New Year. New Building. Important Information.

This Sunday, January 5th, is an exciting one for us at Welcome Church: we will be meeting in our new building for the first time.

I am incredibly excited!

Here is some important information, including vital information about where to park.

Opening on time

Since September 2018 our plan has been to open on January 5th, and we are delighted to have achieved this target. The contractors have worked really hard over the last few weeks to get things ready and the building looks amazing.

Over the next week or two the builders will finish off a few outstanding items, big and small, and for now we are good to go for Sunday.

Details for this week

This Sunday we will meet at 9am and 11am as we normally do. It will be our regular kind of meeting with brilliant worship, relevant preaching, exciting kids work and a fantastic crèche. As an extra treat there will be coffee, pastries and muffins served both before and after each meeting.

On arrival please use the main front entrance from Church Street West, next to the yellow hoardings. This is the entrance to the original building. You will be directed where to go from there.

Looking round the building

It’s natural to want to look around the whole building, so please be aware that this will NOT be possible on Sunday morning because kids work will be in operation, the kitchen will be in use and the loft is not available this Sunday.

Parents please note that there will be a secure drop off and collection system in place for your children, and you will be clearly directed where to go. For safeguarding reasons, viewing the various kids rooms will also not be possible when dropping off or collecting the children.

However, we are meeting to pray at 6.30pm on Sunday evening, and everyone will be encouraged to view and pray around the whole building then. Please come ready to pray and explore!

Where to park on Sunday morning

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There is some vital and new information here.

First of all,  if you are able to walk or cycle to church, please walk or cycle. This is great for your health and also for the environment.

For this who do need to drive the following will be helpful:

  • For those who are disabled or have significantly limited mobility, our Oaks Road Car Park, with wheelchair accessible entrance, is available to you.  This week there will be 12 spaces available there. Please do not attempt to park here if you do not fit this category as you will be asked to move.

Please note: for safety reasons there is NO PARKING for anyone at all at the front of the building, either on or off the road.

  • For people who are serving at both meetings we have made a special  arrangement with a company called ‘Pulse’ for you to park for free in their spaces, against the Pulse building (Postcode: GU21 6EE). This building is on Cherry Street, which is a left turn next to Halfords Garage on Poole Road. It’s really obvious when you get there and only a 3 minute walk from the building.
  • There are enough spaces there for all who are serving at both meetings, and cars can be parked two deep. If you are not serving at both meetings please do not park at Pulse as you will probably get blocked in and those serving will not be available to move their cars for you. Fair warning given!

For everyone else please head first to Philips Court where we have lots of free parking spaces available. The entrance to Philips Court is to the left of the Fire Station on Goldsworth Road (Postcode: GU21 6LE). Stewards will cheerfully direct you on arrival.

  • Once this car park is full, people will need to park elsewhere, and stewards will let you know if this is the case. Please note that if you prefer to park in Victoria Way Car Park (which is only a 10 minute walk from our building) we can still validate your ticket for free parking!
  • Beware: single yellow lines on the roads near our building mean ‘No Parking’, even on a Sunday. You may get fined, as some have found by painful experience!

Respecting our neighbours

We want to be great neighbours to those who live near us, so please DO NOT park on Oaks Road or Vale Farm Road. And please also be quiet and respectful when you arrive and leave, especially in the evenings.

I’m really looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday for an exciting meeting and the start of a whole new chapter in the life of Welcome Church

 

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’s 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 MP😃) 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.

Organised Chaos

Welcome Youth took over our Sunday morning meeting at Welcome Church today and we had a fantastic time together.

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The youth did it all: they led the worship, they hosted the meeting, they did Bible readings, they led us in prayer and they even preached. It was a lot of fun and no lasting damage resulted.

I want to say a huge thank you to them all.

Goodbye

This morning we said a final goodbye to the HG Wells Conference Centre. It was our last meeting there and we will start meeting in our own new building from Jan 5th. We also said goodbye to David and Tina Maskell who will be moving off to Grace Church in Salisbury, where David is starting his new job from January.

Launch Sunday

Dub took a few minutes to talk to us about our launch Sunday on January 19th. It’s going to be amazing and it’s time for us to start inviting people:

Organised Chaos

All in all it was organised chaos, and a whole lot of fun. We were reminded of Sue’s welcome story, from the Carol Service, and encouraged to share it to our social media feeds too.

And what better way to round off our twelve years meeting there than to celebrate communion together?

Here are some pics that sum up lots of what went on today. Enjoy!

Time To Say Goodbye

This Sunday will be our last meeting at the HG Wells Conference Centre as a church, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a great time together. From January 5th we will be meeting in our new building and a new chapter will begin for us.

Welcome Church has been meeting at the HG Wells for just short of 12 years. It’s good to reflect back on all that God has done in the lives of many people over that time. As we say goodbye we will end our time by taking communion together. (And please remember: this Sunday there is only one meeting and it’s at 10am. Don’t get caught out!)

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More than one goodbye

We will have another goodbye on Sunday too as it will be David Maskell’s last Sunday with us as an elder, and David and Tina’s last Sunday at Welcome Church.

We are now in a position to tell people what they are up to next: from January David will be taking on a new pastoral care role at Grace Church in Salisbury, a Commission church led by my friend Simon Redmill. David and Tina will be looking to move house over the coming months. It’s been good to see God’s hand and timing in their next step.

I know that Simon and the church are looking forward to David starting, and the role he is taking on seems to be custom made for him. Obviously it’s a big change for the family to adjust to, so do keep them in your prayers.

Grace Church were only told this news last Sunday, and we didn’t want to share it ahead of them being told. If you want to read more about this move, please click here for a link to Simon Redmill’s blog.

Important Health and Safety Warning

One last thing about Sunday: Welcome Youth are leading through most of our meeting this week. This means that anything could happen and probably will 😮.

Don’t say you weren’t warned 😃

Eldership Changes At Welcome Church

Welcome back! I hope you had a great summer!

Jo and I had a good break, including a relaxing holiday in Corfu. I also had a break from my blog for the Summer Season, but church life has now begun again in earnest.

Last night we had our “Vision Focus” meeting, kicking off plans for the year ahead. There are several pieces of information I could mention in the next few days, but one piece of news I wanted to share straightaway, in case you missed it, is a change to our eldership team at Welcome Church.

We do hope to be able to announce some new elders for the team soon, but we’re not quite ready to do that (perhaps that will come in early 2020), we did announce a change however.

Changing our team

As a team we’re always seeking God for the future. As we move into our new building it’s the start of a new season, and it’s only right that we seek God for His guidance; we want to be intentional about what God wants us to do in this next season together as a church.

As an eldership team, in the two years I’ve been here, we’ve been away together each year taking time to pray together, to discuss the future and to plan. We also have regular meetings together most weeks. I think we’ve achieved a lot together in the last two years and hopefully you can see the impact on the church in that time.

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Our eldership team with our amazing wives

To be honest, it’s a good team and we’ve had a lot of fun together and built some good friendships – I think this was pretty obvious to those who were with us at Westpoint for our karaoke number!!!

Getting outside input

As a church we’re part of Commission, and that means we get the benefit of not working in isolation; we get input and apostolic oversight from Commission – specifically from Guy Miller. Guy has been involved in the appointment of every elder on the team. He knows us as a team and is involved.

As a team we’ve been considering what the best shape for the team is going forward, and we’ve also drawn Guy into that discussion. We’ve been trying to discern what will serve the church best as we move forward, and we are making a change as we enter this next season.

We all have different seasons of life:

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Seasons Change

  • In 2017 Malcolm Kayes started a new season after 27 years leading this church, stepping back from staff and eldership, and jumping into retirement
  • John Wardill also started a new season, stepping back from eldership whilst continuing to focus on his work in Turkey
  • I also started a new season, moving to Welcome Church from Grace Church.
  • Dub Everitt did that when he moved here from Jubilee Church in Shepperton a few years back

 

The point is this …

 change in church eldership teams is a normal process 

It enables new people to come through and releases others to move on into God’s next step and plans for their life. As a team we’ve recognised that its time for a change.

David Maskell

David Maskell has been on staff at this church for 18 years, and has been part of the church for 40 years – that’s a long time! For just over 4 years he has been serving as an elder. I know that he works really hard in that role and many people have benefitted from all he has done.

The change is that David is going to step down from eldership and from employment at the end of this calendar year; it will be a new season for him and also for Tina.

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Tina and David

As a church we need to get ready to release him to the next season of his life.

David is not looking at retirement yet and is actively seeking his next step. He is in conversation with another Commission church, but it’s not something we can make any announcements about.

They are looking for someone with David’s skill set and they really want him, but that church need to work out if they can afford another person and have some work to do on that front. Nothing is decided, so please pray for him and Tina about that – they only want to go forward if it’s the right thing.

Whatever David’s next step is, this is going to be a huge change for the Maskell family and they will need your prayersIt’s also a huge change for us as a church to adjust to.

We know it will be a challenge for some people, not least for David and Tina having been here for so many years. It will also mean we need to make adjustments to how we deliver pastoral care as a church. David has been working on that already, with a brand new Pastoral Team taking shape, and there will still be a lot of things we need to work out for the future.

David will finish on the eldership team at the end of December and finish employment at that stage too. Obviously we need to take the time to mark that moment well when it comes, and we will do that on Sunday 22nd December during our morning meeting.

Costly

Changes like this are always costly, yet we believe that God always works things together for our good, both as individuals and as a church.

Let’s keep David and Tina in our prayers in the weeks ahead, and let’s make sure we show them that in tangible ways that they are loved and appreciated by us all.

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 “Belong, Believe, Become Discipleship Track” (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 – 9.30pm
  • Wed afternoon: 1pm – 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 😃

Refreshing our Life Groups

Life groups (small groups that meet in homes) are a key part of our church life. They are a great a place to connect and make friends, to have fun together, to explore faith and to share life together.

Home based small groups go all the way back to the Bible (see Acts 2v46). Christians have been meeting like this since the church first began, and our church has a great history of these groups over many years.

We want all our Life Groups to be built around …

Fun, Food and Friendship … with Faith

They are about sharing life together, helping new people to connect to the church and building one another up. Some of the groups have been going for many years now and a lot of life has been shared!

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Over the next season we are going to do a refresh of our Life Groups. 

There are several reasons for doing this refresh, for example:

  • Some Life Group leaders feel the need to take a break from leading, often after many years
  • Some groups have been going for a long time, with people feeling that perhaps it’s time to “mix things up a bit”
  • Some potential leaders are very keen to step up and lead new groups

So for these and other reasons, it’s time for a simple refresh!

Here is the refresh process:

The first step is simple: all of our current Life Groups are closing at the start of May. The last week of meeting together will be during the week commencing 6th May.

Why not take the chance during this last meeting to really honour your Life Group Leaders and show them how much you appreciate them?

Then, from 12th May – 9th June, there will be a chance to sign up for new Life Groups. We are producing a small booklet for everyone, listing who all the group leaders will be going forwards, and when and where they will meet.

There will be lots of groups to choose from, meeting in different locations and at different times, and you will be free to sign up for whatever group you want to go to – perhaps listing a top 3.

By mid June we will finish a process of working out who goes where, probably with some discussions as needed. New groups will then start on July 1st running through to Easter 2020 … when we will probably do something similar again

But what if I REALLY LOVE my current Life Group?

If you are in a group you love, and the leaders are carrying on leading and you want to stay with them (and they are happy to have you 😃) … you will get priority for that group.

What will happen in May and June midweek?

Since there are no Life Groups running during most of May and all of June, we will use that time to do something different – we are going to run our new “Belong, Believe, Become Discipleship Track” (click here for details) at the Welcome Centre

Each session will run three times

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

The exact dates can all be found in our church diary here

Please prioritise these sessions. We want the whole church to have the chance to experience all of it in person. 

We love our Life Groups

We want them to thrive. This refresh is part of that desire.

And don’t forget, there is always space for new leaders to step up …

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’s 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’t 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:

“You hypocrites! You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.” (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’s 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 … 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 “a friend of sinners”.

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 …

 

Belonging – Part 5: Track

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 5 …

In part 4 we detailed our plan to move forward, and looked at how our new approach to belonging is built around two things: ‘Belong, Believe, Become’ and ‘The Great Commission’.

We highlighted two main changes:

  1. We are going to stop talking about membership and talk instead about Belonging (see the previous blog for details)

  2. We are launching a new discipleship track built around Belong, Believe, Become

So how does this new discipleship track work?

This is where we get really detailed and practical, and this is also very important; this is the stuff we are now doing together as a church.

There are five simple steps to our new discipleship track, so it’s shaped something like this (yes – I know this only shows four steps – that’s sort of deliberate):

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Step 1 is a Newcomers Lunch:

This is open to anyone who wants to attend. They could be a mature Christian who is new to our church, or someone exploring faith for the very first time. They may have come to us through Alpha, or have been coming along on Sundays or to a ministry. It’s open to anyone at all. They are invited to find out more about Welcome Church and we  promote this on Sundays and through all our ministries.

Our aims for the lunch are to help connect new people to the church, to tell them about the church and while they’re with us we invite them to “STEP ON”; to start a spiritual journey with us. Some choose to do that, at which point they have embarked on our discipleship track; the first step towards Jesus.

(For those who love nerdy details, this is the point where we can first add new people to our very helpful and GDPR compliant database and get permission to start e-mailing them and other exciting stuff like that)

Step 2 is called Belonging Together:

This is for anyone who wants to find out what it means to belong to Welcome Church.  The invitation is to come and find out what it means to belong, and anyone who wants to do that is invited.

It consists of one session, usually done in an evening, but during the day if there are people who need that. We talk about our vision and mission as a church, and encourage people to come and play a part in what we do. We invite people to STEP IN” to the church; to choose to say, “This church is my church”.

A person does not need to be a Christian to make this decision, they just need to make a meaningful decision to choose to belong, and to know that they have made that decision. Once that’s done people are free to get involved in lots of areas of serving in church life, and serving is a great way to build good friendships with other people.

(Nerd alert again: this is another great chance to update the database further)

Step 3 is called Believing Together:

This is for anyone who wants to find out more about following Jesus, as well as for any Christians who are new to us as a church. It’s designed for people who have made a recent commitment to Christ, or are on the edge of doing that, or who might have done it and are unsure, and also for anyone who wants to explore the foundations of the gospel again.

It runs over two sessions. The first session focuses on faith. We talk about who Jesus is, what the gospel is and the cost of following Jesus. We explain baptism as well, and encourage people to respond to Jesus and to be baptised as a believer.

The second session focuses on knowing God. We talk about knowing God as our Father and about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We also pray for baptism in The Holy Spirit.

The purpose of these two sessions is to invite people to STEP FORWARD” – not towards a membership list, since they already belong – but towards a relationship with Jesus.

Once people have made a commitment to Christ the serving opportunities available to them expand … since as a Christian church, some serving roles are obviously only appropriate for Christians to carry out. (Obviously! And people understand that when you tell them.)

Step 4 is called Becoming Together:

This is designed for committed Christians who want to grow in their faith. The invitation is to find out more about becoming all God has called you to be. (This is also open to anyone on the old “Church Membership” list. They can do the other steps, but probably don’t need to!)

There are three sessions. The first focuses on our identity: who we are in Christ, our personal calling and the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to help us live that out.

The second session focuses on the church: what the church is, being God’s family together, why the church matters, our values as a church, plus serving, giving and more.

Session three focuses on the Kingdom Of God: what the kingdom of God is, how we live a life of faith 24/7, how faith impacts our work, our family and our day to day life. It also touches on our call to the nations and to serve the poor.

This is an invitation to STEP UP” to become all God has called us to be. It can also open the door to leadership serving opportunities for people, so there is the one final step, if appropriate:

Step 5 is called Leading Together

This is specifically designed for those who feel called, or are being asked, to lead a ministry. That could be a Life Group, a children’s group, a ministry to the poor or any other leadership role. It focuses on what it means for us to partner in ministry together as a church family.

It’s one session that covers the requirements and responsibilities of leadership at Welcome Church, and it leads to the opportunity to STEP OUT” in a leadership role. It’s not shown as an extra step upwards on the diagram because leaders ought to be a step or two ahead of other people, but they are not necessarily more mature spiritually.

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Every step is taken in a context of Belonging

That’s the end of the basic discipleship track, but steps of growth continue for life.

Remember, the goal is not to become a church member, because we want people to belong to our community right from the start of the process; the goal is to help people come to know Jesus, and become mature in Christ. This discipleship track is underpinned by ‘Belonging’, not as a goal to achieve but as a foundation to build on. People can do all of this whilst belonging to our church community, not in order to belong to it.

In time we want each person to be able to help others to Belong, Believe and Become all that God has called them to be as well; we can each play a part in discipling one another.

In practice a mature Christian joining us from another church might take these steps in a few weeks. Someone completely new to faith might take a lot longer. Perhaps some people will take several years. We don’t mind. Sometimes there will be a discipleship issue that needs more time and attention, and maybe some extra help from a leader. What matters most is the trajectory someone is on, and not the rate of their progress or the challenges they face.

Ultimately this is all about the command of Jesus for his church to make disciples

It’s about leading people through to maturity and towards the obedience that comes from faith, and it’s about doing this in a way that removes barriers we may have inadvertently created in the past.

Are we losing the benefits of membership?

We believe that this approach will keep many of the benefits that our former approach to church membership had for the church. We can still be clear on who belongs to the church, since people will make a decision to belong. We will have opportunities along the way to encourage people towards faith and baptism, and to give guidance on discipleship issues. We will still be encouraging people towards ownership of our shared vision and mission together as a church. There is still ‘protection’ in terms of who can lead or serve in certain ministries or roles.

Finally, for those who are concerned (and I know there will be some) we can still exercise church discipline if we need to … and I guess this last point matters because, after all …

Aren’t there certain people who shouldn’t be allowed to belong to our church?

In fact, isn’t this whole approach simply “compromising the gospel and going soft on sin”?

More on this in the next blog