As the new academic year starts this September, so I commence my sixth year at Cambray. It is a good chance to write about the dominant longing I have in view of the past five years, and anticipating the coming year/s: to become the sort of church that Jesus wants – gathered AND scattered.
Herein are some of the big challenges that every Christian and local church in Britain faces today. Because contextually, we live in a consumer culture that has penetrated the Church with the values of preference and personal choice which naturally slip into the way we order our lives throughout each week. Over the years, the inevitable shifts of secularisation have caused people to view their commitment and belonging differently, so that local clubs, organisations and even local churches complain that commitment and membership is rapidly declining.
Yet from the angle of the Kingdom of God on the move, a much more positive picture is emerging. The Church of Jesus Christ is growing rapidly in many parts of the world. In fact, after years of ‘Christendom-religiosity’, Britain seems to be developing a form of ‘post-Christendom spirituality’, which is more open to at least exploring Christian faith, albeit resistant to church affiliation. These days seem more akin to the pioneering mission work that we read about in the history of the early Church in Acts, and because of that I believe we should take heart, hold our nerve, pray and plan.
The Plan: Life on the Frontline
This plan must surely involve looking again at what the nature of church life was all about. The Spirit-led priorities of those early Christians prompted a two-dimensional response: Gathering and Scattering. Our corporate identity is to involve both these frontlines.
Understanding the cultural shifts locally, as best we can, is vital to save us from copying the ostrich approach. I see my God-given task at Cambray to stimulate a refreshed view of Gathering AND Scattering, regarding all that it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let’s face it, the implications of belonging to a church (including the matter of church membership) has generally been diluted in British churches over the past century, often resorting to names on a membership list with minimal optional responsibilities.
So this Autumn, two dominant themes are planned to run through our Sunday sermon series and many of our small group Bible studies:
(i) What it means to belong to the ‘GATHERED CHURCH’
(ii) What it means to live life for Jesus ‘SCATTERED’ as the Church on the frontline – wherever/however we spend our 168 hours a week.
BOTH are vital aspects of Christian experience.
Intentionally, I have intertwined the series between the morning and evening services, because they are interwoven essentials of Christian living for both congregations. Some of our small groups also plan to study the life of David as a major encouragement to emulate the person after God’s own heart, just as David served and worshipped the Lord on his ‘frontline’. Plus, there are two weeks in the term designated for small groups to invite new members, to explore ‘SPECIAL’ studies using the ‘Life on the Frontline’ material produced by LICC.
My personal hope is that we will continue to become increasingly pioneering as a local missional church, with deepening relational life in community, as well as an outward thrust (with everyone sent out to live for Christ).
Cambray needs to become the sort of Church that Jesus wants – defined by the direction of Jesus Christ, rather than a consumerism based upon my/our own preferences or market forces. This will inevitably raise the bar when it comes to understanding our commitment to Jesus and to each other.
The detail of much of this will be worked out over coming Sundays. In brief, I am praying that many more will sense God’s commissioning – to be set apart for Christ; to realise His calling on our lives which opens up all sorts of daily possibilities as we respond to Him; a willingness to go and do all that Jesus has planned for us. The call of discipleship is always both scary and exciting. It is the call of Jesus to come and die to self, encapsulated in this pivotal verse:
‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (GALATIANS 6:14)
This month, this coming year and forevermore:
‘May the LORD bless you, and keep you; and make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; May the LORD turn His face towards you, and give you peace’ (NUMBERS 6:24-27).