Tag Archives: community

The Church Isn’t In Decline

The church is not in decline if you are talking about evangelical, modern churches such as the vineyard network and some fresh expressions of church, though some would say they are just benefiting from the shift away from traditional church structures.

Facing the truthfulness of church decline is tough, and not at all pleasant. It causes us to wonder about Gods faithfulness, and even our own sense of call is brought into question. Articles around church decline can make for pretty depressing reading.

I tell a story sometimes in church about a boy, a sand pit and a rock. In the boy’s sand pit there is a big rock, which the little boy doesn’t want. So the boy tries to get rid of the rock, he shoves it in every way imaginable, but it doesn’t move. Finally after some time, he sits defeated, the rock is still there. The boys chin wobbles a little and then big tears begin rolling down his cheeks.

His Dad had been watching to this point and runs over picks up his son and hugs him close. The little boy tries to explain through tearful gasps what he was trying to do, and his dad replies:

“You didn’t use all your strength.”

his son responds, telling his dad how hard he tried. His dad gently replies, “you didn’t use me.”

The Church is in decline, and we can’t find the solutions alone, like the kid in the sandpit, who had to face the reality he needed help. The sooner we face our reality, the sooner we can do something about it. The church in the uk numerically is in a free fall at the moment and has been for years, the  collective numbers of decline hides where growth is happening, and it is in scattered places. Mid weeks, messy churches and such are proving that there is still an appetite for spiritual engagement in our country.

“Cancer patient who chose road trip over chemotherapy dies aged 91” 39164c3800000578-0-image-a-87_1475583459836

Like Norma Bauerschmidt we need to be brave, we need to at some level accept the reality of our situation and then be willing to do something about it. She made the best of her situation by going out into the world. We must do the same, rather than retreating into our enclaves, huddled together waiting for the inevitable, now is the time to listen to God anew, learn from others and grow.

If we know of churches who are experiencing growth numerically and spiritually. Why not put our pride to one side and take the time to learn from them. We must see such places not as threats against our survival, but rather, as places of teaching and learning. That we might draw into our own context, wisdom and fresh focus. Such places become like teaching hospitals, helping us serve the living God and the needs of others.

There is of course the chance it is time for some congregations to reform as something new. I have been involved in leading two such communities. The building might have gone, but the worshipers didn’t. The structures of that church life, might have passed into history, but God leading his people hasn’t. There has been and will be still more to experience and do in the will of God, wherever the Lord has moved you too.

Be brave, as God calls us to new places or new ways of being church together. Be brave, acknowledging or own desire to hold on tightly to the comfort blanket of the past, instead rejoicing in what was, we step into what is new. Holding the hand of our heavenly parent who was, who is and who will always be.

The Church maybe in decline, may our efforts cause it to slow and turn around. Not because we love church but because we are listening and loving God, who doesn’t leave, or disappoint.

Lets get to it.

Keeping Faith: With The Church

The Bible tell is that the Church is to be the bride of Christ, spotless perfect, transcendent. If we are asked to describe the church we may use words like; nation, building, group of people, disciple. The nature of this church in its activities are sometimes inward looking,  as well as sometimes outward looking. Although more commonly churches are a bit of both.communion table

Throughout its history church has been involved in liberating people, and tying people up in bondage, it is a vehicle for change and also keeping everything the same. It is a place where all types of people can be found… moderates, left wing, right wing, racists, paedophiles, saints, young and old all attend church. Should it be a surprise to us if sometimes we don’t get on!

The church is an awful, incredible, inspiring and crippling place. It is not the image we see in the book of Revelation, not yet anyway! So why attend, why put yourself through an hour of church when its not great? Because when it’s good and we get it right, it is amazing and life changing. There is nothing on earth like it. It’s the one place on the Earth when done well, you don’t need a drink or drugs to lift your mood, you find do you need less therapy not more, that healing is multi dimensional and Jesus is still doing that ministry, today, now.

At some point or another we might want to leave church, for many different reasons. Certainly shouldn’t stay in an abusive situation, or a place where you are not growing in God. However let’s not make the mistake and think that the church is universally the same;  or even believes exactly the same thing about God, society or the universe all of the time.

The church is a living organism, it ebbs and flows and makes mistakes, sometimes horrific ones. It seeks forgiveness and offers redemption. It can be dry and vibrant, both narrow and wide in its thinking of how it should view society and what God wants us to do about it.

tree in bloomThe church is alive and she is a living entity many of us are part of. Our being part of it reflects and shapes how she is viewed by others in and outside the church. We are ambassadors of Christ, we are God’s people. How we live out the life of the church matters to the liberation of others, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

So perhaps next time we get angry in a meeting or want to judge someone without removing the plank from your our eye, remember who you and I represent, who you and I are speaking on behalf of. The person you want to put down for some indiscretion or mistake, is at some level your brother or sister in christ, no matter what they wear, say, or how they live their lives. love them, show them mercy. After all in Matthews gospel we read, if you do to to the least of these you do it for me.

What Should The Church Look Like?

What is your image of church? Would you claim that you know what God wants the church to look like? However, it can be hard to separate what we want church to be, from what God wants the church to be.

Our preferences on worship, preaching, architecture, decor, including the colour of the carpet, curtains or even the softness of the sTemple of herodeating; can all cause heated debates, divisions in the church and even cause people to leave fellowships for other places more in keeping with “what (they feel) God wants.”

Discovering What God Wants

How does the bible help us answer what God wants for his church building? In simplistic terms the Old Testament, presents an answer in terms of the building of the Ark of the Covenant, and subsequently Solomon’s and then Herod’s designs of the Temple of the Lord.

What were their answers to the question of what God wants? All very beautiful and ornate, these are buildings that communicate to a people who were generally illiterate, something of the majesty and greatness of God.

“Come, all of you who are gifted craftsmen. Construct everything that the Lord has commanded: the Tabernacle and its sacred tent, its covering, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts, and bases;the Ark and its carrying poles; the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement; the inner curtain to shield the Ark;the table, its carrying poles, and all its utensils; the Bread of the Presence; for light, the lampstand, its accessories, the lamp cups, and the olive oil for lighting;…” Exodus 35:10-14

Today we find that cathedrals and basilicas in similar ways communicate that same greatness and majesty of God and are vast landmarks on our landscape both physically and spiritually in what they communicate about the Lord.

What Should We Build?

However is a building the whole picture?  Of course it isn’t, and we see that refocusing in the New Testament story, the need of a different kind of building, indeed Jesus speaks of tearing down the physical temple. Jesus instead focuses on us building of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is both seen in the world and also not yet, in terms of the eternity to come.

If we sit within the stories of the kingdom of God, such as the wedding feast, the lost son, lost sheep, hidden treasure, good samaritan, we might answer what God wants differently.

I believe that ultimately the church in its structures, whether architecturally, devotionally or evangelistically, should be a gateway to God’s kingdom, a kingdom that is welcoming, challenging, spiritually nurturing and in practical ways lives out its faith in Jesus wherever it finds itself.

We live in a world of complexity and church is complex with its traditions and expectations. The colour and decor matter yes, but not nearly as much as being the reflection of Christ to all, the worship style matters in the way it draws people into God, but not more than walking alongside people and inviting them to begin a journey with you in faith. Pretty posters matter but not more than loving people where they are, and however they are.

What does your church look like to you, are you caught up with what matters, or do you need to lay some things at the feet of Jesus. Recognising that sometimes what God wants is sometimes different to our perceptions.

Let us each this week consider what God might want, recognising our own desires and wants and putting them to one side, and being gracious with one another because, myself included, we all fall short on this one.

The Church That Serves

When we think of social services, hospitals and schools we may well think that the government came up with the idea. Yet They weren’t first to the game, not by some way.

By 580 AD the church had a system for circulating consumables to the poor: associated with each parish was a diaconium or office of the deacon. Monasteries also often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, and travellers’ aid stations.

In fact, all major religions impacted its society in similar ways wherever it found itself on the globe. As societies developed, because of better health care and education provided by faith-filled believers, wider society took up the burden of this work, modernising it and in some way taking it to the next level.

The western world not developing this until the mid 19 century nearly 2000 years after the Christian church at least, had been serving the poor and providing care and help on a wide scale.

Today, the church might lament sometimes a lack of social services for the spiritual needs as well as social, emotional and physical but it doesn’t mean our engagement has lessened our impact. It has re-engaged with workplace chaplains, with churches collecting for charities giving generously of its time and money to ventures such as food banks, clothing banks, credit unions and so on and so forth.

We should learn from our historical mistakes, but feel proud of the legacy we have begun in the country for people. A legacy that means people are healthier and better educated because of people willing to serve and whose driving principles was Jesus teaching about the value of others, and in that people came to know christ.

We continue as the body of the church, to serve the needs as we find them. Let’s never forget our calling in that regard, that at the heart of who and what we are as church, is summed up beautifully in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25: 31-46

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’….

However lets also not forget the verses after in verse 45 of chapter 25:

‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

A chilling warning to us ever forgetting the calling Jesus has for us, echoed more softly in the parable of the good samaritan!

As church communities let us be encouraged by what we have achieved, but not complacent to think it’s perfect or that we are done. I fear we think we don’t have a place in these areas anymore that somehow we are not welcome.

Perhaps that is true for some, but for most, I believe and I have witnessed myself that the door is very much open to the great great great great great… great grandparent of social work. We lend a hand and helping once more alongside others, so that together we help those who are, hungry, thirsty, shivering, sick and those in prison and many, many more.

As the church of Christ, our fruitfulness is because the action of the holy Spirit in our lives. Whose intention is always to bless others and through us remind them of a narrative. A narrative that is so vast and yet so personal of a God who knows, loves and longs for us to flourish whether they realise it’s his call or not.

Together as surgeons and doctors and nurses and social workers, teachers… we are the church and have more to say than just about the spiritual things of life. May the church live out its vibrant Godly focus in all its diversity and richness. Not focusing on one aspect of church ministry or life, but truly embodying diversity as we engage our world.

One passing question, what part of society will you or I look back on in the next 50 years or so and say, we enabled that to happen, not for our glory but God’s?

Don’t Just Tell Me About Jesus Show Me

Don’t just tell me Jesus has risen from the dead, show me. Over Easter the church gets rightly excited and clicks on its keyboards the awesome reality of the resurrection, the true meaning of Easter.

Some pics are a little too judgmental for my taste, but on the whole my social media feed is full of a joyous, worshipful cacophony of praise to the faith we profess and the reality of resurrection we hold to. Both of Jesus and ultimately ourselves, as we eventually step into an eternity prepared for us.
The church doesn’t just tell the world that Jesus has risen from the dead. At its best it shows this in a number of ways, but let’s begin, in no particular order, or in anyway a full list here are three examples.

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The Social Media Church

How might we define Church?

What's important to us about church?

What’s important to us about church?

Perhaps as a building, a gathered Christian community, a discipleship  movement? What though would it look like if Church was online, would we attribute the same value or worth, if it existed in cyber-space?

Where do you gather as a Christian community? A small group sitting together in someone’s living room, maybe something outdoors, perhaps meeting in a cafe, or a church building. Community created in these places is tried and tested.

But there is change afoot, with the explosion in social media in the last few years, more and more people are finding, creating and enjoying meaningful community online. For example, if Facebook was a country it would be the biggest on earth, a whopping 1.44 billion plus people are currently subscribed to its community. Facebook dwarfs all other social media platforms, like WhatsApp on 9 million, and Twitter 320 million to name two.

But It’s Not Proper Church

When considering online Christian community some people think that somehow online community is not as meaningful as face-to-face. Somehow church online is seen as something less!

Many don’t agree with that argument. Yet there are many more people who go online to find answers to spiritual questions rather than the church; and for whom church community doesn’t fit with work or family commitments.

Those that hold a negative view of online church may find their stance stems from a fear of what it might mean for the church in the future. The world is changing and has changed and we would do well to keep up with it rather than take a reactionary stance. We step into whatever the world is offering and seek to make community in that place. After all is that not what Jesus did!

An Image Of Online Church

dchurch-logo

The internet is the next earthly frontier to be explored, it is wild and untamed, various nations debate over how to police the Internet. However the Internet in some ways it is like a living thing, and Facebook amongst many other platforms has managed to harness and form community in that place.

Facebook as already mentioned is vast and global, and you who are reading this, will be given the option to share on Facebook and may well be yourself on Facebook. It is in this place we seek to form Christian community that is vibrant and meaningful.

As part of the team for d-church we have been developing an online christian community for a number of years now on Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, Google Plus and twitter. Together as Christian leaders, once a month, we sought to bring together meaningful content, images videos and text on a particular theme.

One of the beauties of using Facebook as a platform for community building, is that the mechanics for social interaction are already well established and well known. Generally everyone knows how to comment, share, tag, like, set up a group or page and if they don’t its very easy to find out.

How It Works For Us

For d-church we chose a page, for particular reasons and flexibility. The d-church monthly event takes place online. The team all ring each other on a conference call using Skype, and each of us have responsibility for different social media platforms, including WordPress, Twitter, Google plus and of course Facebook.

The content is preselected and put together in a document, the content of which is shared appropriately across the various platforms. Most people who interact with the monthly event use Facebook. I know personally of a number of people who join in with d-church as their only Christian interaction and many others for whom it is part of their spiritual diet for the week and month.

This community offers several things, a safe place online, no one is judged here, people are accepted for who they are and what they bring. The only expectations are, that participants treat others well. We are told that the doors of our churches are often a barrier to outsiders coming in and we are encouraged to go outside of our churches. D-church on social media is very accessible to those who just want to take a quick look, and we hope they will gently be drawn into the friendly community they find.

Its Not The Future Its Now

We live in a post christendom world, a world that is instant and in the moment, and d-church and others who are engaging with social media are creating, forming spaces where people can interact with faith issues. Not that it might replace Church but broaden its horizon to encompass all of humanity as it seeks meaning, value and peace with itself. Of course our hope is that what they come to find is a God who knows and loves them.

Post also found at http: Churches Alive Online Website creating resource.

Losing My Religion

“True religion helps us to grow, but pseudo-religion hinders growth, for it creates and maintains obstacles and barriers. Thus it is that much religion merely censors experience and does not liberate it, stifles human potential and does not allow it to blossom.” Kenneth Leech

In the light of Leech’s comment I find myself wondering if  our Christian communities have become defined by our jobs in church or religious knowledge rather than our spiritual centredness and experience of the living God?

Sure we need both, but I fear that the structure of religion has become a safety net for some and a cage for others. The others, have and are leaving in search of spiritual meaning else where, looking for what Kenneth leech describes as something that liberates and allows us to blossom.

That latter experience of God being liberating and blossoming  is something people experienced around Jesus, those who where healed, challenged, where changed from the encounter. For them they entered into a new way of life a new reality.

If we believe our religion, and our spiritual journey to be the right path, or one of the right paths, then there needs to be something more than ritual, something deeper than collective routine.

The purpose of religious ritual and routine is to deepen our walk with God, open us to the deeper spiritual narrative of what the holy spirit is doing in our lives and the lives of others, in our community and world. But does it? Does the routine still do those things? Or have we become stale? Do we need a change, or do we need to change?

In exercise terms as our bodies got used to the routine and so the routine doesn’t have the greater impact in calorific loss, or muscle gain, because we need to run longer or increase our weights! In the same way our spiritual health is dependent on us to keep it fresh, to change things when we get into that hamster wheel of religiosity just going around and around perhaps not even seeing initially, what is happening, until we get so fed up we think God isn’t listening to us and we leave altogether.

There is of course, something wonderful about religion, that collective cohesion, common bond and outlook, common worship that holds us and binds us together. A religious community growing together in God, deepening one another’s spiritual reality, just like iron sharpens iron. Too often perhaps we expect perfection from our Christian community because after all Jesus is perfect. Perhaps there would be less politics and backbiting in church, if we accepted one another the way we are, for all of our failings and successes and instead directed our energy in following, listening and growing, in Jesus.

I wonder in what ways do we, or would we need to change as communities of Christians, to allow one another to grow deeper in God. It has to be more than teaching programmes, or inspirational worship. That spiritual growth is quite individualistic in a way, but the fruit of it, is outward looking, allowing us to bless others, come alongside the brokenhearted, and be the kind of Christian and religious community perhaps God is calling us to be and the world needs us to be.

Losing My Faith In Stone

If your faith is wrapped and rooted in the reassuring warmth of your denomination, then perhaps you should click away, I wouldn’t want you to get cold or be offended! Although you could just risk it and take a look just a few lines, after all where’s the harm in that! Alternatively if you are a little like me, not always finding the church an easy place to be! Then I warmly invite you to read on.

Dear reader For a moment would you imagine with me what it might be to lose your faith in the church. To shake off the shackles, to break out of the box that has become more like a cage. To live a life free and and unencumbered by a pastors theological and political bias, or a sense of loyalty to a bygone age. Instead my friends let us remember who it is all meant to be for.

Instead, believe beyond what church tells you, or what society considers our God might say on an array of subjects. Too often it is thought that the church just wants money, and on a recent carol singing trip people in the community found it difficult to comprehend, that we were not collecting for anything or anyone!

Churches tell us how to live, the type and style of our worship is predetermined for us. But it isn’t our worship it is Gods. All we do, all we sing, regardless of what song book, whether it’s projected on screen, whether our worship is informal or traditional. It is about connecting to the living God. My question is, does it?

In a recent conversation with a minister friend of mine, he asked whether I was a blue sky thinker! And I said yes and that can be a bit scary for some people! He smiled and nodded his agreement.

We are at a point in the life of the Church National and international if you’re in the northern hemisphere on earth, where churches on the whole are not growing or engaging in the making of disciples.

I would like us to discover for ourselves what it means to believe in God, just you and God, unhindered by religious expectation, unsanitised by liturgical poetry, unstructured by denominational pageantry!

Let us discover for ourselves once again why we follow Jesus, and may that self-discovery, that visceral encounter with the living God, redefine our church. Reshape our communities and renew our spirits.

An elderly man in one of my congregations, turned and told me in broad Scottish tones this week, how he had left the church, because he became aware that the people in power, were Methodists first and Christians second. He grinned at me and I grinned back because we understood each other. Our denomination is just where we hangout, or where God has put us. It shouldn’t be what we have faith in. For as certain as  Jesus is coming back, it is him that owns my soul not my denomination!

Finally there is hope within the walls of our structures, within the people that dwell there. People who want to take what is the best of what we have and reshape it, between the religious institution and the rest of society. Thusly building a bridge not where they walk over to us, but a place where we can both meet, and admire the view.

The Invitation

you_are_invited_flowers_6140426 ‘They won’t come, we have tried that sort of thing before’. Came the all too familiar response from a church member in conversation with her pastor. The pastor concerned, considered for a moment, what indeed she was asking the church to invite people too? Eventually it occurred to her that she probably wouldn’t want to go to it either, let alone anyone else!

Think of the last time you were invited to something you enjoyed, how did it make you feel? What was good about it? Did you find a kindred spirit and perhaps even have some fun and laughter? Sadly in my experience this doesn’t sound like church nearly enough. But when it does, i find i am home, both spiritually and communally.

There is a story of a woman now retired who was invited to her local chapel, and she stayed and felt at home. She was invited to membership and happily accepted and now over twenty years later helps to lead a worship service and is now inviting others into the Lords loving embrace. All because her christian friend stepped over the line and knowing her friend well, knew what to invite her to, and when to ask her “to come.” The woman in the story discovered for herself the freedom Christ offers through the invitation of a friend, who invited her to a community who celebrated the fullness of life that Christ offers us all.

Part of the issue is perhaps that our image of God is serious, and that’s appropriate, to a point. The bible sadly doesn’t record Jesus and the disciples going out on the town, drinking in moderation of course. Nor does the bible record dialogue where Jesus is making a joke or witty retort. But I would like to think he might have at least once or twice laughed, or smiled at something rude!

We read that Jesus has many, many meals with people. I doubt these were all terribly religious or pious, after all he ate with the least religious or pious people. Not that they might be conformed to sensible religion. But instead know that there is another way, a fuller life, one where the burden of sin, or feelings of inadequacy are lifted upon the shoulders of a would be saviour of the world, so that they can be free.

We have seen the effect freedom has on people haven’t we. The celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the exuberance at the end of apartheid in South Africa, how communities celebrated as each world war ended. Freedom is heady joyousness, not reserved, not quiet, not always sensible. But sometimes on our knees we can in heartfelt thanks worship God, as well as jump around for joy.

As the pastor said good bye to the church member and drove home that evening. The Lord reminded her, of why she had ever come to church in the first place, and to begin with it was friendship with people followed by and enriched with friendship with God. It occurred to her that that was a good place to start.

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