Gift Day: Reflections & Building News

Last Sunday (16th June) we had our final Welcome Church Gift Day to raise money for our New Building project. At this point we don’t know how much was given – we’ll announce it when we do know – but ahead of that news I wanted to share some reflections and some building news.

Seven Reflections

(Yes. I restricted myself to just seven. ūüėÉ)
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Reflections

My first reflection is how incredibly generous people in Welcome Church are. We are a church that knows how to give sacrificially! Whatever the outcome of these last Gift Days, we have given well in excess of ¬£2m in one year. That is incredible. Miraculous even. I feel humbled, thankful and incredibly proud of us all. It’s a privilege to be leading this church.

My second reflection is the sense of responsibility this brings. We always need to be responsible with people’s giving, but the sense of responsibility feels higher with such a huge amount of giving. We will use it carefully.

My third reflection is that¬†people have given to the building because it’s part of our mission together. We have to remember this as we go forward. It’s¬†going to be a church building!¬†It will be a centre for worship; a place for ministry; a resource to enable our mission together; a facility to serve and bless our town and the wider Commission family of churches. It’s not built to be a source of profit making; that’s not what people gave for so sacrificially.

My fourth reflection is the deep sense of unity we have. Despite a huge amount of change in Welcome Church over the last 18 months, people have been so clearly on board with this project and I’ve loved seeing the excitement it has brought.

My fifth reflection is that everyone has been involved. Although I haven’t looked in detail at what individuals have given, I’m aware of just how many people have given. Some have given small amounts and some have given huge amounts; both can represent a big sacrifice. Even our Welcome Kids have been involved, with some even emptying their piggy banks. My prayer for them is that this giving sets them on a path of generosity and trusting God that will stay with them for life.

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Everyone has been included in this

My sixth reflection is¬†how God has blessed people in response to their giving. I’ve heard testimonies all along the way from people who have given in faith and afterwards have been incredibly, undeniably blessed by God’s unmistakable provision for them; Jo and I can testify to this ourselves. BUT EVEN IF THAT HAS NOT HAPPENED FOR YOU, even if you’ve given and have simply found yourself poorer afterwards, your giving does not go unnoticed by God; it is worship.

My seventh and final reflection is on the exciting future God has planned for our church. He did not give us this building just so we could run our Sunday meetings more easily. The way God has blessed this project creates an excitement in me that He must have some big plans for Welcome Church. Let’s look forward to our future as a church with expectation and faith!

I am so grateful to God

God’s blessing on us all along the way has been incredible. He deserves our worship, praise and thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to our first meeting in the new chapel; what a time of celebration that will be!

And whatever the result of these last Gift Days let me say thank you to everyone who has given! Even if all we gave last Sunday was a button and some chewed gum (it wasn’t ūüėģ) our church has still given amazingly generously all along the way.

Some Building News

The building news I want to share is about God’s provision for us for these next few months. We need to move out of the Welcome Centre altogether from July 1st until the end of the project. We had been looking for a small office facility to tide us over, but we’ve been blessed far more than we could have ever expected.

Yesterday we moved into what used to be the Job Centre, just a stone’s throw from the Welcome Centre. We will be calling it The Annexe.¬†A huge thank you goes to everyone who came along and made the move happen.

The amazing news is that this building has been given to us and to the Useful Wood Company, rent free, for a year. (Useful Wood is one of our Welcome Works. It is a new social enterprise being set up by people in our church to help long term unemployed people learn new skills and find employment. It will also recycle a lot of old wood.)

The Annexe is vast. It runs over three floors and I keep finding new rooms. It will meet every building need we have as a church during this time (except for Sunday mornings which will continue at HG Wells for now). It even has parking for about 20 cars.

The most amazing thing is that we weren’t even looking for a provision like this; God has given us incredibly more than all we could ask or imagine; he really did know what we needed before we even asked.

In case you need it, the official address for the building is: Welcome Church, 15-29 Goldsworth Road, Woking, GU21 6JT.

And when we know the result of the Gift Days – soon I hope – we’ll let you know.

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Time to get the calculator out

Buildings: the final push!

We’re now at the half-way stage with our building work at Welcome Church, and things are really starting to take shape. By July 1st we will need to move out of the existing building for 6 months while the work to redesign that is completed too.

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There’s a lot planned to happen to our current building, including: an extension to create new offices,¬†new professional quality kitchens, new toilet facilities, a new entrance, doors leading through to the new building, a new reception area, a redesign of the current room layout, removal of the old baptistry and stage, a new boiler and heating system, electrical work, decorating throughout, cladding to the outside, landscaping, fencing, gates ‚Ķ the building will be transformed!

Gift Days

This Sunday and next (9th and 16th June) we will hold our final Gift Days to finish off our giving for this project.

Our target over these two weeks is to raise £300,000.

The aim of these Gift Days is to close the small gap in the funding for our current plans, and also to cover the cost of a few additional items/opportunities that have come up along the way. Some extra costs include:

  • Video: we would like to introduce video recording for our preaching, which will be key for our outreach and for reaching new places
  • Sound: this is very important and, after many quotes, we now know that it will cost more than we budgeted for
  • Folding doors: the folding doors we have need replacing and sound proofing is needed above them too
  • Drains: we have a collapsed drain, and twice during recent alpha evenings another drain has backed up and flooded the kitchen
  • Cladding: we want to clad more of the building than was originally planned
  • Windows: some windows need replacing
  • The Upper Room:¬†a completely new room, above the new kids rooms in the current building. This room would have several uses: a prayer room, a place for people to meet with God, a place for pastoral and other meetings, a place for quiet study. It‚Äôs different, it‚Äôs stylish and we just need to fund it. ūüėÉ

More details about these extra’s, including the Upper Room is available by clicking here

We will also be giving away 10% of the money raised at these Gift Days to fund a Compassion Child Survival project in Togo, serving the poorest of the poor – you can see details of that by clicking here

Decisions to be made

If we raise the full amount we can do all of the work needed. If we raise less than our target we will need to make some key decisions fairly soon about what we leave out at this stage. I’m praying that we hit the target this time.

Let’s not be casual

Our target of ¬£300,000 is lower than our targets for the previous Gift Days, but it’s still not a small amount; it will still require great faith and sacrifice from us all … especially since it comes on the back of the previous Gift Days!

So let’s not be casual about these two Sundays.

Please take them seriously. Please pray about them. Please seek God about what he is calling you to give. Please come prepared.

And please, let’s all step out in faith together:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

2 Corinthians 9v6-8

 

 

Saving Lives, Helping The Poor

On Sundays June 9th and 16th we will be having the final Gift Days for our New Building Project. We are going to give away a tithe (10%) of what we collect to a project working with the poorest of the poor … and the good news is that every gift we give to them on this occasion can be doubled!

Child Survival

As a church we are already sponsoring many children in Togo through Compassion UK, and it’s a country with a lot of needs. One of the big challenges is around infant mortality and health in pregnancy.

At present in Togo:

  • 1 in 20 babies die before their first birthday … and most of these are from preventable causes
  • 1 in 58 women also die

These are shocking statistics, and Compassion are working to change this though their Child Survival Projects (CSP). These CSP’s are run by local churches in Togo. They work with mothers throughout their pregnancy and for the first year of the child’s life to provide:

  • Medical support
  • Vaccinations
  • Basic provisions – including safe water, hygiene kits and nutritious food
  • Education – on how to care for a child – remembering that many of the mothers are little more than children themselves
  • Skills training – to teach work skills that can help them earn a living
  • Spiritual support and mentoring

These projects are so important that for a short while they are receiving matched funding from our UK Government.

Our donations to this vital work (before Gift Aid) will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government

So what we give to them will be doubled

This means that if we hit our target of £300,000, and we pass £30,000 on to Compassion, it will be doubled to £60,000 Рenough to fund a project for several years.

Jesus told us that he was sent to bring good news to the poor. Let’s join him in that mission as we come to our Gift Days.

If you have any questions, please do ask.

Buildings: Finishing The Job Together

In case you haven’t noticed, our building work is well underway! Work on the new building (behind our current building) is progressing daily and¬†is on track for us to move into during January 2020.

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There are now two challenges ahead for us:

The first challenge is the work to be done to our current building

There is a lot that will happen to the current building, including: an extension to create new offices, new professional quality kitchens, new toilet facilities, a new entrance, new doors leading through to the new building, a new reception area, a redesign of the current room layout, removal of the old baptistry and stage, a new boiler and heating system, electrical work, decorating throughout, cladding to the outside, landscaping, fencing, gates … the building will be transformed!

Our challenge is that on July 1st we will lose access to the whole site while the work is being done, and we won’t get it back until the job is finished in Dec/Jan. To make things more challenging,¬†everything has to be cleared before work starts.

While the work goes on any ministries or meetings that would usually run in the building will NOT be able to take place there. The impact of this is being worked through with each ministry individually: some will find alternative venues, others will stop for a term. We are also looking to rent some office space off site for this period Рmore details on that when we have it.

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The second challenge is finance

Giving to this project has been phenomenal. Our Gift Days in May and November, plus some giving outside of that, have raised £1.935 million pounds. I want to say thank you for that generosity.

The challenge is that we still need a little more to finish the job, so we will be holding a final set of Building Fund Gift Days on Sundays 9th and 16th June. We would like these Gift Days to close the gap in the funding for our current plans, and we would also like to cover the cost of a few additional things/opportunities that have come up along the way. 

Some of the extra costs include:

  • Video: we would like to introduce video for recording our preaching, which will be key for our outreach and for reaching new places – we want to fund the equipment and infrastructure for that
  • Sound: this is very important and, after many quotes, we now know that it will cost more than we budgeted for – this is essential for us going forward
  • Folding doors: the folding doors we have need replacing (they are beyond repair) and sound proofing is needed above them too – this is not in the current plan
  • Drains: we have discovered that we have a collapsed drain, and twice during recent alpha evenings another drain has backed up and flooded the kitchen – these need to be fixed
  • Cladding: we are cladding some of the outside of the current building and want to do more than originally planned if we can
  • Windows: some single glazed windows do need updating – this is not in the current plan but would make a big difference if we can do it
  • And additionally it would be great if we could reduce how much we need to borrow from the bank.

Then there is one last thing. It is the most expensive thing, and in my view the most exciting one. I call this:

The Upper Room

This would be the addition of a completely new room above the new kids rooms in the current building; our architect has put together a plan of what this would look like and there are some pics for you to look at.

This upper room would have several uses: it could be a prayer room for people to use, a place for people to meet with God, a place for pastoral meetings, a place for quiet study. It‚Äôs different, it‚Äôs stylish and it‚Äôs ours if we want it … we just need to fund it.

I feel a real conviction that this is something we should go for if we possibly can, and like all the work we want to do, to do it now is much cheaper and far less disruptive than to try and do it at a later date, when the main work is finished and the building is in constant use.

We have a target for these Gift Days

We set very ambitious targets for our previous sets of Gift Days, and we didn’t hit either of them, but undaunted I’ll set one for us this time anyway! It’s a lot less than before:

If we can raise £300,000 we will be able to do all of this work.

Anything beyond that will reduce our eventual debt.

There is another factor in the mix for these Gift Days too. We are about far more than buildings, we are also about serving people and caring for the poor.¬†So …

… a tithe (10%) of what we raise this time will be given to a ministry to serve some of the poorest and most needy people in the world.

I’ll tell you what that ministry is in my next blog. (Of course, if you want to give solely to the building fund, that‚Äôs fine – you can just let us know, no problem at all – but do at least look at what it’s going to first!)

And please remember: No one is under any pressure to give!

This is entirely between you and God. If we hit our target, great. If we miss it, we will do as much of the extra work as we can.

Open afternoon

One last thing to mention: we have a “New Building Open Afternoon” on Saturday 11th May, between 1pm and 3pm. This is a chance to visit the building site and see the work done so far; it’s a chance to stand on the site, walk around it, see how it feels, pray.

It is a building site, so you will need to wear sensible footwear (closed toes, no heels) and trousers would be ideal if possible. It’s also not really for kids – sorry!

Faith

I’m believing God that, with his help and blessing, we can raise the money to do all this. Ultimately He is the source of it all. Many of us have given generously so far, and God has not hesitated to bless us in response. I can testify to that personally.

Let’s go again in faith and finish the job together.

And remember this is all about our vision as a church. This is not ultimately about a building; it’s about our mission and calling as a church in this town.

An Amazing Result

This weekend saw the launch of Welcome Church’s partnership with Compassion UK – sponsoring children in the African country of Togo (click here for more info ). This launch is the latest addition to our Welcome Works¬†initiative.

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It was great to hear from Tim Robertson about how Compassion are:

  • Jesus centred
  • Child focussed, and
  • Church based

You can find out more about this excellent¬†‘three cord’ approach to ministry here

Or you can hear more of what Tim said by clicking here

The result was fantastic:

On Sunday Welcome Church stepped up to sponsor 111 children in poverty

And that number is already¬†going up. This is really something to celebrate;¬†lives will be changed as a result. Jo and I now sponsor a 7 year old girl in Togo. We’re looking forward to sending her a letter soon.

So what do I do now?

If you sponsored a child:

In the next few days you should hear from Compassion with some introductory information and confirming your bank details etc.

Once that is all in place I would recommend doing the following:

  1. Set up a My Compassion account with Compassion UK online – this gives you all the info you need, and will link you to information about the child you sponsor, the community they are in and how you can write to them
  2. Download the Compassion UK App onto your phone/pad. You can put your account info into it and it makes everything even more accessible. You can use the app to do everything, including viewing and writing letters; you can even do it on the way to work on the train.
  3. Write to your child. Try to do it a few times a year, and don’t forget a birthday card and gift when that comes around (Compassion¬†will remind you). If you can, why not try to write at least once a term, after all you are looking to build a relationship with them? Remember¬†you can include photos too. If you’re unsure what to write, the Compassion website will give you some great pointers. It doesn’t need to be long, just enough to show you care. If your child is very small, it may be the parents/carers who communicate with you at first, but that will change over time.
  4. Pray for them and their family, and for the church who are running the project. Remember, this is spiritual ministry and they need your prayers.
  5. If you have kids of your own, involve them.¬†Let them write a letter or send a photo – it’s great way for them to grasp something of God’s heart for the poor.

If you have not yet sponsored a child:

You will get another chance to step up this Sunday and next Sunday at church, so in the meantime you could listen to Tim’s talk, check out the various links above, and see if it’s something you want to do.

For ¬£25 a month you can genuinely change a life, and help to release someone from poverty in Jesus’ name. And that’s what our church is all about: seeing lives changed and communities impacted for good by God’s grace in action.

Exciting times!

Called to show Compassion

This Sunday at Welcome Church we are launching our newest Welcome Works initiative: we will be partnering with Compassion UK to sponsor children in the nation of Togo, Africa. (To find out what Welcome Works is, click here)

I love what Compassion do. I’ve seen it first hand and it’s precious.

They work with the poorest of the poor to help lift children, families and whole communities out of poverty and to give them hope. They also work to introduce them to a relationship with Jesus, meeting their deepest need of all. I love that Compassion do all of this by working through local churches in the countries they serve.

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By sponsoring a child with Compassion you get to build a personal link with the child you are sponsoring: they write letters to you and you can write back; you can send them Bible verses and encouragements, and ask how you can pray for them; you get to see them grow up; you get to see the impact that of the gospel in action through your sponsorship.

Jo and I have sponsored children in the Philippines through Compassion for several years now, and we are looking forward to expand that to include Togo as well.

Why Togo?

In short: because the majority of children in Togo are desperately poor.

Togo is one of the least developed countries in Africa.

Without decent healthcare, under-5 mortality rates are 45 per 1,000 live births. Even those children who manage to survive those early years face countless obstacles including disease, malnutrition and limited access to medical care and education.

Less than five per cent of children who attend primary school in Togo go on to secondary school. Many families simply can’t afford the school resources and for others the need to send their children to work is too great. As a result, many children are denied the freedom of childhood, and a quarter of children are married before they are 18.

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Just stop for a moment

Re-read those last facts.

Let them sink in and touch your heart.

These are children, just the same as the children we may know personally. They think and feel just like the children we know. They have dreams and fears like they do. They need food, clothing, healthcare, education and hope, just like them. They also need to hear the good news of Jesus.

Why Togo? Because the need is so great, and Jesus told us to care for the poor – and it seems from the Bible that Jesus has a particular place in his heart for children. (Matthew 19v13-14; Matthew 18v6)

Compassion’s work in Togo began in 2009. Now, more than 197 local churches in Togo are reaching out to more than 50,982 children through partnership with Compassion. We are going to increase that number.

So this Sunday come ready to let God touch your heart, and come ready to step up.

Our church vision statement says that we want “to see lives changed and communities impacted for good through God’s Grace in Action.” That’s what this is all about. We are going to take steps together that will change lives and destinies for children.

I actually believe this Sunday might be the single most important Sunday at Welcome Church since I arrived.

Welcome Works – caring for the poor

We launched a new initiative at Welcome Church on Sunday. We’re calling it Welcome Works.

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When Jesus started his ministry he described what he had come to do like this:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners¬†and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,¬†to proclaim the year of the Lord‚Äôs favour.‚Ä̬†Luke 4v18-19

The poor includes those who are “spiritually poor” – people who do not know God – and it also includes those who are physically poor in all sorts of ways – people who are in need, or are sick, or in prison, or oppressed, or in debt, or stuck in addiction – they all matter.

God cares about the poor and those in need.

The Bible is full of verses describing our call to remember the poor. Here are just a few sample verses, picked from among many:

  • ‚ÄúDefend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked‚ÄĚ – Psalm 82v3-4
  • ‚ÄúWhoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done‚ÄĚ – Proverbs 19v17
  • ‚ÄúThe righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern‚ÄĚ – Proverbs 29v7
  • ‚ÄúReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world‚ÄĚ – James 1v27 ¬†… an interesting verse in which God seems to give as much weight to caring for the poor as he does to personal holiness

Every Christian and every church has a part to play in caring for the poor …

… so as a church we‚Äôre launching a new approach to this area of our church life and we‚Äôre calling it Welcome Works. To support this initiative a whole new section of our website has now gone live and you can access it by clicking here.

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Welcome Church is involved in many different projects that aim to bring help to those in need in our community and further afield. Welcome Works is the unifying banner that pulls all of these together.

There are some amazing things going on among us! Check out the website to see what they are. Some of these things we do as a church, some we do in partnership with other churches or agencies and some are done by individuals as part of their personal calling.

There is a lot going on and each of these things matter.

There are too many things being done to list them all, but we‚Äôve brought a number of them together under the title ‚ÄėWelcome Works‚Äô.¬†We are doing this to create a context where we can give greater profile to them. We want to create a context where we‚Äôre making it easier for people to get involved¬†or to seek help from them.

We want to create a more coordinated approach to those we help, for example some people may need help from more than one ministry. We want to enable the sharing of resources – people, skills, facilities, courses. We want to work more smoothly alongside other agencies or churches. This will also help us to give better oversight and support to the people who serve in these different ministries.

These areas of our ministry are central to the heart of Jesus so they must not be on the sidelines of our church life.

We want to talk about them, embrace them, give profile to them and encourage everybody to get involved in them. Our launch of this initiative also coincides with a whole preaching series about God’s heart for the poor. You can hear the first one by clicking here.

During the series we’ll also hear from some of the Welcome Works we are involved in as a church. This week we heard about some of the work we do in two local prisons. Is that where God wants you to get involved?

As we go through this series, let God speak to you. Keep listening to him carefully each week. He may lead you in a direction that could surprise you and set you on an adventure!

 “Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;¬†he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land¬†and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden,¬†like a spring whose waters never fail.‚Ä̬†

Isaiah 58v10-11

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 …