The Last 12 Months of Church

It is now one year since we had what might be described as a normal service at our church. However, even that service was different. We all had to wash our hands on arrival and we were not allowed to shake hands or hug anyone. There was also no coffee served after the service. Although there were no restriction on numbers who could attend about one third of our congregation stayed away. Little did we know what lay ahead of us!

We were then closed the next week and after some experimenting we arrived at our current online worship format, which is a service done on Zoom and streamed via Facebook Live. It is also recorded and uploaded to our website too. We then have coffee over Zoom after the service.

In the summer, autumn and also in December we moved to a hybrid method. This consisted of limited numbers in the church building (up to a maximum of 30 people) and the rest of us met over Zoom or Facebook Live.

We closed again after Christmas, at the beginning of the third lockdown, and returned to a fully online service. At the beginning of April our church will be reopening again and we are moving back to the hybrid method mentioned above.

If someone had said to me on 1 January 2020 that this would be how church would be then I would not have believed them! But this is the reality for us all.

We are very fortunate at our church in having a good tech team, that has worked very hard making this new way of meeting for worship work effectively. Our team has spent many hours working on the technical aspects, such as making sure all the various gadgets speak to each other. And without their sterling effects we would not have been able to do what we have done.

It seems these days that virtually everything at our church is conducted over Zoom whether that is Sunday services, Midweek services, prayer meetings, housegroups, coffee mornings, Messy Church, PCC meetings and our APCM. Modern technology has certainly been a real blessing, as 15-20 years ago most of what we have done would not have been technically possible.

Whilst I am pleased that we have been able to meet, I do have to say that it is not the same as meeting in a church building in the normal way. There are times when it has been difficult to engage fully in the services. There are distractions at home too. I also feel that online communion does not really work. That is not to say that I do not appreciate our online meetings. I realise how fortunate we have been to still be able to worship together. It is just being honest. I have been to a couple of services in our church during these last 12 months, when we were open, and whilst they were different e.g. face masks, social distancing etc it felt really good to be back in the building again.

I am fortunate as I have a reasonable reliable broadband connection and am happy with using technology. However, I know there are some at our church who have not been attending our online services for various reasons e.g. no internet, uneasy with technology etc. For these people the last 12 months will have been difficult. In our housegroup 8 of 10 of us have continued to meet. Two of our members have not been attending the Zoom housegroup but others have kept in contact with them.

So what does the future hold for us? How long will we have to worship with restricted numbers? Will some members of our church be reluctant to come back? What changes might we need to make to our services e.g. social distancing, not sharing the peace with each other? What about coffee after church? There are some important decisions that need to be made. And they are not easy ones.

In closing I know it can be easy to get discouraged when looking at things from a human prospective. However we must remember that we need to keep on eyes focused on God and put our hope afresh in Him.

Do it all for the Glory of God

In his first letter to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul said the following words: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Whatever and all are big words! They seem to cover everything. Surely there must be some areas that they do not cover?

I spend my day at work looking at boring spreadsheets. It can be very difficult to motivate myself sometimes.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I work in a supermarket serving customers all day, some of whom are rude to me. I do not enjoy my work.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I work in a factory on a production line doing a mundane task for the whole day.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I am a manager at work and I get grief from both my team and the senior management team. I am stuck in the middle and have had enough.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I serve coffee at church each Sunday after the service. I do not think anyone appreciates what I do,

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I spend all week preparing the bible study for my housegroup and people often do not show up. I have had enough.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I have spend several hours learning how to operate the software so that we can stream our church services as we cannot fully open yet due to the coronavirus restrictions. However, all people do is complain when anything goes wrong.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I am a youth leader at church and have become disillusioned that a number of our young people have stopped coming along. I have just found out that they are now going to the trendy church on the other side of town. I wonder why I bother?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I am a pastor at a struggling church. It is really hard work and I am feeling that I have failed the church.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I open up our church building each Sunday and get all the chairs out. I then stay afterwards and put them all away. No-one else offers to help. I feel unappreciated.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I have been cleaning our church for 25 years and never get a word of thanks.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I give up several hours each week to run the local scout group. I am not sure people understand or appreciate my commitment to the group.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I make no apology by finishing with the same verse used throughout:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Lessons from the Church’s Responses to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919

Whilst reading the numerous media articles on the coronavirus pandemic one thing I have come across is a comparison of it with the Spanish Flu outbreak between 1918-20. I must confess that I did not really know anything about Spanish Flu previously. According to Wikipedia the dead toll was estimated to be between 17 million and 50 million, a staggering number.

A good question to ask ourselves in 2020 is: are there any lessons that the church can learn from their response to the Spanish Flu outbreak that would be useful for the current situation we face with coronavirus?

Well according to the Think Theology blog the answer to that question is yes! In a very interesting article written by Kristine Nethers entitled: We’ve Been Here Before: Lessons from the Church’s Responses to the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, she lists 12 similarities and 5 things we can learn from the church’s response 100 years ago.

This is a very good article which I recommend.

What did I give to the Church Service today?

If I am being honest I admit that on occasions in the past I have had a completely wrong attitude when attending church services. This has resulted in me thinking and actually saying “I didn’t get much out of the service today.” However, instead of making that statement I should have asked myself the following question: “What did I give to the church service today?”

I’m not talking about how much money I might have placed in the collection bag. Instead I’m referring to how much of myself did I actually give to God in the service. Did I worship God wholeheartedly during the service? Did I fix my eyes on Him as I joined in the singing or was I inwardly criticising the musicians or singers?

When the sermon was being preached was I praying for the preacher or wishing they would hurry up and finish? Did I have my ears open to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the sermon or did I switch off because I disagreed with one small minor point of their theology?

After the service did I go home and moan about the fact that no-one spoke to me at church or did I make the effort to speak to others after the service finished?

Obviously no church is perfect because it contains humans and none of us are perfect. However if we all, (and especially me) approached church with the attitude of “What can I give to the church service today?” we might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!

Great Expectations

Sometimes when we look ahead to a forthcoming event we are full of excitement and expectation of what it will bring. For example we may be looking forward to our summer holidays with great expectations of the enjoyable time we will have. However I wonder if our Christian life is also full of great expectations?

When we go to church each Sunday do we have an expectation that we will meet with God? I expect that if we are being honest we sometimes go out of habit and maybe our expectations are low or sadly maybe non-existent.

At my church once a month in the evening we have a modern contemporary worship service. I personally enjoy this service and generally speaking I have an expectation that I will meet with God during this time. However when I attend our normal morning service I do not have the same level of expectation. Why would this be?

I think part of the answer is that the evening service is monthly rather than weekly and the style of the service is significantly different to the normal format of worship I experience each week. It also helps that I’m not on any rotas for the evening service so I can 100% concentrate on it. However some of the fault obviously rests with me as I should be prayerfully preparing myself before I attend the morning service with a view to meet with God.

There is another church whose morning service I have attended a few times recently. I also find when I attend that church there is an expectation I will meet God during the service. When thinking about this particular church it’s fair to say that I really enjoy their times of worship. It seems to create an atmosphere where you just expect to meet with God.

It’s not just at church though where we should have great expectations to meet with God. There ought to be this expectation each day. When we read our bibles we should be expecting God to meet and speak to us through the scriptures. However there are occasions if we are being honest with ourselves when we can regard our bible reading as a tick box exercise. This is not how bible reading is supposed to be.

Likewise the same thing can happen with prayer too if we are not careful. When we pray it’s not just a case of going through our prayer list and then getting on with the rest of our day. Instead we come to the living God and through the blood of Jesus we enter into His presence. If we consider the wonder of this then we should be excited and amazed at the privilege we have. Hopefully this will lead to a great expectation of meeting God through this discipline.

So whether it’s attending church, reading the bible or praying let us have a great expectation that we will meet with God.

Qualities of an Elder

At the beginning of Paul’s letter to Titus he lists the qualities that he expects in a person who is going to be in the office of an Elder. Interesting the requirements are mainly character based ones.

Paul does not list any of the following:

  • Good preacher
  • Gifted with youth work
  • Experienced in church growth
  • People’s person
  • Keen evangelist with a passion for the lost.
  • Passionate worship leader
  • Committed leader

Now obviously there is nothing wrong with having any of the above qualities. I expect the majority of churches would want people with these gifts and abilities. However what Paul lists for an elder is:

  • An elder must be blameless (v6 and v7)
  • The husband of one wife (v6)
  • A man whose children believe. And the children are not wild and disobedient (v6).
  • Not overbearing (v7)
  • Not quick tempered (v7)
  • Not given to drunkenness (v7)
  • Not violent (v7)
  • Not pursuing dishonest gain (v7)
  • They must be hospitable (v8)
  • One who loves what is good (v8)
  • Self-controlled (v8)
  • Upright (v8)
  • Holy (v8)
  • Disciplined (v8)
  • Someone who holds firmly to the truth (v9)
  • An encourager (v9)
  • Someone who refutes those who oppose sound doctrine (v9)

That is quite a list! I wonder if we will ever see a church leadership role being advertised anywhere that lists these qualities rather than the first ones I mentioned?

I personally am not an elder and to be honest do not aspire to be one. However I would like to have these qualities in my life. I think that any Christian young or old, leader or not should aspire to aim to have these godly qualities in their life.

 

 

No One Likes Change

Let’s be honest we don’t really like change do we? Most of us are normally quite happy with the status quo and like things to remain exactly as they have always been.  We like what we are comfortable with.

I’m reminded of the character Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory who always has the same food on a set night each week e.g. Monday night is Thai takeaway, Friday night is Chinese takeaway etc.  If anyone attempts to change this routine then they meet fierce resistance from him.

I find myself worryingly adopting similar tendencies when I visit local restaurants. In each restaurant I always have a favourite that I select each time I visit. If a restaurant removes my favourite item from the menu it throws me into total confusion! In fact I stop going to that particular restaurant. How dare they change the menu!

CHANGE AT WORK

There have been many changes in the working world over the last few years. The world of work has changed beyond recognition during the time I have been working.  When I first started work we did not have PC’s. We recorded the number of transactions we did by hand in a big ledger. I wonder what today’s young people would make of that.

I remember a number of years ago when I first encountered spreadsheets. Back in those days we used Lotus 1-2-3 and my initial reaction was resistance to them. One of my colleagues was very good at writing formulas in Lotus 1-2-3 and I was not. This was a change I did not like!

Now fast forward to the present day and I really enjoy working with Excel spreadsheets and trying to find quicker ways to complete tasks! I couldn’t imagine a world without spreadsheets now.

Technology has brought many changes to the workplace over the last 20 years. I suspect that there will be many more to come. How will I embrace these changes? Will I be willing to change and be adaptable or will I yearn for a return to the old ways?

CHANGE AT CHURCH

The following story of a conversation between a new vicar and a church warden illustrates the problem we have with change in churches:

Vicar: “How long have you been coming to this church Fred?

Church Warden: “I’ve been coming here for over 20 years.”

Vicar: “You must have seen a lot of changes over those 20 years.”

Church Warden: “Yes I have and I have resisted all of them!”

This year my church will be merging with one of our sister churches to form one new church. Both churches currently have very different styles of worship. The plan is to hold two services which will reflect the differing styles of worship that both congregations have at present.

Both churches at the moment meet for worship at 10am. However, going forward that is going to have to change, probably for both churches, as we will need to fit in two services during the morning. I personally like worshiping at 10am. It’s very convenient for me! I would rather we kept worship at 10am but that is unlikely to happen and I will have to accept this change.

We are in the process of advertising for a leader for our new merged church. Whoever gets this position will be responsible for ensuring that this merger goes ahead and planning how this is done.

There will no doubt be a number of changes over the forthcoming months and years. Some of these changes will be well received and some I expect will probably be resisted. What will my response be going forward? Will I resist every change and long for a return to the ways things are now? Or will I embrace change and prayerfully accept changes including those that I do not like?

As Christians we must always be open to embrace any changes that God wants to do in us. In John’s 15: 1-2 Jesus says

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Jesus will prune the branches. Change is both good and necessary.

Change is for us. Don’t let yearnings for the past hold us back from change