|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 1: A Need for Today
“.. having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose”.
1.1 The Background to this book
Welcome to Book 2 of Creating a Secure Church. In Book One we considered the subject of personal security, individually knowing that we are loved and accepted by God. In this Book we're moving on to consider security in our corporate life as 'church'.
In this opening chapter you'll find some brief opening comments about the needs of our time, some explanatory details about the book, and reasons why the book was written. In that latter part I'll use three illustrations, things that happened in the life of our church, which provoked my thinking, and which provide pointers for us as we start to consider Creating a Secure Church.
The Cry of “Friends”
In the mid 1990's the theme song for what became a cult youth TV series declared, “I'll be there for you,” and Friends became essential watching for that generation. In the years that followed, series followed series and videos followed videos. Friends captured a feeling among the younger generation.
The cry of “I'll be there for you” could perhaps sum up the whole Christian message. Jesus was there, and is there, for us. Similarly he wants us to be there for one another in the church, and indeed for anyone, however bad, who comes looking for Christ. That's what this book is all about.
A Need for Transparency
Before I get under way in this particular book, I think it's important for me to be as transparent as I can, for I am going to say some things about “Church” and I don't in any way want to put myself forward as an expert in church life.
To the contrary, I lead a fairly small church, and I am aware there are many, many leaders who could teach far more about church from their experiences than I could. Indeed some of the dynamic ministries that I have been under over the years, in Bible Weeks especially, have really caused me to think whether the whole foundation of this book is valid.
I am in many ways a small scale practitioner, but then I have written a book about only one facet of church life. I happen to believe it is THE most important facet of church life which impinges on all other areas and simply ask you, if you've come to this site, to see if it says things to your situation, whether you come from a large church or small.
I recently stood in the book area at a large Bible Week in the U.K. and, looking at the plethora of titles, wondered why I've bothered writing. At one point I'll briefly mention using prophecy with non-Christians. If you want an good book on the subject you will find “Prophetic Evangelism” by Mark Stibbe excellent. At another point I refer to “church without walls”. If you go looking, you'll find a number of excellent books with that very title. My only excuse is that I didn't know about them at the time!
I suspect you can find many books that cover in detail the things I cover here in outline. The only thing I can say, is that I've never seen these things, in this form, all together in one place, so I hope you'll find some benefit from that and, hey, this is free to you!
Before I say anything, particularly in the next chapter, that might be considered negative about denominations, streams or groupings, I want first of all, simply to pay tribute to the wide diversity of church life that has blessed and formed me through the years.
If you're reading from some other part of the world, I was born and live in the U.K. I came to Christ indirectly through a Billy Graham Crusade in 1967. I lived in London and went to the nearest church which happened to be a little Methodist church. The minister blessed me. Through the circumstances surrounding me at that time I soon moved down to the area where I now live, to work in a youth evangelism team, but also became part of a Baptist church where I was soon baptised. The teaching and stability of that church established me. Part of my time was with the youth team and I occasionally took part in services in little independent chapels around the county.
Some of my new friends (because there was a strong youth scene in this area at that time) belonged to the Brethren and from them I learned the wonder of the Word of God. Others of my friends belonged to the Elim Pentecostals and their life and enthusiasm also blessed me. I became a Crusader leader and taught Bible classes on Sunday afternoons. After Sunday evening meetings, I opened my flat (‘apartment' to the Americans!) and about 40 or so young people swarmed in, and for a period we learned about being led by the Spirit.
I worked in London and went to lunch hour services in an Anglican church where the teaching really helped further establish me. In those early days I read Watchman Nee and Francis Schaeffer and was much helped. With the passing of years my wife and I became involved with a small independent evangelical church where I eventually became a deacon and subsequently an elder. For eight years we joined with Scripture Union and had the privilege of leading a beach mission in Wales for two weeks each summer.
Along the way we fellowshipped at Prayer & Bible weeks with Dennis Clark, then the Dales Bible Weeks, even a New Frontiers Bible Week or two, and finally Bible Weeks with Cornerstone Ministries at Shepton Mallet in the South West of England… and a few other places!
When I look back over this far from complete catalogue, I marvel at the men, the ministries, the churches, the streams and the denominations that have blessed me over the years. The U.K. has provided a rich heritage during my lifetime. We are much blessed.
The Lord has also allowed me to travel and minister in Asia, Europe and the States as well, for a number of years. I suppose I should also mention that I have led a church in the South East of England for over twenty years that would probably fall into the category of free evangelical with charismatic leanings! I hope that doesn't put you off! Some of the people we had with us, have been with me throughout that period and have blessed me again and again and, more importantly for this book, have taught me many things about the subject of security.
I have been blessed by the church in its many forms. The church is very diverse but it also has a number of commonalities. This book is really all about just one of them. I am now retired since originally writing this book and although I am in the process of reviewing all we think about when we speak of church, I believe what I have written here previously still stands.
Why have I written Book 2?
I suppose I have written both these books because any half-decent church will agree with the teaching that we are to love one another, yet in reality, because we are the tainted beings that we are, we so often fall far short of Jesus' instructions, I believe, again and again.
I've seen things, and been part of things that must grieve God's heart. Through the years He has worked on my heart and these two books are the result. These things are at the heart of our church and so, from time to time you'll have to excuse me if I give personal illustrations. Those who know me will no doubt tell me off if I misrepresent things!
1.2 Forces of Change
In Book One I shared with you, in the opening chapter, why I had written that book and told of an experience that we had had on a church retreat. Now that retreat did speak significantly of corporate life but two other experiences in particular, have also had impact on me in recent years and have provoked me to write about this dimension of our church life. The first one, you'll see involved an individual and the second one touched on Sunday mornings. I hope you'll see how they apply. However, if you haven't read Book One, then I would ask you to quickly turn there and see what happened on that retreat. It was significant in the corporate life of our church. If you have already read that, let's move on.
A Guilt Revealed
The first incident involves a young man we'll call Jack. That's not his name. Similarly let's call his wife Marie, again not her real name. Marie came to see me a few weeks after she had started coming to us. She confessed that she had just come back to Jesus after many years out of relationship with him and she now asked for guidance as to what she should do with her life. A number of years beforehand she had entered into a relationship with Jack and they had a child. The only problem was she had never got a divorce from her previous partner who had left her. Marie wanted to do whatever was right but the only problem was that Jack wasn't a Christian so she didn't know how he would react. To cut a long story short, Jack gloriously came through to become a Christian a few weeks later (a genuine conversion!). Marie divorced her previous partner and married Jack so their son could have a father, and so they lived happily ever after. Not quite!
Two years later they came to see me. Jack had a problem with pornography. We talked and prayed with him. He made a very full confession. Then he came to see me again and started to confess to having abused his youngest step daughter. “I want to do whatever it takes to put this right. I want to be right with God and with the family, and if it means going to prison, I'll do that, whatever it takes to put this right” was his plea.
For the next year we sought to stand alongside Jack, Marie and their family. He has subsequently served a six month prison sentence. It was while we were trying to find professional counselling for Jack that we realised what a problem we, as Church, have. We know a number of counselling groups and as we approached them we began to feel the same thing coming through, and it became transparently clear when one person eventually actually said to us, “We counsel the abused and I'm not sure how our counsellors would feel about counselling an abuser.”
If you are a parent with young children you probably feel very angry (rightly so) about the abuse that goes on in our society. When Jack first told me what he had been doing, my heart went cold. When I shared it with our leadership team there was a similar reaction of revulsion. But what about when an abuser comes to the church and says, “Please help me”? Eventually we did eventually find someone who could counsel Jack, who did specialise in this area of work, but for a while we felt that we, the Church, were missing out on being Jesus to sinners.
The case of Jack has made us examine our hearts very deeply. As a society we have lifted off the moral restraints, we have filled our minds with sex, and then wondered why many men have been unable to control their depraved desires. Can we as church be both holy and compassionate, can we be Jesus to those who do want help, with whatever sin?
Pick 'n Mix
The second incident is completely different and involves an alternative approach to our Sunday mornings. As church services went, I believe ours tended to be fairly free, informal and quite often lively. The presence of the Lord was often clearly there. However, a number of people had been giving an indication that they felt we had become stale in our approach to Sunday morning worship.
We then adopted an approach to occasional Sunday mornings that we called “Pick ‘n Mix”. You've perhaps come across sweet shops that allow you to choose a few out a variety of jars to make up your own selection, called “Pick ‘n Mix”. This describes well what we had in mind. The idea was that for one Sunday a month for three months we would have an experimental approach to the whole morning. (It started for three months a number of years ago (2004) and continued for about two and a half years.)
We would run at least three parallel streams at the same time. The third stream was the children and young people who had their own activities throughout the morning. The rest of the church ran two streams throughout the morning in half hour blocks with quarter hour coffee breaks in between. The aim was to provide alternative approaches to worship, running at the same time and varieties of teaching style and subject. (I'll share more on this in the chapter later in the the book titled "A Light to the World".)
At the end of the first morning we had a feedback time and collected people's comments. They were 95% very favourable. People had been able to choose what type of worship to join in, what sort of teaching to go for and so on. The comments came thick and fast. Brilliant! Wonderful! I really enjoyed it! I feel so refreshed. The presence of God was so strong. I really enjoyed the teaching. But the comment that has prompted me to write about it came in the midst of the many other positive comments: “For the first time ever, I really enjoyed church”. Now that may sound really encouraging but when you think of it, it actually says, “All these years we've tolerated or put up with church!”
I've not been able to put that comment out of my mind. My conclusion? Many of us put up with church, either because it's all we've ever known, or because we're frightened of upsetting leaders, or because…… but the truth is that for many of us we're playing games and we can't be honest about it, because to face it might undermine what we think is our faith.
The truth is that it won't, it will help us create a secure church, one where it's not a sin to be honest. Now I hope this doesn't shock you and if your instant reaction is a defensive one, I understand that and would simply ask you to look in the coming months at what you know of as ‘church' through honest eyes, and see if it's true.
Lessons from Abuse?
What lessons can we learn from these things? What about our abuse case? Perhaps these are some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves as churches:
Is there a clear distinction taught in our churches between right and
wrong, not what the current world climate says but what the word of God
Is there such a depth of grace and understanding in our churches that a
secure environment has been created where people can feel secure enough
to confess their sins, and know they will still be loved, and will also receive
help and support to change?
Lessons from Variety
The questions from Pick 'n Mix are not so much about loving and caring for needy people as about loving and caring for people sufficiently to allow them to be honest about what we do together as church:
Are we tolerating practices in church that are lifeless and boring because
we're afraid to speak out?
Is our leadership sufficiently secure that we are able to take criticism of
what we do, week by week? (this is not to create a criticism or blame
culture but to provide a channel for constructive feedback)
1.3 Occasional Fractures in the Church
In Book One, in the first chapter, we reminded ourselves of God's words to Samuel (1 Sam 16:7) “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart”, and applied it by means of an imaginary pastor who God touches so that he can see the genuine state of each of his people. To provoke thoughts about the corporate life aspects of church, I'd now like to use another imaginary situation to show that often all is not as it seems.
Goodbye Pastor! (1)
Pastor John collected his papers together from his desk and placed them into his briefcase as he prepared to go to the monthly leader's meeting in the Conference room. In his mind he went over the things he needed: minutes of last meeting, proposal for the buildings plans, report from the recent Romanian trip, the accounting figures for the last quarter, the notes on the evangelism project? Yes, it was all there. John enjoyed the business meetings. He had a good feel, the feel of being the captain of a good ship. Yes, Sunday attendance numbers were up, giving was up, there was a good feel in the congregation. His preaching was well accepted, the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting were well attended. Yes, it was good being here.
John arrived to find the others gathered round the table already. A good bunch of men. He sat down and was only then aware of a sense of tension in the room.
“John, before we get on to anything on the agenda, I think we need to say something to you.” This was Derek, right-hand man, strong personality and a man for God. He continued before John could say anything.
“John, a number of us have been talking. This isn't a hasty decision but we need to let you know, right now, I'm sorry but we feel your time here is up. We can't work with you any longer, you're not hearing us, you've got stale, and we feel God is probably calling you somewhere else. There's no room for negotiation. We'd like you to leave, and for the sake of the people, we feel that should be as soon as possible, and so we'd like you to step down before the end of the month. We're sorry John, that's just how it is.”
With that, there was a scraping of chairs and with the exception of John, each person around the table got up and quietly left the room. John sat in stunned silence, alone in the big Conference room. "Am I dreaming this? Did this just happen? This is crazy! What have I done? What haven't I done? Why didn't I see this coming? Why didn't they talk to me about it before it got to this? How could they do this to me? How did they keep this from me until now?"
Pastor John sat alone with his head bowed, and wept.
Goodbye Pastor! (2)
Derek poured the milk over his cereal and carefully slit open the first letter in the pile Mary had put down next to him. The rest were clearly junk mail but this envelope was hand written and clearly not business. It was a nice morning, the sun shone, Derek had slept well, the matters in his diary for the day were not likely to cause problems, the church was at peace. He drew out the single sheet of paper.
This is simply to inform you that as from today both myself and the worship team are resigning from the church and will be setting up a new group of the Lord's people in the middle of town.
You will know that a number of us have had reservations about the formality of the Sunday Morning Services and have expressed to you a number of times our feeling that we have been grieving the Holy Spirit. As we have discussed this among ourselves we have concluded that there is very little hope of change coming to this church and feel it would be more beneficial for both you and us if we left the church and set up elsewhere.
We have appreciated your ministry over the years but feel it is simply time for us to move on. We apologise if the absence of musicians leaves a hole in the Sunday morning ministry but we're sure there will be others who will be able to come forward and play for you.
We suspect that there are a number of others in the church who feel similarly and while we have not encouraged others to come with us, a number do know we are meeting in town as from next Sunday.
We pray that God will bless you and the church in your ministry.
A black cloud seemed to have come down over Derek and he just sat there unmoving. After a minute or two Mary looked up and asked, “Is anything the matter?”
The following Sunday the usual congregation of about ninety was reduced by twenty and the following Sunday a further twenty were missing.
1.4 And So ?
As in Book One, at the end of each chapter we'll pose a few questions to focus our thinking.
What did you feel when I started telling you about Jack's sin? Were you:
Do you feel your church is one where people can feel secure enough to confess their sins, knowing that they will receive understanding, forgiveness and help?
Do you feel your church is one where the leaders feel sufficiently secure that they can take constructive comments?
In the scene with Pastor John what do you think were probably the characteristics of that church, or of Pastor John's ministry, that brought about that confrontation? What do you think would be a righteous way for the other leaders to handle the situation that would not result in distress or anguish by any of the parties involved?
In the scene with Derek, why do you think it had got to a state where a large percentage of the church had decided to leave? How might that have been prevented a long time back?
The characters may be hypothetical but the circumstances are real and these things happen, so we must ask ourselves, what can we do to change it?