Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Church For Me – Vision Part 4

This is the last post about God reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

In my first post about Vision I talked about my Personal Vision,
In my second post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’
In my last post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’

This time I want to ask: Where do I fit in this vision?

After a notice had been up in the entrance to our church building at St Paul’s for a few months I was asked the question by more than one person in our congregation: So where do I fit in this vision?

Good question!

I think there are two directions this question can come from. The first is saying, I’m not unchurched and I’m not a child so is there anything here for me? How will you meet what I need and want if I don’t fit into these categories? My answer is simple, as you seek to become fully part of a church community with a focus on mission to the unchurched and children you will find all that you need (although you may not find all you want). As Christians we learn and grow far more as we witness than we do as we study. If your desire is to grow as a disciple of Jesus then you will have ‘making disciples’ as the highest priority in your life. We don’t learn in order to witness, we witness in order to learn.

The Christian faith has at it’s heart the incarnation, the willingness of Jesus to give everything for those he loves. I like the Message translation of John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The character of God is that of giving and generosity. Jesus ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ so that he could become one of us and ultimately live within us. He calls us to have the same character of giving and generosity, for us to become truly one with others so that they too can become disciples of Jesus. The question is not what’s in it for me, rather it is what can I give so that others can experience what I’ve experienced.

The second direction that the question “Where do I fit in this vision” can come from is saying “What can I do to help?” For the answer to that I would suggest starting to look at your family, friends, neighbours & colleagues and asking yourself “How can I share the love of Jesus with them?” This can make many different forms, from handing our free strawberries at a Summer Fayre, to inviting a friend to come with you to Back to Church Sunday, to offering to go to their home and go through the Alpha Course with them. It may mean supporting the Under 2s and Under 5s ministry during term time, or offering to help with our Sunday School on Sunday mornings, or perhaps helping with the Light Party in October.

I started this series of posts by saying that God has confirmed to me a personal vision that I believed was directly related to the church he would call me to lead. I hope that by sharing thoughts about my personal vision I have encouraged and challenged you to think about your own vision.



A Church For Children – Vision Part 3

This is the third post about God reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

In my first post about Vision I talked about my Personal Vision,
In my last post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

This time I want to ask the question: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’

According to analysis of church attendance statistics in 2010 the average age of churchgoers was 61 (against the average adult age in the population of 48), and on average half of all churchgoers are pensioners. In the UK there are approximately 12.5 Million children under the age of 16 of these approximately 218,600 will usually be in a  church service on a Sunday. That equates to less than 2% of children in the UK!

Why do we need to be ‘A Church For Children?’ Put simply – if we aren’t the church will cease to exist in the next generations!

So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’ It means that children and young people have as much right to be part of who we are, how we worship and what we do as adults have. It means that the resources we give to working with children are the very best, both in terms of people and in terms of finances. It means that children have as much right to be fully part of our Sunday corporate worship as adults have even if their expression of worship is different.

At St Paul’s I believe we have come along way in becoming a Church for Children. We introduced the areas at the back of the building for toddlers which have been well used. I very, very rarely hear reports of children being ‘tut-tutted’ for the noise they make (although I am always saddened when I do hear such comments). There is a simple answer if the noise of children at the back of our building disturbs you – there is always room on the front row! A lot is invested in our relationship with Sarisbury Junior and Infant Schools and that investment will reap long term benefits that we may never see personally. Our Carol services have been revitalised as we have welcomed the choir from Sarisbury Junior School and in recent years we have had to hold multiple children’s services on Christmas Eve to fit everyone in.

More recently the growth of our work with young families in our Under 5s and Under 2s groups has been fantastic. Led by Clare and Brenda we regularly have contact with over 30 families with good relationships and friendships being built. I am convinced that one of the side effects of this is the increase in the requests for infant baptism that we have seen in the past 12 months. Out of this the Tea Service started in December 2010 and has grown and matured in the last 18 months, so much so that others have come to see how we do it. Once again this has been led by Clare, Phil and their Small Group who have mission to young families at the foundation of their group.

This is good news, however we are still only reaching a small percentage of the children and young families in Sarisbury Green. We have very few families with school aged children who regularly attend our Sunday Services, I wonder why? Is the content wrong? Is the music style wrong? Is the time wrong? I wonder if this last one is perhaps one of the most important questions. I’ve seen some of our families leave because sport happens on a Sunday morning, or because children are with mum and dad on alternate weekends and Sunday morning is just the wrong time. Perhaps to be truly a Church for Children we need to experiment with moving our Family Services to 4pm on a Sunday with a bring-and-share tea and see if more families come?

What do you think?



A Church for the Unchurched – Vision Part 2

In my last post I shared that God is reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

Read the previous post

So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

One of the passages in the Bible that I keep returning to is Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (and through them of each and every Christian) in Matt 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” These are some of the very last words of Jesus to his followers and so they are really, really important. He could have said anything. He could have said go and pray for four hours a day, or go and fast twice a week, or go and feed the poor. Praying, fasting and giving to the needs of the poor are all vital and important, but Jesus didn’t say any of those as his last words. He said, go and make disciples. NOTE: he said go and make disciples not go and build the church, he also told us to go to ALL nations, that is to every man, woman and child, not just to the people who are already in the church.

The life and ministry of Jesus was an example of just this. In fact Jesus got quite a reputation for who he spent his time with. In Matthew 9:11-13 we read: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members”. Think about that statement, it has a lot to say. The church does not exist for my benefit, it does not exist to provide what I want, when I want it and in the style I prefer. We live in a consumer society, but the church is not a consumer organisation, if anything the church should be profoundly counter cultural in this.

In 2004 the Church of England published a report entitled ‘Mission Shaped Church’ and one of the statements that was at the heart of that book was: “It’s not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”

For decades, if not centuries, the church of God has understood that it had a mission in the world, that is, mission was one of the reasons for the existence of the church amongst many others. That isn’t want Matt 29:19 says, rather it is the God of mission who has a church in the world, that is, mission is at the very heart and foundation of the existence of the church, it is not one of the reasons for it’s existence amongst many others, it is THE reason for the existence of the church.

Let me return to the question I asked at the start: what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

It means that we examine all that we are and do against how it serves God’s mission of making disciples of all nations. Let me take one, possibly controversial, area of the life of many churches and ask what it might mean if we were truly a ‘church for the unchurched.’ At a recent meeting of the PCC our Archdeacon remarked that he was surprised how many churches in the Diocese had communion as their main service almost every Sunday. That wasn’t his experience in other Dioceses that he has been in and the question he raised was should we reduce the number of communion services at St Paul’s to maybe twice monthly and at Whiteley to once monthly. He was clear that this wasn’t because of the lack of priests to celebrate communion, but rather in a mission minded church was it appropriate to have so many communion services?

Why might he suggest this? The reasoning behind this question is that communion can be a barrier for the unchurched. Every Sunday when I administer communion I know how many people receive the bread and wine, how many people I pray a blessing over and how many people are in the building. And every week that are a number who don’t come up for communion or a blessing. Why? I would suggest that it is because communion is a meal for Christians and they don’t feel included. Instead of welcoming and including them communion becomes a barrier.

In a previous church community that I was part of the question of the regularity of communion was raised. The suggestion made was the we should ask the members of the church community how often they felt we should celebrate communion, my strong suspicion was that if we did so the answer would be ‘as often as possible.’ If the church is a ‘church for the unchurched’ perhaps the best people to ask aren’t those who are already part of the church community but those who are on the outside. I wonder what they would say?