Why Church? – Good Question…

Recently, I preached a series of sermons called ‘Love My Church’. I was seeking to develop a very positive mindset toward the church, and why we should engage more deeply with it. That got me asking another set of questions, and those questions have grown into a series of posts…

For those who don’t know God…

I wonder where the church fits in the experience and awareness of the general community. Maybe the question is not one of ‘where’ but ‘whether’… I guess we have all heard the cliched responses that in the mind of the general community the church is irrelevant, or invisible, or worse. Church leaders have asked often their congregations “if our church was to disappear overnight, would we be missed?”. The question my be cliched, but the answer often troubles us, and that may be for good reason.

For those who know God…

You might expect that for those who know God and follow His Son, Jesus, there would be a more ringing endorsement. Here, the feedback varies. Some Christian love their church, and dedicate much time and energy to making their local church a really terrific place.

But how many of us would say that they love their church, and that meeting with other Christians ‘at church’ is the highlight of their week? And if their answer is not resoundingly positive, what are the factors there?

what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is

Maybe how we talk about church exposes something of the issue:

People ‘go to church’

People ‘get fed with the word at church’

People ‘have fellowship at church’

People ‘are blessed by the ministries, programs and services their church provides’

Pastors ‘work at church, serve their church, and prepare for the services to be held at the church’

My thought is that what we think about the church has enormous impact on how healthy it is, and how well it does what God calls it to do in the community and the world.

The next posts will explore these thoughts a little more.

Love to hear your thoughts…

Why you (still) need the church…

(Apologies that my posts have been a little irregular these last weeks. Leonie and I have visited a few churches, as well as ReCharge – The CRCA pastor’s conference, we have considered a few calls from churches, we’ve decided to accept a call to Gateway CRC, and this last week we’ve out our house on the market, and it appears to have sold. I am hoping that I can now maintain a little more regularity…)

It’s tough being church these days. You have to wonder how even hi-tech and well managed church ‘productions’ compete with easily accessible forms of entertainment. Or why people attend a local community when they can access Driscoll, or Piper, or Ortberg on their smartphone or computer. How can local church ‘Pastor Bob’ compete with all of that? With these choices so readily available, it seems more people are staying away from church, and managing their own spiritual development.

Do we still need the local church?

Ephesians 3:14-20 says we do. If we’re mapping out our own DIY spiritual growth, we are selling ourselves short, as well as dishonouring the community that Jesus gave his life for.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can

Paul prays that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. He prays that we might know the full dimensions of Christ’s love. All its texture, every nuance, every subtlety and variation. The surprising thing is that this does not come from the world’s best preachers, or the Christian book of the year, or even the work of the world’s most erudite Christian scholars. Instead, it comes ‘together with all the Lord’s people’. It comes as the Christian community does new life together. That doesn’t mean preaching or scholarship is not required. It just means that when it comes to you growing into the full dimensions of Jesus’ love preaching, scholarship, and books have considerable limitations.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can. Yes. Your church. That failed and fallen group of people, with all of their quirky and irritating aspects. These people are the very means by which God draws you into the full dimensions of his love.

How does that work? Here are a few suggestions:

• Only your church can love you with all of your faults and failings

• Only your church can express the forgiving grace of God when you fail

• Only your church can draw you into reconciliation and bring the grace of a receiving and welcoming God to full expression

• Only your church gives you a context to use your gifts and to serve others. Stay at home Christianity is basically self worship

• Only your church can express the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth to the people of your neighbourhood

• Only your church can bring healing and restoration to the broken lives and the troubled families that live in your local community

All of this comes as a loving and sovereign God does his work in his people, through the power of his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing, but as he works in us, his people express the truth that Jesus is the hope of our world.

Sure, it can be tough, and not church is perfect. But don’t give up n your local church: it’s God’s means, God’s personally selected context to bring you into the full dimensions of his love.

Q: How is God calling you to renew your love for the local church today?

A Christmas Carol… with a difference

In early December, Redlands CRC had the privilege of leading some community carols in Wellington Point. Normally, this means setting up in the village green, providing a few singers and a spoken message, with the music being provided by the Redlands Brass Band. Councillor Wendy Boglary does a great job pulling the community together, and 2009 saw about 300 people attend the open air event.

This year was different. The weather was closing in, and storms threatened to turn the event into a wash out. Some quick thinking from Cr Boglary and the proprietor of Hogan’s Hotel in Wellington Point switched the event to inside the actual pub. It was a great gesture from Hogans, but it posed a problem for Cr Boglary: what would the people from the church think about having Carols in a place like a pub?

…what would people think about having Carols in a place like a pub?

Cr Boglary’s message on my phone had a tentative tone, as she wondered how I would react. Truth is: I thought it was a great idea. The Hotel patrons would be an instant crowd, and being indoors, it would be easier to hold everyone’s attention, not to mention the fact that if anyone got thirsty…

In the end: the venue change was a gift from God. As I spoke to the crowd that evening, I reminded them that when Jesus was born, it happened in the stable of an inn. These circumstances tell us that God came to everyday people, and that he did not wait for them to get their act together, or to become holy. Jesus’ birth tells us that God came to reconcile us to himself through his son.

God, himself, is missional. He sends himself into his rebellious world, enters people’s lives, meets them as and where they are, to bring those people back to him. This is missional grace par excellence.

This is not only an emphasis we see in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ ministry and mission shows him going out to those on the fringe. Tax collectors. Sinners. Prostitutes. Foreigners. Outcasts. He did not wait for them to come to him. He went to them. They did not have to go to some religious place to ‘become holy’, rather as Jesus’ rule invaded their lives they expressed the holiness of his Kingdom. They we changed as they came under his rule.

I think this demands a rethink of typical outreach strategies today. Many strategies revolve around bringing people into the church: from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’. While event driven attractional mission is the strategy of choice for many today, it was not the strategy of choice in the New Testament.

It was a delightfully incarnational move.

So the carols were held in Hogans Hotel. It was a delightfully incarnational move. We connected with people who would not have met us in the village green, and most certainly would not have (and did not) meet at our Christmas Day service. Even so, it was a great night, the Gospel was spoken, the crowd were attentive, and they all loved it. It was a kingdom win.

The challenge for us is to perpetuate this outward movement, this move into the world. We need to find ways to undertake God’s mission today in a way that takes the Gospel to people and bring the Kingdom of Jesus into their lives.

Q: how do you think churches can enter their world with the good news of Jesus? Where would you start? How are you doing this at present? Please leave a comment and tell us.

Grace and peace: Dave

Ministry to the unknown

A few years ago we visited Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. A lot of things impressed me. I remember the army of 60 volunteers who gave a few hours of their time every week to assemble thousands of newsletters for the next day. I was impressed with Saddleback’s commitment to see their vision, mission and values applied right across the board. I know some people find some of Rick Warren’s canned and contrived, but their alignment to their vision has really worked to make this huge church an effective community of mission and ministry.

One memory is particularly inspirational. As we walked from the car park to the worship centre we were met by one person after another whose ministry was to make us feel welcome. It was as if their passion was to minister to the unknown. We were unknown to them, but they greeted us like family. Like we were old friends. I remember one particular greeter, a young girl of about 11 or 12 years old. Newsletters in one hand, the other outstretched in a gesture of welcome, smiling warmly toward us, “so nice that you’re here today, welcome to Saddleback!” It was beautiful. I thought I might have seen something of heaven in that moment.

People who welcome others to worship or other gatherings of Jesus’ community have such a critical role. Theirs is a ministry of first impressions. This is always important. But the stakes are way higher when people who might be far from God are entering a place of worship for the first time.

So the people in these roles should be the warmest and most relational people available. People who delight to minister to the unknown, and who will love people they do not know. Not only will these people give others a powerful reason to return and a positive first experience, they will also be revealing the character of a seeking God to those who may be seeking him.

Q: how can you draw those involved in greeting ministry at your church into a more Christlike expression of ‘ministry to the unknown’?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Sturgeon St,Ormiston,Australia

We all want relationship

The Dog ‘n’ Bull hotel has been in Bonalbo for ages. Sometime in the last 15 years or so the pub has had a bit of a refurbishment. I’ve never seen the old pub, but my guess is that while the renovations have given more room inside and some added functionality, this has come at the expense of old world charm.

There were a few chairs and tables outside, occupied by a number of the locals. We offered a ‘G’day’ with the characteristic wink, which was acknowledged with a nod and a wary smile. One man, whom we later learned was Old Errol [not his real name], had a Staffy [is his real breed] which appeared to be Old Errol’s equal in years. The Staffy had less hair than Old Errol, bald over most of its lower back and down its tail. An ugly dog. Uglier than most Staffies, in fact. Even so, he and Errol appeared to be great mates, and I felt good about that.

Behind the bar was a tall man wearing a handlebar moustache, a shirt with a Rabbito’s emblem, and the best ‘mullet’ I had seen in years. Sporting photographs, other memorabilia, framed football jerseys and historic team photos held pride of place around the bar. It was pretty obvious: Bonalbo locals loved their Rugby League. We thought it prudent not to let on that we were from Queensland: the day we visited was the week before the final State of Origin challenge, and Queensland had already won two of the three game series. Few things bring out the rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales better than the State of Origin series. It’s all good fun, and for a moment I imagined what it would be like to be at the Dog ‘n’ Bull the evening the game would be played, with Old Errol, his Staffy, and everyone else piling it on the visiting Queenslanders.

One of the mounted football jerseys was from Saint Clair Junior Rugby League Club, and dedicated to “Hornie”. We were not sure who Hornie was, but we guessed he was the proprietor of the Dog ‘n’ Bull. It also occurred to me that Hornie might have been the man behind the bar. He appeared to have any amount of time to talk to people like Old Errol and others who came to the bar. I wondered why people would come and sit in a pub for hours on end. Did Old Errol and others have nothing better to do? Did they have families? Jobs? I thought it was easy to make judgements about how much money someone might spend at the bar, and what better things they could do with it. But Bonalbo is a small place, and some people are just lonely. In those contexts, places like the Dog ‘n’ Bull provide a context for mateship and community. You can have a beer, tell Hornie your thoughts on pretty well anything, and he’ll listen, like a non-judgemental father-confessor. Others at the bar listen too, and offer the occasional banter in reply. This is why people come to the Dog ‘n’ Bull. People want to be with people. They want relationship and friendship. None of us were made to be alone. The Dog ‘n’ Bull might be one of the most consistent expressions of community some people will find. And I think this is why people enjoy places like the Dog ‘n’ Bull so much.

We rattled another 40 odd kilometres down the track to Paddys Flat, where the road crosses the Clarence River. Here we found the WWII tank traps (see pic, with Erin giving the size perspective), supposedly set up along ‘The Brisbane Line’. These were sizable pyramids of concrete. I tried to imagine how they would fare against a tank advance, and I think I could clearly imagine a tank blasting the concrete barriers out of the way. What was unclear was why the Japanese would want to advance along Paddys Flat Road in the first place! I can’t say for sure, but I think there would be areas of greater military significance.

So we had set out to see the tank traps, and in the end they were not the big deal of the day. I found myself thinking about Old Errol and his ugly Staffy, and wondering what it’s like for him when the weather is cold, the night is dark, and the Dog ‘n’ Bull is closed.

(Pic: Crossing the Clarence River at Paddys Flat, near the tanks traps on the ‘Brisbane Line’)

Come Once, Come Weekly

Did you make it to a Sunday Service yesterday?

At Redlands CRC in the AM we welcomed Redland City Mayor, Melva Hobson and Councillor Wendy Boglary, and we hosted representatives from Queensland Police, State Emergency Services, and Queensland Fire & Rescue Service. To celebrate our National Day of Thanksgiving, we wanted to specifically thank those who work in police and emergency services. So we issued special invitations, got in the commercial espresso machines, and treated them to some great Christian affirmation. We also made gestures of thanks to some in the church family who do so much behind the scenes and yet who are not often affirmed. It was great to honour God together for what he does through people! It was so encouraging to hear (and feel) the buzz in the room! It really is good to glorify God as we meet together. Thanks for being part it!

Truth is, not everyone makes it every Sunday. For some, this is unavoidable. Whether through career or other circumstance, from time to time we just cannot make it.

But did you know that a proportion of the Redlands CRC family attend only once every two or three weeks?

Is that you?

I know: no one needs a guilt trip. But having a good look at how we spend our time, and what we spend our time on, could be a timely thing to do. I’ll leave that exercise to you…

As you think about Sundays, though, it’s good to remember the metaphor Paul uses to describe the church in 1 Cor 12. He refers to it as ‘the body of Christ’. One of the key points he makes is this:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ” (1 Corinthians 12:27, TNIV)

God wants you to be active in the church. If your typical attendance pattern is to come every second week, or every third week, or less – have you ever thought about the impact that has on the body? You might think that it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re there or not. If you don’t think it matters, try this: take just one piece of your body out of the picture – just for a day. Let’s say, your left hand. You’re probably right handed – it shouldn’t matter that much, right? Or a toe – or even a section of a toe – ever tried walking with an ingrown toenail? See, if just one small part is out of action, the rest of the body knows all about it.

The reality is that God really loves it when the body is working well. Every part of it. He loves it when the body is healthy. He loves is when the body worships and serves and works the best that it possibly can. He loves it when the whole family meets and worships together!

It may even be that the body needs you more than you need the body. Either way, when the whole body works well together, God is honoured and is grace is more evident in the church and in the world.

So why not make a plan to come more regularly: come once, come weekly. Glorify God with His people, and together pray that the wonderful news of his son will be carried into his world just that little bit better as we do.

Dave

Members of Queensland Fire & Rescue, along with Cr Wendy Boglary
Dave Groenenboom, Tom Short (SES), and Mayor Melva Hobson

Another QF&R Officer with some of the more important people at Redlands CRC

Photos: Kev Hudson

Of the World, But Not In It?

I am writing a new sermon series (with Clinton) on the Sermon on the Mount. My first message is coming Sunday (Feb 07), and it comprises the whole Beatitudes passage – Matthew 5:1-12. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

I was reflecting about how Jesus calls his followers, broken as they are, to respond to the brokenness around them. One of the thoughts I had was that only a broken church can respond with blessing to the broken world they are in. This is how we reveal the kingdom of heaven, and show what it is really like.

Then I wondered about how does a church of reasonably comfortable suburban Christians start to enter into the brokenness in their community?

I was thinking we could email local MPs and local government people and ask them for guidance in where the greatest areas of need are. Then an uncomfortable realisation lodged itself in my mind, ‘why do I even need to do that? Why don’t I already know about brokenness in my own community? Why do we find it so hard to know what the greatest areas of need are? Why do we find it hard to see this?’

I think it’s because we get involved in our own lives, busy in our work, busy loving our families. We feel wronged when we don’t have any time to relax with our friends. Our churches are great, but there are so many things to do, so many programs, so many areas of ministry and service, that it’s just too easy to lose touch with the world around us. So we lose our connection with real people and their brokenness. We striving to get ahead financially, we want to make ends meet, become financially independent. We buy into the view that financial independence, comfortable living, owning the latest and greatest, brand-names-on-the-outside wardrobe, are the things that really matter. And as it turns out, we end up being of the world, but no longer in it.

Has the lifestyle of western suburban Christianity become a the new monasticism? Where Jesus’ people withdraw into their own virtual enclave and remove themselves form the world and its suffering? Is this why we do not perceive the brokenness around us?