Weekly Thoughts

Selling all we have for the pearl of great price

By Rick James

Last week we considered whether mobilising the church and community together was the pearl of great price. I wonder whether, in all our activity as churches, mission or development agencies, we are missing this pearl or at least not giving it the focus and effort it merits. Faith based organisations talk easily about the added value of faith in international development; how the local church is so widely spread; in the poorest, most remote areas; present for the long term; and a respected voice influencing behaviour. Yet so much of our funded development projects actually bypasses the local church. Have a look at some different approaches.

Jesus tells the parable of the merchant who sold all he had when he found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Some agencies are certainly experimenting with these local congregation-based approaches under a variety of labels, but few are selling all they have to concentrate on it. To be honest, all but one or two, are pretty half-hearted, maintaining existing traditional projects because such projects are easier to raise money for and better fit our grant-making systems.

This week consider:
What would it mean for our congregation, our mission or development agency to sell all we have for this pearl of great price?

Glimpsing the pearl of great price

By Rick James

In my 30 years of working in international development, church and community mobilisation is the closest I’ve seen to genuinely transformative, sustainable development. Watch this two minute video to find out a bit more.

Recent research in Malawi found that this church and community mobilisation approach was more than 25 times more cost effective and more than four times more likely to be sustained than even an excellent project-based approach (rated A+ by DFID). If you want the evidence, read this 2019 ‘Analysing Cost-Effectiveness report’.

What’s more, mobilising the local church to work together with its community to solve their current community challenges can breathe life (and numbers) back into the church. The local church is no longer seen as out of touch, but deeply relevant, caring and committed to the well-being of others. This is just as important for churches in Europe (if not more).

So I’ve been asking myself over the last few months, if this approach really is a pearl of great price, how should I focus more of my time (paid and unpaid) on this? What other good work do I need to say ‘no’ to in order to concentrate on what is most important?

This week think about:
 How relevant is church and community mobilisation in your context?
What for you is your pearl of great price?

See, I am doing a new thing!

By Elaine Vitikainen

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Isaiah 43:18-19 is a very popular verse in the New Year. It’s in social media, as a part of church sermons, in devotions and even on greeting cards. Many people equate this verse with the beginning of the year where God brings in new things with great provision and prosperity.

But what does Isaiah 43:18-19 really means? Bible commentaries look back at Israel’s past. It talks about how Isaiah saw God’s new manifestation of redemption through the birth of Jesus Christ. This to me talks about the reaffirming of my faith in Christ and my relationship with God. It is an assurance of hope and peace in the amidst of the turbulent world that I live in. It does not promise of financial gains and prosperity. It speaks to me about spiritual gains where Christ is the centre.

As the New Year begins, let’s listen prayerfully about what 2020 means for our relationship with God. In what areas does our relationship need to deepen and change? Where do we need refreshment, strength and determination?

Have a blessed New Year.

Look back and remember

By Elaine Vitikainen

A few years ago, I facilitated a reflection exercise with an organisation to look back
at its life over the last 15 years. We recalled the events and accomplishments in the organisation. We also looked at the high points and the low points on the journey and how people felt during those times. Participants shared their memories. At the end, I asked them to think about who they are and what has characterised how they have worked together over the years. It was a good session. The participants were encouraged and inspired. It reawakened people’s commitment to actively engage in the day-to- day work.

This exercise reminded me of Joshua’s final speech. During Joshua’s farewell, he looked back at all that God has done during his leadership. In Joshua 24: 31, it says “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua”. Joshua emphasised that God is the only source of their success.

It is immensely valuable every now and then to look back as an organisation, to contemplate the journey and recognise how God has been with you all the way.

This week:
Plan time with your team (however short) to stop and reflect. Look back and ask yourselves how things have gone, what you have learned, and where did you sense God’s presence this year. Create space to reconnect with why you do what you do.

If you haven’t emailed us yet on how Space for Grace will shape itself in 2020, please do so as we are looking forward to hear from you. If you have Weekly Thoughts to share to the Space for Grace network, please get in touch with us. Here, you can find some helpful tips in Writing Weekly Thoughts. You can also download the Weekly Thought booklets for the coming year.

Space for Grace wishes you a blessed Christmas. The next Weekly Thought will be published on Monday, the 13th of January 2020.


How did we serve you?

By Elaine Vitikainen

The renewed Space for Grace website is now on its third year with 7,856 visits. Visitors have benefitted from the rich resources that Space for Grace has to offer. But what is Space for Grace? How did it start? What do we do?

Here you can read the short chronology of Space for Grace. This very early conversation led to the publishing of ‘Creating Space for Grace’ in 2004. It was through this booklet that I first encountered Space for Grace. This booklet was shared to the organisation I worked with in Cambodia. We also have published a Sketchnote which explains why we exist and what we do.

But how did we serve you? Where are we going? Please send us an email to share your thoughts on how Space for Grace will shape itself in 2020. We are looking forward to hear from you.

Finding rest this December

By Elaine Vitikainen

December is a busy month. We are submitting urgent reports, plans and budgets for next year. We are trying to tie up uncooperative loose ends. December can be stressful as we try to pack so many urgent activities in a short time.

But just as God called us to our work, I also believe that God calls us away from it. Amidst the hectic schedule, God calls us away to a place of rest. In John 4, we meet Jesus sitting by Jacob’s Well. He was resting as he was tired from the journey. I’m reassured that, like us, Jesus got tired.

Just as Jesus sat by the well, we too need to allow ourselves to rest. We should not fear empty spaces but instead be thankful for those moments of rest. God is calling us to rest in him. We rest in the knowledge that God is working with us. Our real achievements this past year have not come from our own strength, but only in as much as we have allowed God to work through us.

May God provide rest for our bodies and souls during this busy time. May God renew our joy and give us peace as we prepare for the coming year.

Confidence is the key

By William Ogara

What most people call mentorship is actually mostly about building people’s confidence. In one week alone, I have received the following requests:

“I am a member of an international board and we have just appointed a CEO who would like mentorship support from a fellow Christian. Can you assist him grow in his job?”

“I am keenly interested in pursuing a Doctorate, but I need your help to decide the area to specialise in”.

“We haven’t spoken for quite a long time… By the way, are you in a position to be my mentor?”

As I followed-up with each one, it turned out that people were primarily looking to build their confidence. It is about accompanying our fellow workers in achieving their assigned tasks in challenging situations. This reminded me of growing up in the village and learning to ride a bicycle with a large box of dried fish on the back. Initially I hid in the bush, hoping my father would not find me. But as I gradually understood how we needed this income for school fees and as I got more confident wobbling along the track, I began to enjoy it more and more. My father sometimes held my hands, sometimes let go, sometimes encouraged, at other times even punished. But he was always patient. It is like Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to pass on whatever he had witnessed to those who are ready in turn to share with others.

This week:
Who are we accompanying in their tasks? How can we build their confidence?

Pray through your inbox

By Rick James

This morning I was re-reading the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I’ve been putting it off for some months as I have a personal preference for the celebration of comfort. I was really struck by what he said about prayer:

‘To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer…’

‘Prayer changes things. We are co-labourers with Christ and therefore our prayers can change things. We are working with God to determine the future.

John Wesley wrote:
‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer.’
‘Listening is the first thing, the second thing and the third thing necessary in prayer. We need to discover God’s heart for people and situations.’

Martin Luther once said: “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer”. We may not be Olympic prayer athletes like Martin Luther, but if it really does change people and situations (even ours) we have a huge responsibility. Perhaps we can do more regular jogging…

As you look at the day and the week ahead, take time now to listen to God about and to pray for:
• All the different jobs on your to-do list; and/or
• All the meetings arranged in your schedule; and/or
• All the emails in your in-box awaiting response.

The Space for Grace Principles

By Elaine Vitikainen

In the blog post, What is Space for Grace , we were reminded that Space for Grace is a way of working and a theology of change. As we strive for professional excellence, following the good organisational development practice, we believe that the change process involves a spiritual dimension.

The following principles distinguish a ‘Space for Grace’ approach from simply good OD. As Space for Grace facilitators, we hold ourselves accountable to these principles:

Discern how God is already at work and whether the timing is right.
Pray for your client and get others to intercede for them.
Listen to God and to the people involved.
Design the intervention based on a biblical process of change.
Facilitate with grace by seeking to understand, empathise, support and appreciate.
Create safe spaces for more trusting relationships to develop.
Create and hold spaces for God’s spirit to inspire change.
Walk alongside the client after any intervention.
Humbly recognise that we are only instruments in a change process.

Here, you can find a Sketchnote of the Space for Grace principles.

If you would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact Elaine Vitikainen (elaine@evfacilitationandvisuals.fi) and Rick James (rjames@intrac.org).



Start with the small things

By Lorentz Forsberg

A friend came to visit me in my office. She is newly employed as an administrator at the parish level of one of our Swedish churches. We talked about our children and things in general for a while. Then she said suddenly:

“It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with my new job. I have just realised that people around me look stuck. They do not expect results. They do not even want to develop and change. We are just supposed to do the things we do and that is it. What should I do? I want to change this!”

Now this is a healthy start, I thought. Someone eager to lift the curtains, get rid of the dust and open the window to change. But as I probed with some questions it became clearer that things were not that easy. The organisation is tired to their bones of top-down driven change-processes. I really started to feel for my friend, as she was now embarking on this wonderfully difficult journey of being an internal change agent. It will be exhausting as well as exciting.

So, what could I say to this? Well, I did not say much, mostly I listened. My only advice in the end was to try to establish new ways of doing things in the areas of work were she had control. To model a different practice, even in small ways, can be an example to the organisation and its management. It will take her time to build trust and grow into her mission. As we parted, we agreed to keep in touch on this. People trying to free organisations from their stuck situations need a lot of support.

This week:
How can you inspire change through the way you do the small things?
What can you do to encourage the internal change agents that you know?