Dear all at IPC,
As we look forward to these next few months, we’re conscious as a church fellowship of people moving on from us. We feel real sadness at people leaving us, thankfulness for all they’ve done for the church family, and aware of the gaps that will be left. I’m sure you are praying as I am that the Lord will bring new people to us this autumn.
We don’t really believe in a strategy for growth — there is no master vision document we’ve drawn up. We keep sowing, planting the gospel seed. We’re acutely aware that God gives the increase: it is his work and we confidently rest in Jesus’ promise that ‘He will build his church’. I do think, however, that times like this in church life should turn us outwards to be thinking how can we reach out. God has placed us where we are, and is in the different circumstances that we face, the people’s lives we are involved in. If you are anything like me I can be very shy in taking the relationship further in speaking about the gospel and so I’ve found it helpful recently to think of 3 questions that I hope you might be able to use in praying for and speaking with friends.
“Would you like to come for dinner?”
Of course this isn’t a Christian question! The cooking industry is massive, and people are hugely into dinner parties…if you go into any bookshop the amount of books on cooking are astonishing.
What we talk about as Christians when we speak about hospitality isn’t that, though; it’s a sharing of what we have, and an opening of ourselves and our homes. Biblical hospitality is not a case of ‘best for the guests’ but would you like to share in what I’m having.
Some of you reading this are brilliant cooks, but others of us, like myself struggle on the culinary front. We still have a duty to be hospitable. It always encourages me when I see people going back to one another’s homes on a Sunday. However, I wonder whether we might not be as strong at getting unbelievers into our homes?
Are there people you can think of who you’ve been praying for that you could get round your table? There’s lots of ways of doing it — lunch, breakfast, get a take-away, do a pot luck supper. If you’re worried about conversation flowing invite a talkative Christian friend to be there too.
In a lonely city like London getting people into our homes and welcoming them is counter cultural but, as you open your home and your heart to people, it will lead to opportunities.
“Would you like to come to church?”
It is one of those questions which I think we can have huge fear in asking. “They’d never want to come”. Or, “They wouldn’t understand what we’re doing”. I’ve become convinced that people are more ready to listen than we are to speak. I recognise that, with all the Covid situation and booking in, it can feel laborious…but we do believe that, as the people of God gather together to worship, God promises to be with us in a special way.
The Bible describes the church as the household of God, and says that God lives in the midst of his disciples through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). So, as we invite people to church, we’re inviting them to meet with God.
Our prayer as we gather for worship is that as “an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, the secrets of his hearts are disclosed and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you”. 1 Cor 14: 24,25
Of course, this is God’s work and I can’t make this happen in people’s lives. But our job is to be the friendliest we can be in church, welcoming those who are new, being interested in those who’ve brought along friends or neighbours, looking out for those who are outsiders. We mustn’t underestimate how attractive the fellowship of God’s people is. The people of God being the people
of God will be blessed by God.
The last question I recognise will be really foreign to many of us but I think it’s helpful:
“Would you like to read the Bible?”
Many people dismiss the Bible without ever having read it; most people haven’t even dismissed it, but have just never thought of it as relevant. The question of people not understanding everything that goes on in church is a fair and right one: the outsider cannot understand everything — their eyes are darkened spiritually — and so there is a need to be able to sit down with them and hear their questions and comments, to seek to engage them with the Words of Life.
Someone helped me recently when they told me to stop thinking of reading the Bible with people like a Bible study, but think of it more as a Book Club where people discuss what they’ve read.
We are used to Bible studies with questions and answers, but that is completely foreign in the main to people who are not Christians. In reading a chapter of the gospel it’s better to ask the kind of questions – “What did you think?”, “What struck you?”, “What do you think the author is trying to get across?”, “What do you think this shows us about Jesus?” I expect you’ll be amazed at how easily the conversation can flow.
I often like to read Mark with people but the Word1-2-1 little booklets on John’s gospel are brilliant for this very thing. We have copies of the gospels and the Word 1-2-1 at the church. I find anything more than 15-20 minutes too much. I also keep having to tell myself stop preaching….that mightn’t be such a big issue to you! Don’t let it be a monologue, and also don’t be afraid at saying “I don’t know”. It may be that you’d like training on how to do this. Do send me a message — I’d be more than happy to help, or get someone else in the church to.
I don’t want to lay heavy burdens on you as a church family, and I don’t want you to feel a wrong guilt. But these three questions have helped me think about my friendships and neighbours and have stirred me to pray.
There are different seasons in church life — and we are in a strange one at the moment — but let us pray that this would be a time when we see the Lord adding to our fellowship, and bringing new life.
Your minister and friend,