Reader Writes - October 2018
Reader Writes – Oct 2018
It’s a strange idea but it’s true; God’s Church exists entirely for its non-members. Jesus makes clear that his disciples were to go out and spread the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth. That movement is the Church, and its purpose is to make disciples of those who are outside, to bless them and to be the hands and voice of Jesus to them. I read a comment by a young mum recently who complained that her local church was “Sunday club”; that is something very different and exists for those already inside their church, mostly a building. These thoughts have been stirred up by our current church book, From the Abundance of the Heart by Bishop Stephen Cottrell; he calls it evangelism for all Christians, not just the excited Pentecostal ones.
He makes lots of good points backed by his wide experience of rural parishes. At the heart of evangelism is the idea that we often belong before we believe and that our path of faith is a journey. That journey, in its full sense, lasts a lifetime. We travel with believers as a seeker on a journey to faith, and at some point that journey needs a point of commitment; we then see God, trust God and say yes to God, “take me as I am, I want to walk with you.” Our journey continues but now we are pilgrims, travelling with other pilgrims, supporting each other along the way.
Forgive a catalogue, but here are some bite-sized bits of practical wisdom the bishop offers us from experience. If we want to share the Good News of the Gospel with our neighbour, colleague or family, we must ask ourselves honestly if it is first good news for us. Everyone is looking for meaning in life; do they see it in us, despite and along with our obvious flaws? Taking a biblical metaphor, growth is a consequence of good health. This next one is sensitive but we should face it. “Oh we are a very friendly church” is often said, but the bishop points out that that often means we are very friendly to each other rather than strangers who dare to open the oak door and come in. Getting a good welcome is a wonderful encouragement, and the ministry of welcoming doesn’t stop at the door. We are helping them to belong so that they are then more able to believe.
As a fundamental principle perhaps, informing everything a church does, is that we are not so much trying to “drag people into church” as pouring a Spirit-filled church into the community. Clearly a vicar and any church worker is out and about doing that daily in the tough round of pastoral visiting for the sick, dying, bereaved, or those decided on baptism and those planning weddings. But you and I, if we are believers, are the body of the church, and you and I are also channels of God’s grace wherever we go and whatever we do in our own community; prayer, a word of encouragement, chocolate brownies. Jesus said that his followers were to be salt and light. Salt preserves and protects and seasons; light reveals. Jesus said “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”