Sunday, July 4, 2010

What should a pastor hope for in their new church?

The church I attend has just had its vicar leave to go take up a role at a church in Canada, and today was the second Sunday since he left. We've been appointed a locum (stand-in), Graeme Sells, to help keep the church running while we look for a replacement.

Today was his first Sunday with us, and I think his sermon spoke right to the heart of where our minds and hearts need to be as a congregation. He took the question that will inevitably be in our minds (and especially those tasked with the responsibility of finding a suitable replacement) and turned them around: rather than "What do we expect from a vicar?" (pastor, minister, priest, whatever), what should they hope to find when they get here?

Graeme chose to look at Acts 2:42-47, looking at the early church and deriving positives from this picture. He came up with 9 things churches should aim to be:

A Learning Church
The early church didn't have any New Testament to start off with – they had the Old Testament, and the teaching of the apostles. They didn't have easy access to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, so they had to make sure they listened well when they were taught. (Acts also says that a lot of them spent time in the Temple courts learning every day!)
Committed to Fellowship
I think this one is the one that gets the most attention when people come to this passage: the community of believers, sharing lives, meeting each others' needs. As a church models this behaviour, its members grow and serve with each other, and become closer-knit. The sacrament of Communion also provides fellowship between the church (corporately and individually speaking) and Christ.
Committed to Prayer
And not just any prayer, but especially prayer for the well-being of the church, its health and its growth. Times between shepherds are often times of uncertainty, so the sheep must pay even more attention to the Chief Shepherd than they usually do. To that end, CCH will be having some prayer nights completely dedicated to praying for precisely these things.
A Reverant Church
It's all too easy for a church to take itself too seriously, and not take God seriously enough. The reverse should be the case. We should give God the respect He deserves, and be prepared to reflect and receive wisdom and criticism about areas we need to improve on.
A Church that God uses
Attitude does play a part. God wants the church to be engaged with his mission for the world, and if we ask God to use us, and we're seeking to honour Him, then He will answer that prayer. There are times when God seems less active than others, but prayers to be used of God from a right heart won't go unanswered.
A Generous Church
Barnabas, we read elsewhere in Acts, sold a block of land and gave all the proceeds to the church to use. A church where every member is actively looking for ways to give (time, talents, and treasures) is a rich church indeed, and one that is best resourced to serve and minister to its surrounding community.
Takes Worship Seriously
Worship for the early church would have been an interesting exercise – worshipping One who many of them would have known quite well would have been a very intimate thing. We in the 21st century don't have that benefit, but the Holy Spirit allows us to worship intimately with both Father and Son.
A Happy Church
When a church is attuned to what God is doing, the natural response is one of praise to Him for His goodness and greatness. How hard are we looking for God's hand in our everyday lives (in the big things and the small things)? This doesn't mean that genuine sorrow and pain should be wallpapered over, not at all; but even in times of great suffering, we can still affirm the greatness and the goodness of God.
A Caring Church
A church always has those within it who are in greater need of care than others. Ultimately, every Christian is a fundamentally weak person whom God has strengthened and comforted in some way; so how can we fail to use what God has given us to strengthen and comfort others? Graeme shared some great practical insights on this one, showing examples of how churches were able to care for those with disabilities, or those whose lives had been shattered by natural disaster.

Finally, verse 47 shows what a church striving for these things can hope for: a healthy, growing community. It's churches like these that are the best advertisement for Christianity – no room for hypocrisy, vitally living faith in practice. The gospel will always be a stumbling-block and foolishness to unbelievers; but those whom God is saving will be attracted to this kind of community.

How does your church stack up? What are its strengths? Where can it improve?
And given that churches are comprised of individuals, how are you helping make this picture a reality in your church?

†  Interestingly, the sermon I heard this morning touched on Jesus' ascension. One of the points the preacher made was that if Jesus hadn't ascended, He would not have sent the Holy Spirit, who ministers to every Christian individually in a way that Jesus could not as a full human. I hadn't thought of that, and it made a lot of sense.

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