Blog, Articles & News

Vision 2018

by Steve Wilcox

On Sunday 8 October I set out the Vision of the Anlaby Churches for 2018. You can listen to the talk here.  For those who don't know, we are “a Christ-centred community existing to spread a passion for Jesus Christ across the Anlaby Communities and beyond.” We seek to do this by Making disciples who make disciples; Resourcing Mission in West Hull; and Sending disciples to bless the Anlaby Communities.

The Anlaby communities, and the city of Hull, are desperately needy. They are needy in many ways - but most of all they are spiritually needy. There are 13 parishes in Hull where between 1 and 8 in every thousand head of population attends their local Anglican church. Non-Anglican church attendance doesn't improve the figures very much. The situation in the Anlaby Communities isn't much better – less than 2.5% of the population of the Communities attend church regularly. What can be done to alleviate this catastrophic situation? “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15).

We would love to work with other gospel-centred churches to help to meet this need – including by planting churches across the city. However, we are not in a position to do that yet, and so in 2018 we will focus on “Making disciples who make disciples.”

We all want to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ – knowing him better, and discerning how best we can serve him. To that end:

> we will continue to encourage one another to be part of a Life Group;

> we will encourage one another that 'In Christ, we can do that' - whether 'that' is daily praying, reading the Bible, sharing our faith, or serving the church or community in some new way;

> we will seek to equip people to serve God in the ways he is calling them;

> we will think and pray about how the whole of church life can be focused on growing as disciples. To that end, the Ministry team will work through a book called “The Vine Project”; they will feed back their findings to the Church Councils, to Church Family Night, and (from time to time) to the Sunday congregations. Do listen out for more on this! And do pray that the churches would be more and more geared towards Making disciples who make disciples.

There are also various things we hope to do with financial implications. Do ask for a copy of our 2018 “Giving to support our Vision” leaflet if you would like more information about this. And if you would like to start giving regularly, do pick up a leaflet at the back of church.

Please pray with us that we would grow as disciples, and be enabled to make more disciples, during 2018!

Look up, not inside!

I found this article really helpful on how to face our struggles and our sins. Some of the words are long but it's worth persevering with. Don't look in at yourself; look up at Christ!

Responding to God's overflowing generosity

by Steve Wilcox

Jesus has been invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. As he reclines at the table, a woman comes in to the room and stands behind him. We're told that she “was a sinner in the town” - though we're given no more detail than that. She begins to cry – floods of tears, as she is overwhelmed with emotion at the gratitude she feels towards Jesus. Her tears fall on his feet, so she loosens her hair and wipes his feet with her hair before anointing them with perfume.

Jesus's host is not impressed – he cannot get beyond the fact that this woman is a sinner and Jesus shouldn't be relating to her. So Jesus tells him a story.

“Two people owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii (two years' wages today); the other fifty (two months wages today). Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave them both.” (Luke 7:42). It's easy to miss how remarkable this is. When was the last time you heard of a high street bank, let alone a loan shark, willingly and voluntarily cancelling a person's debts? And Jesus is using this as a picture of God's generosity towards sinners like you and me, in forgiving our sins.

Jesus goes on by showing that the woman's overflowing emotional response to Jesus is a result of her overflowing gratitude to him for the forgiveness she has found through him. (Luke 7:47).

We are left with a question, and a lesson. The question is – have we appreciated the forgiveness that is available to us in Jesus? Have we appreciated the depth of our sinfulness – the amount that we have been forgiven? Why not write down all the ways in which you have sinned “in thought, word and deed” over the past day – week – year – 20 years – and then give thanks that through trusting in Jesus it is all forgiven.

The lesson is – as we reflect on how much we've been forgiven by our generous God, we cannot help but respond to him (like the woman) with overflowing gratitude, love, and service. How will you respond?

Do join us in October as we think about God's generosity and our response - including:

8 October  - Vision Sunday

15 October – Thanksgiving Sunday

LIVE NATIVITY

imageThe annual 'Live Nativity' will be taking place on Saturday, 2nd December, at 11am, outside Anlaby Village Hall. (inside, if the weather is totally inclement!) It is always a lively event - with costumed characters re-enacting the Christmas narrative, read by a range of different people. It features hearty singing of carols, accompanied by a brass band; a piece of interpretive movement by dancers; and refreshments before and afterwards. Plus, of course, there are the usual highlights of the real baby and the real donkey; shepherds and angels hurrying across the zebra crossing to and from the stable; and three wise men journeying from Sainsbury's Local (in 'The East'??), searching along Hull Road shops and following the star to worship the baby King in the stable gazebo! It is definitely an experience not to be missed, so please do come along and enjoy this year's 'Live Nativity'.

If you would like to participate in any way, - as a costumed character/narrator/dancer/practical help/publicity, etc. - please contact Vicki Pocklington (656284) or Katie Waltham.

Taking a stand on the teaching of the Bible: Same-sex relationships

by Steve Wilcox

You will no doubt have heard about the LGBT 50 events which have taken place in Hull over the past week. You may have attended one of the events. You may also have heard about growing confusion within the Church of England General Synod over what people should think about matters concerning human sexuality; confusion which is in danger of undermining the life-giving truths (built on the Bible) that all Christians have believed for the past two thousand years, and which continue to be taught in the foundational documents of the Church of England.

In a nutshell, the question we are all facing is: “Which will take first place – the Bible, or our culture? When their teachings contradict one another – with whom do we stand?”

In 2012 an organisation called the Evangelical Alliance (see www.eauk.org) produced a report, “Biblical and pastoral responses to sexuality.” A summary document was also produced, called the “10 affirmations”. The goal was to establish a mainstream evangelical (ie Biblical) position on human sexuality, combining the welcome we are to offer to all, the salvation that is available to all, and the shape of Christian living which Christ upholds in the Bible - a shape which is for the blessing and true freedom of those who follow him.* In an attempt to provide some clarity for the church family over where we stand on these matters at St Peter's and St Mark's, the Church Councils of the two churches recently adopted the 10 affirmations. The Church Councils also recommended these affirmations to the church family for further study – and I therefore include them in full below.

The Christian church has a glorious history of individuals and churches standing for what they knew to be true, good and eternally liberating. From Polycarp to Martin Luther to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to our own Bishop JC Ryle. May the Lord raise up more Christians who will stand for the truth of the Bible, no matter what the consequences.

EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE 10 AFFIRMATIONS

We are conscious that different evangelicals might apply certain of these points in different ways, but we believe that, taken together, they reflect an authentic, mainstream evangelical response to homosexuality in general and sexually active same-sex partnerships in particular:

1. We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only true hope for sinful people – whatever our sexuality – is in Jesus Christ. Our earnest prayer is that his love, truth and grace would characterise evangelical responses to debates on homosexuality, both now and in future.

2. We affirm God's love and concern for all human beings, whatever their sexuality, and so repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex. We are encouraged many Christians now recognise and deeply regret the hurt caused by past and present failures in their responses to those who experience same-sex attraction.

3. We affirm that marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship for life. Marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations and homoerotic sexual practice is incompatible with His will as revealed in Scripture. We do not accept that holding these theological and ethical views on biblical grounds is in itself homophobic.

4. We encourage evangelical congregations to be communities of grace in which those who experience same-sex attraction and seek to live faithfully in accordance with biblical teaching are welcomed and affirmed. Such Christians need churches which are safe spaces where they are able to share and explore their stories with fellow believers for mutual encouragement and support as we help each other grow together into maturity in Christ.

5. We oppose moves within certain churches to accept and/or endorse sexually active same-sex partnerships as a legitimate form of Christian relationship and to permit the ordination to ministry of those in such sexual relationships. We stand prayerfully with those in such churches who are seeking to resist these moves on biblical grounds.

6. We oppose church services of blessing for civil partnerships and other forms of gay and lesbian relationships as unbiblical and reject any redefinition of marriage to encompass same-sex relationships.

7. We commend and encourage all those who experience same-sex attraction and have committed themselves to chastity by refraining from homoerotic sexual practice. We believe they should be eligible for ordination and leadership within the church, recognising that they can bring invaluable insights and experience to the sphere of Christian pastoral ministry.

8. We welcome and support the work of those individuals and organisations who responsibly seek to help Christians who experience same-sex attraction as in conflict with their commitment to live in accordance with biblical teaching. This help will involve counsel and pastoral support to live a chaste life and, as part of this process, some may seek and experience changes in the strength or direction of their same-sex attractions.

9. We believe both habitual homoerotic sexual activity without repentance and public promotion of such activity are inconsistent with faithful church membership. While processes of membership and discipline differ from one church context to another, we believe that either of these behaviours warrants consideration for church discipline.

10. We encourage evangelical congregations to welcome and accept sexually active lesbians and gay men. However, they should do so in the expectation that they, like all of us who are living outside God's purposes, will come in due course to see the need to be transformed and live in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teaching. We urge gentleness, patience and ongoing pastoral care during this process and after a person renounces same-sex sexual relations.

*As Jesus himself said "if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).

Debating Transgender

By Steve WIlcox

At the General Synod of the Church of England in York this week, a motion will be discussed: "That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition." What are we to make of this? A helpful article, which points to other helpful resources, can be found here. I also personally found Vaughan Roberts' little book "Transgender" helpful, in beginning to think through the issues.

For those who fail everyday

Here's an encouraging article for those of us - like me - who know that we fail everyday.

Worship in your waiting

Here's a link to a helpful article about how to wait for things as a Christian.

MAKING THE VISION A REALITY - 3. SEND DISCIPLES TO BLESS THE ANLABY COMMUNITIES

by Steve Wilcox

image

On November 6 I spoke on a vision for St Peter's and St Mark's for the coming year. I encouraged us to think of the church family as a vine - an image that Jesus uses in John 15. As it receives its nutrients a vine grows, spreading out across the wall or fence on which it is located. It bears fruit as it grows, bringing delight to the owner of the vine and to others. It seems to me that the image of the vine is a good image for us to remember this year, as we continue to work out our purpose to be “a Christ-centred community existing to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in the Anlaby Communities and beyond.”

In my sermon I presented 3 approaches we intend to take as a church, in order to fulfil our purpose. These 3 purposes have been agreed by the Church Councils. I'd like to explain a bit more about the three approaches. In this article I'll explain the third approach.

Approach 3 – Send disciples to bless the Anlaby Communities

As a vine spreads across a wall or fence, it bears fruit – delicious fruit which can be used for a great variety of purposes, bringing blessing to many. In the same way, we long to be a blessing to the Anlaby Communities. When God makes his great promises to Abraham, he says “All peoples will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Later on, when God's people are in exile in Babylon, God tells them to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for if it prospers, you also will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). In the New Testament, Jesus tells his followers “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). And in Galatians Paul writes “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).

How do we “send disciples to bless the Anlaby Communities”? A great deal of this already happens quietly, behind the scenes. There are members of the church family who visit other needy and lonely people; those who serve as school governors, on the parish council, or on other community bodies. There are those who visit the schools and day centres. There are those who are salt and light in the local U3A groups and other community groups, not to mention in their workplaces. On 6 June we will be holding a day of prayer at St Peter's (more details to follow). In advance of that, I hope that those who serve in the community in different ways will be able to let us know, so that we can give thanks and pray for them.

Second, there are more organised groups which seek to bless the Anlaby Communities. Light lunches would be a good example of this – providing a meal and fellowship twice a month.

Third, there's the Anlaby Communities Trust (ACT). This was set up a couple of years ago, as a vehicle for St Peter's and St Mark's churches to serve the community, as well as providing a suitable means of operating the St Mark's pre-school. Already through ACT we have been able to provide food parcels to a number of needy people in the community, and to provide a forum for various community groups to meet together and share ideas.

On 10 June, the Anlaby Communities Day is being held at the St Mark's site. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to make connections with the community, as well as to bring the Anlaby Communities and their various organisations together on one occasion. A huge amount of work has gone into the planning of the day – in particular by Gill King, Katie Waltham and Sarah Haynes, who are all trustees of ACT. Do come along and support the day; do help in some way if you're able to; and do please pray for the day (not least that it doesn't rain!)

Does the Reformation still matter?

by Steve Wilcox
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Lots more will be said during the year, but already the question is being asked in the media "Does the Reformation still matter?" This article gives a very helpful (and brief) response to that question.

MAKING THE VISION A REALITY - 2. MAKE DISCIPLES WHO MAKE DISCIPLES

by Steve Wilcox

On November 6 I spoke on a vision for St Peter's and St Mark's for the coming year. I encouraged us to think of the church family as a vine - an image that Jesus uses in John 15. As it receives its nutrients a vine grows, spreading out across the wall or fence on which it is located. It bears fruit as it grows, bringing delight to the owner of the vine and to others. It seems to me that the image of the vine is a good image for us to remember this year, as we continue to work out our purpose to be “a Christ-centred community existing to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in the Anlaby Communities and beyond.”

imageIn my sermon I presented 3 approaches we intend to take as a church, in order to fulfil our purpose. These 3 purposes have been agreed by the Church Councils. I'd like to explain a bit more about the three approaches. In this article I'll explain the second approach.

Approach 2 – Make disciples who make disciples

It's a few years since I took biology GCSE, so I thought I'd do some research into how vines grow. I discovered that there are two main causes of growth – cell division, and cell growth. That is, the cells within the vine (and its berries) expand, and at some point they divide to produce new cells, which then grow, and so on. (If there are any biologists amongst us they might be able to help us even more to understand this!) In the same way, the vine which is the church grows through Christians growing in their faith, and Christians helping others to grow in their faith. Jesus uses this very image in John 15, in which Jesus himself is “the vine”, and his followers – those who remain in him because they remain in his Word – are the branches of the vine.

Let's think of this through the eyes of Matthew, whose gospel we looked at in the autumn. For Matthew, every follower of Jesus is a disciple – that's what “disciple” means. If you call yourself a Christian, then you are a disciple. And what we find in Matthew's gospel is that the disciples grow in their faith as Jesus disciples them – as he teaches and trains them. So in some places we find him teaching them (eg the Sermon on the Mount); in other places we see him modelling the Christian life to them (eg Matthew 11:1, 8:18-20); sometimes he trains them (eg Matthew 10); at other times he rebukes them (eg Matthew 16:23); and at other times he encourages them (eg Matthew 13:16-17).

Then, at the end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus gives his marching orders - “Go and make disciples of all nations...” (Matthew 28:19). In other words, the disciples are to learn from all that he has shown them – and they are to do the same with others, in his name.

This being discipled and making disciples is the key ingredient to the growth of the church / vine / body of Christ. It is the engine, the driver, the cell growth and cell division. It is something that every member of the church family – every disciple – should be concerned about and keen to see. Which is why we have made it one of our key approaches to “Make disciples who make disciples.”

But we might be able to think of several objections at this point. Someone might say “But I don't want to take my Christian faith too seriously – it's just one part of my life after all.” But Matthew would respond that every Christian is a disciple; and we find out what it means to be a disciple in the Bible. We are not at liberty to define for ourselves what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ – we must allow him to define it for us.

Someone else might say “This makes it sound like I'm someone else's project – to disciple me.” Nobody is anybody else's project; rather, each of us are disciples and it's right that we seek to grow as disciples and welcome others who seek to help us in that endeavour.

Another person might say “I don't know how to grow as a disciple, let alone how to make disciples.” And it's fine not to know – but how about asking someone to show you what it looks like? There are a number of us who would be more than happy to talk to you about that.

How might we do this?

So how might we as a church family “Make disciples who make disciples”? In the vision sermon I set out a number of ways in which we might seek to do this.

> Sundays must be our starting point. We meet as God's people to encounter God, to worship him, to be changed by him, and to be sent out to serve him in the week ahead. In other words, we meet to grow as disciples, to encourage each other, and to praise God as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Let's go to church with that attitude, Sunday by Sunday.

> Life groups – Numbers of people are finding that Life groups are a fantastic way of growing as disciples, as they hear God speak to them regularly in a more intimate setting than Sundays provide. It also gives more opportunity to think about what God is saying to each of us personally, as well as to pray for each other.

> Meeting one-to-one – discipling one another – A number of people in the church family meet together in groups of two or three to read the bible, talk about living as a Christian, and pray together. This can be done formally or informally, but I recommend it highly. I've heard it said that each Christian needs a Paul (someone to disciple them), a Barnabas (someone to walk alongside them and encourage them), and a Timothy (someone to disciple).

> Discipleship in our DNA – The Ministry team are currently reading a book called “The Vine Project”, which makes suggestions as to how making disciples can become part of the culture of the church. Please pray for the leadership of the church as we seek to make this more and more a reality, for God's glory.

Making the Vision a reality - 1. Resource mission in West Hull

by Steve Wilcox

On November 6 I spoke on a vision for St Peter's and St Mark's for the coming year. I encouraged us to think of the church family as a vine - an image that Jesus uses in John 15. As it receives its nutrients a vine grows, spreading out across the wall or fence on which it is located. It bears fruit as it grows, bringing delight to the owner of the vine and to others. It seems to me that the image of the vine is a good image for us to remember this year, as we continue to work out our purpose to be “a Christ-centred community existing to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in the Anlaby Communities and beyond.”

In my sermon I presented 3 approaches we intend to take as a church, in order to fulfil our purpose. These 3 purposes have been agreed by the Church Councils. I'd like to explain a bit more about the three approaches. I'll explain the first approach in this article, then in subsequent articles I'll explain the other two approaches.

Approach 1 – Resource Mission in West Hull

imageAs we think about the vine, we imagine it gradually spreading across the wall or fence on which it is located. In the same way we long for the spiritual vine to grow across the Anlaby Communities and across Hull as more and more people come to a saving and life-transforming faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The need for the gospel in Hull is very great – as I set out in my recent post (see below). But it's not just about church attendance. It's about people's relationship with God, and the transformation that brings to lives.

The greatest need of every human being is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus warns us that hell is a real place, and because of the human condition of sin those who have not put their trust in Jesus will go there for eternity. But “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish (eternally) but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). People need to hear about the Lord Jesus and to put their faith in him in order to have life with him for all eternity.

But Jesus doesn't just transform our eternal life; he transforms our life now as well. We are aware of many social problems in the Anlaby Communities and in Hull; and yet the reality is that the single best way of helping a person's social needs is for them to come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. We see countless examples of this in the gospels – as a person comes to know Jesus Christ, their whole life is transformed for the better. (See, for example, Mark 5:15, 18-20; Matthew 9:22; Luke 7:36-50). I could tell more stories of how this has been the case in West Hull in the 21 century. To summarise then, people desperately need to know Jesus Christ for themselves – and this means people in Anlaby, Anlaby Common, Anlaby Park, Rokeby Park, as well as the rest of West Hull and the surrounding villages.

It may be hard to believe, but relative to most other Anglican churches - and most other evangelical churches - in West Hull, we at St Peter's and St Mark's are well resourced. And God has given us a vision to work with other gospel-centred churches. And therefore it is right that we should seek to work with others to resource mission in West Hull.

How might we do this?

In the vision sermon I set out 3 ways in which we might seek to do this.

> Annual programme of outreach – I have asked John Telford to help us to develop an annual programme of outreach, so that we have regular events to which we can all invite our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

> Work with other gospel-centred churches – We will seek to work with other gospel-centred churches as much as we can, so that we can help one another in the vital task of mission.

> Plant churches – A church plant is a new congregation: for example, the 4pm service. The desperate need for the gospel compels us to find ways to reach whole new communities. There are currently communities within our parishes we are not reaching, and of course communities elsewhere in the city who are not being reached. We may not be in a position to plant a church just yet; but we can plan and pray to that end. It is much better to have a plan to plant churches when we are small, rather than when we are large and comfortable.

Do pray for the leadership of the church as we plan and pray more about these things. And if you have any ideas, or would like to get involved, do speak to myself, John Telford or a warden.

The way forward 4 - Services and Buildings

by Steve Wilcox

In February, I spoke of the need to discern the next “stepping stone” for us as a church family on two sites. We have great opportunities – as set out by our Vision and Mission Action Plan. But we also have limited resources – particularly as regards workers. I said that we therefore need to discern the best way to use the resources available to us. With that in mind, John Truscott came to visit us. John is an independent church consultant, and is able to provide a wise, independent perspective on complex issues to do with church life. We asked him to consider some questions, including “What is the best 'next step' for the churches?” and “Any reflections on the best use of the sites available to us?”

John was very encouraged by his visit, and noticed a number of things that we do particularly well. However, there were also things we didn't do so well, and inevitably it is those things we need to focus on as we respond to what he said!

John made a number of recommendations, all of which have recently been approved by our Church Councils. I thought it would be helpful to write about some of those recommendations – to explain them, and begin to reflect on what they might mean for us as a church family, and for the wider community.

Recommendation 4: Keep both main services and both sites, but focus on St Mark's site for development

John saw no reason to change our current service structure. He wrote “It might be unwise to aim for a further change in service pattern until you see the results of your other changes forcing you to do so.” The other changes he was referring to were the changes in attitude – towards discipleship and mission – that were discussed in earlier blog posts. In other words, it may be that as we move forward in our spiritual growth and our witness to the community there is a place for further changes in service structure – but we haven't reached that point yet. Of course we might be forced into such a change (if, for example, we don't have enough people serving to enable us to operate the services) but, all things being equal, we should try to avoid it for the time being. Furthermore, John pointed out that there is plenty of scope for ongoing development in the existing services, to make them more edifying for believers and accessible for newcomers.

The question of service pattern is linked to the question of buildings and sites. It goes without saying that if we were to close a building, one of the main services would have to stop, or at least re-locate! But John's advice was “This may not be where you would like to start from but you have your two sites and to close either would surely distract you from your priorities above. One has heritage, one has flexibility. Two sites give you greater visibility even if one of them is not in an ideal location. I see no reason for making major decisions for change just at the moment.” In other words, let's give thanks for the buildings and sites we have, and focus on mission and discipleship rather than be distracted by discussions about which building we might close and all the effort that would entail!

However, following from his comments above - about the flexibility of the St Mark's site and the St Peter's site not being in the ideal location - John did also have this to say: “The more you can make St Mark’s fit for purpose, though, the better - although I assume that the cost of such changes could be prohibitive. I would focus your outreach strategy on this site, although work for occasional offices may need to be more St Peter’s focused.” In other words, because of the size and flexibility of the St Mark's site, it makes sense to focus on that site as regards future development. With that in mind, discussions have begun to take place about possible medium-term changes to the St Mark's site, which I hope to discuss with the Church Councils in due course.

The St Peter's site, on the other hand, is much loved and appreciated as it is; although that doesn't mean we can't make positive changes to it, which we hope to in due course.

Having said all that, it goes without saying that if we are to continue to operate both sites we need the finances and the people to enable us to do it. With that in mind, we are very thankful for the numbers of people who have helped in maintaining the buildings in recent years. In order to grow the numbers of people involved, we have recently formed three “Buildings teams” - one for each building - and we hope that members of that team will take responsibility for each building so that the wardens can take a more “high level” view, rather than being too “hands on.” Do let me know if you'd be interested in being involved in one of the teams, or in helping us to maintain or develop one of the buildings or sites.

The Way Forward 3 - Leadership

by Steve Wilcox

In February, I spoke of the need to discern the next “stepping stone” for us as a church family on two sites. We have great opportunities – as set out by our Vision and Mission Action Plan. But we also have limited resources – particularly as regards workers. I said that we therefore need to discern the best way to use the resources available to us. With that in mind, John Truscott came to visit us. John is an independent church consultant, and is able to provide a wise, independent perspective on complex issues to do with church life. We asked him to consider some questions, including “What is the best 'next step' for the churches?”

John was very encouraged by his visit, and noticed a number of things that we do particularly well. However, there were also things we didn't do so well, and inevitably it is those things we need to focus on as we respond to what he said!

John made a number of recommendations, all of which have recently been approved by our Church Councils. I thought it would be helpful to write about some of those recommendations – to explain them, and begin to reflect on what they might mean for us as a church family, and for the wider community.

Recommendation 3: Simplify decision-making structures

John observed that our decision-making structures as a church family were quite complex. We have two Church Councils (one for each church), the vicar and church wardens, and what was formerly named the Leadership Team. John noted that “What does need to change is your decision-making structures so that you have one church, one PCC (Church Council) and, as now, one Leadership Team.” John also observed the danger of overlap between the work of the Leadership team and the Church Councils, and therefore the need for the work of the Leadership team to be clearly defined. Finally, he observed that “Your key workers appear to be over-busy to an extent that is not sustainable in the medium-term.”

The main change we have made as a result of John's recommendations is that the Church Councils of the two churches have agreed to meet together in the future. This has now taken place three times, and I have already observed a huge difference: Members of the Church Councils are getting to know each other better, and to see things from one another's point of view. They are also being enabled to see the “bigger picture” of the ministry of the two parishes. Finally, it means that decisions only need to be made once, rather than twice as in former times!

As regards the role of the Leadership Team: The team's name has been changed to “the Ministry Team” to reflect the fact that leadership is shared between vicar and wardens, Church Councils and the Team. The role of the team has been defined as helping myself and the wardens to enact the decisions that are made by the Church Council, as well as advising me. [An analogy with the Cabinet and Parliament in UK politics is not exact, but is helpful nonetheless.]

Finally, as regards key workers being over-busy: This is not an issue that can be solved immediately. We are doing our best to work in teams, seeking to ensure that no-one is on too many teams and thus becoming overwhelmed. We are also committed to helping every member of the church family identify and develop their gifts, trusting that Christ has gifted his church in exactly the way he wishes so that she might be built up. And we are trusting for his grace in the meantime! I would close by asking that if you are currently wondering how you can serve in the life of the church family and feel that you have some more capacity to do so, do please have a word with me – you might be the answer to our prayers!

The Way Forward 2 - Discipleship

by Steve Wilcox

In February, in my “Vision” sermon, I spoke of the need to discern the next “stepping stone” for us as a church family on two sites. We have great opportunities – as set out by our Vision and Mission Action Plan. But we also have limited resources – particularly as regards workers. I said that we therefore need to discern the best way to use the resources available to us. With that in mind, John Truscott came to visit us. John is an independent church consultant, and is able to provide a wise, independent perspective on complex issues to do with church life. We asked him to consider some questions, including “What is the best 'next step' for the churches?”

John was very encouraged by his visit, and noticed a number of things that we do particularly well. However, there were also things we didn't do so well, and inevitably it is those things we need to focus on as we respond to what he said!

John made a number of recommendations, all of which have recently been approved by our Church Councils. I thought it would be helpful to write about some of those recommendations – to explain them, and begin to reflect on what they might mean for us as a church family, and for the wider community.

Recommendation 2: Make it a priority to develop a new passion for practical discipleship.

John observed that one of our strengths in our preaching and teaching at St Mark's and St Peter's is the correct handling of God's Word the Bible. This is fantastic, and something to give thanks for: sadly there are many churches around the country for which this isn't the case. Often the Bible is used by the preacher as nothing more than a springboard, giving them an excuse to say what they want to say rather than what God says in his Word! May God in his mercy enable us to continue to handle his Word better and better.

However, he observed that our application of God's Word into all of life is not as good as it might be. This is why he recommends “a new passion for practical discipleship” and a focus on “the practical application of discipleship.”

In other words, as God's Word the Bible is taught and preached, God is speaking to us by his Holy Spirit. He is speaking to us about our lives, our priorities, our thinking, and in particular how we can relate to him as our Creator, Saviour, Lord and Judge. How much are we aware of this? Do we go away having had our thinking changed, and therefore aware of what difference what we have heard will make to our lives on Monday morning or Wednesday evening or Saturday afternoon?

There is a challenge here for those (including myself) who teach and preach: It is right that we “correctly handle God's Word”, and ensure that what we are saying is what God is saying. But when this has happened, our work is not yet done. We need to help God's people to see the “cash value” of God's Word – the difference his Word makes to how God's people view God and themselves, and how they live Monday to Saturday.

But there is more to it than that. I think John's recommendation encourages every one of us to ask a fundamental question: Do we view ourselves as disciples? Do we see ourselves as those who have been called by God, into his family, and are being changed by him more and more into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ? (see 1 Corinthians 3:18). Do we see being part of God's family not just as something for Sunday morning, but for every day? Do we see that our faith is not just for Sunday, but for every part of our lives? In terms of our Values as a church – do we see the importance of Deepening in our faith? If we do, then we will be constantly seeking to hear God speak to us through his Word, and we will be asking him to reveal how what he has said changes us and the way we live our lives. And then, of course, we will be asking him to empower us, by his Holy Spirit, to be changed.

What might this mean practically? It might mean meeting up with a Christian friend to talk about how God is working in our lives – and to pray for how we would like him to work. It might mean joining a Life group, so we can encourage others and be encouraged in our faith. It might mean asking to meet with someone to find out more about how we can read the Bible for ourselves, and put its teaching into practice (do have a word with me if you'd be interested in arranging something like this). It might mean listening to the sermon again on Monday morning (every sermon is available on our website), and praying that God would show us the difference it will make for us in the office, in our families, in our leisure time in the week ahead. 

What does it mean for you?

The Way Forward 1 - Reach Out

by Steve Wilcox

In February, in my “Vision” sermon, I spoke of the need to discern the next “stepping stone” for us as a church family on two sites. We have great opportunities – as set out by our Vision and Mission Action Plan. But we also have limited resources – particularly as regards workers. I said that we therefore need to discern the best way to use the resources available to us. With that in mind, John Truscott came to visit us. John is an independent church consultant, and is able to provide a wise, independent perspective on complex issues to do with church life. We asked him to consider some questions, including “What is the best 'next step' for the churches?”

John was very encouraged by his visit, and noticed a number of things that we do particularly well. However, there were also things we didn't do so well, and inevitably it is those things we need to focus on as we respond to what he said!

John made a number of recommendations, all of which have recently been approved by our Church Councils. I thought it would be helpful to write about some of those recommendations – to explain them, and begin to reflect on what they might mean for us as a church family, and for the wider community.

Recommendation 1: Make it a priority to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ into your community through a well-designed outreach strategy.

John observed that we are very good as a church family at caring for each other, and at discipling one another in the faith. However, he observed that our outreach into the community is not what it might be. In particular, he observed that as a church we don't have an organised outreach strategy; nor, as individuals, are we as good at sharing the gospel with others, and inviting others to events, as we might be.

My own feeling is that John Truscott is right about this. If we are seeking to grow as a church, then we need to be attracting other people into the life of the church. And this will happen as we organise events that people would like to come to, and as we invite them to those events.

Since John Truscott's visit, we have been privileged to take part in the West Hull Area Mission. This was very encouraging in all sorts of ways, and I believe that we need to make sure we build on the momentum that the Mission gave us. We need to make it a priority to devise an “annual programme of outreach events”, so that we all have something we can invite someone to.

Some of us might say “I don't know anyone who's not a Christian.” But I'm sure when we stop to think about it we do – our neighbours, our family members, the people we meet at U3A or the gym. Others might say “I don't know how to invite them.” That's a fair point – but why don't we encourage one another, and share ideas, so that we're more confident. And of course, it all begins with prayer. Why not start praying for 3 people you know, that they might come to a living faith in Jesus Christ, and to see the wonderful difference knowing him makes to life. You never know what God might do in someone's life if you ask him to!