Archive for July, 2011

Change and the church

At the heart of the Christian faith is the action of metanoia, which means to repent and change our minds. But metanoia should also manifest itself in what we do, the way we act. We should start to see a difference as well as think it.

On launching Back to Church Sunday in Canada I was asked whether I wanted to stay in a convent or a hotel. When put in that way by the church, I assumed that they wanted me to stay in a convent because of cost. When I actually arrived at the Convent I was greeted by the Mother Superior who showed me to my “cell” and then told me that this was a “silent” convent. I was told however that there was one meal during the week at which there is speaking. What agony for the next two days as each meal passed by without words. On the third day there was the sound of noise in the dining room and rejoicing in my mind as I walked into a dining room of the sound of conversation. I was seated next to two nuns, who asked me what I was doing in the country. I told them about my desire to challenge the church to invite. After this explanation one of the nun’s turned to the other and said “sister, how many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? The other nun looked at her in horror, then said, “change my great grandfather donated the light bulb to the church”

JK Galbraith an economist said “Faced with changing one’s mind, or proving that there is no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.”

But if we can persuade our congregations to move from not inviting to becoming invitational One word of an open-handed invitation from a Christian can totally change the course of a person’s life.

The Story of Ten Little Churchmen


10  little churchmen went to church when fine,
but it started raining, then there were 9

9    little churchmen stayed up very late
1 overslept himself,   then there were 8

8    little churchmen on the road to heaven
but 1 joined the rambling club
and then there were 7

7    little churchmen heard of Sunday Flick
1 thought he’d like to go, so then there were 6

6    little churchmen kept the place alive
but one bought a video set and then there were 5

5    little churchmen seemed loyal to the core
but the Minister upset one of them
so then there were 4

4    little churchmen argued heatedly
over all the changes and then there were 3

3    little churchmen sang the service through
got a hymn they didn’t like so then there were 2

2    little churchmen argued who should run
the next social evening then there was 1

1    faithful Christian knew just what to do
he got a friend to come to Church
so then there were 2

2    sincere Christians each brought in one more
so their numbers doubled
then there were 4

4    happy Christians simply couldn’t wait
till they got 4 others
then there were 8

Soon, every seat in Church was filled, not an empty pew –
God, supply this grace and zeal in my own Parish too!

Dealing with Unbelief

I ask church leaders around the world to send me good news stories after Back to Church Sunday. What emerges from the stories is a hint of surprise that people would be open to an invitation. See the examples below;
“I personally was pleasantly surprised by the response to Back to Church Sunday” Church Leader
“It was lovely to see the delight on the faces of those who had brought someone new, good to see the amazement on the faces those who thought nothing would happen and a real joy to be part of BTCS leading worship and hearing comments on a positive experience enjoyed by all.”

We are surprised because we didn’t actually believe that something would happen. In some churches surprise moves to amazement I think the main issue that the church has to face is that we have an issue in the area of belief and expectation. This has happened because of the disappointments of Christian Ministry which have led to general discouragement

Discouragement is a besetting sin  - one which constantly recurs - which contains elements of failure, shame and hopelessness. It is deeply ingrained in leadership at all levels in the church. Leaders don’t reach into the future because they are trapped by the regret of the past, past failures past mistakes, or so burdened by the routine of present they don’t give enough thought to designing the future.

I love the following poem by Charles Reade

If you accept a belief,
You reap a thought.
If you sow a thought,
You reap an attitude.
If you sow an attitude,
You reap an action.
If you sow an action,
You reap a habit.
If you sow a habit,
You reap a character.
If you sow a character,
You reap a destiny

The destiny we are currently reaping comes from “surprise”, “amazement,” otherwise known as unbelief. How do we deal with it?

We clearly need to admit that there is a problem, confess it

I confess the sin of unbelief which includes doubt, fear of being wrong, mistrust in You, skepticism and uncertainty. I ask you to forgive me for this sin, for yielding to it. I ask that you might give me boldness to lead my congregation to invite their friends.

Turn in the opposite direction

Happy Inviting

Behind Fear is fruit

One of the main reasons we don’t invite is fear. Whatever the mountain of fear we are facing, we are told “you shall say this to the mountain move .” Mark 11:23 Fear is the most destructive element of the human personality and is an enemy to the Christian. This is why we are told “do not be afraid.” Imagination is a source of fear but it could also be the solution. Romans 8 verse 31 says “if God is for us who can be against us?’. If we fill our minds and imagine God being for us we can defeat fear. When our minds are full of God there is no room for worry and anxiety over the response to an invitation. God has given the solution to fear within us. We may need to start with faith the size of a mustard seed. But even that is big enough as we face the fear. Small faith will give you small results, but it will move you in the right direction and sooner or later you will have medium faith giving medium results, which can then lead to bigger faith giving bigger results. We can use the fear to actually build a deeper relationship with God. God has laid within us through the power of the Holy Spirit all the potential we need to lead a constructive life of faith But teaching will not be enough. JK Galbraith an economist said “Faced with changing one’s mind, or proving that there is no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.”

We spend so much time renovating and refurbishing our church buildings what we really need to do is to be constantly refurbishing our minds. Beating the culture of fear will be an on-going battle to be joined on a regular basis by the Church leaders and their leadership team.

Will we be like David, who overcame the fear faced by the army of Israel when faced with Goliath and slew that fear with one small stone, because he did the thing they feared. That is the way to defeat fear. Do the thing you fear!

Why don’t congregations invite?

80% of a normal congregation will not invite their friends to church even on a special Sunday why?

The issue is that “your congregational culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Culture tells us how we do things around here and we stick to it. Frankly, also, we are a generation of Christians that has not had the practice of invitation. We have to work out why the congregation are not inviting their friends or are not going to invite their friends. This is what I call “disturbing the ground.” Before a farmer goes to sow in the seed, the farmer will take a tractor and plough up the ground. Unless this is done effectively the seed will not be planted properly. The way we think in church right now is the ground. These are some of the ways we think

we are suffering with our act of worship
we are disappointed with last person saying no to us
we have no friends
we are reticent/shy
our services and people are unpredictable
we fear rejection

We need to disturb the way we are thinking by turning the soil over. This allows the possibility for Godly thinking to be planted.

Unless we do this important piece of work, all the strategy of enthusiastic invitation will just be consumed by the present culture which fears and resists invitation.

I once asked soneone at a seminar  why she didn’t ever invite. After being frozen for half-a-minute she said that it just didn’t feel right. She is not alone in being frozen in fear. It is not the failure which is holding us back it is the anticipation of rejection.

Timidity is an affliction that can be cured, but it needs to be recognized as a problem first. So before launching a strategy of an Invitation Sunday understand your culture by asking why don’t we invite in this congregation and then teach into the answers you hear.