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This piece originally appeared as two articles in the March 2022 edition of Highlights, our termly newsletter.
The LICC team has changed plenty of times. Here’s how God has worked through different people playing their part over the years.
Back in 1982, John Stott and his partners founded the ‘the Institute’ to help Christians relate biblical truth to the modern world – because they saw an urgent need to help Christians live practically as disciples. As Stott said, ‘We are not in the business of breeding tadpoles: creatures with huge heads and nothing else besides.’
Influenced by South American theologians like René Padilla and Samuel Escobar, they pushed for a radical shift in the way the Bible was taught. Co-founder Andrew Kirk recalls: ‘the question would be asked, “When did you last hear a sermon on work?” and no one would put their hand up.’ LICC advocated for relating the Bible directly to lived experience today – ‘to bridge the chasm that yawns between the Bible and us.’
Under Stott’s leadership, and then that of Martyn Eden and Ernest Lucas, LICC set about delivering on that vision. The Christian in the Modern World course was soon delivering deep discipleship training to lay people from all six continents, and would continue to run for two decades. And aligned with the Lausanne Movement, LICC played a key role in a growing campaign to match the centrality of the Bible with that of practical action.
Ten years in, the pace remained high with a new Executive Director in place – Elaine Storkey, expert on biblical engagement and pioneer of feminist theology. Although they were a small team faced with financial challenges, staff and volunteers including Margaret Killingray and Helen Parry delivered events on everything from sexuality to workplace mission, politics to food, preaching to the works of the Spirit. As Elaine noted, ‘it was about how the Bible spoke into people’s location in the world. It really was whole-life witness.’
LICC hosted events with collaborators including UCCF, the Fellowship of Christian Writers, and Wheaton College, Illinois, as well as luminaries like Prof Sir Ghillean Prance, Director of Kew Gardens. And for several years in the 1990s, we merged with the Shaftesbury Project (‘an initiative by evangelical Christians to study their proper involvement in society’) to form Christian Impact. The name on the letterhead changed, but the mission continued.
Then, as the millennium turned over and with former adman Mark Greene at the helm, LICC’s work expanded. How could we inspire as many UK Christians as possible with the whole-life vision – not just those who could come to London? And once people knew the theory, how could we help them take steps to live like Jesus day by day?
God’s response to those questions was along the lines of: ‘hold onto your hats.’ First came Imagine How We Can Reach the UK (2003).
Then came Tracy Cotterell, an expert organisational and theological mind, Neil Hudson, a man with a serious passion for whole-life disciplemaking and Brian Ladd, an excellent financial leader with an eye for a gospel opportunity. In Neil’s words, ‘prayer was our main strategy because we were so small and so dependent on God’. The team began working with churches on the Imagine Project and in the years that followed our reach steadily grew.
Life on the Frontline was our first small group resource that could be used in thousands of churches, helping their people see that daily life is significant to God. Transforming Work did the same for the workplace, and with Bev Shepherd in charge, digital prayer journeys took off like a rocket, helping tens of thousands pray with a whole-life lens. Fruitfulness on the Frontline summed up all we’d learned about living out the whole-life gospel, and again reached hundreds of thousands.
God also opened doors for a whole series of strategic partnerships. We played a key role in Setting God’s People Free (the C of E’s whole-life disciplemaking initiative), led in-depth Learning Hubs with Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and more, and delivered strategic research with Elim. And with HOPE and Bible Society, we wrote The Servant Queen on Elizabeth II’s discipleship, selling over a million copies.
Through it all the whole-life gospel is unchanged and just as compelling. As Tracy writes: ‘I’m excited that the whole-life disciplemaking wisdom LICC has cultivated over the decades will be seeded in the UK church for many years to come.’
With all that context in place, LICC’s Head of Communications Josh Hinton, sat down with CEO Paul Woolley to discuss what’s next for the Institute – and where God is calling us.
Josh: It’s so exciting looking back over all God’s done through LICC over the years. What’s your sense of what God is doing right now?
Paul: In essence, our task remains the same: to equip Christians for everyday discipleship, helping them integrate the gospel with all of life. We want to see the church revitalised and culture transformed, whether that’s the culture of a housing estate, a workplace, or on social media.
That said, there are particular challenges and opportunities today. In the West, the church is smaller than it was in 1982, but in the wider culture there is remarkable spiritual openness. If we can live our lives as Jesus would live them, we’ll be surprised by the receptiveness of the people we encounter. They want to see the kind of whole-life purpose we’re talking about. This cultural moment is an invitation to refocus on living as disciples in all of life. That’s essential in any age, but it’s also how we become credible in the UK today.
We want to grow confidence in the Bible, its whole-life relevance, and its practical application. That’s what the Gateway Seven series is all about. And we want to help Christians understand their culture, grapple with complex issues, and live wisely in our time.
Looking towards the future, why are you personally excited to be part of LICC’s mission?
I’m enormously excited about it. This is an incredible time to be alive! We have a huge opportunity to embed the whole-life gene into the life of the church – and change the world. We want to engage a million Christians with the vision of whole-life discipleship, giving them the resources to live all of life with God. We want to help them recover a sense that daily life really matters, and see how God might work through them wherever they are. At the heart of it, I’m excited because LICC is about helping people discover what it is to be fully alive! And I can’t think of anything more amazing than that.
Where do you feel God calling us to focus over the next few years?
We want to catalyse a movement, so that all sorts of groups and people are carrying the whole-life vision. We’re keen to engage with and support churches and organisations from every denomination and network. Partnership is key, because each part of the body has a unique role to play. By working with others we can achieve something greater than the sum of the parts.
We also recognise there’s a need to invest in the generations leaving the church, often because they’ve been presented with a gospel that has nothing to say to their daily concerns. They’re suspicious of anything less than whole-life discipleship, because it’s not authentic. And of course this group will be very significant in influencing our culture in the coming years. They’re already leading businesses, driving technological change, setting global culture – just look at Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!
If we’re going to see whole-life disciplemaking embedded in the church, and Christians equipped to live life with God where they are, we need to invest more in resourcing people through digital channels. We want to grow our impact through blogs, videos, podcasts, and social media content that’s tailored to our audience’s needs.
Finally, what are you praying we’ll see in society more widely?
If people have the vision, intention, and tools to live as followers of Jesus wherever they are, every part of life will be impacted. Our economy, our shopping, our treatment of each other and the earth around us will all look different. The quality of leadership will look different across every sphere – whether in the integrity of individuals or the quality of decisions made. We’ll see a greater concern for justice in the way things are run. We’ll see a difference in the way conversations happen: we’ll be more interested in others, more able to speak about what really matters. Whether micro or macro, we’ll see extraordinary change.
I am confident that by God’s grace that can happen. And, at the same time, I’m mindful of John Stott’s warning: if the meat goes rotten, blame the salt. This is our opportunity to be salt and light.