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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Polygones and Faithful Presence

Written by: on March 15, 2018

When we moved to Lyon, our vision was to plant a church community in a community to bless the community. To that end, the five of us on the church planting team all moved into the same neighbourhood, intent on finding a location for our church in the vicinity. We immediately began daily prayer meetings and weekly services in our apartments, sharing our vision to have a presence and an impact in the neighbourhood.

One of our first members—a business student—introduced us to the idea of co-working office spaces, where people can rent individual desks in a shared office and benefit from an interactive work environment. Learning that this concept was gaining momentum in France, we decided to look for a building that would work as a co-working office Monday through Friday, and a church on Sunday. A year later, we opened Polygones, where we rent 17 work spaces to a variety of professionals including graphic artists, web-site developers an accountant, and a fashion designer.

There are four of us from the church who also rent desks, and we organically move between conversations about our work and conversations about the work of God in our lives. The co-workers know that they are sharing the space with a church, and that besides having Sunday services, church members also gather in the building Monday-Friday, morning and evening, for prayer. In the morning it’s primarily church members that participate in our prayer meetings, but in the evening, when co-workers are often still lingering at their desks, some of them join us, commenting on how we are not at all like they imagined Christians to be. A few co-workers have come to faith, a few more are on their way. But even those who do not share our religious convictions enjoy sharing a workplace with us. Polygones has become a place where people meet God by seeing Him at work in the day to day lives of those around them.

So when I read Hunter’s book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, his concept of faithful presence resonated with me deeply. “One of the most interesting parts of Hunter‘s To Change the World is his delineation of three basic Christian positions toward culture, politics and the world in general.”[1]

I found myself nodding along in total agreement as Hunter explained that the Conservative Right tends to be “defensive against” the culture, the Liberal Left seeks to be “relevant to” the culture, and the neo-Anabaptists strive for “purity from” the culture.[2] In other words, the Right sets up for a fight, the Left settles in and gets comfortable, and the neo-Anabaptist stands apart.

Without going into the argument about which approach is “right,” Hunter focuses his essays on explaining why none of these approaches actually effect significant or lasting change within the culture. To have a Christ-like impact on the world, he suggests a fourth way, an approach to culture that Hunter calls “faithful presence.”

Hunter uses a passage from the book of Jeremiah to explain what he means by faithful presence. When the Israelites were captive in Babylon, God told them to build houses and plant gardens. In other words, even though they weren’t living within a country and culture that reflected their own values, they were called to be faithfully present to that place. Hunter summarizes, “He [God] was calling them to maintain their distinctiveness as a community but in ways that served the common good.”[3] (By the way, Hunter also pointed out that Jeremiah was considered a traitor for suggesting such a thing. The Israelites wanted to be liberated from Babylon, not settled into it!)

At the Polygones co-working office space we maintain our distinctiveness as a community not only through our daily prayer gatherings, but through the community atmosphere that we create. This atmosphere manifests itself through spontaneous opportunites to love and serve each other, as well as through a weekly potluck lunch, where co-workers spend time getting to know each other and sharing their lives with one another. In the past, people like Jonathan Edwards would evangelise by preaching “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermons. But we find that these days, people aren’t haunted by a fear of the afterlife. They’re too absorbed in their daily activities to be bothered with such thoughts. But they are desperate for community. And as the co-workers interact with the church members, they discover that community, and they sense that is it distinct from other communities in which they participate. We explain that the difference is Jesus. The shalom that we share at Polygones is available to anyone in the community, but we’re finding that it draws people to Christ.

“Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good.”[4]

Clearly, this is what Polygones is all about. So while I agreed with Richard King’s critique that “To Change the World suffers from excessive abstraction and a lack of concrete examples,”[5] I also felt like what we were experiencing in Lyon was a concrete example of Hunter’s abstractions.

[1] King, Richard. “James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.” Society 48, no. 4 (2011): 359-62.

[2] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). 237.

[3] Hunter. 277.

[4] Benson, Christopher. “Faithful Presence: James Davison Hunter Says Our Strategies to Transform Culture Are Ineffective, and the Goal Itself Is Misguided.(THE CT INTERVIEW)(Interview).” Christianity Today 54, no. 5 (2010): 32.

[5] King, Richard. “James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.” Society 48, no. 4 (2011): 359-62.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

12 responses to “Polygones and Faithful Presence”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    I love the house-church turned office-church concept. I do mission aviation which has many grand ideas on transportation, overcoming barriers, reaching the hard to reach places, and more. While these are all valid mission-ministry goals, the one I see succeeding all the time is similar to your work place church. When we do mission aviation in other countries, we always hire indigenous national workers to help in the hanger, work the grounds, provide security, and such types of jobs. In every case I have seen, in about 8 different countries, it is with those who we share our work, our food, our problems, and they watch and see how we struggle through the challenges of doing life, and somehow come to see Christ along the way, and many come to faith in Christ. This model starts with the workers, then their families, and then spreads to the communities. PTL!
    Yes, I support your Polygones model! Thanks for sharing!
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      The gospel is best shared life on life, and best experienced in community. It’s in doing life together that we can put all those “one another”s (love one another, serve one another, correct one another, pray for one another, encourage one another) into practice. Hearing a sermon on these things is one thing. Experiencing them in another. Sure, we preach those thing in our church on Sunday, but the rubber meets the roan Monday-Friday, when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to live them out.

      And by the way–in that we have found that the enemy is easily defeated when a community gathers twice a day to pray. His schemes are quickly revealed for what they are and old snakelips can’t get a foothold like he can when people live isolated lives.

  2. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jennifer,
    Wow, I love what you are doing you are in the world making a difference. I am so excited to hear about your model. The best way to show people Christ is to meet them where they are and do life with them. What a great opportunity you have been given. I will be honest I am a bit envious of your community. You are living out what Christ gave us, go and make disciples. What a great thing you are doing!

    Jason

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Thanks, Jason. It’s a pretty great experience. It was not our idea–and that is one of my favorite parts. It is an idea that came OUT of the community that we came to serve. Seeing how this happened has been a game-changer for me. We definitely came with a plan (to plant a community in the community), but we left room for the project to be developped in collaboration with the people of our neighborhood.

  3. Shawn Hart says:

    Jennifer, that sounds incredible. I often tell my congregation that one of the greatest gifts God gave us that we fail to take advantage of is “family”. We miss out on the blessings that come from growing together and building up one another. I would be curious to see how the church could grow in various communities if using your model.

    What obstacles have you seen from this program though? Just curious now. In the U.S., I fear it would only be a matter of time before someone tried to sue the company for bringing Christ in.

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      In order to be in compliance with French laws, the church and the co-working space are two separate entities. Polygones rents the building and sublets the desks. The church sub-lets the building from Polygones on Sundays and for prayer times, which officially happen before and after business hours. Polygones is also sublets by other entites who need meeting spaces (for example we have a conference room that people rent and the whole building has been rented out by other associations on Saturdays as well). We made sure that we did everything legally. Before opening, we met with the mayor to describe what we wanted to do, and he gave us his support. We are transparent with those who come to rent desks in explaining that the building is sublet to a church for those designated times.

  4. Greg says:

    Living in true community with your neighbors is where real ministry, real conversations happen. I haven’t heard about sharing office space in this manner. What a neat concept. I love this idea that people from different professions and walks commune together and share life.
    Continue being and portraying His faithful presence.

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      It’s pretty fun. And it has also created a sort of Shalom for the co-workers, as they are finding ways to support each other and create synergy for their respective businesses. For example, a web-designer and a graphic designer recommend each other to clients who need both a website and a logo.

  5. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jenn,
    You are right, we did read very similar aspects and I had a similar response to you. I love your application to your context as I hadn’t realized you were doing shared office space as a means of community. When we moved to Portland that was just beginning to be a thing and I found it fascinating and really wanted to rent a a space to join in the community and even had an idea of starting a co-working space that had a nanny share co-op for working parents to have affordable daycare (this was pre-children). The fact that you are doing this is really inspiring to me. Hunter’s idea of faithful presence is exactly what is needed in a tech world where we experience so much isolation. Have you found anyone to be repelled by what you are doing once they learned Polygones was operated by a church community?

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Strangely enough, no. When we first opened there were some reporters that visited and did news stories about the project, and they would ask that question pretty directly to some of the co-workers, and these people who weren’t even Christians would basically sing the praises of Polygones, saying that everyone was welcome and that they weren’t at all bothered by the prayer meetings and such.

  6. Jenn I love what you are doing in France with Polygones, and what a beautiful example of faithful presence. Your description…”This atmosphere manifests itself through spontaneous opportunities to love and serve each other, as well as through a weekly potluck lunch, where co-workers spend time getting to know each other and sharing their lives with one another.” was an awesome example of living and working in the space God has put you and allowing that community and relationships to have an impact organically.

  7. Chris Pritchett says:

    I was looking forward to reading your post having known a little bit and assuming more that the ideas from the book have probably fallen in line with your approach. Thanks for sharing about it. I think your collaborative work space sounds really awesome and I’m totally jealous! I resonated with this as I think it basically and generally sums up so much of the problem: “In other words, the Right sets up for a fight, the Left settles in and gets comfortable, and the neo-Anabaptist stands apart.”

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