APCM 2012 Report 'A spiritual health check'

 

Dear friends

How do you measure the health of a local church? As we look back over the last year and reflect on our life together and the journey we have taken are there any indicators that can help us to gauge the degree to which we are growing in a healthy way and in accordance with God’s purpose and plan for us? Although not one indicator is sufficient in itself, perhaps together as we look at certain features of our church life we can gain a general appreciation of how healthy our church actually is. Here are a number of health checks. 

Health check #1            The Welcome

It is always encouraging to hear from visitors or new-comers how warmly they have been welcomed. Particular thanks to Roger Carver and his team for their broad smiles and greetings on the door, Sunday by Sunday.  We fulfil God’s purposes when we reach out in friendship to others and warmly invite them to share in our community life. The church is never to be a clique or a ‘holy huddle’ but must always make room for new friendships and a growing community. We need to resist the comfort of only conversing with our friends and be alert to warmly welcome the visitor amongst us. The time we give for coffee and refreshments in the Hall after the service can be a good opportunity to demonstrate friendship.  Conversely, if no one takes that initiative to introduce themselves, it can be an uncomfortable experience for newcomers. Whilst our welcome is good, we always need to ensure we are on the look out to meet and greet others and extend the hand of friendship. 

Health check #2            Cell Groups

Another indicator might be the life of our cells. It is in our cell groups that we truly live out what it means to be church. In our shared journey, our learning and worshipping together, we encourage one another to fulfil the calling of God on our lives to live as followers of Jesus. I am grateful to Jo Davies for her willingness to step up to the role of Cell Group Coordinator and for the enthusiasm, interest and energy she has brought to this task. Furthermore we appreciate enormously all that the cell leaders and their assistants undertake in providing vision and pastoral care of their groups and the commitment to persevere week by week in that act of service. 

Health check #3            Sunday Worship

Another indicator might be the number of people attending our worship on Sunday. Again, by itself, this is an insufficient indicator but one we are required to record by the Diocese for whom we have to submit an annual report. Nonetheless, the number of children, teenagers and adults who choose to worship with us on Sunday mornings has certainly justified the reordering of the balcony so as to facilitate this growth. The passion of our singing, the quality of our music and the sense of engagement in worship suggests a desire to meet with God and offer ourselves afresh in his service. Special thanks must be given to Sue Perks and all the worship cell for their commitment to leading and inspiring us week by week and to all who contribute in the various tasks (too numerous to mention) that enable the service to happen. 

Health check #4            Financial Giving

Another indicator might be the degree to which the people are committed to regular giving that is sacrificial and generous. It was John Wesley who said that the last thing to convert was a person’s wallet. To what extent do we as a church understand the Biblical principles of giving and tithing and seek to put them into practise as an expression of our ongoing discipleship? It is my conviction that we are committed, generous and sacrificial in our offerings to the Lord. In a time of economic austerity, by God’s grace and generosity to us, we have been able to undertake two large financial projects last year. I am grateful to the Church Wardens, Simon and Pat, for all their support this year but in particular their oversight of these projects and for the expertise offered by members of the congregation in support, particularly Allen Snow with the new boiler and heating improvements and Tony and Colin for their work on the balcony. Managing the finances to facilitate these improvements to our buildings as well as maintain our ongoing ministry carries a weighty responsibility. I am enormously grateful to Dave Roberts, our treasurer and Stephen Cirel, our Gift Aid officer for their diligence and commitment to these tasks. The PCC in representing the congregation makes the decisions as to how our resources are deployed and discusses policies and processes for the right ordering of our life together. Again I am so grateful for all their input to the last year and for the service they give beyond the PCC in areas of diverse responsibilities, such as Alison Cirel and her oversight of the staffing committee that looks after all matters as concern our employed staff. In particular, thank you to Julie Pinder who has completed her term of office and to Katie Auld who is stepping down as our Deanery rep. 

Health check #5            Missionat home

Another indicator might be the degree to which we are fulfilling our mission statement: ‘Building bridges for Jesus to cross’. To what extent are we reaching out to those beyond our fellowship with the love of God? It is as we recognise needs and gather teams around us to meet those needs that we can reach out to the community. It is in this respect that we celebrate the ministries of James and Lorna McMullen and the ‘Care for the elderly’ team, Jean Herrick and the teams who visit the Day Centre and residential homes, Lynn and Emma and their teams who lead assemblies and lunchtime clubs and CUs in the schools week by week, the hospital chaplaincy team, Rachael Elliott and the Smarties team, John Haughan and the ‘Healing on the streets’ team, and Katie Auld and the Alpha team and so much more. 

Health check #6            Mission Beyond

But it is not just mission within our locality, it is also mission overseas. Again, I am grateful to Jean Herrick who has taken on the role of Mission Support Coordinator to help raise the profile of our mission partners and keep them and their needs before us so that we can truly be: ‘A local church with a global perspective’. In that respect and despite current financial pressures, it is encouraging that the PCC recently voted to increase our giving to mission support and adopt Tim Curtis as a new Mission Partner. Tim’s Bible translation work in Paraguay brings to us an interest in God’s mission on the continent of South America and complements well our involvement in other parts of the world. As each cell group adopts a mission partner for whom they pray and express an interest, so we maintain a global perspective and recognise our place as part of the world wide family of God. 

Health check #7            Whole life discipleship

All these indicators are good and there are others that I have probably overlooked (such as the prayer life of the church), but for me the most important indicator is the degree to which each individual in our fellowship recognises that church is not just about Sunday attendance or mid week cell. Church is something we are every moment of every day. Jesus is not looking for membership of a private club but those who will follow him and be in the place where we are for him, moment by moment. In this respect we are all missionaries or ministers of the gospel in every context in which we find ourselves. The degree to which we recognise that we cannot compartmentalise our lives (I’m this person on Sunday and another person the rest of the week), is for me the most exciting indicator for gauging the health of the church. This means that whether we are in the supermarket, in the office, at the surgery, the swimming pool, at school or college, at home or on our street, we are intentional about being God’s person and available for him to use us as he sees fit. 

Church out there

Here are some stories of the church in action: 

 ‘We met  N  on the bus, started a conversation and invited them along to church and now they love to be a part of our community..’ 

‘..N  was swimming at Tewkesbury Park Leisure club and we got chatting. She invited me along to church, I did Alpha and it has made such a difference to my life.’‘I was in a shop on the High Street and the manager, recently bereaved, knew I went to church and asked me about it…’ 

 ‘I was waiting to be served, the staff member was clearly quite flustered and the queue was moving very slowly. I felt inclined to be irritated and grumpy but then thought what would Jesus do and completely changed my attitude. Later on at the gym I bumped into that same person. She asked me if I went to church and then engaged me in conversation…’ 

For me, a healthy church is one in which we are actively living out our faith with those with whom we rub shoulders day to day. As we pray for them, learn to love them, demonstrate God’s care for them and simply be Jesus to them, so in this way we most effectively fulfil our calling. Let’s keep doing this – being church wherever God places us and intentionally make ourselves available for him to use us and then encourage one another by telling our story of how this has happened. 

And finally..

In conclusion and very briefly, I would like to thank all of you whom I haven’t mentioned, for your involvement and contribution to the life and ministry of our church. To those whose ministry is ‘hidden’ and often unnoticed but we would notice if it wasn’t there: Donna and the incredible work she does in the office facilitating our administration, Rob who cuts the grass, Clive, Vince and Andy who contribute so much to setting up and setting down when we have different activities going on, Mandy and the refreshments teams, the church wardens and their team, Steve and the audio visual team, the staff team and all who contribute so brilliantly to our children and youth work week by week, Julie and the Prayer Works team, the ladies who decorate our church with flowers so beautifully every week, Geoff and Hazel who manage the Hall bookings, Ken and Janet who help set up for a variety of services and John and Sarah who provide immeasurable friendship, love, support and godly wisdom to us on the leadership team. We value your partnership more than you realise. And finally my thanks to Sharon who in every way shares in the leadership and ministry of our church and without whom we would in so many ways be depleted in our vision and effectiveness. 

To all those not personally mentioned, I thank you too for giving of your time, gifts and finances in the service of Christ, for without you and the valuable contribution you make, we wouldn’t be the multi coloured, multi faceted and varied community that is so rich in diversity that God has called us to be: the family of God. 

Every blessing in Christ,  Stephen