Looking Back to Look Forward

Having been working in education before coming to Pastoral Ministry, I still tend to think in ‘Academic Years’ (September – September) rather than ‘Calendar Years’. And it’s a model that actually works with life in a church … the Summer time is a natural ‘year end’ and extended break before ministries re-start in the Autumn. And so, we’re just starting a new ‘year’ as we come to this September issue of the Cambray Church Magazine! So, ‘Happy New Year!’.

At any New Year we tend to look back and look forward. Recently I came across an article (see https://www.cambray.org/articles/new-wine-old-wineskins/) written by our previous Senior Pastor in November 2014. He was reflecting on the challenges facing Cambray at that time, and the changes that might be needed. This reflection resulted in various consultations and decisions over the next two years about the future shape of Cambray. But what interested me was how current many of TimWelch’s reflections still are for us. His 5 main considerations are précised here (but do please read the original article too!):

1. Our Mission in the ‘Market Place’

Encouraging every disciple at Cambray to be effective for Christ wherever they are, with less preoccupation with Sunday services or with maintaining our ‘church culture’, and more focused on ways we can connect and impact Cheltenham town centre.

2. Our Belonging to ‘One Another’

A growing and changing church means we will not know everyone. No larger church can still seek to operate as though it were a small church, wanting a small group of people we know, or with increased frustrations and caution over newcomers. Tim noted then: “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.”

3. Our Leadership Effectiveness

There is a need for greater delegation as churches grow. Leaders in larger churches are delegated to get on with their areas of responsibilities, with godly teams around them, so they don’t become ‘bottlenecks’. A change in the Cambray leadership structure to enable this was needed.

4. Our Decision Making

In larger churches it is rarely the case that all decisions will come to the members’ meetings, but rather they are delegated to teams unless financially or directionally significant. This is clearly a culture shift which for some will be difficult. Yet it is a change that needs to be faced.

5. Our Mission Goals

Having many individual visions rather than an agreed direction and shared priorities means failing to significantly progress in any key direction. Flexibility and the risk of transience are key characteristics in a ‘church on the move’.

It was interesting to read and reflect on this article, because it is clear that we have responded to each of these areas of challenge. We do see a wider participation in ministries, and it is now well understood that we must be an ‘outward facing’ church. We have sought to adapt to the difficulty of ‘belonging’ with the new transience we see in Cheltenham due to cost of housing and changing population. We have introduced leadership structures and clear leadership ‘responsibilities’, encouraging the growth of teams around each leadership area and more delegated responsibility. We have encouraged a more delegated, continuously consultative approach to decision making, and we have a clearer and well known Vision statement encapsulated briefly in our ‘Know, Grow, Go’ logo.

But it is also true that many of the challenges arising from change that Tim pre-saged have been experienced. No matter how hard one tries to enable people to feel comfortable as change happens, change always has a period of (sometimes considerable) discomfort. And, it is right to acknowledge that this discomfort has been magnified by the impact, isolation and population shifts post-pandemic, and from the changes in ministry teams and friendship groups that have occurred.

As we come towards this ‘New Year’, as a response to so much change over the last few years, we want to make it a priority to consider ‘Where we are’ and ‘Where we are going’. We do hope you will join us as we listen and consider this together through the coming ‘Academic Year’. But in doing so, we want to ‘stand on the shoulders’ of the work that has already been done. Reflecting on the priorities as Tim Welch saw them then is helpful, both in knowing where we are and also in seeing where we still need to travel.