Some Plans For Good Friday

This Friday (2nd April) is Good Friday, when Christians from around then world remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

On Good Friday last year we held our very first ‘online communion’, and we were joined by Rahul who leads one of the Commission churches in Mumbai, India. Rahul talked about the challenges they were facing in India due to the way Lockdown was imposed and about the work being done to feed people, especially from the rural churches, who were facing starvation.

In response we had the opportunity to give to this, and Welcome Church people contributed £19,000. This was added to money given from some other UK Commission churches and was used to literally save lives during the pandemic.

This year we have a ‘return visit’ from India to bless us

As a church we’ve recently been seeing a lot of people dealing with cancer and other life threatening illnesses. With this in mind, on Good Friday this year we’re being joined by Vinu, who leads the Commission Church family in India.

The plan is for Vinu – hopefully with some others from India too – to pray for those amongst us who are affected in this way. They already have a list of names and have started to pray. As a church let’s gather together on Good Friday, online, and ask for Jesus to pour out his healing power on those who need it.

We will gather from 10am, and all the details are in the picture. Don’t forget you’ll need your own bread and wine/ribena/grape juice/whatever for the communion part of the meeting.

See you on Friday.

Part Of A Bigger Picture

Welcome Church has been meeting online for a year now, and this week I’m publishing some blog posts to talk about where we’ve been and our thoughts for our future. The first one can be found by clicking here. This is part 5, the last part.

We’ve talked about the challenge of the complexity we face, we’ve considered the place of online church for us going forwards and we’ve talked about the need for us to count the cost of returning to in person meetings. Today I want to point us to the bigger picture we’re part of.

As we restart in person meetings, let’s remember that our meetings are not an end in and of themselves; they serve a wider purpose. When we consider the effort involved in meeting in person again, and we ask ourselves how we feel about it all, let’s remember one thing:

It’s really not about you!

We are part of Jesus’ church; we belong to Him. When we gather it’s for His glory and not our own convenience or comfort. If we were only concerned about ourselves we might feel less motivated to make the effort, but God has a bigger role for us to play in the wider world as individuals and as a church.

Let me highlight the bigger picture in three ways:

1. We are part of a local community

It’s been said the church is the only organisation on the planet that exists mainly for the benefit of it’s non-members. Whether that’s accurate or not is a matter for debate, but it’s certainly true that our church is not just about us; we have a mission both to the town we live in and further afield. Jesus loves Woking, and so should we; His mission should be our mission.

As we start to gather in person again, our meetings are not just about being together and worshipping – although that is important – God actually has a role for us to play as a church in Woking, and a role for each individual to play in the places where they live and work; a role that goes way beyond our meetings. A key part of gathering together is about equipping people for the wider calling they have – the call to ‘love your neighbour’.

The last year has been challenging for our nation and people have been impacted in a lot of different ways. Challenges to health, finance, emotional wellbeing and more won’t disappear overnight and we may find that all sorts of situations of need are brought to our attention; let’s be ready to respond in faith and to help people across our community.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing each of our Welcome Works up and running again, remembering that we’re here to do good and to bring the kingdom of God to people. I’m also looking forward to seeing new people making a commitment to follow Jesus and getting baptised. I’m looking forward to seeing our children being taught and having fun together at church again. I’m looking forward to seeing more leaders raised up and released to serve our church and further afield.

2. We are part of the UK

One thing we need to do as we come back together is pray for our nation. Let’s pray for God to move in renewal and draw many people from across our nation into His Kingdom. We don’t know what God might do in the months ahead, but let’s pray for Him to use what’s happened with the pandemic for His purposes. Let’s pray for him to build his church in every town, city and village in the UK.

I have the joy of meeting (currently online) with leaders from our wider family of churches across the UK, as well as with church leaders from across our town. Every church is now considering how they unlock and at what pace, so it’s a journey we’re all on together, supporting and encouraging one another along the way.

Let’s pray for the church in our nation to stand on it’s feet again and find its voice again. Our nation needs the gospel right now more than ever, so let’s be praying that every church will play its part, whatever the cost, remembering that we’re all on the same team. Let’s pray for a revival.

3. We are part of an international family of churches

We belong to a family of churches called Commission, with churches in 14 different nations including the UK, Europe, South Asia, USA, South America, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East. Let’s remember that we have a part to play in that as well.

To highlight our belonging to an International family of churches there’s a one hour event this Sunday evening (28th March) at 7.30pm called Commission Global. I want to encourage as many of us as possible to join in.

You can register for this event using the link above, or it can be accessed via this video link:

Enjoy!

A Call To Pray

The Prime Minister described the Covid pandemic as the greatest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. It has affected every area of our lives: separation from friends and family, schools closed, shops closed, holidays and events cancelled, working from home, job losses, furlough, daily death statistics, sickness, the loss of loved ones, restrictions on travel and activities, online church, social distancing, face masks, Christmas plans curtailed, the vaccine rollout, the NHS under pressure, stress, anxiety, mental health challenges, loneliness, isolation, boredom … all these impacts and more have taken their toll.

As a nation we are now starting the process of unlocking, with children and young people going back to school this week.

Spring is on its way, this winter is passing and with it come signs of promise.

At this time we need to pray for God to move in power and heal our nation, so this Wednesday evening (10th March), from 7.30pm to 8.30pm, we will be joining with many Commission Churches from across the UK to pray for the UK. We will gather together and pray for God to heal our nation, restore our churches and move in power in our land. You may even see some Welcome Church faces leading parts of the evening.

For information about how to take part, please follow this link here and sign up. Let’s join together and pray for God to bring refreshing, renewal and even revival to the UK.

Guy Miller, who leads the Commission group of churches, has also sent us a short (50 second) video about the event to encourage us to join in:

Appointing our New Elders

This Sunday evening (17th January) we will be meeting at 6.30pm on Zoom, for about an hour, to appoint two new elders for Welcome Church. I’m very excited that Robin Willison and Nnamdi Anyaegbunam are now joining the team and it’s been great to receive so many positive encouragements about them and their families from across the whole church.

Guy Miller, who leads our Commission family of churches will be leading us through the evening together. Please come full of faith and be ready to show your support and add your prayers; this a key moment for us to be together as a church.

You will be able to log on from 6.20 pm for some informal chat and a chance to say ‘Hello’ to some people, and then the meeting will then begin properly at about 6.30pm. See you on Zoom!

Helping People In Need

I’ve loved seeing us put our faith in action as a church to help people in need recently. For example, during the recent half term holidays, we helped a number of families in need here in Woking. These families get free school meals for their children in term time, and we were able to give them some much needed vouchers to feed their children during the holidays too. It was greatly appreciated and made a real difference.

Two situations

We’re also helping out financially in two situations where we have direct connection to churches in other nations. I shared about these during our recent online communion meeting and invited people to give.

The first is in Izmir in Turkey, where an earthquake and tsunami killed 115 people, injured more than 1000, and left many homeless bringing down buildings and making others unsafe to use.

A church in Izmir who we have direct connection with are providing food to people in need and to rescue workers. They’re meeting the needs of many who’ve been left homeless who are living in tents as the weather gets colder. Amongst other things they’re providing food, heaters, firewood, hats, socks and thermal clothing. They’ve also been able to share God’s love with people.

As a church their funds to do this ran out, but (along with some others) we’ve been able to send them money to help the work continue.  

The other situation is in the Philippines where two typhoons in rapid succession have hit the region of Bicol with winds of up to 225mph. Commission has a church plant starting in a home in that area, but the home was totally destroyed, along with the homes of some other church members. This level of destruction of people’s lives is replicated all around the area and comes on top of crops being destroyed by a volcano recently, and the impact of Covid.

The Christians in our churches there are often incredibly poor, yet incredibly joy filled. Again, as a church, we’ve been able to send money to help them survive and rebuild.

It’s not too late to help

It’s not too late for you to give to either of these situations, and the good news is the money will go directly to the church there; we know the people and we know how it will be used. If you want to help please give a gift to us as a church and mark it ‘crisis’. You can do that through our website here. We will pass on every penny including the gift aid if it applies.

So far just under £6000 has been raised, which is being split between these two causes. We sent the initial amount out last week, but it’s not too late to grow that amount so more can be sent.

Remember: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.” (Proverbs 19 v17)

Getting Spiritually Match Fit

On Sunday, Christoper Hawes spoke about our need to be ‘spiritually match fit’ as lockdown eases and something closer to normal life returns (click here to listen). Just as footballers will need to be fit to play the full 90 minutes when football returns, we need to be spiritually fit for God’s call and plans for us.

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Have you lost some of your spiritual fitness during lockdown?

2 Timothy 3v16-17 says:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Among other things Christopher talked about the Bible as being like a ‘spiritual coach’ for us, helping us to attain full fitness.

He listed five ways to approach the Bible that can help us:

  1. Listening: such as listening to our Sunday preaching
  2. Reading: actually reading the Bible. Have you read it all yet? There are loads of apps and reading plans available for free to help
  3. Studying: a lot of the Bible’s riches do not ‘lie on the surface’; we are reading literature that is thousands of years old and written to different cultures in languages we don’t speak today. Study guides are so helpful for us to mine the depths, taking our understanding and interest to whole new levels
  4. Memorising: learning verses or chapters by heart; being able to call them to mind when needed. Jesus did this to fight temptation (see Luke chapter 4)
  5. Meditating: filling our mind with scripture; rolling it round and round our thoughts

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When Christopher talked about ‘studying’ the Bible, he mentioned some resources to help us. I have listed some of these here, along with a few extra suggestions of my own:

1. Study Bibles
A Study Bible is a simple tool to help us as we read. I own two: The NIV Study Bible and The NLT Study Bible. They have comments on many of the verses and explain things we can easily miss
2. Daily Devotionals
These are short daily reading guides that give insight to what we’re reading. There are lots of these available, both in online or paper formats to suit your preference for example, Every Day With Jesus or Daily Hope, both of which I would recommend
3. Bible commentaries
A good Bible commentary can help us mine the depths of the Bible, and lots of these are well written and easy to read, such as ‘The Bible Speaks Today’ (which has a commentary available for every book of the Bible) or the ‘New American Commentary’ series (which go far deeper and are personal favourites of mine) or the ‘Holman Commentary’ series (which take a chapter at a time and point to the key things in it) or Phil Moore’s ‘Straight To The Heart Of’ series (very readable and applicable to daily life)
4. A Systematic Theology
Reading a good systematic theology can take some effort, but it’s manageable by anyone with reasonable reading ability and the courage to take the plunge. Reading one through is like taking all the bits of theology we know (and a lot we don’t know) and organising it into a neat filing system. I personally like Wayne Grudems Systematic Theology, but others are also available.
5. Commission Training
As a church we are part of the Commission family of churches, and Commission have just launched a whole range of new training courses, starting from September. There are four levels of training on offer, starting with something basic and going all the way through to a Masters Degree. For details click here. They also talk about an internship year in a church, which could be done here at Welcome Church – feel free to ask.

What next?

There is no bad place to start. The key thing is not to worry about what we don’t know or haven’t done, but to start somewhere. All the things I have listed above will do us good, so why not try something?
To return to a sporting analogy, the ball is in your court.

 

Exciting Staff News

We have some exciting news regarding a staff change at Welcome Church.

Part of our role as a church is to develop and release leaders, and this applies to those who are employed by us as much as to anyone else. 

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-22 at 16.57.38Many of us will know Ben and Nancy Martin. Ben has been employed at Welcome Church for a number of years, first as a Kids Worker, and more recently as our Children’s and Youth Pastor. About a year ago, as part of our plan for his development, Ben was offered a secondment to Gateway Church in Basingstoke.

Over the last year at Gateway Church, Ben has been involved in lots of activities to help him develop, including setting up a brand new CAP Debt Centre like the one we have here at Welcome Church, alongside involvement with discipleship, pastoral care and lots of other things that have nothing to do with children or youth.

Ben’s aim was to develop further as a leader, and I’m delighted to announce that he has now been appointed to a new, permanent role as Lead Pastor at Life Church in Hook. Life Church is part of the Commission global family of churches, just like Welcome Church, so we will still see him and Nancy at Commission events including Connect Festival next year.

Ben will start this new role on May 18th, and this will bring to an end more than ten years of employment with us, and also his secondment to Gateway Church. It also means he will not now be returning to us in the summer, as was the original plan.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-22 at 16.57.31As part of this move Ben and Nancy will be relocating to Hook. They already have a buyer for their house and a purchase agreed – all subject to contract of course. In case you missed their other piece of exciting news, Nancy is pregnant with a due date this August.

Please do join me in congratulating them both on this step they are taking; this will be an exciting new phase of their life and ministry together. Ben and Nancy will be missed, yet this new role is a great step into their future together and will be a huge blessing to Life Church.

Here is a video that Ben and Nancy made to share the news in their own words. Enjoy!

 

 

Connect Festival: BIG NEWS

As a church we go to a festival each year in August, camping with other churches from our Commission family. We always have a great time with excellent teaching, worship, sports, entertainments, youth work, kids work, fun and games. I love hanging out with people from our own church, and also being with thousands of people from other Commission churches too, both from the UK and other nations.

Sadly, because of the Coronavirus outbreak, this year’s event has been postponed until August 2021.

This week the Commission Office will get in touch with everyone who’s booked to let you know what happens next. If you’ve booked already you will have three choices:

ONE: You can have your money back … but please don’t do that unless you really have to.

TWO: You can donate the cost of your booking to Commission to support the work done all around the world, including amongst the poor in several nations. That could be a good option, especially if you know 2021 is not possible for you, or you just want to be generous at this difficult time.

THREE: You can roll your booking over to 2021. Remember the event is not cancelled – it’s just postponed. I’m sure most will choose this option.

Connect Festival 2021 will be awesome!

Just think what a huge celebration we will have together, having missed this year’s event and having come through this crisis together. Jo and I will be there. I know you really won’t want to miss it!

 

Sundays: a whole new plan

Our first Sunday Experience as a church online went really well; I hope you enjoyed it.

Some highlights following last Sunday are these:

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He’s got the whole world …

  • As a very conservative estimate, well over a thousand people around the world have seen our Sunday message or heard the podcast.
  • We’ve had great feedback from people in Brazil, India, South Africa and many other places in the UK including Northern Ireland. These are not people who we would normally have expected to connect with us, so our footprint has grown overnight
  • Numbers of people from our church started their own watch parties on Facebook (some by design and some by accident 🙂) and found that their friends who would not normally be with them on a Sunday at church joined in and watched too
  • The daily encouragement videos have been shared by many of us, and are also now being viewed by a wide range of people. Prayer requests are starting to arrive from both overseas and closer to home. Do watch these daily videos at 4pm, and share them with anyone who you think would be helped or blessed by them

NEW PLANS for this Sunday

The lockdown that we are currently living under means that the recording for this Sunday will probably all need to be done at home. We will do our level best to make it as high quality as possible! We are also trying to incorporate some worship content, so watch this space.

The specific plan for Sunday has changed and is now as follows:

  • Our Sunday experience will go live on both our Welcome Church website and our Welcome Church Facebook Page at about 9am
  • After that you can watch it at any time that suits you. Please share the link to your own social media accounts and directly with other people too
  • We will host watch parties as a church on our Welcome Church Facebook Page at 9am, 11am and 4pm each Sunday
  • If you want to watch in community with other people – which we hope you will -you can join in with any of our watch parties, or you could just start one of your own. These are a great way to interact with people along the way
  • The kids work will go live on both our website and our Facebook page at about 10am, so do make use of that too – it will bless your kids

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Prayer

Prayer is absolutely crucial at this challenging time.

Don’t forget that we are now praying online as a church twice a day via Zoom. All the details you need to join in, including the specific code to join the meetings, can be found here. Anyone is welcome to join us. I hope we will see you online to pray with us soon.

In case you missed it, here is a link to yesterday’s encouragement video:

The next episode will be out at 4pm today

Covid-19: 12 steps for our church

On Sunday at Welcome Church I spoke about our response to the current Coronavirus Pandemic. This is a moment unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, but moments like this are nothing new historically; many disasters, plagues and viruses have come and gone over the years.

In 1854, the preacher Charles Spurgeon found himself pastoring a congregation during a cholera outbreak in London. You can read about his response during that time here. We need a response to this current crisis too.

Here’s our 12 step plan as a church:

1. Let’s have faith:man-walking-on-gray-stairs-677971

As I’ve said before, this is not a time to panic (read more here). The church is made for a time like this. We are people of faith and we will trust Jesus. We will trust him that our lives are in his hands, and we will trust that He will do good things in and through our church and our lives at this time.

2. Let’s make informed decisions:

We will listen to wisdom and follow official advice, combining that with our local knowledge of the state of play in our own town and church. We won’t be making changes simply for the sake of appearances.

Presently (2pm, 16th March) we’re allowed to meet together as normal, so we’ll continue to do so. If the official advice changes, we will change too. In line with official advice, if you have a new constant cough or a high fever – however mild – please self isolate, and do let us know so we can pray for you.

3. Let’s continue to meet together:

We need to seek God throughout this challenging season. If a point comes where the official advice is to cancel our main Sunday meetings, we’ll meet in other ways and by other means as appropriate. This could include smaller meetings, Life Groups, Facebook live, video recordings, podcasts, blog posts, links to worship songs, email updates and more. Make sure you connect to as many of these things as you can.

Obviously there are some who may need to limit social interaction, on the advice of health professionals, or due to underlying health conditions, but let’s not withdraw simply out of fear, after all – this could go on for some months.

Currently we have decided not to pass an offering basket or take communion. Let’s also be wise in how we greet people or pray for them. Beyond that, we plan to carry on with our diary as planned, in line with the current official advice. But because this crisis is likely to get significantly worse before it gets better, let’s be ready for changes, even at the last minute, and let’s be flexible when they happen.

*** UPDATE ***
This afternoon,
Boris Johnson briefed the nation on the latest measures that the Government would like us to take to help manage the national Coronavirus situation.

Amongst other things it was said, “now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and non-essential travel” and that we should all avoid all social gatherings and social contact.

He has also asked people to work from home wherever possible.

In order to comply with this guidance, with immediate effect Welcome Church will be cancelling all meetings, including Life Groups, and closing our office until further notice.

Over the next couple of days we will be looking at how things develop and what that will mean for us as a church, including using online and other resources.

As soon as we have further information we will issue an update via email, social media and our website, so expect to hear from us soon.

Let’s all be on the front foot to care for one another wherever we can.

Remember: none of this is taking our Heavenly Father by surprise.

He can use this time for His purposes in our lives, our church and our nation.

 

4. Let’s pray:

belief-bible-book-business-267559Let’s seek God for his protection on our church, our town and our nation at this time. Let’s pray for wisdom for our government, and strength and endurance for NHS workers and emergency services. If someone is sick we’ll pray for them in whatever way we can as well; just let us know the situation. Please also pray at home and in Life Groups.

We are Christians, not fatalists! We believe in prayer!

Right now the official guidelines tell us to wash our hands often, for at least 20 seconds. If you want to time 20 seconds, try praying The Lord’s Prayer; it works in more ways than one. 😃 We believe in the power of prayer, we also believe in the power of soap.

5. Let’s reject selfishness:

It would be very easy to just focus on ourself and our own family right now: buy what we can, pile it up, look after number one and batten down the hatches until it’s over. By doing that we could miss out on the opportunity of this unusual season we are living through.

Instead of embracing selfishness and fear, let’s show the love of Jesus to our world by responding with kindness, care and generosity to those around us. Let’s connect with our neighbours and those in need, and let’s offer help in Jesus name. And let’s ask Jesus for his help and strength to keep on serving, however tough it gets.

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6. Let’s be ready to care for others:

As a church we are God’s family, so let’s act like a family. This may get easier once some of us have had the virus and recovered, so we can step up in caring for others without restrictions, but let’s not wait until then.

If there comes a point when those who are over 70 are told to self isolate – which could happen in the near future – let’s be ready to help them. And let’s think more widely than just our church; let’s be ready to step up and help our neighbours and any vulnerable people we know as well.

7. Let’s look to pastor our town:

People are in fear. Let’s be ready to speak God’s good news to people, to offer prayer, to help our neighbours and to show a different way of living. Let’s not be selfish. Let’s not spread fear in person or online. Let’s speak faith and point people to the eternal hope that is available in Jesus, and let’s step up to help practically. Welcome Church is here in Woking for such a time as this.

8. Let’s be open to new evangelistic opportunities:

Let’s be ready to tell people the reason for the hope that we have. We have an amazing message of hope in Jesus; he offers eternal life and the promise of his presence with us. We can walk through this season without fear because live or die we can’t lose. And remember: the more you pray for opportunities, the more you get – so be ready.

9. Let’s be worshippers:

God deserves our praise at all times, so let’s live lives of worship in all circumstances. Worship is a spiritual weapon (see 2 Chronicles 20). We’re called to give thanks to God in every circumstance; so let’s be worshippers and not panickers; it’s hard to worship when you’re running away in fear!

10. Let’s lead our children well:

Teach the truth of the gospel to your children and grandchildren. Don’t leave them afraid and don’t model fear to them. Pray for them and pray with them. Remind them that Jesus cares for them. Teach them not to be afraid in life’s difficult circumstances. Teach them that death is not the end for any of us if we put our faith in Jesus. When Coronavirus comes up in conversation be ready to speak words of faith and point them to Jesus. Our kids need evangelism even more than they need soap!

As a family you could worship together, pray together and celebrate communion together. Let’s lead our children in faith, not fear.

11. Let’s entrust our lives to God:

When Esther, in the Bible book of Esther, had to go before the King on behalf of her people, without being summoned by him and in great fear of her life, she said, “I will go before the King, and if I perish I perish”.

This is a time to throw ourselves onto Jesus. Let’s go before King Jesus, ask for his mercy and leave our lives in his hands as we serve those around us. If we perish, it’s in his hands. We are not immune to disease, but death is not the end for us either, and King Jesus has us safely in his hands.

flowers-marguerites-destroyed-dead-200912. If people die, let’s bury them with faith, and care for their families well:

Death is not the end. We have a resurrection to come. If our faith counts for anything, it counts when we face a crisis like this, where people we love may die, or our own lives may be lost. God has not promised us immunity from sickness and death, but his word does show us that we’re immortal until our life’s work is done – so let’s trust him.

THAT’S THE PLAN!

This situation will get worse before it gets better. Jesus does not promise that we will never get sick or die. We may lose people we love to this and we may mourn … but we will not mourn like those who have no hope, and we will not walk in fear.

Jesus won a great victory for us at the cross: death was defeated; our resurrection is promised; victory is ours in Jesus. We can live in contentment despite the current crisis because our Heavenly Father is watching over us and even if we die we will live.

And perhaps this crisis is a good reminder for us all that it’s not wise to live our lives as though sickness and death were the least likely things ever to happen to us; they are a certainty for us all.