NEW WINE, OLD WINESKINS

Tim Welch reminds us of the issues he raised when he led a discussion at a recent Church Members’ Meeting on future church structures. He plans to say more to us about these issues when he returns from his sabbatical.

The old wineskins of organisational life at Cambray are creaking and straining. The spiritual fervour and physical health of many who are working hard for the Lord is suffering; our decision-making efficiency is decreasing; imperceptible shifts in church life and society are confusing; and our missional impact to the surrounding culture is blunter than it could be. The Early Church provides clear warnings as to how easily a vibrant Christian witness can dissipate into an established-safe-insular organisation over a decade; before God steps in by allowing some persecution or famine, or a revival, or mission initiative from Antioch, to disperse his people with fresh anointing, joy and evangelistic zeal.

While thanking God for the new life-wine that many are experiencing at Cambray as they come into greater relationship with Jesus, we urgently need to be addressing some key questions and aspects of ministry. How we respond to the five areas listed below will determine the future health/size/ maturity/ missional impact of Cambray Baptist Church.

1. Our Mission in the ‘Market Place’
We have encouraged a ‘frontline’ challenge to every disciple at Cambray to be effective for Christ wherever they are. However, our preoccupation with Sunday services seems to neutralise our impact in actually connecting with the populace in the Cheltenham town centre. We expect folk to come to us and step over into our church culture and become like us; those who are working hard already have very little energy, time, or investment available to creatively find new ways to reach locals; and there are far too many ‘passengers’ who enjoy attending Cambray but really do not wish to get stuck in to Good News work. Medium-size churches (200-450) are able to do more than smaller churches, and yet they seem to let Christians off the hook with regard to committed Kingdom works.

And to what extent are we relying on the Person and powerful work of God the Holy Spirit to form our church life anyway?
Proposal: Invite the Holy Spirit to come and shape us and aspects of Cambray life. Pray into these areas. Develop ideas to pioneer a town centre ministry/ appoint a chaplaincy/possible Christian centre on the High St. / etc….

2. Our Belonging to ‘One Another’
The shift in church culture is clearly being felt by those who do not know everyone. Naturally, we want to know who’s who; but this has become impossible with the numbers connected to Cambray! However, we are still trying to operate as a smaller church, with a ‘family’ feel – with increased frustrations and caution with newcomers. More of my time (as pastor) is spent trying to sort out problems between Christian believers who get angry about issues of church organisation and practice, than anything to do with real Kingdom of God matters.

Added to this is the matter of church membership. There are some Cambray members who seem non-committal about the church and the Lord. And others who are not members who are very integrated and committed to Cambray church life. In the present Christian-UK landscape there is greater need for Christians to commit to belonging to one another (whatever their denominational background), while retaining our Baptistic convictions, but developing a form of open church membership, for all those who are truly ‘in Christ’ together.

Proposal: Find ways for those committed to Christ and Cambray to be encouraged to become members; deal with the need for ‘Associate’ membership categories; keep the membership list up to date; covenant commitment each year; etc.

3. Our Leadership Effectiveness
There is a need for greater delegation as churches grow. We live in an age where democratisation demands greater involvement, thankfully eliminating the days of the ‘one-man-ministry’! I observe increased frustration at our Pastors and Deacons’ meetings, mainly, I think, because we are all trying to do it all! Surely, if leaders of larger churches are actually delegated to get on with their areas of responsibilities, we should ensure they have godly teams around them, and then we should ‘free’ them to get things done and sorted. This would prevent any of us being ‘bottlenecks’!

There is a particular urgent area for us to consider, because one role takes up an immense amount of time, skill and expertise: namely Church Treasurer. We often express our appreciation to Peter Young, aware that in all reality he is irreplaceable, especially as honorary treasurer who doubles as Book Keeper and Company Secretary. Given our size and obligations, Cambray needs to consider employing someone for this role…

Discuss: In future, leaders at Cambray should be selected for their God-given giftedness and skills (for a specific area), rather than on the basis of their age, tenure or strength of personality.

4. Our Decision Making
As we look to the future shape of ministry at Cambray, how realistic is it for every decision to always come to the members’ meeting? Given that people tend to want to be consulted, this is not an easy balance to achieve or to modify in future. The balance of power and accountability needs to be considered, of course. But if the strain of the Cambray systems is to be relieved, then greater trust and delegation is surely required.
Consult with members to establish the boundaries for decision making – Staff appointments / levels of permission to spend / freedom to take decisions, etc.

5. Our Mission Goals
It is hard to anticipate the future… but without a vision, the people perish! Does Cambray sometimes pay the price for having too many individual visions flying around? Rather than continually trying to balance competing ‘preferences’ (like priorities/ music/styles/rigid small group structures/ longevity-newcomer integration /control and influence/ etc.), it would be exciting to anticipate some brave new ventures – e.g. church for the unchurched? Arguably, the New Testament models of church life do not seem to promote growing as large as possible; rather there is a flexibility and transience of a church on the move making a missional impact. The new wine of the Kingdom life Jesus brings is not compatible with the stretched and worn wineskins of the religious devotees. The skins break, and God does a new thing – usually among those ‘outside’ the established churches; tithing the congregation (to go and do a new thing) is powerful!

Questions: What will Cambray Baptist Church look like in 5 years / 10 years? What will success look like (in terms of the Kingdom of God and equipping disciples of the Lord Jesus)? How many churches, if any, will we have planted? What sort of children’s/youth work will we have?Where will the core convictions and emphases be?

Your friend and pastor, as we share the journey together, with our eyes on Jesus

Tim Welch

At Cambray we aim to encourage and equip everyone to become a fully committed everyday follower of Jesus Christ

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01242 584672 Cambray Baptist Church, Cambray Place, Cheltenham, GL50 1JS