Keeping It Local: Married couple become Missional Leaders

Husband and wife team Tony and Chris Mullen have became the first married couple commissioned as Local Missional Leaders, to serve the Chapelford community in Warrington. We spoke to them about their roles and how they work together with each other and those they support in this new community.

The Mullens' commissioning service
Chris and Tony already have a wealth of experience in pioneer and cell church development and pastoral ministry, and are currently leading The Ford, a Fresh Expression led by an ecumenical group of Christians from different churches who live in or near Chapelford Urban Village, Great Sankey, Warrington.

Chapelford is a new housing estate where there is currently no church and few community services.
The Ford, which is an associate Missional Community of Kings Pentecostal Church in Warrington, supports community building on the estate, giving people a range of opportunities to know and learn about God naturally through relationships with one another:
  • Ripple groups: Meeting on two mornings a week in people’s homes led by Chris, they allow people, mostly young mothers, to find friendship and support. Tony also runs a monthly Ripple group in the evening, to encourage more men on the estate to form friendships.
  • Cell group: Members of the Ford Team meet every Wednesday evening to pray, worship, encourage each other and study the Bible.
  • Weekly prayer meeting: to which anyone with an interest in Mission on Chapelford is welcome.
  • Nurture group: for those who have either expressed an interest or have come to a faith in Jesus.
Although Tony and Chris work as a team, they have differing and complementary ministries:
  • Chris serves as Ripple Group Co-ordinator and Prayer and Pastoral Care Co-ordinator. She mentors a group of young Christians. She is also involved in Christian counselling, and developing the Ripple Groups.
  • Tony serves as Community Development Co-ordinator, encouraging contacts with local agencies and businesses. He is on the West Neighbourhood Board for Warrington, and is actively encouraging the new Residents’ Association and linking them with the local council.
Both are encouraging links with the supporting churches in West Warrington and their move towards a team ministry.

Tony and Chris have been married for 43 years, and have two daughters and seven grandchildren. They became Christians in the late 70s at St Marks Haydock, near St. Helens. The church was experiencing the early stages of growth and renewal, due to a number of very enthusiastic young women and men who began to meet in their own houses.

Both Tony and Chris worked in the church but by the mid 1980s they became burnt out and left the church and their faith to pursue their careers.

Seven years later, following their retirement – Tony was an Inspector with Merseyside Police, while Chris worked for more than 20 years in the cosmetics industry – they returned to St Mark’s to find fresh visionary leadership under Canon Phil Potter and a completely reordered church building. They received effective discipleship training and support, and St. Mark’s began to move towards a Cell Church model, which they fully embraced, becoming small group leaders and cell pastors.

Tony worked with St Mark’s team for nine years, building on his experience as a trainer, event and mission organizer and church resource manager, leading worship development through sound and visuals and church development through small groups. He also worked in community development and strategic planning with the voluntary sector.

Chris worked with St Mark’s team for ten years, developing and managing small groups with other churches. She served as Pastoral Care Coordinator, developing Christian counseling and mentoring to identify and encourage gifts in others. She gained experience of running prayer groups, church organization and resource management.

They are both experienced in the delivery of discipleship courses and Alpha.

They moved to south west France in 2009, to work on small group development and community involvement in the Anglican Chaplaincy of Aquitaine, before returning to the North West in 2012.

On their return, as they began searching for where God wanted them next, they met Sarah Baker and her husband Peter who led The Ford. Following a period of prayer and discernment they felt a definite calling to join them so, with support from the Diocese, they moved to the estate in May 2013. Following Sarah's recent serious illness, they have taken much of the leadership responsibility of The Ford.

Q: What spiritual challenges or opportunities are you aware of?

While moving around the Sunday services in West Warrington, there is an ever increasing need for the team to help, resource and to connect with other churches, within the larger context of mission, to communicate positively the vision of The Ford – it cannot exist and function in isolation.

The Chapelford estate is considered affluent, although 30% is social housing. However it is not without problems or the need for Jesus. For example, a number of young women in the Ripple groups who have chosen to remain at home to bring up children experience acute loneliness – they have often said that they would have never spoken to anyone had it not been for the group.

There is no doubt that God is moving in people’s lives on the estate, even though very often they do not realize it. There are a number of 'de-churched' people on the estate who have had a negative experience of traditional church, who need to be led gently back to spiritually engagement, so what we do in The Ford needs to be meaningful and relevant. This is a considerable challenge.

There has been some spiritual opposition, for example, personal attacks towards members of the team on social media. A group of residents have attempted somewhat unsuccessfully, to undermine some of the planned event activities.

A huge spiritual challenge was to take the responsibility of leadership, after a relatively short period of involvement with the Ford, from the 'vision holders', Sarah and Peter, who invested a huge amount of time and energy into the Ford.

Q: What might God be saying to you?

Firstly, simply, stick with it, challenges and all, and He will be there:

Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, follow it”. (Isaiah 30:19)

Also based upon Isaiah 61, to help people to be set free and to grow in Christ, to be made whole spiritually and mentally. We feel that we are 'content' in our calling to the ministry of the Ford.

This is specifically highlighted following the serious illness of our Pioneer Minister, Sarah Baker. Even the timing and selection of the house we live in has been obviously part of that calling.

Q: What difference will becoming Local Missional Leaders make to your roles?

We look forward to being supported and encouraged by the training processes of the Diocese. This will be very challenging process to develop whilst in the ‘front-line’ and therefore should be helpful for those, hopefully, who might follow.

Also it will make life so much easier to explain to people not involved in the church who we are and what we are doing.