Tag Archives: growth

Is Your Church Changing To Much?

Working with a range of ages, from the very young to the very old, it is interesting how attitudes to  new things change.

For children change is part of their existence and indeed survival, as they are propelled towards adulthood. They are constantly growing, developing physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Whether that’s losing teeth, growing out of shoes, taking on new responsibilities such as making themselves a cup of tea or walking to school.  Change for children can be nerve-wracking but also confidence building, as they are enabled to take increasing control of their lives so that they’re ready for adulthood!

Yet as adults some of us have slipped towards resisting change more than others whereas some of us are always excited by change, for others it breeds uncertainty and anxiety.

So we cling on to what we know, what we understand about God and church. Finding it difficult to be open to the possibility of thinking or doing differently. We may quote scripture that says God does not change. Certainly his love never changes for us, but God does not build a wall around his kingdom. It is an open gate, a low fence easily stepped over, there is welcome and fellowship for all who come, whoever you are and regardless of where you been.

God doesn’t change in all of the right ways, but steps into our journey, allowing us to change to become more like him, to see things differently to what they are.

Let’s not build walls around our hearts and churches, walls that keep everything just as it is on the other side. That protect those inside, from the ticking clock of time, so that everything remains just as they remembered it or just as it was when they first encountered Jesus.

Instead let us walk alongside the other, the outcast, those that don’t yet come.  Allow ourselves to be changed by that relationship in a way that allows us to speak the things of God into their reality. So we can build the kingdom, at their feet, rather than those of our own. In that way faith in the God who is and was and will always be can find new fertile soil in which to grow and flourish and become what the church needs to become and begin to look like.

I do not know what the church will look like in 20 years, but it needs to look different than it does now, for now we don’t see full churches, for now conversations about faith are rare. That needs to change. Perhaps today allow yourself to remove the walls around your heart and your church and allow the light to enter in, that we might have new vision and a new awareness of where God is leading us.

Church: Before It Went Viral.

To reimagine Church for today it is sometimes helpful for us to look back and learn from past mistakes or be inspired and challenged by what the Church used to look like.

AND-Gathered-Scattered-Church-Words

In The beginning
The Church began officially on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago. However, like most things it began unofficially before then from the roots of Judaism.

The Church was formed around the words of Jesus. Words that were both challenging, as well as liberating. There were words and actions that brought healing and hope, as well as a response from some of anger and indignation.

At the heart of Jesus’ narrative was an acknowledgement that the Kingdom of God was at hand; was near, tangible, visceral and could be experienced. The Kingdom of God we find is like a banquet where all are welcome, a wedding feast where some are prepared and some are not, a narrow gate, a city, a light, a mustard seed, the attitude of children, a place where you can experience forgiveness, grace, healing and acceptance.

Where is the Kingdom of God? Well, it is here in the Church and the life of the Christian. Not fully, but as much as God can be known this side of glory! Yet this is the beginning of the Church, the hallmarks of those early devotees to Jesus and ‘The Way’ (as Christians were formerly known).

Pre-Pentecost the Church was much more a gathered community of Jews and others, some of whom still attended the temple. Yet, because of their acknowledgment of the resurrection and the new life it offered them, a new community had begun. Over time came the slow dawning reality for these early Christians that Judaism didn’t fit anymore.

Post Pentecost

The Church’s function and form was to gather, to worship God and to remember the things Jesus said. Pockets of these communities sprung up all over the place and Apostles like Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila, would visit these communities, offering new insight or oversight, and certainly for the church in Corinth, words of challenge about how they were treating each other.

Post Pentecost, there was a number of persecutions, resulting in the people of God dispersing from Jerusalem, setting up home in other places, and subsequently, the Church was established in those places as well.

Below is a letter showing what the early Christians and the gathered community were like.

“Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men… they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.”

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

This glimpse into the early Church helps us see that, in its earliest form in New Testament times, it was a servant Church. The letter goes on to say how Christians are persecuted and have no possessions or power, yet are wealthy – but in a different way.

In our new beginnings post-Christendom, the period of our history that began with Constantine, let’s draw on those early memories and realities, which remind us of who we are and that we, like so many in our broken world at the moment, are refugees. Engaging with the community, we find ourselves, like salt and light, not having a prescribed notion of what Church should be, other than a gathering place where people can meet, learn and love Jesus.

Growing Your Church: Responsively

Week four of our exploration into UK church growth, we have covered HospitalityInclusivity  Leadership and we find ourselves this week looking at the topic of responsiveness. What does that look like? Before we delve into that here is an example of responsiveness.

Back in my parents day, TV Programmes were in black and white, the tv remote didn’t exist, and you actually had to press buttons on the telly! The news was listened to on the radio, viewed on the telly or read in the newspaper. Plasma, LED or touch screens didn’t exist, and the internet was confined to company communications.

Over the last 20 years, society has undergone a radical change, communities have  embraced the computer revolution.  There were silver surfer clubs, courses sprung up teaching people how to use the internet, write on a word processor rather than the electronic typewriter and so on and so on.

People were encouraged to get equipped and up to date and get online. Who can remember the sound of first modems? (click here to listen) Now long replaced by the quiet hum and blinky lights of modern routers.

Over time, as people have encountered the digital revolution help was at hand, there were people who would teach and offer assistance of many kinds. So that wherever you were on the scale of learning, your needs were met as you signed up to your digital life.

The point of today’s post is to consider what responsiveness looks like in terms of our church focus. We have seen that society has shifted massively from analogue to a digital existence and that there has been an understanding that people engage in their digital life in different ways and in using different methods.

The research suggests that how we are responsive across the life of the church really, really matters. Underpinning church based responsitivity is that we do not live in Christendom, not everyone knows the Lord’s Prayer. There are so many different spiritual, theological and philosophical ideas out there that the question of what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus inevitability gets jumbled up.

In short, if the life we offer people is a life following Jesus, we need to find ways for people to access that new life in Christ.

How do we help people then, at their point of access to the Christian faith?  Do we offer one type of worship or many, one way of being a Christian and discovering faith or several?

Responsive churches are in their DNA are flexible and willingly find ways to respond to different needs. They find approaches that engage a range of people and their own place in the walk of discipleship.

“People who are negative, who try to prevent change, rather than excluding them. Bringing these on board was seen as necessary for the church to grow.”

It’s easier said than done, we will always have those people for whom change is too difficult, and we should be responsive to them too.

looking for new initiatives keeping in step with what God is doing. Allowing those who don’t want to do the ‘new thing’ to enjoy the current expression of church, however still moving ahead with the willing.

The research says unsurprisingly, that different kinds of small discipleship groups, engaging in people’s faith development, leadership that was flexible and open to new ideas and who have the enthusiasm to meet the needs facing them were crucial in growing that diverse tapestry of faith development.

Would we love to go to a church where we were not told to sit in a particular seat, but instead find a space where we could flourish?

It’s not to say we should be tossed around by the waves of change, but instead church communities should steer a course that means for most, if not all, they could find a spiritual home centred on and in Christ.

Link to the research Leading Together in Growing Methodist Churches’ webpage can be found here

Look back across the series on church growth:

Week 1: Grow Your Church: Hospitality

Week 2: Growing Your Church Inclusivity 

Week 3: Growing Your Church: Leadership

 

Growing Your Church: Leadership Style Matters

Week three in our discovery in what makes churches grow, we turn our attention to leadership within the church of all kinds and levels.

When we think about leadership I wonder what comes to mind.  There is a spectrum from authoritarian to laissez-faire.  Somewhere along that spectrum, we find a particular leadership style which growing churches are modelling.

This is not to say that there is not value in other leadership styles, but the evidence suggests that there is one particular style that stands out.

As a side note, we are surrounded by these leadership styles all of the time and particular styles relate to particular contexts.  For example, we might like it if a policeman was more laissez-faire if we get pulled over for speeding, but we would want him or her to be authoritarian in arresting the person who stole some money that belongs to you. It is important that people in particular roles have a consistent leadership style and then people know what to expect and feel safe.

That being said our leadership styles naturally become nuanced when faced with particular situations. The person who is caught speeding might actually be speeding because they’re trying to get to the hospital for some reason, and so the policeman would (hopefully) nuance his or her response within the bounds of an authoritarian leadership style.

I digress, according to research the leadership style that stands out above others is the collaborative style.  This is not to say that there are times for authoritarian stances, but in these particular growing churches in traditional denominations, people are allowed to find their role in a collaborative way.

People within these churches are resourced properly and not overburdened by the tasks that they are given. One person does not do all of the jobs but the jobs are shared.  More important roles like the treasurer are broken down into bite-size chunks so that the treasurer doesn’t become overwhelmed.

This model of church and of ministry is not just about the few people of power, but instead, leadership is shared across the whole people of God. This has meant for those churches the people have been enriched and empowered and the churches flourished.

In contrast, there are many in our churches who may sometimes think that they can’t let go of a particular task. The question in that person’s mind becomes who would or could take over, and who could I ask?

All too often there appears to be a lack of volunteers and the assumption for  that  individual who is overburdened is that they will just have to carry on regardless.

In nearly every church I have ministered in I have come across these individuals, they are overburdened and cannot see how they could ever retire.

As church leaders, these are the people who are perhaps in greatest need for our intervention. The cost to their health mentally and physically should concern us.  We should find ways in releasing the burden from their shoulders and sharing it around.

I sat in a stewards meeting and a person expressed their sense of being overburdened.  One by one the other stewards in the room simply declared, “I’ll do that Julie,” to each of the jobs she was trying to give up.

As I sat there and watched this act of grace unfold I found it deeply moving and inspiring to watch collaborative leadership at work, freeing burdens of others and empowering a broader leadership.

As I conclude I would like to refer to the MBA of ministry book, it also highlights the need for a collaborative ministry but also makes the argument that there is one other leadership style on the spectrum between authoritarian and laissez-faire.

That style is known as the shepherd, the shepherd that nurtures, leads, and inspires his sheep. I wonder what kind of leader might you be? Make God bless you in your leadership wherever you find yourself in church and outside of a church.

Link to the research Leading Together in Growing Methodist Churches’ webpage can be found here

Posts in this series:

Church Growth: Hospitality 

Church growth: Inclusively

Please feel free to leave a comment.

When Growth Is Elusive, Remember…

The book of Acts chapter two tells this incredible story where Gods promised Spirit turns up, enables the disciples to speak in various human languages and then Peter gets up says a few words about Jesus and suddenly three thousand people are added to the new christian community!

This is not an every day occurrence and it wasn’t for them, as much as it isn’t for us. Those of us who preach regularly, will probably have noticed, that as much as our messages might be inspired by the Holy Spirit, we don’t get the same reaction as on that day in the book of Acts! However if this is happening where you are, am sure we would love to be encouraged by your comments below.

For the church to grow that rapidly, and that quickly, the Lord’s hand must’ve been in it, but just much as that is important. I believe that the ground, spiritually speaking was fertile, ready for the ignition of the gospel message, to radically change the spiritual and religious dynamic. 

The disciples had been told to go to Jerusalem and wait for the councillor, Jerusalem had been shocked by Jesus death, and heard the rumours of his resurrection, the disciples once obscure followers had become known and the people were ready for a change, a next step. The ground was ready, the seeds planted over years and planted through the disciples speaking in different languages, simultaneously it seams burst into flame and new faith flourished.

I was going to continue the post here and talk about how the spiritual ground in the UK and indeed Europe is hard and unrelenting, 

Instead I stop my personal pity party, and I’m reminded it wasn’t that easy for the disciples either. I am not going to get arrested, they did, I’m not going to get flogged, tortured or killed, these were all experiences those early believers had. Yes Pentecost happened, yes God kicked off the new covenant relationship with his church with a great crescendo. Moreover there have been revivals since, and there probably will be again. 

But I’m reminded that the long slog of the disciples going from place to place, of experiencing different levels of welcome and antagonism, is not unlike those of our own. I find myself, strangely comforted, and encouraged that I’m not alone after all, but one of many who have gone before.

Once upon a time in our green and pleasant land, the ground we walk used to be fertile, and today it is not particularly fertile towards any organised religion, there are many books and words written by great christian thinkers and academics as to why this might be. 

We long for things to get easier, to see some yield for the seeds planted, It is exhausting physically, emotionally and spiritually in keeping doing the work Jesus calls us too. But perhaps this is the road that Christ calls his church to walk for now, one of not great victories, but individual efforts in building Gods kingdom, and over time those individual efforts will become something great. Great in terms of the glory of God.

As a church we do not often speak in the language of spiritual things rather social, religious and political change, indeed our books don’t even make it into the spiritual section in book shops and libraries. Perhaps we have lost our confidence in spiritual things, in answered prayer, seeing people healed. I know some times, or indeed most times my toil for the Lord is not in his strength but my own. As believers we are quick to claim the gift of forgiveness as our own, and of eternal hope, so to should we receive the gift of the holy spirit that Jesus all so offers us.

Then perhaps our words and actions might be more ordained, perhaps we will read the spiritual seasons with a greater aptitude and see where the lord is already at work. Waiting possibly for us to catch up.

So may the words of Acts two not be just some obscure passage we speak occasionally about on the day of Pentecost. Nor be a passage we use to beat others over the head with, for example I was once told by a fellow believer that if I didn’t speak in tongues I wasn’t a proper christian!

Instead may its words remind us of just as much as we received the gift of forgiveness through Christ death and resurrection, we should also embrace the gift he gives us in the way of the Holy Spirit, a gift of sustaining power, the way to walk more deeply with God and an encourager to step out boldly in faith and build Gods Kingdom.

Mystery Post:

      in_humility

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Looking Back & Seeing Jesus!

When you go on a journey with someone, there are points along that journey that hold special significance, there will be moments of beginnings and endings and a range of celebrations and commiserations in between.

One such Journey, has been my journey as someone trying to follow Jesus. I can remember listening, to a preacher a number of years ago now, tell me that he had been a christian for 25 years. I can remember, being hugely impressed that someone had followed Jesus for that long!

I wondered inwardly, what that would look like for me. So as I cross the line of my 25th year, I wonder if I have learnt anything? I wonder what truths have held me, shaped me, and lead me? Do I exhibit more of the fruit of the spirit than when I first began, those long years ago in my mid-teens.

25 years is a huge period of time, there has been more change in the last 25 years than probably will be in my next. Over this period of time I’ve have been busy growing up, and maturing to greater or lesser degrees, and finding out who I am. As well as leaving home, I have finished School and three colleges, and got qualifications I needed, also had various jobs, got married had two children and of course adopted a beautiful cocker spaniel called George.

One particular enduring truth, is that God is present. He has been present, in the darker moments, of depression, and self-loathing. He has been present when I truly believed I was unloved and alone in the world. He was present, in good company, laughter, new experiences, on my wedding day, and in so many other moments.

I have found that looking through the lens of time, some truths are moulded, whilst I believe in the fundamentals of my faith the death and resurrection of Jesus to name one. I have become less fervent about being right, and less quick to condemn others without first picking out the spec’s of prejudice and notions of exclusivity and superiority in my own life. I hope this has led me to be more gracious, and loving.

Another truth I have learnt is that through the ebb and flow of time, there are periods of doubt, spiritual isolation, and ultimately and eventually but deeper a walk with Jesus, that has been seasoned, and tested, as the song refiners fire says produces gold.

It is that gold that I seek above all, the spiritual gold that does not decay, but rather is a priceless gift that I keep giving away, that others, might see all that God is doing through us, the church of Jesus Christ.

I spent some time on retreat last week thinking about these things, discovering what truths I might have learned on my journey so far, and what God might be calling me too next. Sadly too often, I have found that the church has not always discipled me in a coherent and consistent way, and perhaps worse, is that if my faith was rooted entirely in the church I would’ve left long ago!

God however has scattered across my timeline so far, moments for spiritual growth, which have included worship events, friendships that have left their mark in profoundly wonderful ways upon my life. All these and other moments, have helped to grow me, into the person, into the man, I am today. And perhaps also define the ministry I feel called to, within the church, though less than perfect, but which I call home.

Finally during my retreat I stood within a cathedral which has of course stood for centuries, I became aware that my tiny grain of sand of faithful existence, was put into a correct and timeless context, of Gods eternity in which christ prepares a room for you and I.

This of course doesn’t mean we should stop working hard at building Gods Kingdom, far from it, but we can also know we can trust and rest in a God, that is bigger than our vision of what His kingdom should be. A God who will outlive all our attempts at trying to build his temple.

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