Recently I have been spending a lot of time scrabbling around in the mud and dirt of church life. I’m not referring to that messy cupboard that I’m sure every church has – you know the one that always seems to need a good clear out and a thorough clean! Nor have I taken over the gardening for the church grounds – a relief to all concerned I’m sure!
No, I have been getting my hands and my heart dirty in the murky, muddy, messiness of what is really going on in the life of our local church. It is a mess that is well hidden. It crouches behind polite smiles, conversations about the weather and the comforting normality of coffee rotas and fundraising. It is a mess that infects PCC meetings and worms its way into letters of ‘concern’ to the powers that be – all the while never really showing itself. You catch a glimpse of it and then like a chameleon it suddenly takes on the appearance of a personality clash or a mere difference of opinion about the way we do things here. It is a poisonous mess, protecting itself from diagnosis, while still inflicting its victim (our church family) with the horrible symptoms of conflict, pain, hurt and ultimately a church that is failing to thrive and a community whose gospel light is in danger of being extinguished completely.
The thing is I quite like a mess – because when a determined group of people decide that enough is enough and commit to do something about it, you can collectively roll your sleeves up and be part of a transformation!
So what first? Well – more mess of course! As we all know – the first thing you do when you are sorting out a long neglected space is take everything out and see what you are dealing with! Imagine an attic in the process of being sorted – it will be far less tidy than an attic full of boxes of stuff, but it will also be much closer to the desired end point.
As some of you will know I am a fan of a book called ‘Organising your life from the inside out’. In it Julie Morgenstern advocates SPACE. Sorting; Purging; Allocating a place for what you are keeping; Containerising it; and then maintaining a state of Equilibrium by regular evaluation and mini-sorts.
At the moment I feel as if I am sitting in a room with all the stuff of church life laid out around me. It needs to be sorted, some needs to be purged, what is kept needs to be accommodated and containerised in our calendars, hearts, finances, prayer lives, priorities, meetings, our attitude towards our building…and then we need to plan to have regular check-ups and updates.
In future posts I will start to share some reflections from two excellent little books I have been reading – ‘Autopsy of a Deceased Church’ and ‘Renewal’.
But let me end this post with three massively important points of reference for the process.
- This is not my ‘space’ to sort.
- I am a member of the family, a brick in the building – but Christ is the head. It is Christ who will build his church. It is Christ who will discipline his church. It is Christ who will save the lost sheep that live around us. He does not need me to sort it all out! I am here, and I feel strongly about investigating the problems embedded in his people here – but whether I can ever go further with any ideas that come out of this investigation is in his hands.
- The first and central task at hand is, therefore, to submit to God’s word about the church.
- You can’t sort and purge and organise someone else’s ‘space’ until you know why the ‘space’ exists and what they want it to look like. We must not let our preferences or tradition, our history or our picture of the past, or our agreement with a well written book stand in authority over God’s commands.
- And finally: This is not ultimately an individual task.
- Sorting through relationships is much less straightforward than sorting out your handbag. When you decide that it is not sensible to carry around the kitchen sink all day – the kitchen sink doesn’t feel offended or unloved! While I can do some initial research and reading up on the subject alone, I need to then share what I find – or think I have found – with others who have a passion for God’s church. In turn, I will need to listen to what they have observed and noted and read and prayed about.
And so I ask the Lord, if it be his will and in his timing, to put together a group of people with a united, bibilical vision of what church is. A group of people that can then lay everything out on the table and take a good look at what we have (and what we are missing). A group of people who can prayerfully decide together, and under the Lord’s headship the best way forward for the gathered people of God in this area.
Dear Father God, you raised Christ from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way. Help me to love your people here, and to fight passionately, but lovingly to fan into flame and to protect the gospel witness of your gathered people to those around us. Thank you for my lovely sisters and brothers in Jesus whom you have placed here with us – please help us to be clear and bold in our understanding of and ‘putting into action of’ your mission for your people here. Guide my reading and my thinking and my communication, that it might only serve your purposes. In the name of the Lord Jesus – who build his church no matter what. Amen.