Drawn to the missional lifestyle – interview with John Wheatley

2012 saw the launch of the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training MA programme. Helen Harwood caught up with John Wheatley, one of the students taking the MA, and asked him about his life and work as part of the missional youth network StreetSpace.

John, your CV calls you a ‘StreetSpace Network Research Activist, Frontier Youth Trust’, can you tell me a bit more about what that means, please?

That’s my job title. I work with Frontier Youth Trust on their StreetSpace project. StreetSpace is a national network and community of youth workers and projects all engaged in missional youth work, being/growing church with young people. My role does what it says: I’m responsible for supporting the network/community, undertaking research into the big issues affecting young people, and then making things happen out of those two things. On top of that, I have a brief to support work in areas of deprivation and projects around the London area.

But that’s not all I am. I’m also part of a local StreetSpace project in Weston-super-Mare, where we have chosen to intentionally move into an area of deprivation. I live there with the rest of my team and my soon-to-be wife. And we spend lots of our time meeting young people in the local streets and parks. In my free time, apart from studying, we try to just stop – walking by the beach, drinking lots of tea, and taking nice holidays when we can.

Can I ask about your introduction into pioneering?
I don’t really consider myself a pioneer – nothing I am doing is particularly new, and nor can I separate it from simply living out my faith. That said, I find myself on a Pioneer Leadership course and spending lots of my time hanging out with pioneers. I think when it comes down to it, I feel drawn to the missional lifestyle, despite (or maybe because of) the challenges. And it is this pull that has meant I have found a home with likeminded people at CMS and the pioneering community.

How do you see your mission in terms of where you live and the community you are part of?
For me, church has become far more fluid – mission and church are about where I live, about how I live and are about the communities that I am a part of. Despite the advances in technology and social networks, in the area we live geography, proximity and place are really important. I am a part of lots of different church communities, including the CMS Community of Mission and Frontier Youth Trust; but at its most real I find church/community in my every day relationships with the people I live around.

What would you say were the fruits or your work, and what is it that has been hardest to handle?
Sometimes it’s hard to see the fruits of your work, particularly in Weston. It can feel like you are getting nowhere – I think that’s to do with feeling isolated and being very close to the day-to-day work. But stepping back, I can see how we have become part of the local community, how relationships have grown. That’s the real fruit. But in the cold nights and pouring rain, when you can spend three or four weeks without meeting any young people, that’s when you start to forget – and that’s hard.

When you came to us you said, “I have been away from academic and practical study for two years now, and I miss it.” Can you say a bit more about what the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course gives, please?

At a very basic level, it’s really helpful to escape and spend time talking with others who are part of similar (but different) ministries. Undertaking further study was about creating the space within my week to unpack some of the challenges and questions my practice is throwing up. The reading, discussions and lectures are helping me understand, and sometimes simply articulate, the questions I have; they are helping me to form responses; and taking the time to meet others in the same boat has been encouraging.

That’s not to say it’s all a breeze – trying to fit all the work in is tough, especially around life in Weston and a full-time job with FYT. And I’ve struggled to jump back into the abstract study that isn’t directly linked to practice. But I’m enjoying it – and as I get back into the swing of university level thinking, I can begin to see how it will shape both my local and national roles.

How do you see your work developing and continuing into the future?
I’m really not sure… I’m committed to my local area, so I’m going to stay here for as long as it takes. But other than that, I just do the things in front of me. At the moment, I am working on developing an iPad app for youth workers to support unemployed young people on their search for work. Youth unemployment is one of the biggest issues facing this generation, as is the wealth gap between rich and poor. I guess much of my energy will go into these issues – along with the everyday relationships and interactions.

Lastly, John, how can we pray for you?
Thank you. Prayer for all of the above would be great. StreetSpace is an amazing place to be rooted, there are so many inspiring things going on – so prayer for youth workers on the edge would be appreciated. On a personal level, the projects I am involved in (including the app, facing poverty, my youth work) would all welcome your thoughts. And then for me, on how I live out faith in the context of Bournville, a place very different from my home. I get married this month; so figuring out how we do this together, making home here, will be both exciting and challenging.

Thanks for your time and your care. It’s encouraging to know you are out there thinking of us. If you would like to be in contact with me, or about StreetSpace, please do get in touch at network@streetspace.org.uk

Thank you, John, wishing you all the best for your wedding day and the exciting married life that follows the big day.

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