It is official, I am fed up of how to books when it comes to Church Growth, I am fed up of courses and seminars, and fed up of new initiatives that are sure to work. It seems that one church finds a way forward and then someone writes a book about it, suddenly without much thought and often little prayer we are all doing it; Messy Church is one example of this. alongside the thinking that if we are doing Messy Church then our church is sure to grow. Now don't get me wrong I think Messy Church is wonderful, and can and will work in certain situations, but it is not a sticking plaster to be placed over the cracks that will cure all ills in every situation!
I am also fed of of being told what a successful ministry Rev X has, he is just down the road and has started A & B, and if we just did the same then all would be well. That does not make sense! Wait, I'll say that again; DOING THE SAME THING AS EVERYONE ELSE DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!!! People are not spiritual clones, and they do not all have the same needs.
I firmly believe that each church has a calling as a body of believers in a given place, just because Church A is doing Y does not mean that it is what Church B is called to. We must invest time in prayer and discernment, in getting to know our gifts and calling before beginning to consider what to do. A few years ago Tim and I took the brave decision to close a children's work in a small rural Chapel, we did have a few children coming but the work was stretching and exhausting the membership to the point where it was becoming counterproductive. That Chapel has gone on to discover its calling in many different ways, the members are now energised and the membership has grown. Their calling it turns out was not to the children of the village (though that may change), but rather to its growing population of newly retired folk, so book groups and fitness classes have found their way onto the premises and the members have unwittingly become involved in friendship evangelism, not because they had been on a course, but because it came naturally to them.
I am currently working with one Chapel which is desperate to see a children's work begin again, but recent attempts to get a Holiday Club off the ground for the summer have proved fruitless, and so I have taken the decision ( with the Stewards) not to go ahead with this. I am sure it will be unpopular, but I am convicned more than ever that we need to discover our gifts and calling to this community. We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others, but we cannot be a blessing if we are worn out and worn down by trying to do things that are good ideas. Our community is diverse, the age range is wide, we are called to serve here, but the question is how. Until we have discovered this we run the continual risk of burn out.
During my prayer time this morning I read this:
(Jesus said): We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing." (Matthew 10: 40-42 The Message)
So we need to ask ourselves what our cup of water is, and find out where we should start, for it is easy to become overwhelmed and to view ourselves as failures. But we are not failures; we are worn out though, and there is a sense in which we need to regain our confidence in ourselves, and also in God. Time to take Jesus words seriously then when he says to us:
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. ( Matthew 11: 28-30)"
Like many others I believe that our answer is yes, yes we are tired and worn out! And our prayer should be " Lord help us to live freely and lightly again.