welcome cards

We have some new welcome cards that have been designed for our church by a wonderfully creative and talented young lady (thank you Sara). When you look at them at first they look like this:

welcome card 2

When you open up the ‘lcome’ flap it looks like this:

welcome card 3

I think they are really clever, look bright and inviting and I hope they will encourage visitors and newcomers to record their visit so we can keep in touch.

But they will be useless unless we have visitors and newcomers. We have been blessed by a regular trickle of people who have come to our church to try us out: some of whom who have found a new spiritual home with us. We have been thrilled by those who have come to faith in Jesus at our church and have become a part of our fellowship. It was a joy last week to meet a lady who had come because she had found us through our website, and another man who had come because he had walked past the premises during the week.

That’s wonderful, exciting, brilliant.

But we also have a responsibility to our friends, colleagues and families to invite them too. If what we have experienced of Jesus is good news for us it is surely good news for them as well. If we don’t invite people we can’t be surprised when they don’t come!

Let me insert a couple of important caveats here:

I do not believe that having more people in church services is the purpose of church. Our purpose is to be followers of Jesus and to make him known to others. Making him known doesn’t have to be on Sundays (and in fact is most effective as we are free samples of Jesus wherever he places us in the rest of the week). But one of the ways in which we are fed and equipped to do that is through worship services so it is good for us to gather together.

I also do not believe that a church should grow at the expense of other churches. I would hate to think that we were growing in attendance because people were leaving other churches to come to us. Of course it is right that God moves people to attend other churches from time to time – that’s natural and healthy as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. But that’s not what I am talking about. I am against the approach that I have seen elsewhere (not in Colchester) where Christians are actively encouraging people to leave their own church to attend their church.

Last Sunday evening we had a wonderful service where people from our church shared about their favourite song or hymn – why it was important to them – and then we sang those hymns ‘Songs of Praise’ style. It was wonderful not only because of the singing but because of the honesty and depth with which people spoke of their faith. That’s attractive. When people can see that Jesus makes a positive difference in people’s lives they will want to come and find out for themselves.

I really hope we run out of these cards soon – not because people take them away because they are so attractive – but because they will have been used for their purpose and that may be a sign that we are being decent (if not good) free samples of Jesus as individual Christians and as a church.

Be blessed, be a blessing

what’s the point of Church Anniversaries?

Happy Birthday to us
Happy Birthday to us

It’s our Church Anniversary this weekend. We are celebrating the 324th Anniversary of the founding of Colchester Baptist Church. No founder members will be in attendance!

But as I prepare for Sunday I ask myself what the point is of having an Anniversary? Why celebrate 324 years of our church being in existence? Actually that’s one reason already – we celebrate God’s faithfulness and goodness to our predecessors and to us for 324 years, which encourages us to trust him now and in the future.

In 1689 the Act of Toleration was passed. Prior to this all churches other than state Church had been declared illegal and nonconformist Ministers were arrested, thrown into prison and worse (John Bunyan being one of the most well-known example of this). But the Act of Toleration said that if oaths of allegiance were sworn and church buildings registered the prohibitive laws would not be enforced against nonconformists, including Baptists. Very rapidly a church was formed in the same year.

This reminds me that we should not take for granted the freedom we have to be followers of Jesus. It reminds me that there are still many believers around the world who are oppressed, persecuted and martyred for their faith in Jesus. It drives me to my knees in prayer for them and encourages me to make the most of what God has given us as a church.

I am also reminded that we are the current trustees of the premises and mission of this church. We have several plaques on the wall of our church dedicated to the memory of some special people in the past. My favourite is of Mr Benjamin Nice who is described as ‘an ornamental member’ but who was active, generous and committed. In fact the central core of the premises we occupy today were built thanks Benjamin Nice’s generous donation. May God help us to be as faithful and as generous today so that generations to come may continue the task we have been given.

George Carey was quoted this week as saying that ‘the church is one generation from extinction’. Well, that’s always been the case. He was not saying anything new, even though he was portrayed as being a prophet of doom and gloom. So I am reminded at an Anniversary that the mission task to which we are called is vital – not so that Colchester Baptist Church will continue, but so that the story of Jesus can be passed on to as many people as possible and so that as many as possible may receive his good news for themselves. Back to being ‘free samples of Jesus’ I suppose!

It seems that there is something innate within us that likes to celebrate anniversaries. Some are ‘natural’ (birthdays, weddings…) and some seem to be more ‘forced’ (I am afraid I am struggling to generate enthusiasm to mark the anniversary of the start of WW1 next year when it was one of the most horrendous episodes in human history. Perhaps it should be marked by a collective shudder). And I wonder if that is part of being created by God. We live within time (unless we are a Time Lord (50th Anniversary of the first broadcast of Dr Who this weekend) and as such mark the passage of time as something significant and special. Anniversaries are a way of recognising that we live in a continuous present – moment after moment after moment. We cannot return to the past or move forward beyond the present. We only live in the present. And in itself it is a gift from God for which we can give thanks.

So, Happy 324th Anniversary CBC!

Be blessed, be a blessing (each moment God gives you)

2020 vision

This bloggage is based on a leaflet that will be shared with our church this weekend.

2020 VISION LOGOOn 1st September I shared a 2020 vision in my sermon in the morning service. We are seeking to see clearly what God’s vision is for us as a church, and looking at 2020 as a point in the future towards which we can aim.

The key thought behind this 2020 vision is that God intends churches to grow. That is what we see in the New Testament, and it is inherent in many of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God. God has not changed his mind about this and that he still intends churches to grow – including ours.

The growth that God intends has two dimensions. One is growing deeper in our relationshipinoutarrow with him. The second is growing in numbers because people are becoming followers of Jesus through us. Those dimensions are reflected in these arrows. There are two sets of arrows: each dependent on the other to exist. The white arrows pointing inwards (deeper) are defined by the red arrows pointing outwards (new Christians) and vice versa. If we are to grow as a church we need to think about both dimensions. It is important for us to remember that this is not something we can manufacture, and it is not a programme to be followed. It is our response to God’s initiative, empowered and encouraged by his Spirit: it is his work in which he invites us to participate, not our work that we ask him to bless.

In my sermon I mentioned the Engel Scale, which shows stages in a person’s journey of faith. (See earlier bloggage here). The Engel Scale helps us to consider how we are growing deeper in our own relationship with Jesus and also how we can help others to grow closer to him.

Growing Deeper

We need to consider the depth of our relationship with God. Our Membership Covenant encourages us to engage in personal prayer and Bible study, and also to support and encourage one another in this. Part of the 2020 vision will be a response to God’s love and seeking his Spirit’s help to walk closer to Jesus. God wants us to continue to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus throughout our life.

If we are a fervently prayerful people we believe we will not only grow closer to Jesus, but we will also see spiritual fruit in the lives of others.

Growing Outwards

The challenge of a vision for growth through new Christians is that we may need to do things differently from the ways we have done them before. A number of big questions emerge:

We have a prime location in the middle of Colchester, a gift from God through our predecessors. How can we make better use of this location to share the Good News about Jesus with those who use these premises weekly, who live and work around us, and with those who pass by the premises?

What does the 2020 vision mean for the different activities we run at the church?

How can we use the opportunities that God gives us through those activities in order to help people in their journey of faith?

How can we make the most of opportunities that he gives us when we are not at church?

We need to be ready to respond to what God says to us, however challenging it may be.

We’d value your prayers!

Be blessed, be a blessing