Saturday, 19 November 2016

...he went as usual...

Reading the Bible is a fascinating experience for many reasons.  One of them is the way in which a phrase that you have read many times can come alive for the first time. This happened to me only the other week.

In Luke 22 Jesus is approaching events that he long predicted would take place. What will soon unfold in his arrest, trial and crucifixion, will shape the course of history and alter the destiny of millions of people. His death will reverse the effects of sin, restore our broken relationship with God and establish a new society of people called the Church who will seek to exhibit his life to the world.

As these epic events are unfolding we learn that '(Jesus) went as usual to the Mount of Olives' (v.39).
This was clearly part of his regular practice; a habit formed over time. But for what purpose?

As I've reflected on this sentence in one of the gospels, I believe that we can learn some encouraging truths that will help us as we serve within the ministry of Young Cartsbridge.

Firstly, we learn the significance of PLACE.
If our service for God is going to be truly effective, then it must be underpinned by prayer and the reading of God's Word. That will be a major part of what sustains over the long haul of Christian ministry. Not only was this central in Jesus' life but there was also a particular place he often visited that helped nurture his relationship with the Father.
Some of us enjoy recreation and in so doing commune with God. Others value quiet time at the start of each day at home. Wherever it happens to be, Jesus example of securing an uninterrupted time for communion with God highlights a prerequisite to faithful service.

Secondly, we discover the value of SPACE.
Jesus intentionally withdrew from the demands of ministry in order to secure not only a place to fellowship with the Father but also to find space for the replenishing of his spiritual life and the good of his soul. To do this he recognised the need to escape the rigors of daily demands that can be so constricting to delight in the expanse of the Father's love.
As those who make it their goal to please him, securing those moments with God will enable us to experience something of "the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).

Lastly, we recognise the importance of PACE.
Someone once described the life of discipleship as 'a long obedience in the same direction.' It is vital, then, to set a steady, consistent pace that will avoid burnout.

For Jesus, going as usual to the Mount of Olives helped him to stay on track and avoid the twin dangers that we often encounter…rushing ahead or lagging behind where the Father wants us to be.

If we set the 'as usual' in our lives it will prevent us from running on empty and 'keep us in step with Spirit' (Galatians 5:25).

(Written as a reflection for the volunteers of the children’s and youth ministries at Cartsbridge, November 2016)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

the end is the beginning pt.2

The evening of October 1st was much anticipated by the coordinators of the church: event. We spent significant time thinking and praying through the vision, building a team around gifting and passion, as well as promoting it among the church family at Cartsbridge.

Our central idea was clear from the start. We would use these evenings to create SPACE: space for community, creativity, worship and teaching. We believed we needed to provide an event that would allow busy people to encounter God, experience community, become equipped to live as Jesus' followers and as a result, leave to engage more effectively with their world. Furthermore we sensed strongly that people in our fellowship shared the vision and were eager for something like this to take place.

The two weeks leading up to the event involved serious planning of the programme. The whole of Sunday afternoon involved us setting up the church in a way that reflected our core values. The response from the church family that evening was nothing short of staggering. Around 200 people turned up for church:! We had those from their earliest days to their senior years in attendance and this made for a special atmosphere in the building.

To capture the essence of what took place I mention our four central principles.

We wanted to make it clear that although the programme started around 6.30pm we would invite people to come for coffee and cookies at 6.15pm. There was a real buzz in the building people chatted to those they didn't know very well. Equally at the end of the evening people stayed behind and lots of conversations took place.

The people who hosted church: spent considerable time planning the first section. There was clever use of video, good interaction with the church family and a fun activity that engaged people and drew them into what was taking place. This provided a good platform on which to build the rest of the evening.

A number of people commented that the presence of God was evident as we worshipped him through carefully chosen songs. Once again our desire was to give space and freedom to enable the lyrics of songs to cause an upward response to God in devotion, praise and renewed commitment.

The overall theme for the teaching was 'Indescribable' and our desire was to explore the greatness of God and his presence in the lives of his people.

Our bible base is found in Exodus 15:11
Who among the gods is like you, Lord?
Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
Our aim was to take a phrase each week and explore three key truths about God. He is set apart, high above and yet fully present.

When I look back on our first church: event my personal highlight was the space we provided for prayer at the end. A small team stood just off centre at the front of the church. As we rounded off the programme we encouraged people to come forward for prayer. A good number of people did. I mention this because this would be an unusual practice in our fellowship. Through church: we want to sensitively change culture if we believe it will enable people to encounter God. 

What I have recounted is only a tiny snapshot of the first evening. How it will develop in the coming months I cannot say. However, I am grateful for what took place this autumn in Cartsbridge Church and I am hopeful for the future.

Monday, 19 October 2015

the end is the beginning

The story of the Evening Service at Cartsbridge has been one of gradual decline in recent years. Added to that, the age profile of the congregation was definitely towards the more senior end lately. The question of its future was one that increasingly exercised the leadership of the church.

However, before we get to that discussion it would be important to say that this is only a tiny account of the bigger narrative of life at Cartsbridge. The church overall is not in decline. Indeed, far from it. Membership has increased and there are many fruitful and thriving ministries that take place on a weekly basis involving large numbers of people.

So what was happening on a Sunday night? Simply put the decline was the result of significant but, in many ways, hidden changes in church culture.

For many years Cartsbridge adopted a congregational-centred approach to church life. Members and attendees largely supported what was considered to be the key services of church life (i.e. Sunday worship and mid-week prayer).

What I have observed over recent years has been a kind of ‘grass roots’ adaptation to this approach.

Members began to make the choice of which of the three Sunday services they attended. Many became part of organic groups which have taken seed, germinated and grown in the last few years.

Church life, in other words, has become much more decentralised. People began to find support and nurture in smaller fellowship groups as well as whole church worship.

In all this diversity the major casuality seems to have been the Sunday Evening Service. In the spring of 2015 the Elders made the decision to bring this service to an end. The natural break over the summer would allow some space to reflect on what, if anything, should take its place.

What happened over that period was, in my mind, very important. The elders entrusted the potential for a new future to a small team of people who were gifted, passionate and able to see fresh possibilities.

When the core team began to imagine a way forward the big picture quickly took shape.

We would:
Launch a once-a-month-event
Form a team who would be entrusted with specific areas of responsibility
Endeavour to make it a central space for community, worship, teaching and creativity.
Work hard at envisioning the church.

The core team debated about what we should call the event. We believed it ought to have its own distinct ‘branding.’ In the end we chose ‘church: The fact that the letter ‘u’ and the colon were the same colour would capture the heart of what this event was all about. The colon would say (subtly!) that these evenings would expand on some of the central tenets of church life: community, worship, teaching and creativity. The letter ‘u’ would in effect say that people would be blessed and enriched for being there.

On October 1 2015 we launched ‘church:So how did it go? The answer deserves a blog piece all of its own!