Recycling Time

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Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.

We’re big fans of the work of 3DM at Forge - they’ve done some really excellent work, and we refer to them a lot during the Invest course. Their LifeShapes discipleship material is a fantastic way to present key discipleship principles in a way that is not only memorable, but duplicatable: making disciples who make disciples1. Their work on “Missional Communities”, which Mike Breen has been developing over a number of years, both in the UK and in the US, is exemplary.

However, one of the things we are always encouraging people to do is to ensure that they take nothing at face value - we should strive to be reflective practitioners, always looking to prayerfully and scripturally evaluate everything in life. As the current assessor of Invest assignments, people will get good marks for backing up their own theories with relevant reading. But they’ll get great marks for critically evaluating those sources, rather than just accepting them at face value.

All this is a very long introduction to a principle that has been doing the rounds, and which originated (for me, at least) with 3DM, that I have been contemplating over the past few days. The hypothesis is as follows: if we divide our days into 3 “slots” - morning, afternoon and evening - and we look at a month of slots, then even the most dedicated of our church members will only be committing between 8 and 12 slots per month. 4 Sunday services, 4 small group/Bible studies, and maybe a few other activities, such as a prayer meeting, or serving at a foodbank. Breen’s suggestion is that we look to recycle (or, perhaps more accurately, re-purpose) these slots for more missional activity. Therefore we release people from, say, 2 of their Sunday services and 2 of their small group meetings per month, and encourage them into more missionally-focused activities, whatever that may be.2

Here is my dilemma. One of the biggest struggles in our westernised, often middle-class, and often still Christendom-focused3 churches, is to help people break down the sacred/secular divide they have placed on their lives. Jesus knew no such compartmentalisation in His life, and I suspect that the distinction would have been impossible to find in His disciples post-Pentecost. However, for many of us our lives have been built on it. We have home, church and work, and the 3 things only infrequently collide. Let me be clear - this is not just about breaking down any sectarianism that has seeped into our church, and reengaging appropriately with culture, as important at that may be. It’s about achieving an holistic balance within our own lives, where Jesus is the centre of everything we do, whether that activity has been traditionally regarded as “spiritual” or not.

Therefore, I wonder whether or not 3DM’s recycled time idea is actually an unhelpful tool, that only increases the mindset of sacred/secular division. Perhaps, instead, we should look at our 84 slots per month, and apply their LifeShapes triangle4 to them - ask how many slots are focused on our UP relationship to God, how to many to our IN relationship to our church family, and how many to our OUT relationship to the world. Would this not be a more helpful exercise?

Now, I hear you ask, I work 8 slots a week at a full-time job. Where does that fit with this? You ask this precisely because of the sacred/secular mindset that, for most of us, we were brought up with, regardless of whether or not we were brought up in a Christian home. The answer is, for most people, that some of that time will be glorifying God (UP) through our dedicated work as an employee, and some of it will be building relationships with our co-workers who (mostly) don’t know Jesus (OUT).

So - when it comes to recycling time, I wonder if we first should look to the balance of our life, and look to rebalance things in that way. Tim Chester5 and Steve Timmis, in their excellent, and challenging, book Total Church suggest that we should be looking to inject “gospel intentionality” in our lives - that we simply allow the ordinary things in our life to become infused with the gospel, so that “evangelism is not an activity to be squeezed into our busy schedules. It becomes an intention that we carry with us throughout our day.” Their method? To build relationships by inviting others into our lives through the activities we already do - whether that’s eating a meal, going shopping, walking the dog, or anything else.

Perhaps the key lies in both these approaches - evaluating all of life as sacred, injecting gospel intentionality into the “ordinary” and repurposing “church” activity more effectively?

  1. For more on LifeShapes, check out Building a Discipleship Culture (or Kindle edition here ) or A Passionate Life 

  2. In their structure, the missional activity would usually be defined by their missional community, which is a group of 30-50 people with a clear missional focus. However, the principle applies equally well outside of that particular structure. 

  3. Where Christendom refers to a worldview which places the church in the centre of community, and Christianity as a majority religion - this is not a perfect definition, but it will suffice. Most missiologists would suggest that we now live in a post-Christendom era, certainly in Europe, but increasingly in the US as well. 

  4. For more on the “Triangle”, see here 

  5. Tim has an excellent blog at 

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