What kind of church would I like to belong to?
Trevor Archer offers six answers to the question – based on a weekend away with an eldership team.
Whilst rummaging through my filing cabinet last week, I came across some notes from a Weekend Retreat with the elders at Chessington Evangelical Church some 15 years ago.
I had the privilege of being one of the pastors there for 25 years before joining FIEC. The Elders Weekend was an annual feature of our life, which subsequently I have always commended to church leaders. It gives the opportunity to stand back, pray, review, plan, dream and have fun together.
On this particular weekend back in 2004 we gave ourselves the Question: “What kind of church would I like to belong to?”
The notes I came across were not only a great reminder of how wonderfully worthwhile those weekends away were, but in this instance they expressed the heart of the Eldership for the people in their care. They were used by the Lord to shape the direction and tone of the church for the ensuing years.
In scanning them afresh I was so helped and challenged that I wanted to share them with the pastors and leaders in the FIEC family, in the hope that they might be of some benefit and stimulus.
At the close of the weekend we settled on six answers to the question we had set ourselves – here they are in summary:
1. A church where my heart is regularly impressed with God and his truth through faithful, imaginative and applied preaching.
Like many FIEC churches, from its earliest days Chessington had gathered around the centrality of preaching in the conviction, as Dick Lucas once said: “When God’s word is opened, God’s voice is heard”. The first pastor Harry Kilbride set the direction in this regard, loving God’s word and seeking to apply it in a lively, imaginative and very practical way. As a church this was our DNA.
2. A church where my spirit is nurtured through several deep relationships of trust, openness, accountability and laughter.
Sadly, too many “Bible believing churches” that are strong on teaching are peculiarly weak on forming community. Yet the gospel so evidently creates community – the “one another” statements of the New Testament being one example of the means by which community is to be formed and sustained in the life of a local church. As elders we had been greatly helped by once being asked: “does the church know that you love one another?” We sought to be a band of brothers in leadership and model, very imperfectly, what it meant to have strong friendships that were outward looking.
3. A church where a grace-filled response to the love of God provides the primary motivation for obedience and relationship.
As leaders we recognised that too easily our Christian life and service could be driven by duty. At the same time, we observed that an inadequate grip of grace could lead to a disdain of the daily disciplines of discipleship, a dismissal of anything that smacked of “duty”. Both are wrong, of course. The answer is neither duty nor dismissal but devotion, to Christ and his cause. Grace, properly understood, produces a giver.
4. A church where the members are devoted to the life of the church.
Again, not out of duty or coercion, but rather a deep appreciation that the local church is at the very heart of God’s agenda for this world. That as church we are called to be outposts of heaven on earth to put on display the grace and love of God. Simply put, we were convinced that it is impossible to have too high a view of the Church – and its expression in the local church.
5. A church where reaching the lost is the instinctive passion of the individual and the body.
A proper understanding of church is never introspective. We exist for the benefit of the community around. That’s always been the Lord’s agenda for his people (take a look at Deuteronomy 4:5-8 sometime!). The eternal realities can, and only ever will, be proclaimed by the church. A terrible day of judgment is coming, a wonderful day of salvation is now available. Our community, workmates, friends and family desperately need to hear of the One who made them, loved them and gave His very best for them.
6. A church where constant prayer brings divine blessing on all the above.
Nothing so reveals our lack of dependence on the Lord as our lack of prayer. Prayer is hard work, in fact it’s a battle, a fight. Yet Cowper had it right: “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” We need one another to help each other pray. The Free Church conviction of the primacy of the prayer meeting is sadly missing in so many churches today. At Chessington we knew the power of prayer – yet it didn’t make it any easier or mean that our prayer meetings were overflowing with people. Yet we longed to belong to a church where that happened.
Fifteen years on those convictions remain those of the next generation of leaders at Chessington – as I know they do in so many FIEC and other gospel churches. Looking back, I rejoice that in God’s goodness, in some measure these aspirations have been in evidence there over the years.
Yet there’s a way to go – but which of us would not want to strive and pray and do our part, so that the churches where the Lord has placed us might reflect his high calling?