Covid-19: Facing Our Fear and Our Disappointment

At Welcome Church we’ve just had our first online Sunday. What a different experience it was!

The message I spoke was about handling our fear at this time. I looked at David and Goliath and what we can learn from that story about our need for a saviour to stand in our place.

You can watch it here:

We hosted the video as a watch party on our Facebook page so people could all watch it together at one time. Don’t forget to join us for that at 10am next week on the Facebook page.

Kids

Welcome Kids was also on line. They will go live at 9am again next Sunday. Be online and ready to go if you want to enjoy the full experience.

Here is a link to the talk that formed part of their time together:

And here is the craft they did:

Some Encouragement

Each day at 4pm, Monday to Saturday, we are posting Daily Encouragement videos. You can find all of them by clicking here.

Yesterday’s was about dealing with our disappointments. I’ve posted that here in case you missed it:

Finally if you want to know how to stay connected with us throughout this unusual time in our lives, here’s a link that will tell you all that you need to know

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Staying Connected

During this unusual time when we can’t meet together in person, there are a number of ways we plan to stay connected with each other as a church. I want to encourage you to make the most of these opportunities, so no one ends up feeling lonely or cut off. Let’s also be on the front foot¬†to invite other’s to connect with us too.

For some people this may mean learning to use technology that’s completely new to you, but go for it anyway! ūüôā

Daily Encouragement

Every day at 4pm (Mon to Sat) we are posting a video to help encourage us all during this crisis. It can be found on our church website, and will also be posted to our Welcome Church Facebook page¬†(not the group!) I may blog some of these posts as well, but it would be best not to rely on that. Please be proactive and look on line at 4pm each day, and do let us know of it’s helpful to you.

Life Groups

Over the next few weeks we were due to refresh our Life Groups, with the chance to start new groups or sign up again for existing ones. In order to provide the best connection and care for us all during this crisis, that process has been postponed and current groups will continue for the time being.¬†We’re encouraging people who are not already in a group to connect to one, and if you need help to do that, please contact Dean Guy.

We’re also encouraging all Life Groups to set up a What’s App group chat so people can easily keep in touch. We know that some groups have also started having virtual meetings using Zoom too – what a great idea (more info on that below).

Welcome Youth

Welcome Youth had their first online experience yesterday evening. Despite one or two technical glitches games were played and encouragement was given. Look out for more on that as the weeks progress.

Alpha

Alpha will be going on line via Zoom. They already had a planning meeting online this week. More details will follow in the days ahead.

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The Alpha Planning Meeting on Zoom

Sundays

Sunday meetings cannot take place in the usual way at the moment. This Sunday at 10am there will be a Sunday preach available on the church website, and also on our Facebook page (not the group!) It will also be available as a podcast.

To make this more interactive I will set up a WATCH PARTY starting a few moments after 10am that anyone can join. To access this on the day, be on the Facebook page and ready to go at 10am! The beauty of a watch party is that people can comment and interact together as we go along. (Can I hear an Amen?) I hope lots of us will join in.

Welcome Kids

This Sunday at 9am our first Welcome Kids online experience will be available on the Welcome Church website for you to enjoy with them at home. They have a great plan including craft, worship, games and teaching. This will also be accessible through the Facebook page.

Prayer

As of Monday morning we will be hosting prayer meetings online through Zoom. The plan is to pray from 7.30am – 8.00am, and then again from 1pm -1.45pm. For each prayer meeting we will post an access code in the Facebook group (not the page!)

Please use these codes to join us and pray. We did one on Friday as an experiment and it went really well.

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Pastoral Care

If you have a pastoral need during this time, please do communicate with your Life Group. We also want to pray for people as a whole church when needs come up, so please use the email care@allwelcome.uk to keep us informed. These needs will be prayed for during the Zoom prayer meetings, so get your requests in.

In terms of practical care for those required to stay at home (shopping, getting a prescription, walking a dog etc) we need to use real wisdom! Life Groups and other contacts across the church can do a certain amount, but as this crisis grows we are unlikely to be able to meet every need. Additionally this is a moment to connect well with our community. On this basis there are some things to consider:

  1. Let’s remember to connect well with our own families and neighbours; they may also need our help.
  2. Let’s get involved with the many local volunteer groups that are springing up. Jo and I are involved with our local one in Send, which is being expertly¬†organised¬†by a woman called Ruth. I am now a ‘volunteer coordinator’, and leaflets are going out across our area today. This creates a great opportunity to meet new people and show them love and care.
  3. Practically speaking, most help given in this season is going to need to be done locally, especially as travel becomes restricted. 

An increasing number of Welcome Church people, of all ages, are being confined at home. We now have confirmed cases of Coronavirus amongst the church, and we have others who have symptoms that are as yet unconfirmed. Our first serious hospitalised case is in a relatively young person with young children and no pre-existing conditions.

If you’re helping someone else, or you’re receiving help, please don’t take unnecessary risks or ignore the need for social distancing. To use an ¬†example, this would mean leaving shopping on the door step and not going inside.

Using technology

Technology is a wonderful gift from God. Let’s be grateful for it and embrace it at this time. You may have noticed that there are some specific technologies we are using at this time to help people connect, so please let’s all consider doing the following:

  1. Sign up for our regular emails – you can do that by clicking this link.
  2. Keep an eye on our website. Information and updates will be posted there
  3. Install What’s App on your mobile phone.¬†This is a free messaging service that allows you to set up group chats with people. It also allows you to make totally free audio or video calls to friends who have the app, even to people in other nations.
  4. Sign up to Facebook¬†(Yes! Seriously!) Even if you’ve never done this before and swore you never would, now is the time. Once you’ve joined send me a friend request. Also like & follow our Welcome Church page, and join our Welcome Church group. You may have resisted doing this all your life, or you may just prefer Instagram or Twitter or other social media. In simple practical terms, Facebook offers the level of flexibility and interaction that we need right now, so our focus will be there. You can always quit when this crisis is over.
  5. Sign up to Zoom. This¬†is a free app that you install on your laptop, phone or tablet. Sign up for a free account and you can join in everything we do on Zoom. A free account lets you set up meetings of up to 40 minutes length (though you can join ones that last any length of time). If you want to set up long meetings of your own, you can upgrade to a paid account as I’ve done. Zoom offer lots of online videos and tutorials to teach you how to use it, so why not use some of your time to learn? We used it for our elders and admin meetings this week and it was great.
  6. Follow this blog. This is your one stop shop for staying up to date with the church during this crisis. You can click a button to subscribe to it.

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Staying together as a church

Please be encouraged to embrace these specific technologies to help you stay part of the church community during this time. They are a gift from God for us right now and I thank God for them all.

Even if these things are new to you, or you’re someone who thinks “Facebook is so last year”, please join in.¬†Simply put: let’s all be in the same place.

Including everyone

There are always a few people who are unable to connect in the ways I describe above. Perhaps they have no laptop, email or internet (there are a few people in this position), or the internet where they live is just too slow to stream things.

If you have friends in this position, please do phone them and check in with them regularly. In fact, why not do that with lots of people regularly? If we all made just 1 or 2 phone calls a day just to check in with how people are, what a blessing that could be.

 

Riding the waves

It’s an interesting season at Welcome Church right now with our new building up and running for Sundays; it’s like we’re riding a big wave.

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The Launch Sunday was certainly a day to remember with huge numbers of guests. After our Launch Sunday I really wondered what would happen next.

Would any guests actually come back? 

Would the tide go back out?

In fact we’ve actually seen lots of new people with us every week since then.

Our first baptism meeting was a great Sunday too, with seventeen people being baptised across the two meetings, each wanting to publicly show that they’ve committed their life to Jesus! There were many extra guests with us that week too.

God is impacting lives through Welcome Church, and it’s such a privilege to witness it. Some have come to faith in Jesus, others are at various stages on their journey. I would love us to keep riding this wave together.

The key part that Alpha plays

Whatever place people have reached in their journey of faith, Alpha is an exciting place for them to be. Each week great food is served, good friendships are built and personal faith grows.

Here are some eye opening statistics to consider: nine of the seventeen people baptised last week were on our Alpha+ course which finished last week, and a further five Alpha+ guests are booked in to be baptised on Easter Sunday.

Those statistics tell a compelling story!

Try Alpha

Our TRY ALPHA evening on Wednesday 26th February is really important for us all. We each have the opportunity to invite friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to come along to this evening to give Alpha a try.¬†Your guests will have a brilliant time, so let’s go for it in faith.

Let me really encourage you, in this season of seeing lots of people coming to faith, to do three simple yet crucial things:

  1. PRAY: pray for courage and for opportunity, and pray for God to move as you take a step of faith
  2. SHARE: share the TRY ALPHA video on Social Media. Here is a link to it on Facebook, and here is one for Instagram.
  3. INVITE:¬†invite people personally to come to TRY ALPHA with you. Do aim to bring them along; don’t just expect people to go without you.

When you hear that ‚ÄúYes‚ÄĚ to your invitation, don’t forget to book your place here at www.allwelcome.uk/alpha¬†– it’s easy to do.

Who knows what God may do as we all take these three steps to invite the people God has placed in our lives? Let’s ride this wave together.

Merry Christmas – what a year it’s been!

We’ve made it safely to the end of another year (almost), and what a year it‚Äôs been for Welcome Church! I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Some highlights

Along the way we’ve built a new building, moved into the annex, held an amazing Gift day, launched Welcome Works, sponsored 141 kids in Togo with Compassion UK, launched The Useful Wood Company, seconded Ben & Nancy to Gateway Church¬†Basingstoke for a while, welcomed Rhea John onto staff, said goodbye to David & Tina Maskell, taken 300 people to Westpoint, finished meeting at the HG Wells Conference Centre, launched and shared our¬†Welcome Stories, published our first book, run an amazing Fun Day, held a fireworks event with around 2000 people, put on a Carol Service for Woking (featuring both the Mayor and our local MPūüėÉ) and done a whole lot more too.

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Additionally there’s been the usual, day to day stuff of church life that has carried on, including baptisms, pastoral care, Sunday meetings, worship, preaching, weddings, funerals, kids work, youth work, Life Groups, Alpha courses, ministry to the poor and lots more too.

If you’ve chosen to make Welcome Church your church then we want to say,

“Thank you for being on the journey with us in 2019”.

Looking forward to 2020

2020 is going to be and in incredible year for us. The new building will be launched in January, and there will be many God given opportunities and blessings ahead for us. I’m sure we will also face some big challenges, yet we have a big God who is with us every step of the way. Let’s all start inviting people to the launch event on the 19th.

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Something for us all to do

ImageIf you haven’t done it already, or even if you have, why not take a quiet moment over the next week or so to read Dub’s book, “Caring and Sharing”.

This book is our ‘manifesto for evangelism’ as a church. It’s easy to read, full of great stories and it will only take 1 or 2 hours to read from cover to cover.

I know that if we were all to put the principles in this book into practice in 2020, it would have a huge impact on many lives.

Merry Christmas

I hope you have an amazing Christmas this year, whatever you’re up to. Do take some time out along the way to reflect on the real reason for the season: Jesus coming into the world. Do take time to pray and to thank Him for all he’s done in your life. And I look forward to seeing you all in 2020.

Calling ALL Welcome Church People!

At Welcome Church we are in the middle of our “Life Group Refresh”. You can sign up for new Life Groups right now¬†using this link here¬†(or find out what’s going on using¬†this link here¬†if this recent change has passed you by!)

Life Groups start again in the week starting July 1st.

Please don’t forget to sign up ASAP so that you don’t miss out! If you don’t sign up we might¬†assume that you don’t want to be in a Life Group.

Something for everyone

Since there are no Life Groups running during the rest of May and all of June, we¬†will be using this time to do something¬†different: we are going to¬†run our new ‚ÄúBelong, Believe, Become Discipleship Track‚ÄĚ (click here for details)¬†at the Welcome Centre

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Let’s all get on the track

Please prioritise these sessions

Whether you are new to the church or have been here for 50 years, these sessions are intended for YOU! It¬†would be so easy to sit back during¬†these weeks, have a break from Life Group and disconnect a little …¬†please don’t do that!

These sessions are so important that each one will run three times:

  • Tue & Wed evenings: 8pm ‚Äď 9.30pm
  • Wed afternoon: 1pm ‚Äď 2.30pm (finishing in time for school pick ups)

The exact dates can all be found in our church diary (click here) or through ChurchSuite

We want the whole church to have the chance to experience this discipleship track in person. 

Why are we doing this?

In short: we haven’t replaced membership with nothing; we have a new discipleship track.

This discipleship track is to help people grow and mature in their faith. The reason for running these sessions now is so that everyone who is already part of the church can experience it. This is important for two reasons:

  1. We all have a part to play. We all need to understand this if we’re going to help and encourage other people to access it and move forward in their faith
  2. It will bless you personally!

So come along ready to receive from God over these evenings.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there ūüėÉ

Introducing ChurchSuite

As a church we need to store the information we have about people safely and process it properly. To help us with this at Welcome Church we ha e introduced a new database system called ChurchSuite. Some of you may have heard of it or used it before.

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Not that kind of sweet

 

What happens next?

If you are already on our Welcome Church database you should have received two e-mails:

E-mail 1: ¬†Is simply to let you know that you‚Äôre on our ChurchSuite database. If you don’t want to be on it anymore you can ask to be removed.

E-mail 2: Gives you login details for your personal account.

If you believe you are on our system (or want to be) and you haven’t had an e-mail¬†from us, something may be wrong with the info we have.¬†Please let us know straightaway.

ChurchSuite comes with a handy App

ChurchSuite comes with a free to use App for smart phones and tablets. Please download it and login to it. It works on a web browser too, so you might want to login to it on your laptop and bookmark it too.

Some important info: this App will replace the previous Welcome Church App,¬†which we will cease to use or update as of now, It¬†will¬†disappear¬†from the App Store soon, but you might¬†want¬†to delete it now and save some precious space on¬†your¬†device! ūüėÄ

What the ChurchSuite App does for us

The app will initially contain:

  • Your data (Address, DOB, phone number etc.) Please check that it’s correct and edit it if it‚Äôs not.¬†You can also add more data than we currently hold if you want to.¬†No one else can see your ¬†data except those who we have authorised to see it. (Even if you change the settings on your data to ‚Äúvisible‚ÄĚ, this will still be true. We’ve set it up that way on purpose …)
  • Podcasts – so you can keep up to date with our latest talks easily
  • Links to our Facebook page and our Website (which might be helpful)
  • The church diary, and the chance to sign up for events (which will be hugely helpful)

In the next few weeks we will be adding some more functions:

  • Serving rotas will soon be added (some are there already). Reminder e-mails will also be generated through the App for when you’re serving
  • You will be able to mark when you‚Äôre unable to serve so that you don’t get put on a rota, and you‚Äôll also be able to organise swaps with people.
  • For people who create rotas: we will soon be showing you how to do this easily through the App; although at first we are adding them centrally
  • Registration for kids and youth work will soon be done through the App
  • Later on you‚Äôll be able to see your life group, or serving team and message them all through the App
  • Further applications may also follow

We really hope this is helpful for people. If you have any questions please message Darren in the office on Darren.Forsdyke@allwelcome.uk

Thanks … and enjoy!

Vision Focus: The Year So Far

Last night at Welcome Church we had our Vision Focus meeting for the Summer Term. It was great to see so many people there. I will post a few blogs this week to help keep everyone up to date.

Vision focus is a termly meeting ¬†to communicate what’s been going on in the church ¬†and what’s coming up;¬†a mix of information, inspiration and prayer; a chance to find out¬†what‚Äôs happening and what‚Äôs ahead.

It’s been an interesting and exciting year so far

In January we made the change in our approach to membership, talking instead about belonging.¬†Other church leaders have been talking to me about what we’ve done; it’s a subject that seems to be under review in lots of churches.

Alpha is going well. We have 35 completing the current course. God is at work. He has put people in your life who you could invite; we are still barely scratching the surface. We had 17 baptisms in March, of which 8 came from alpha. If you want to get baptised next time, just let us know.

Kids and Youth work are going well. Our youth and kids pastor, Ben Martin, is currently in Basingstoke for a secondment and is doing a great job there by all accounts. Do keep Ben and Nancy in your prayers and remember that they are still living here in Woking,

Ben and Becca Corbett are leading the youth team well. The youth work is growing and they just had a great youth alpha.

The kids team is now being headed up by Steve Blowfeld, known to all as Blowers, and what a great job they did with a family service on Sunday morning – including some fun costumes for some of the elders …

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What happens when the kids work take over

This term we also launched Welcome Works.

Welcome works is our new initiative to draw together all our ministries to the poor. I love the new strap line: With You, For You.

As part of Welcome Works we launched our Compassion child sponsorship programme, sponsoring children in Togo. So far as a church we have sponsored 142 children as part of this new initiative. It’s not too late to sponsor – just ask.

For those who are already doing it, do be faithful to start writing letters and building a relationship with the child/children you are sponsoring

As I write this, our new International Cafe is in progress here at the Welcome Centre. Led by Marion Mcallister, this new event is a great chance for people who speak English as a second language to come along, make friends, and practice their English. I just stuck my head round the door and got very excited by what I saw!

Soon we will be launching our very own CAP Centre too. This project is about helping people and families to get out of debt. More details on this will follow soon Рwatch this space.

Good things are happening in our church  and we have a lot to be thankful for!

I’ll post some more blogs this week to detail what’s coming up in the months ahead, including information on Belonging, Life Groups and our Building Project.

Suffering a huge loss

As a church we suffered a terribly sad loss this week: the sudden and unexpected death of Lindy Zungu, a loving wife to Dunmore, and a mother of two small children. She was still in her early 30’s.

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Lindy grew rapidly ill last Wednesday and was airlifted to St Georges Hospital. Sadly she was declared ‘medically’ dead on Thursday afternoon, her heart and lungs sustained only by a machine.

As a church many of us prayed for the family and we also prayed for a miracle. We were led in that so well on Sunday morning by Meg at the first meeting and by Eugene at the second. Sadly it was not to be.

On Monday morning Dean and I were with the family – several of whom belong to Welcome Church – as the artificial support to life was withdrawn. It was a privilege to stand with them all in these devastating but dignified moments.

Saying goodbye

Gathered at her bedside we prayed for Lindy and we remembered the hope we have in Jesus:

‚ÄúI am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11v25-26

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We also remembered the promises of God to us: resurrection, eternal life, a new body, new heavens and a new earth. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. We remembered that if our faith counts for anything it counts in moments like this. We grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

After the support to life was withdrawn, with many tears, family members took turns to tell Lindy that they loved her …¬†that they would help care for the family … that they would miss her. And after about 15 minutes she quietly and peacefully left us for her new life beyond this world.

Keeping our promises

We are a large enough church that not everybody can know everybody else. We are large enough that there is probably always going to be someone who is experiencing sadness or grief. In fact, this is not the only family in our church to experience a sad loss this week. Despite these things, a loss like this is exceptional. Even those who may not have been close to the family will feel it.

We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn – and sometimes we do both on the same day.

Last year, on Mother’s Day, we prayed for this family as they gave thanks to God for their new daughter. This Mother’s Day Lindy won’t be with us.

During that meeting, as we gave thanks for the many new babies, I asked us all a question as a church. These were the words I used:

“So far as you are able, will you commit yourselves, over the years ahead to be a strength and an encouragement to these children and a support to their parents in this crucial, God given role of parenting?”

We were then all invited to stand as a sign of agreement to this promise. And everybody present stood. So now we have a job to do.

This family have been part of our church for several years now. They belong. Now is our chance to stand by our promises and to be a help and support both to Dunmore and the children for as long as we are needed.

 

Belonging – Part 7: Inclusion

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at¬†Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 7 … the final part!¬†

In previous blogs we’ve looked at our new approach to belonging and the thinking behind it, but there is one final question:

What if I’ve been a member for many years and I feel like I’ve lost something?

The first thing I would say is this:

Thank you for your ongoing faithfulness over the years!

You have helped to make our church what it is today and it’s our privilege to have you with us. We are so pleased that you are part of Welcome Church.

I’ve been here for less¬†than 18 months myself. We’ve changed a lot of¬†things in that time, so thank you for¬†coming on this journey with us so faithfully. Your patience is wonderful to see and Jo and I feel blessed and supported; we feel that we are genuinely among friends.

Welcome Church is an awesome and exciting church to belong to. I love the way people pray and serve. I am amazed at how people give their time and commitment day after day. I am impressed by the godliness and the depth of knowledge that people have. There are so many good things being done both in the church and the wider community. This actually speaks volumes for my predecessors and the job that they did.

I feel privileged to be part of this church family, and we don’t want anyone to feel like they belong LESS after this change; we are all still completely INCLUDED.

With this in mind, here are five key things to remember as we make this change:

1. You do not belong any less than you did before

If you were on the membership list as we used to run it, you still belong today!

You are included. YOU ARE WELCOME CHURCH. Nothing is being taken away.

If you disappear off somewhere we will still chase you up to check that you are okay. If in time you are called elsewhere don’t just wander off – please let us send you well.

We are not terminating anything through this change, we are simply going to start talking about Belonging instead of about ‘in/out’ membership … and we’re going to open this Belonging invitation up to anyone who wants to come on a spiritual journey with us. Our discipleship track will help people from the very start of their spiritual journey, whether or not they understand what discipleship even means at that point.

If you are someone who has never become a church member, please come and belong with us at Welcome Church; we want to help you grow in your faith.

2. This is all about the call to make disciples

Remember, we are all called to help make mature followers of Jesus, who know God and are equipped to live for him in this world. This is all about that. 

Remember that Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations. Does your heart break for lost and broken people? We have a huge mission field in front of us.

Remember, “The nice Christians are already in the nice Christian churches” and the days of transfer growth are pretty much gone. God is sending us to reach precious lost people, even out of the messiest and darkest places. Let‚Äôs not allow a past church culture to prevent us from building a church today that will reach the lost people all around us. Let’s remove everything that hinders.

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3. We all have a part to play

We all need help and encouragement to grow in spiritual maturity. If you are a more mature believer perhaps you could use the steps we’ve talked about as a framework to help you discern where someone is in terms of their spiritual growth. You could get alongside them and help them to grow … and you may find that they have some things to teach you as well.

For this to work best, we all need to play our part and take our responsibility to help one another. Our Life Group leaders have a particularly important role here, but we all have a part to play. Let’s be a disciple making, leader producing church!

4. If this doesn’t work properly we will adjust it

I think this speaks for itself. We are pioneering something here and we will learn some lessons along the way. Perhaps some others may follow us in time, but right now we are doing this as pioneers, so we will adjust as necessary as we go along.

Let’s not be scared to try something new that we believe will make us more effective to reach new people for Jesus. Similarly, let’s also not be too stubborn to make adjustments as we go!

5. Please pray for the church and for the leadership

Prayer is powerful! Your leaders need and value your prayers and your encouragement. Pray that we would all have wisdom and discernment. Pray that we would walk in grace.

Thank you for your love and care. You are Welcome Church. We are Welcome Church. Let’s go forward in prayerful unity and loving care.

I’ll finish with a verse from the Bible.

Philippians 4v4-7:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

 

Belonging – Part 6: Exclusion

One of the biggest changes we’ve made at Welcome Church is our approach to church membership, or what we now call belonging. This week I will be blogging each day to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. To understand it fully, please start at Part 1 rather than jumping in half way through. This blog is Part 6 …

In part 5 we looked at the details of our new discipleship track. We finished with a question:

Aren’t there certain people who shouldn’t be allowed to belong to our church?¬†In fact, aren’t we “compromising the gospel” and “going soft on sin”?!?

I’m not surprised when these sorts of questions come up, and I think they are mainly rooted in two things:

  1. A genuine concern that we might “compromise truth and not truly challenge people on issues of sin and holiness” ... issues which really do matter
  2. The Pharisee that is hidden inside us all!

Let’s consider them in reverse order, starting with our inner Pharisee.

We might bristle at the idea that we could ever be like the Pharisees, but our hearts can deceive us! It’s very easy to end up becoming Pharisaical towards the very people that Jesus wants to draw to himself. It’s far too easy to turn Christian faith, which is really about a relationship with God, into a programme of sin avoidance … and then to put that onto other people.

So, is there anything of the Pharisee in us? Well, let’s consider a question:

What were the Pharisees like?

The first thing to say is this: the Pharisees were not all bad. If we don’t understand this we run the risk of forgetting that they were real people who believed that they were doing the right thing and were serving God. They were normal people, like you and I. They thought and reasoned like we do. So why were Jesus and the Pharisees constantly at odds with one another?

Some things to understand about the Pharisees:

1. They loved the Bible (though they only had the Old Testament part)

2. They stood for moral values (in a decaying culture)

3. They were evangelistic (“travelling over land and sea to win a single convert”)

Loving the Bible … concerned about moral decay in society … evangelistic for their faith. I don‚Äôt know about you, but when I read that list it reminds me of something …

There is one more thing we need to know about the Pharisees though:

4. There was no love in their hearts for broken and sinful people

The Pharisees thought that they were the good people. They thought that they were God’s people. They made sure that they stood apart from any people who they viewed to be sinful, worrying that it might spoil their holiness. Yet for all their passion for God, Jesus sums them up with this phrase:

‚ÄúYou hypocrites! You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people‚Äôs faces.‚ÄĚ (Matthew 23v13)

There is a hard truth here:

It’s possible for Christians to think they are faithfully doing God’s work, and yet to completely misunderstand Jesus’ mission to reach lost and broken people.

Jesus told them that he had come to seek and save the lost, that it was the sick who required a doctor and that they should go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Jesus’ sternest¬†rebukes were spoken against the¬†Pharisees.

Compromising the gospel

Not long ago I was asked a question which was phrased something like this:

“Are you the sort of preacher who will stand up for truth and preach against sin, or are you one of these modern preachers who tells people that God loves them?”

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Preach it brother!

And there is the nub of the issue. In this person’s mind I was either faithful to truth, which meant preaching condemnation against ‘those awful sinners’¬†–¬†or I was in sinful compromise.

But the truth is that God loves people. He really does. He loves lost, broken and damaged people. He even loves sinful people … which is a good job really when you think about it.

Shockingly God doesn’t withhold his love for sinful people until they repent; Jesus went to the cross for sinful people.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3v16-17)

So to preach a message of condemnation is to compromise the gospel. To fail to tell people that God loves them is to compromise the gospel. In fact gospel means ‘good news’, so should we perhaps consider that if our message doesn’t sound like good news to sinful people, we might be compromising the gospel?

The gospel is not a call for us to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and make ourselves good enough to earn God’s love. “God shows his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5v8).

But what about the other concern people may have, that we might abandon truth and not really challenge people on issues of sin and holiness?

Does a culture of Belonging mean we don’t challenge anything?

Not at all. Discipleship is all about challenge and guidance. That’s a lifelong thing,¬†and it comes out of relationship. God is making us into the image of his perfect son, Jesus. He’s working in us all the time, and as a church we have a huge part to play in people’s discipleship. Of course discipleship requires relationship, and it’s crucial that we understand this point.

I don’t need to have a relationship with you to condemn you or judge you, but I do need a relationship to disciple you.

So we are not going “soft on sin”, but we are going big on relationship, which is why belonging is vital as a first step. Without this we run the risk of turning people away from Jesus and shutting the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people‚Äôs faces.

Without relationship we run the risk of what I would call compromising the gospel.

By the way, I loved Andrew Wilson’s recent blog which emphasises the need for us not to shy away from the difficult areas of Christian discipleship by simply being silent on certain issues. Here is a link to it. He is much cleverer than I am and this is well worth a read, as is all his stuff.

To encourage you:

  • Three Sundays ago we preached a gospel message, clearly highlighting people’s lost and broken state before God and our desperate need for forgiveness. Seven people responded,¬†raising their hands to say they had prayed a prayer of repentance, asking Jesus for forgiveness and committing their life to him.
  • Last Sunday we preached about baptism as the first step of obedience for people who are “all in for Jesus”. We challenged people that if they were serious about their faith now, it was time to go public for Jesus. Fifteen people signed up to get baptised.

All of these people are already known to us as a church,¬†and it’s great to see our new approach in action and God at work though it. All of these people already belong to our church, they are all growing in God from a place of relationship with our church, and all of them will have stuff in their life that God wants to free them from.¬†So do you. So do I. Working out what it means to follow Jesus will take the rest of our lives, but we can work these things through¬†whilst belonging.

But what about church discipline? What about excluding people? Didn’t Paul tell us to ‘expel the immoral brother’?

The first thing to say is that it deeply concerns me when someone’s passion for clarity on this issue outweighs their heart for lost and broken people. It really does. It should concern you too.

So if this question is top of your list and you haven’t shared your faith with anyone recently … say in the last month¬†… or year … or ever … give that some thought. Who are you inviting to Alpha? What are the names of your top ten friends who are not yet Christians? How often do you pray for them? What’s your plan to reach them?

But of course, almost every organisation has to be able to say to people, “You can’t come here any more; please do not come back”, whether it’s the golf club, the fishing club, your local pub, the corner shop, your child’s school or a professional organisation. It’s crucial for the health of any organisation to recognise that some behaviours are likely to lead to our exclusion, or in church language ‘excommunication’. The Bible gives instructions on this, and we need to be Biblical.

But is this still possible with a Belong, Believe, Become approach?

Of course it is. We¬†don’t need someone to be on a formal church membership list to be able to confront them for outrageous, divisive, unrepentant, destructive behaviours! Almost every church leader has to do this at some point along the way and it’s not easy. Someone will usually get upset and misunderstand what has been done and why, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. (Godly leadership takes courage!)

But let’s get this right and let’s act with love

In 1 Corinthians 5 we read about a man who has gone off with his father’s wife (his step mother we assume, but possibly his mother). Paul says that this type of sin is¬†“not even tolerated amongst the pagans” – and that’s pretty much still¬†true even today.

This was something so destructive that it was bringing God’s church into disrepute and hindering the advance of the gospel, so Paul told them to deal with it … firmly and lovingly.¬†But why was this guy singled out?

You see, the bigger question for me about this issue is this:

What about the rest of the sin present in the church at Corinth?

Isn’t all sin an affront to God’s holiness? Why was this guy singled out for exclusion?

As we read the rest of 1 Corinthians we get a picture of the church, and the surprising thing to me is to find out who was included in it. To be honest it’s concerning. The church included:

  • People causing division and arguments
  • People who were getting drunk during communion
  • People who were eating all the shared food at their communal meals, causing the poor people to go hungry
  • People who were suing other people in the church
  • Men who were visiting prostitutes in the idol temples and paying them for sex
  • Women who were expressing their new freedom by dressing in ways that, in their culture, only prostitutes dressed
  • People who were refusing to have sexual relations with their spouse because they thought that celibacy made them more spiritual
  • People who were abusing spiritual gifts in worship
  • And a whole lot more
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An average Sunday at church in 1st Century Corinth … including the hat

Where were all these people?

They were included in the church.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that what they were doing¬†didn’t matter; quite the opposite in fact. We’re aware of these issues precisely because they did matter. That’s why Paul wrote to the church about them.

Yet all these things were addressed in a context of relationship and belonging. 

Can we say the same? In recent church history I suspect that most churches would have excluded lots of the people on that list!

But what does Paul say about these issues? He reminds them of who they are in Christ. He appeals to their new nature as new creations in Jesus. He calls them to act towards one another in love. He calls them back to holiness. He warns them about the very serious consequences of what they are doing … in fact he is very blunt with them.

But then Paul had the relationship with them that enabled him to do that.

You see, Paul loved that church deeply; read the letter and you can see for yourself. He was so grateful to God for this messy church made up of people who Jesus had saved and who He loved deeply. ¬†This was discipleship in action. This was discipleship of those who belonged, who had come out of a very messy and broken culture, who might take years to learn what it meant to follow Jesus … and who are just like the people God is calling us to reach in the UK today.

But doesn’t this mean we are in danger of having “sin in the camp”? (As I have been asked, albeit not by anyone in Welcome Church – see Joshua 7 for details!)

My answer? There is always sin in the camp! Praise God for his grace! So read Joshua 7, understand that God knows everything you think and everything you do – even the stuff no one else knows about – and then praise God for his grace and mercy in Jesus that covers our sin.

We must be careful before we start excluding the very people who Jesus is trying to reach.

If we want to be Biblical, let’s not be ‘trigger happy’.

Is it possible that 1 Corinthians has more to teach us about discipleship and inclusion than it does about discipline and exclusion?

Certainly it’s something to¬†think about.

Living like Jesus

Ultimately, as a church, we are here to represent Jesus. That’s our calling.¬†The Pharisees taught people a love of the law ‚Ķ but Jesus taught people the law of love, and this led to conflict between them.

The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking religious rules. They accused him of associating with the wrong sort of people and of being ‚Äúa friend of sinners‚ÄĚ.

Jesus accused the Pharisees of being judgemental, hard-hearted hypocrites, who were lacking in love for people.

But which set of accusations would we get thrown at us today?

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The accusing finger strikes again

Is the church in our nation more likely to be accused of breaking religious rules and welcoming sinners, or are we more likely to be accused of being hard-hearted, judgemental hypocrites? In short:

Do people in the UK view the church as being more like Jesus, or more like the Pharisees?

How will we know when we are representing Jesus well? How will we know when we are living like he did? Perhaps one indicator would be that we start to get accused by religious people of the same things that Jesus was accused of by religious people …

One thing is for sure: this needs wisdom and discernment from God and we may not always get it right. Thank God for his grace and his promise that he will build his church.

So there it is. I’ve detailed our new approach to belonging in six posts.

But what if you feel like you’re losing out?

Maybe you’ve been a member for a long time. You made an effort to become a church member and you’ve been faithful to the church for many years. What would we say to you?

I will address this in my final ‘Belonging’ blog tomorrow …