Making new wineskins – waiting for the wine

How to write the history of a community concisely and truthfully?
OK, here we go.

Revive was the name given to a youth event started in Leeds in 1993, where I was working as a youth pastor in a large-ish suburban Baptist church. As a “goth” teenager I had been blown away by the Nine O’clock Service just down the road in Sheffield, and knew that life could never be the same. During my years as a student and trainee youthworker in Oxford I got together with friends old and new to try to do what I had seen. The resultant community, called JOY, was a fantastic impression of NOS on a shoestring budget, and we drew a reasonable crowd. I guess we were very impressed that we had worked out that church wasn’t a building, although in retrospect I think we still saw church as a meeting or event. The community lived to service this huge machine that we had put in motion.

So I was pretty determined not to do anything like that again, yet after a couple of years of doing schools work and trying to “unchurch” the “churched” young people, we had a bit of a problem – enthusiastic, committed young people who thought that church was boring. Young people began to write their own music and after realising that the rest of the church were never going to enjoy grunge worship, revive was born. At first it was just a regular meeting, part of the youth ministry programme. Then quite a lot of young adults started coming. Finally, God got involved.

In retrospect, I suppose I saw myself as making a new wineskin, that perhaps God would fill with wine one day. I don’t suppose my expectations were too high. Yet in the summer of 1995 a lot of people started praying. Mornings. Nights. It wasn’t me being a good youth leader, it really seemed that God was stirring something up. On Sunday nights we would go out onto the top of a hill overlooking Leeds and pray. After a long, hot, exciting summer it became clear that in seeing the city our vision had enlarged. We wanted to move revive from a back room into the city.

To cut a long story short, it took a further two years to turn revive into a “proper” church. Baptists are very good at elongated decision-making processes, and there was personal tragedy mixed in with those two years as well. Which meant that what had started out as a large, triumphant youth church turned into a small, struggling young adult church before we’d even begun. Yet we found that there are quite a few struggling young adults out there and we have grown ever so slowly, attracting a mixture of disenchanted Christians, new graduates attracted to the work we do in the community, and even a few new followers of Jesus who have often made contact with us through our presence in the music scene in Leeds.

Despite the fact that we are overloaded with fantastic musical talent (buy the CDs!) and many of us love hanging out together (particularly in our network of small groups), our focus at the moment is moving away from meetings as the centre of community. Only recently we realised that in our desire to accept everyone, we had perpetuated a cruel myth: going to church = Christian commitment. I guess it’s something we inherited from our past. Instead, we are trying to look at something a bit like a monastic “rule of life” (the stuff that every follower of Jesus has to do, no question) and then ask, “how can we facilitate this?” To be part of revive means that in some way I am accountable to “us” for my relationship with God, my lifestyle, working out who God wants me to be and going for it… that sort of thing. We’ll probably still have some meetings, I don’t really know. Some people will be freed up to follow God into other churches and organisations for part of their discipleship. It means that even as we are basically raising the bar on what we think commitment is about, people are still feeling free, because they’re being given the responsibility to work out their own salvation.

Revive is ten years old this month, and personally speaking I feel like more of a novice than ever before. Perhaps that is appropriate given that we are leaning towards a new understanding of community that is both liberating and yet deadly serious. I don’t know what will happen next, but I do know that I’m excited about our future.

Simon Hall is one of the founder members of ‘Revive’.