After 4 years: Review and Renew

Please read Matthew 28: 16-20, and then pray: Lord, you have called us to follow you; strengthen me with your word of power and life that I may follow faithfully and live to your glory and praise. Amen!

It is almost 4 years since I was inducted as Minister here at Christchurch and the three URC’s in the Forest of Dean. Whilst I was recently sorting out some papers, I came across a letter I wrote for Chronicle a few months before moving to Gloucester. Today I am going to read that letter and I want to use this as an opportunity to briefly review where we have come and where we are going as we seek together to keep in step with the Holy Spirit and build a vibrant Church. The Spirit’s priorities never change for they are the priorities shown to us in the Bible which He inspired. At the heart of those priorities stands the Great Commission to the nations commanded by Jesus which is described in our reading today. This is His mandate! This is our main task given to us by the One who has called us into His kingdom and service.

So here is the letter I wrote to this Church approximately 4 years ago.

Dear friends, warm and sincere greetings in the name of Christ.

I am delighted to be able to make this contribution towards your newsletter – the first of many over the years to come. I am very grateful at being given the opportunity to become your Minister. This is God’s call to me and to you, and there is much to look forward to with joy and hope. I pray that I will be able to serve you faithfully in the power and love of God’s Spirit.

When I begin work among you later this year, I will initially be concentrating on the pastoral side of things – getting to know you and developing relationships of respect and trust. I sense there are many of you looking forward to having a Pastoral Minister, one who will be seeking to care for the Church and ready to pray for you in your homes.

I will though – from day one – begin to analyse Christchurch’s attitude and commitment to no less that ten areas of church life. These ten areas are all significant to growth – whether that be spiritual growth, numerical growth, or simply growth in unity and common purpose. The following are priorities you can begin to think and pray about now. How can we strengthen our church life in these areas? How can I play my part? Where can I use my gifts? Where might I prayerfully help to bring development?

The first challenge to consider (and review today) is Christchurch’s commitment to the authority and power of the Scriptures. How can biblical authority be strengthened in our Church and in my life? 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 states; All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is this God-breathed Word that has the power to change us and add to our number.

Then secondly, there is Christchurch’s commitment to prayer. How do we ensure that prayer is the foundation of the Church’s life and mission? Prayer must be a top priority. How do we show that this is the case at Christchurch? Philippians 4: 4-7 teaches; Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Next, we must consider building effective leadership. All successful organisations and businesses need good leadership and the Church is no different. So, I must spend time with the leadership team, and together we must look at developing strong servant leadership for the Church. Hebrews 13: 7-8 exhorts us as follows; Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Allied to this, we need to encourage a mobilised membership. This involves all our members growing in their understanding of the gifts that God has given them – and then putting those gifts to use in the Church and local community. Everyone has a calling and a part to play. What is yours? Romans 12: 3-8 presents this challenge to all in the Christian community; For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many, form one body, and each member belongs to the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Not surprisingly, I want to also think about eventful inspiring expectant worship. This will be a personal priority as I seek to emphasise the need for everyone to prepare themselves to meet the living God in each act of worship at Christchurch. Expect to encounter, hear, and be changed by our God during worship. In 1 Chronicles 16: 28-29, we read these words of exhortation; Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

Worship should inspire us to be witnesses in the world. Therefore, understanding the need for continuous evangelism is the next area of importance. It will be challenging to see how we can educate the Church in sharing its faith in Jesus both naturally and relevantly. Evangelism should be a natural outflow. Matthew 9: 35-38 teaches; Jesus went throughout the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I have already mentioned my commitment to pastoral care but aiming to build a united and loving community life is a challenge for us all. Such a loving Church family life will be the starting point of all effective mission to the local community and beyond. Do we really love one another? John 17: 20-23 is but one part of the prayer Jesus prayed for those who follow him: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Compassionate service is the eighth area of concern. How is Christchurch reaching out to the real needs of the Abbeydale and Abbeymead communities and to the wider world? Where are we presently exercising compassionate and caring ministry? How and where can this grow? In 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6, Paul writes; There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Then there is the need for openness to change and to the work of the Holy Spirit. New growth will come as the Spirit breathes life over us and into us, and as we are challenged to move and grow in new ways in many different areas of Church community life. Where does Christchurch need to change under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul writes; Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The Spirit brings freedom and transformation.

Finally, there is released resources and generous giving. Our financial giving is very important, and without that openness and willingness to be generous and bold in our giving, the Church will never reach its potential in mission and growth. There is a cost to everything, and you usually find that Churches which grow have income to meet the needs and challenges which they face. As Paul passionately writes; Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9: 6-8)

In 2023, I still focus on and pray for these ten marks of a growing Church to be evident among us. They are all vital and we cannot afford to neglect any of these areas within the life of Christchurch. Here they are once again. Note them; pray for them; be part of their continuing development.

Biblical authority.

Commitment to prayer.

Effective leadership.

Mobilised membership.

Eventful inspiring expectant worship.

Continuous evangelism.

Internal unity and love.

Compassionate outreach and service.

Openness to change and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Released resources and generous giving.

I believe people are looking to join Churches that are serious about such things. May God bless and guide us as we seek to press on into further growth and deeper commitment together, that our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be glorified and praised in the life of His people here, and through our witness to the world. And Jesus will always be with us as he promised, as we build a Church community set on responding to His own commission and bearing fruit. (Matthew 28:20)

Revd Peter J Clarkson (4.6.23)