Lars Kalvenes, Synnøve Jøssang and Victoria Wall are all members of The Table Community Church, a church planting team that moved to London from Norway two years ago. They talk to Amy Williams about church planting, community and coffee shops.
COULD you tell me a bit about your community and your church background?
Lars: We were sent out from the Pioneer Church in Norway. Way before we became a part of this community, people in the Pioneer church felt like God was calling them to Europe and church planting. For around 12 years, nothing had been opening up when it came to Europe. But then four or five years ago, we got a connection with New Wine, we began to build relationships with people in England and things started to happen.
Victoria: I moved to Norway from Sweden around six years ago. At the time I wasn’t a Christian, but I got a job at the coffee shop that the church had started.
I’d never met a Christian community before. I ended up becoming friends with a lot of Christians and started to go to church services as well. I saw the way the people loved each other and included me in their lives, it had a huge impact on me. At one point I asked God “Something is happening in my life. Is this you?” I knew He had changed my heart and I decided to give my life to Jesus.
A month later, I went to a “vision night”. There was one guy sharing this vision of seeing Europe coming back to God and doing church planting all around Europe. As I heard that vision, there was something happening in me and I just wanted to shout out “Can I be a part of this?”
It took a couple of years, but as soon as the opportunity came, I went for it.
Lars: We want to live church, to be a community. We’re talking about how we can meet with people locally, how we can serve locally, how we can eat dinner around tables. That’s why we’re called The Table Community Church, because we really believe in community in everyday life.
Another thing is about sending people out. So one of the things we felt called to be was a “train station”. People can come and meet Christ and then be sent out.
We also want to make this lifestyle available. The coffee shop that we’re in the process of starting, we want that to be a lampstand, where we can be a light and really shine for the local area.
What did the process from getting inspired about London to actually moving here involve?
Synnøve: Sometimes it’s about throwing an idea out and seeing if it lands in the ground and is from the Lord or not. The Holy Spirit is really active in preparing us and people are willing to go as well. He often calls us because He asks for willing people and He can use anyone.
Victoria: It’s also been a long journey of waiting for God’s timing. As we mentioned earlier, this vision of London came up 15 years ago, and they probably thought it was going to happen at once. But the process was much, much longer than they thought. Eventually, doors started to open up to Acton specifically. We got to know a pastor in Oak Tree Church, and he pretty much invited us to come. Suddenly it was open doors.
What were your plans when you first came over?
Victoria: Even though we didn’t know exactly what we were going to, we’d met up a month before we moved, for one week to get to know each other better and also to connect over the vision of what we were going to do. We knew our vision, but we didn’t know the timing of it or how we would do it.
Lars: When it came to the houses, two members of the team came over here one or two months earlier and went to 18 views in one or two days. So at least we had a house – nine people living there in four bedrooms.
Everyone in the team is so committed. We said we would give it two years to do this, at least. When we invited people on board, we said “This is going to cost your life. That’s the call of Jesus. It’s going to cost everything. Are you ready to do that?” One girl sold her apartment in Norway, people gave up their jobs. It’s the greatest joy; to follow God and step into what He has for us. We knew it was going to be hard work, but it’s worth it.
We started with the values instead of starting with a schedule and a programme. It’s so easy to get caught in a schedule and you just forget why you’re doing it.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?
Lars: We knew that London is a hard city to live in. It’s so busy. But it’s different to know it and to live in it. When I first moved here, I started working at a coffee shop in central London, but then after a while I decided I couldn’t spend hours every day commuting, so I decided to work and live locally.
When it comes to church planting, London is such a busy place but busyness is also making life harder. People don’t have time, or that’s what it feels like. With the coffee shop, we can meet people where they’re at, and when they’re on the way to work. That’s where we can build relationships and invite people to dinners and show a different culture.
Synnøve: With the vision, it’s easy to have it in your head, but when you face challenges, having it in your head doesn’t help, you need actually to have it in your heart to live it out. It’s a process and there’s so much grace. It’s so easy to say if you did it again you’d do it differently but, looking back, I learnt so much. All the failings, all the hard times really produce fruit eventually, it’s so worth it. God is so in it, and He’s so faithful and He loves us too much to let us to rush to a vision if our hearts aren’t in it.
How do you work together as a church planting team?
Victoria: We’re still not a lot of people, around 20 of us. Every Wednesday we have dinner together so that our community can grow stronger. Especially in the first year, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other and building a strong team.
People get to use their gifts, in whatever that is, for example, if they’re pastoral, they get the opportunity to start a small group. One guy in the community is a very good architect and wanted to start a group talking about social change. So it’s giving space for people to grow in what they have and give that to other people.
Lars: When I became a part of this church in Norway, one of the first questions I was asked by one of the leaders was: “What has God given you and how can we see that grow?” That was the first time I heard that question, because always when I had been to church, there was a need for filling a role for activity. People were not interested in seeing my gifts grow. When I met this church, it was mind-blowing that they didn’t want to put me into a role because they needed me but they wanted to see my gifts flourish.
What is the best thing about community?
Victoria: It all goes back to God being three in one; He is community. I don’t think I could live without community, it’s become such a big part of my life. I love coming home and there’s a bunch of friends I can have dinner with and pray with and share life with. It’s so important for growing with God and living a healthy life.
Synnøve: I agree. It’s family. You know you’re not doing this alone. It’s vulnerable and it’s all you need. Growing together closer to God every day.
Lars: We have people coming to eat dinner with us and they say: “It’s so peaceful eating with you guys”.
Through community people see Jesus. We need each other to show who Jesus is, if Jesus is the church that means that we as His body are representing Him here.
What’s your vision for the future of your community? What are your dreams?
Lars: There’s so many exciting things. It’s so obvious that God has people that He wants to send out.
Also, I really hope that when people come to Acton, it will be different. Different because people love each other, people know each other’s names, they’re offering homes to the homeless; a kingdom culture in London.
It’s not about what happens in church on Sundays, but the church releasing people to follow Christ in everyday life. I hope we see super Christ-like people as nannies, teachers, baristas, doctors, etc. That’s the vision.
Synnøve: With a vision, there’s always this tension because you can’t live in the future but you need to head that way. Even with the coffee shops, yes we want to see coffee shops all across Europe, living the vision, but also we couldn’t handle a lot of them now. It’s so much about stewardship, God is trusting you with a little thing and what you do about it will show how much He can trust you with.
The goal is not having coffee shops in Europe, the goal is having Christ-like people loving Europe. We’re not just working towards a goal, we’re living life. Some days it’s fun, some days it’s not. We’re all on a journey. We’re running the race Jesus set before us and inviting people to join us.