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!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

now is the time to worship

During the early 2000s I attended the evening service at a local Free Church of Scotland in Argyll. The minister opened the service with the following invitation, "Let us resume the worship of God by singing Psalm..." That comment grated on me then and still does today. Was the minister implying that what took place between the morning and evening service was something less than true worship?

By contrast, a good number of years after that I joined the young people I work with at a south of Glasgow youth event called 'Catalyst.' The evening was a mix of worship and teaching. The very last song we sang that night was, in my mind, a stroke of genius. As we finished and headed home, anticipating the week ahead, we were invited to sing, "Come, now is the time to worship..." Leaving a "worship event" we were encouraged to contemplate that the coming week was an opportunity to serve and honour God...a true offering of worship to God.

Worship dominates the whole Bible; it is to be the focus and priority of the people of God. "Ascribe to The Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness" (Psalm 29:2).

With this kind of emphasis it seems clear that we need a big view of worship.

From what I understand of the Bible I see worship flowing in at least three directions...

...the Outward Flow...
In Romans 14 the apostle Paul says that if our actions have a negative impact on other Christians we should respond appropriately. Sensitivity to our brothers and sisters in their needs is an act of worship. "If you serve (worship) Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too" (Romans 14:18).

Jump forward a chapter and we discover that Paul is describing his view of outreach and evangelism. "For by Gods grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:15-16). When Paul communicated the Good News it was an act of worship.

Towards the end of his letter to the Philippians Paul expresses gratitude for the financial support given to him by this church family. "At the moment I have all I needand more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18). Our response to those in need is an act of worship.

...the Inward Flow...
I see a powerful contrast between misguided worship and God-honouring worship in Scripture. "...a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true." (Ephesians 5:5, 8-9).
Our personal conduct is an act of worship.

...the Upward Flow...
"Let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And dont forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God" (Hebrews 13:15-16).

When I see worship as a response to God, woven through the fabric of my life, it is amazing how my attitude changes towards the circumstances I face. In that light, worshipping lives can be summed up in the words of an old adage...

God is glorified
I am purified
Fellow Christians are edified
The local community is evangelised