Sam Wells: ‘At the Heart, On the Edge’

‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’ (Isaiah 49:3)

In many ways St Martin-in-the-Fields would like to be a ‘normal’ church, focused on congregational life, the cycle of the church year and being a good neighbour. But its location and history mean that it is far from being a normal church. The movement that was created to turn the blessings of St Martin’s into blessings for church and society more broadly is called HeartEdge.

HeartEdge arose because significant numbers of delegations from the UK and overseas were coming to St Martin’s to learn about the features of its life that are transferable and seeking to adapt and replicate them in their own contexts. This recognition of its national and international vocation led St Martin’s in February 2017 to launch a national movement that now has ecumenical and international dimensions. It seeks the renewal of the church by catalysing kingdom communities. It aims to foster, not to impose; it sees the kingdom as God’s gift to renew the church, rather than as a mission-field to be conformed to the church’s image; and it sees churches as lively and dynamic communities, rather than defensive and narrow congregations. Through HeartEdge communities mentor one another, offer consultancy days to one another, and meet in larger gatherings to exchange ideas, encouragement and challenge. It seeks not to create clones of St Martin’s, but to become the international embodiment of those committed to the vision to be ‘At the heart. On the edge.’

Just as St Martin’s aspires to be a community of hope, reimagining church and society through commerce, culture, compassion and congregational life, so HeartEdge cultivates an understanding of mission based around these 4 Cs. What’s unique about St Martin’s is not that it is engaged in commerce, culture, compassion or congregational life – many churches are, to different degrees – but that it’s hugely invested in all four at the same time. HeartEdge rests on the conviction that the interplay of two, or preferably three or four of these can profoundly enrich a church and can cross-fertilise one another to great effect. The movement is largely about encouraging and enabling churches to see such interplays begin, flourish and grow. This is what it means by describing itself as an international movement of kingdom churches: churches that believe the Holy Spirit is moving beyond the conventional notion of church, and believe in modelling the life of heaven by being open to partnership with what the Spirit is doing in the world.

HeartEdge believes congregations grow as they engage with the kingdom, i.e. the sphere of the Holy Spirit’s activity beyond the church. This engagement comes in three specific forms:

  • Compassion: partnering with others in forming relationships that release the gifts of strangers.
  • Culture: making the church an estuary where creative energies are expressed and celebrated.
  • Commerce: finding income streams to achieve financial sustainability and grow flourishing programmes.

Reimagining church and society means seeking for church to be a model of what a renewed society might look like. The interdependence of commerce, culture, compassion and congregational life is this model. It sustains itself, is open to the gifts of strangers, and exhibits the life of faith.

Of Jesus’ time among us he spent 90% being with us in Nazareth, 9% working with us in Galilee, and 1% working for us in Jerusalem. A truly incarnate practice of mission seeks to reflect these percentages. When HeartEdge partners with a church or diocese it acts with not for. It does not focus on deficits (what a church doesn’t have, who isn’t there, what problems it faces) but on assets (how it has known Christ to be present, how the Spirit is supplying all it needs, what God is calling it to be).

Jesus did not bring 12 disciples with him; he took what was in Galilee and empowered those already present. At Pentecost the Spirit did not send down 12 apostles; it clothed the existing apostles with power. HeartEdge is about invigorating existing ministry and mission, not about displacing them with bright, shiny new personnel and methods from elsewhere. God says ‘Strive to be what only you can be,’ not ‘Be a copy of someone else.’ Likewise HeartEdge sees conversion not as the introduction of a new and alien story, but of the Spirit bringing to life suppressed gifts and buried treasure in a person that leads them to find their story in God’s story.

HeartEdge thus walks alongside a congregation while it discovers its own transformation. HeartEdge is not a branded technique or an infusion of well-honed resources: it’s a form of truly incarnate mission.

HeartEdge has a sevenfold proposal for reimagining of church and society.

  1. In contrast to fear, recognisable communities of hope, embodying a liberating story of reconciliation and grace.
  2. In contrast to exclusion, distinctive congregations whose life is shaped and renewed through the energy and gifts of those culturally, economically and socially ‘on the edge,’ and whose diversity reflects the diverse glory of God.
  3. In contrast to despair, faithful disciples who have discovered how God is made known in times of adversity and who thus walk with the dispossessed in order to be close to God.
  4. In contrast to decline, humble institutions whose need for financial sustainability opens their lives to the skill, vision and wisdom of those who scarcely or only partly share their faith.
  5. In contrast to defensiveness, fertile centres of creative and artistic flourishing through which people apprehend beauty in the world and talent in themselves and one another.
  6. In contrast to denial, penitent communities that recognise the individual and corporate legacy of the misuse of power and the dominance of some social groups over others, nationally and internationally, and are seeking new forms of practice and relationship.
  7. In contrast to turning inward, thriving churches that individually and corporately are seen as an unqualified blessing by their neighbourhoods and nation.

To learn more about HeartEdge, visit their website. To read more about the theological foundations of this movement, read Sam Wells’ new book, A Future That’s Bigger than the Past.