Excited at the opportunities of working in partnership with others, but wondering where to start?
Finding it difficult to decide whether this initiative is one for your church, when there are so many other good things that you could be involved in? Overwhelmed by the options presented by A Passion for Life?
That’s the situation a group of church leaders in south west London were in when we first met in June 2005 to discuss the prospect of a joint-mission initiative in our region in March 2007, which was to become the Eternity mission.
In this article I have, therefore, sought to summarise some of the lessons learned from our experience, including case studies featuring different churches who were involved in that initiative, to encourage you to make the most of A Passion for Life in the ways that best work for your church and with your unbelieving contacts.
Start where you are
Paul’s principle of ‘Serve God in the situation He has given you’ from 1 Corinthians 7 v 17-24 reminds us that as Christians we should not labour under a burden of ‘If only…’ that can crush our spirits and make us unproductive labourers in the harvest field. It’s good to be ambitious for the gospel, yes, and certainly A Passion for Life will give churches an opportunity to try new things, but it’s wise to be realistic about what is achievable with who we’ve got and where we are.
Some questions to think through as a leadership team:
- Which demographic/social groups in our local area are well represented or under-represented in our church?
- Are there folks in the church who have a heart for reaching new groups?
- What ‘season’ of life are we in as a church (e.g.: newly formed and vulnerable, healthy and growing, stagnating in need of a fresh boost or in the death throes...) and therefore how might our getting involved in A Passion for Life best serve Christ’s Kingdom?
As we seek to analyse where we are ‘at’ of course we must begin by lifting our hearts in prayer to our Sovereign Lord. For He is the one who has placed us exactly where He wants us, with the people, the skills, the facilities and opportunities that are right for us to serve Him at this time (though they may be very far short of what we think we need to serve Him) and so we ask: ‘Lord, how can we best reach the people among whom you have placed us?’
As church leaders in our different situations we can sometimes forget that the people who are going to do the very best job of reaching our local communities with the gospel are not the ‘big name’ speakers, but ourselves. Otherwise Jesus would have put someone else there instead of us! We may feel inadequate and our church may feel very vulnerable, but Jesus is more than capable of providing the strength, courage and energy we need. He has put us there and wants us to get on serving Him in the situation He’s given us.
Think about your contacts
Some churches have a healthy fringe of enquirers, while others struggle to attract unbelievers to anything. Working out how to encourage church members to grasp the urgency of the task of sharing Christ with their friends and neighbours will lead to questions such as:
- What is our church ‘culture’ in relation to evangelism, and why?
- What role model do the members get from the leadership for personal evangelism?
- Which areas do our people most need equipping/training in for evangelism?
- Are our people so busy with church meetings that they have no time to make relationships with non-Christians?
- Who are the ‘bringers’ who always have guests…how can we set them free from other responsibilities in the church?
Start planning early
A common theme in the feedback of churches in the Eternity mission was that churches where leaders really got behind the initiative early on, and so built events such as joint prayer meetings into the church’s calendar, were those that got the most out of it.
To benefit most from the events of March 2010, therefore, it’s wise to think through the following:
- Where in our 2009 preaching programme could we teach on evangelism?
- Could we theme our church day away/weekend away around A Passion for Life?
- How can we best use the DVD training resources to equip our people during 2009?
- Are there major events/anniversaries/festivals etc. locally that we could link into?
- Could we host a mission team from a local Bible college or a larger church we have links with to support us?
Focus your efforts
While larger churches may have a big enough resource base to be able to attempt many different events aimed at different groups, smaller fellowships can really benefit by focusing their efforts on perhaps just one or two ideas. Think through:
- What are the things we do really well as a church, and how can we therefore tailor our evangelistic efforts around these?
- What skills/gifts do we have that we could offer to other churches?
- Which events make best sense for us to plug because of geography/timing?
- What sorts of programmes/events could we sustain on a regular basis and what are simply ‘one-offs’?
So, in prayerful dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting that He will equip us with everything we need to do the work that he has prepared in advance for us to do, we can approach A Passion for Life with expectant hearts asking the Lord to give us the compassion for the lost that so drove our Lord: “When Jesus saw a large crowd He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.” Mark 6 v 34.
St Luke’s, Wimbledon Park
St Luke’s is an Anglican parish church with a Sunday morning attendance of 110-120 of whom 30 per cent are retired and 30 per cent children. David Middleton, the curate says that, for them, taking part in the Eternity mission gave a real focus to bringing evangelism to the fore; in a church with a significant ‘fringe’ membership.
He said: “Taking part in a joint mission really gave us a boost with our own people. Many of our folks were coming from a long way back in terms of their understanding of evangelism. They had non-Christian contacts, but did not see the impetus to get them to hear the gospel. For us, joining with other churches gave our membership the chance to see other Christians praying and working hard together for the sake of the lost. That was a great encouragement.”
Hook Evangelical Church
Hook Evangelical Church, an FIEC member, has a congregation of around 200, mixed across the ages. Pastor Paul Pease said that in evaluating where his church was at in terms of evangelism, they went through a complete re-think five years ago. He commented: “We realised that rather than us trying to get unbelievers to come to events we put on and only finding minimal success, we should instead be training and equipping our people to be better at explaining the gospel over a coffee at home or a drink after work with the many unbelieving friends and work colleagues that they are in contact with day after day.”
Paul said that taking part in the Eternity mission helped the church front up to the question: “who do I know to invite?” or “There’s little point putting on great events if you haven’t got any contacts to invite to them. We’ve now stopped a number of church meetings and groups in order to free-up our members' commitments so that they can spend more time building good relationships with their neighbours and work colleagues.”
Summerstown Mission Evangelical Church
Summerstown is an independent church with a morning congregation of 30-45 and evening of 12-20. Peter Bines, the pastor, attended one of the early planning meetings for the Eternity mission and having discussed with his deacons council they decided to concentrate their efforts on backing just two of the range of events planned. “Two events was realistic for us,” he said, “as a smaller fellowship we did not want to over-burden people with thinking they had to go to lots of things.”
Reflecting on the Eternity mission experience, Peter said: “We did not try and organise any pre-evangelism events on our own: we were just not ready for those kinds of commitments at that stage. However with A Passion for Life we are going to build it into our planning for 2009/10 – for example we want to run a family fun-day, something we’ve done successfully in the past, and theme it around A Passion for Life. We won’t try lots of things, but will focus our efforts on making that event really good.”
He went on to say: “Our people were thrilled at seeing the partnership in the gospel that Philippians 1 speaks of being worked out in practice – churches joining in the task of reaching the lost together – it was good for us and good for our impact in the local community.”