away, about a ministry I was a part of. I remember having a conversation with Rhiannon over coffee in probably September, and her telling me this was the theme of the weekend and me feeling like maybe I needed to pay attention to what God was trying to tell me.
I read the verses over and over, prayed about them, read commentaries, study notes and listened to podcasts about the scripture. The verses about creating rivers in the badlands specifically jumped out at me, where not only the people God chose will be able to drink, but also the wild animals. I had a very vivid image in my mind of God creating a place that was so bountiful and full of abundance and goodness that not only are the people He created it for enjoying it, but it is drawing in every other living being around it. I really felt like God was giving this image and with it saying: “This is what I want for my Church, my Body.”
Wow! So, the great commission from Jesus, in Matthew 28, to go and make disciples of all nations, that now has meat on the bones. It gives me context, and practical methods. To me it means to go and create this thriving place where all will come, all will be thirsting and wanting and craving to be a part of what is there. And that put simply is… community. Authentic community.
Everyone wants to be a part of a healthy community – it’s attractive, very appealing and looks beneficial in every way – for you, your family, your career, your mental health, spiritual health, everything!
I believe that this is how we are to interpret the great commission, and Activate teaches such practical ways to do this, the weekends away are just a testament to the belief in genuine community.
Creating an environment, a culture, a community where people can come, be themselves, be welcomed, be trusted, be valued is what each of us needs to do in our neighbourhoods, our schools, our offices, our families. When somebody feels all of those things, more often than not, they will then want to make the next person who walks in the door feel all of those things too.
Naturally, this then snowballs and healthy community is made – where people look out for one another, hold each other up when one is weak, look after one another when someone is sick, laugh together through good times, cry together through tough ones…
The only catch, of course, is authenticity. This kind of community only works when it is authentic. People can tell when community is forced, and they won’t feel encouraged to come back. So we have to genuinely care about our elderly neighbour, the single mum picking up her kids, the sister who’s just broken her leg and can’t get groceries. We have to look around us and see the impact we could make in the community around us and make the choice to follow through.
It seems so simple when you boil it down to that, but genuinely, I think that’s what Jesus wants us to do. He wants each of us to create a warm, loving, nurturing environment around us – wherever that is – so that all the people in it’s proximity see it, and want in on it. That doesn’t mean going miles out of your comfort zone, or turning into a weird Christian, it means taking an interest in your community, listening to the heartbeat of where you live, getting involved in things you care about, and bringing your best to every moment in your life, because Jesus dwells there.
What I love about Activate is that it takes the extraordinary task of evangelism and makes it feel do-able. There’s a book, and a website filled with encouragement for the everyday. There’s a weekend and numerous events during the year where you can feel part of this genuine, authentic crowd of people who – after however many hours – become friends.
We all want to be part of an authentic community, so why don’t you take the first step? Take a fresh look at the people and places around you and consider who you could invite in, or where you could go, that would make an impact – and most of all, have fun with it!