|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 8: Strategies for Relationships
Because relationships in the body of Christ are really the building blocks of the church (Eph 2:19-22) we need to go back over the previous chapters and see how, in a practical way, we can go about creating a secure church as far as the relationships in the church at large are concerned. We will be considering relationships in ministry later but for now we'll simply concentrate on general relationships.
Let's quickly take note again the things we've considered earlier on:
Church is all about relationships.
Church often seems to be made up of people very different to me.
Sometimes their behaviour is quite different from mine – but that may be
Sometimes their appearance is very different to mine and that can be
We can often be left feeling inadequate in the way we respond to ‘different'
Understanding their past helps me accept them as they are.
Church is made up of imperfect people – but we wish they were perfect!
Sanctification is a process, a gradual and slow process – but we want people
to change quickly.
Change can be outward (cosmetic) or inward (real).
God works with us to bring change in us.
There are reasons why people sometimes are slow to change
we need to accept one another while we're waiting for change.
The New Testament speaks often about things we are to do together.
Togetherness has many benefits.
Immaturity is a very real factor in church life.
To summarise those early chapters – relationships are important and need working at! Will that happen automatically or do we need to structure our approach to it?
8.2 The Corporate Approach
We need to go for this subject of relationships at two levels: corporate and individual. Let's start with the corporate approach. What we are considering here is first of all the way people feel in the environment of the local church which will then affect how they relate to one another. In what follows I'll share the approach that we used, purely to illustrate more fully some of the aspects of this that works towards creating a secure church. The following are suggested stages for bringing this about:
At the corporate level first of all the leadership and then the church at large needs to come to an awareness that we need to put developing Christian relationships and the way we feel about ‘being church' high on the agenda. Some may do this in the form of a ‘Mission Statement', others might use alternative less ‘organisational' approaches. Our own Mission Statement started out:
Yours may express it differently but with the same intent no doubt, but the key question is, if you have a Mission Statement or something similar, can you actually quote it - for that is a clear sign of how important it is to you. The way you come to this awareness will, of course, vary. It may be by the use of this book, it may come through reading other books on the subject, it may come about by a crisis that makes you face the whole question, or it may come by other motivating forces that God may already be using to challenge you about the environment that exists within your church.
If it's important for the leadership to be clear in their mind that working on relationships and the church ethos is critical, then communicating that to the people is equally important. Different churches operate in different ways. In our own church we considered that the leadership team are responsible before God for ascertaining direction, but we will do it by reference to as many people in the church as possible. However you do this it is important to convey as much as possible of your vision to help people understand what you feel you want to achieve. For us we broke the Mission Statement down into a number of components and then considered how to achieve them by means of
Working on the ‘Community' aspect
Remember our Mission statement started, “ To create a growing community of God's people…”
So, remember, we start with clarifying a Target and then the Means to achieve it:
i) The Target to aim for:
We broke the Target for “Community” down as follows:
We each see ourselves as part of the larger family (i.e. we're not just lone
We're all working together for deeper relationships in the family (i.e. we're
going to actively pursue this)
b) Shown by:
c) Achieved when:
Note the Strategy: The overall target needs various specific things (Aims) to bring the whole about, but merely stating those aims is insufficient; we need to say how we are going to recognise them (‘Shown by') when they are achieved, and actually what we will see/hear/feel when they are achieved (‘Achieved by')
ii) Working out the Means
We then broke the Means for “Community” down as follows:
We need to change our perception from “just me” to “part of a family” (i.e.
we must stop thinking in isolation)
We need to teach that we are sons and daughter in God's family
We need to teach how to relate to other people
As well as teaching we need to make use of times away together which
build us in fellowship and in relationships
Particular planned times away and general activities that build us together.
(The retreat in Book One was a specific example of this being worked out)
Note the Strategy: In working out the means to achieve our Target, there almost certainly will need a change in thinking in the church as a whole (Thinking). Now to achieve this change in the way we think, we will need to teach it (Teaching). But teaching it using words is insufficient; we also need to think how we can work at it practically (Approach) but then we mustn't leave this as just ideas; we must make concrete plans to do it (Specifics).
Working on the ‘loving, accepting and caring' aspect
Similarly another one of the components was “ Loving, accepting and caring ”.
We broke the Target for “ Loving etc .” down as follows:
We accept all others and express love towards them
We're all seeking together to express love and care to all others
b) Shown by:
People feel welcome, valued and cared for
People's lives are being changed by love
c) Achieved when:
We are genuinely a people who are changing by being loved and accepted
and ministered to within the local church, and many of us are aware of the
church being a secure environment.
We then broke the Means for “ Loving etc .” down as follows:
We need to change our perception from “bless me” to “how can we bless
others with our love?”
We need to teach that we are accepted by Christ as we are, i.e. we need to
see his example of loving acceptance.
We need to teach how to accept, love and care for one another.
We structure our church life to ensure caring goes on individually and in groups
We identified specific ways and structures by which we would encourage
caring and ensure everyone in the church was covered.
Communicating to All
We wanted to communicate this to as many people in the church as possible and so when it came to communicating this to our teenagers we simplified it as follows:
Simplified for Teens: Community
What it means: Community is about ‘togetherness', working together to deepen our relationships, to see ourselves as one big family, working together for a common purpose.
What we can do:
Take opportunities to be together socially & spiritually to build up one another
Spend time together with a purpose
Get to youth gatherings in the church and be a participator in what the group does
Encourage others to do the same
Where possible join in activities of the whole church.
Simplified for Teens: Loving, Accepting and Caring
What it means : Jesus told us to love one another and this community should be a loving place where all are accepted and cared for.
What we can do:
Work at making others always feel welcome, loved and cared for, yet not
afraid to challenge to be holy
Listen to one another, pray for one another and help one another to go on
Put yourself out to accept and involve everyone who comes along, so all
feel safe and welcome and no one feels left out
Have sharing/caring times of praying for each other's problems
Form a “Caring Pair” with an older person (for caring / mentoring )
Our complete Mission Statement went on to speak about us being a faith people who serve one another and the world outside, so other components we explained were about Growing (reaching out to others with the Gospel), moving in Faith (listening to and responding to God), Serving in the church and outside it. I've only deal with the two components above because they particularly focus on the matter of being a secure church. I would also add that we considered that we were still very much in the early days of this.
After the vision has been communicated it is essential that it is practically implemented and checks are established to ensure that 3, 6 and 9 months on, it is still being worked at. Part of that implementation must be an ongoing programme, in the midst of all else we feel called to do, of preaching and teaching to raise and maintain awareness and understanding of these issues. That teaching can come from the front on a Sunday or within midweek groups - yet it does need to come!
The reality is that because we are the less-than-perfect individuals that we are, we will fall away from working at this, given half a chance! It will need to be reinforced and seen to be a primary value in the eyes of all the leadership if our church is to be able to develop and become a truly secure church. Until we are able to bring each person into an awareness of who they are in Christ, and how Christ feels about their brothers and sisters, we will never achieve a secure church. In that sense, therefore we will never achieve it because there will always be new people being added, but that is not to stop us continually aiming to create it.
8.3 A Caring Environment Starts in Meetings
A vital element for a secure church is that people do genuinely feel cared for. While we do need to be emphasising and encouraging evangelism, gifted ministry equipping and so on (i.e. outward looking activities and expression of church life) we also need to be putting in place means of actively caring for people every time they gather together.
It is possible that when you start reading what follows you may think, "This is obvious! Why is he bothering with all this mundane stuff!" The answer to that, is that I have been into too many churches where these things are clearly NOT obvious and have clearly NOT been thought about, so bear with me and perhaps ask yourself, have we paid attention to each of these details?
These things may sound very mundane but a sense of being cared for starts at the moment a visitor comes through the doors, continues through the duration of the meeting, and goes on right up to the time they are walking away from the building.
Post Meeting Caring
There are those who advocate that such caring should go on even after that point, but follow-up of individuals in this way can only occur if you know who they are and where you can contact them. Obtaining this information can come either formally by asking visitors to fill in information cards, or informally by individuals who have been talking with visitors and have found out where they live and so on. If visitors have friends in the congregation, then follow up is simple. Caring in the context of post-meeting follow up needs to be availability with practical help or at the very least the offer of prayer and a listening ear concern.
Entry Level Caring
Caring within the meeting can be at a very simple and practical level. True caring shows that those in charge of the meeting have thought about those meeting with them and have sought to minister to their needs. When visitors come in they probably do not know what they should do, where they should go and so on. The style of meeting will, of course, dictate somewhat the approach to the welcome given. More traditional churches where the gathering of the people tends to be in a more subdued manner, where quiet ‘reverent' (as it is seen) waiting for the start of the meeting, does not lend itself to the warm expressive welcome found in the newer churches where the gathering of the saints tends to be more like a family reunion.
Where there are visitors, then the job of the leader at the beginning of the meeting must be to put them at ease and explain the style of worship and the likely form of the meeting. If the service follows a standard format the visitor should know where he or she should be in a prayer book, or the likely order in other traditional services where no such book is being used. In a meeting where the worship tends to be largely ongoing singing, people do need to know that they can sit down whenever they want. For those with the traditional hymn-prayer sandwich form of service it is very much easier to simply follow what the rest are doing, but for a freer more expressive worship-gathering, where it is hoped that the Holy Spirit is allowed greater freedom to move, it is vital that people are put at ease over what is likely to happen and what is expected of them as far as participation is concerned. These are all caring issues that can add to or detract from a feeling of security.
The very environment in which the would-be worshippers finds themselves is also important. The use of overhead transparencies or a video projector says a lot. The worship leader who simply moves on to a new song or chorus without any backup transparency, and in the absence of a song book may be leaving visitors feeling highly self-conscious at not knowing the words.
Where the transparency words or projected words are so small that anyone on the back row will have to strain to read them, we have a leadership that doesn't care, hasn't thought about it, and probably has perfect vision! Older members of the congregation will feel no one understands that their vision is no longer perfect and may feel quite insecure in such a situation. To expect such people to sit on the front row is highly unrealistic - so don't expect it! The larger the room the better the quality of the overhead projector and better the quality of transparencies required.
Failure in this realm raises a question mark over the caring by the leaders for the people meeting with them. Projecting onto a wall at an angle so that words are distorted and difficult to read also says we don't care about you. The poor use of the projector so that words are not focused is the same. These are simple issues to think about, and training people to properly use the projector is not difficult! You think this is all mundane stuff? Look at what you do in your church, or travel around and see how bad so many churches are in this respect!
Churches that have moved on to use computers and video projectors to project words and pictures, often fall into the trap of trying to be too clever with the visual effects which, although done with the best of intentions, still provide distractions or problems for the people. Here we have to ask the question, why do we have the high technology? Is it to gratify the whims of a high-tech wizard in the church, or is it to genuinely bless the people? It needs thinking about.
The same is true of the sound system in a large room with many people. Poor quality amplified sound, either too high or too low, produces a problem for some people. A caring community thinks about these things and seeks to meet the people where they are, complete with their less-than-perfect vision or hearing. For those with hearing aids, a loop system is essential where possible.
High windows without curtains where the sun shines through and blinds some of the congregation are simply another problem to be overcome by caring administrators. Each of these practical things to do with the building, are things that reveal whether we are truly a caring and considerate church that tries to overcome the difficulties that our people may face.
These may sound trivial things, but if they do appear like that to you, it is simply that you have not had a problem with them yet - some of your people may have! As I said previously, I've been to a number of churches where these simple practical matters have clearly never been thought about, and the experience of the congregation is poorer as a consequence.
So far we have considered how the leadership can approach the whole subject of working on corporate relationships and caring for people in Sunday meetings. Now we need to consider other areas of our church life together. The meetings that each church has will of course be unique to that church, so the easiest thing to say here is that if we are to have a secure church, it is vital that we are full of grace and truth (as Jesus was - Jn 1:14). Truth means that we are real and that we seek to do away with anything that speaks of unreality or pretence. Grace means we look to the Lord to help us be loving and caring in the context of every meeting we have.
We'll deal with this fully in the chapter on ministry, but for the while can we ask ourselves, in every meeting we have:
In a secure church when people have problems they share them, and when they share them they do so in the belief that help is at hand - from you! So, in a large church you have a lot of people wanting help, and one man can't handle it. For an answer you'll need to go back to the chapter on team ministry, but when you get there, remember, it's in the context of creating a secure, caring environment!
8.4 Individual Strategies
While the church leadership can structure the life of the church to be caring and sharing, it's also helpful if each of us can adopt our own personal strategy for loving, accepting, caring and sharing. It's at this point we need to go back to the Scriptures:
Rom 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us
This small part of a verse encapsulates what Paul is saying in the verses before and after it: we are different! Why emphasise our differences when we're talking about strategies for togetherness? To show you the impossibility of the task! You will be good at doing some things and not so good at other things. To do this thing you're going to need God's help. You're going to need wisdom, patience, perseverance as well as the more obvious love. Whatever you do, if it's going to be effective, you need to ask the Lord for help.
Suggestions for People-People
Some of us are incredibly good with people; others of us are not. If you are one of those ‘people-people' recognise that you are one of those that God uses to glue the church together. You're someone who naturally gets on with anyone. OK, act as a bridge for others who don't relate so easily. Be a means of bringing them together through your happy, relaxed approach to people. Put them at ease with one another. Set up situations where they come together with you over coffee or a meal and you act as the softening agent between them.
Suggestions for Different-People
Perhaps that is not you. You're someone who doesn't feel at ease with people who are not the same as you - in fact you may not feel at ease with people - full stop! You just feel different. That's all right, but you don't have to write yourself off and say, “I can't do anything to create a secure church.” Yes you can, it just means you have to think about it a bit more.
There are two things you can do with God's help:
The first part is probably easier. The second part is naturally more difficult, but consider this: do you like days that are always the same, same weather, same activities, same meals, or have you recognised that variety in life provides for interest. If you're struggling with this one, then ask the Lord to show you the wonder of the variety that He has made in His creation (there's a chapter on this in Book One).
Go and spend an hour in a garden centre and make it a prayer time, a time of thankfulness for the incredible variety of plants you'll see there. Then go into church on Sunday and consider the tremendous variety of people that are there. Learn to thank God for the differences. Ask God to point out particular people who are different from you. Make a point of praying for them on a daily basis and watch for God to move.
To conclude this part can I tell you a story? A number of years ago a widower in his early sixties, a fairly young Christian, rang me and asked to see me. When I went round I found him in deep despair. “I've got to leave the church”, he told me. With a little prompting he shared with the me what his difficulty was. In the house group to which he belonged was a lady with whom he could just not get on. He had tried and tried but everything he said was turned to acid by her. He could no longer cope with it. One of them had to leave, so it would be him.
As we talked on I suggested that he try an alternative approach. First he needed to understand her background. She was a good Christian lady whose husband had deserted her and eventually forced a divorce upon her, despite her wishes to the contrary, and leaving her with two young daughters. Subsequently she wasn't always gentle in her feelings towards men. Second, I suggested he made a point for praying for her for some time before he gave up. It wasn't too many months later that they both turned up on my front door step and asked me to marry them!
8.5 And So?
This chapter is going to be an exception - no questions. Instead why not go back through the things mentioned in this chapter and see: