Readers' Group Discussion Conclusions - Intelligent Church By Steve Chalke

Posted at 19:39pm on 10th August 2009

I'm so sorry I'm late in getting the discussion report out. The group met on 9th July and was led by a friend, Anne, as I had to be in London for a meeting. Anne says: “We were a very small group last Thursday (but) in many ways (that) was good, and it was fruitful.” Here are the conclusions of the group, based on Anne’s notes.

LOOKING AT WHO GOD IS, AND WHAT MAKES A CHURCH A CHURCH

Words like Creator, All Powerful, and Triune were put forward to describe God, but the group decided that the title that best summed him up was: God is Love. When it came to the non-negotiables of church, we focused on the following points:

  • First and foremost, the church must be Christ-centred
  • It needs to be outward looking, to the community
  • Preaching should nurture church members, who need to receive the Message and go out with it.
  • We noted that there was always something for each of us, personally, in the sermon; that it was as if the Holy Spirit addressed us, individually.
  • The conclusion reached was that each of these points were ‘personal’ not ‘institutional’.

Buildings, liturgy, dress, and customs, were not considered important, though feelings of guilt, exclusion or judgement were. The church attended by the Readers' Group has, as its stated aims: worship, witness, servant, disciple and community and this, it was felt, summed up what church should be.

LOOKING AT MORE INCLUSIVE WAYS OF REACHING THE COMMUNITY

Projects like Factory Row, which is for the homeless, were discussed, and the general feeling was that the church could/should be used more during the day, throughout the week in this area. Teaching the residents to use computers, for example, would equip them for a better life. But recreational activities, such as snooker, also have their place. (Mel's comment: who is to man these activities?)

The church buildings could also be used to provide a base for students run by the youth of the church.

The local youth might also benefit with, perhaps, a disco on Friday nights, in the hall, run by our youth. This would be a great work for our young people, and might keep other adolescents from frequenting the less desirable areas of the town.

Other avenues of service to the community included a Pet Service (dog walking?) and setting up clubs, such as a photographic club. The consensus was that anything that enabled Christians to mix naturally with un-churched people was of value.

The merits of discarding out-dated church buildings in favour of modern ones was discussed, as it was felt that this might be less intimidating to the un-churched. The debate then moved to Cafechurch, founded by Sid Latte, which takes over a coffee shop for a period (with the manager's consent) and brings church to the people with down-to-earth discussions about the realities of life, and the difference a faith can make.

The concept is taking off in some areas of Britain, but Sid admits that few of the people who come to Cafechurch would want to join a church like ours. It does, however, tap into the massive spiritual hunger in the community, and meets people where they are, using ‘table hosts’ to lead discussion. The group agreed that this could be a good way to get rid of some of the ‘clutter’ that surrounds traditional church.

Finally, we noted the massive outpouring of grief over Michael Jackson’s death and toyed with the idea of how a Michael Jackson memorial concert might fill the church!

LOOKING AT BETTER WAYS OF 'DOING' CHURCH

Before a church could be more inclusive of the local community, its members need to see how they might be more inclusive ‘in-house’. This was the feeling among members of the Readers’ Group, who pointed to the number of young people (in their 30s and 40s) who put up for the leadership team but failed, time and again, to get be elected?

Some thought that young parents need to be nurturing their families rather than putting up for leadership, and that time would be an issue. Others felt that a better method should be found for the congregation to get to know the candidates. The feeling that teenagers, and those in their twenties, should be more involved as bible readers during Sunday Services was unanimous, and some questioned why the Worship Leader was always a musician?

Although the group felt that using the church buildings 24/7 was somewhat Utopian at present, there was a strong feeling that, as a congregation, we may be too middle class, and that we need to become more ‘messy’. For instance, we admitted that visitors may, occasionally, be overlooked but agreed that we would all notice if the visitor were a tramp! Other issues raised were:

  • ‘free prayer time’, which is outside the comfort zone of some people.
  • we pray for the youth going to university but need a stronger role for those left behind eg a Friday disco.
  • we thought about the use of 21st Century language eg using The Message - either alone, or as well as NIV.

LOOKING AT CHANGING THE PERCEPTION OF CHRISTIANITY

The question of how we might change the perception of Christianity from a message of ‘do not’ to one of hope and love was discussed. It was agreed that the example of Mother Teresa, who was known for all the ‘right’ reasons, was a positive image. We felt that Christians need to be active in the world, and that this was the reason why Street Pastors was so good, and why so many Christians wanted to do it. Not only that, it is positively perceived by the very people it serves: the young who embrace the club, and heavy drinking, culture.

Other methods of engaging with our local town centre community were perceived to be personally, via committees, politics, and community work: eg litter picking. It was agreed that Christians need to be involved with all aspects of secular life for their faith to shine through.

When it came to thinking about the stumbling blocks preventing Christians inviting non-Christians to church, chief among the reasons given was that Sunday was perceived as a leisure / shopping / sports-playing day. Friday evening - before the busy weekend - was suggested as an alternative day for services. (Anne’s comment: Fridays would be somewhat busy at our church!) A need for honesty was raised, to enable Christians to be open about the doubt they sometimes feel.

LOOKING AT THE FAITHWORKS CHARTER

The final question of the evening centred on the Faithworks Charter outlined in the book. The unanimous decision was that it was Gobbledegook; that the Plain English Society would have a field day with it; and that it let down a book which, in every other sense, was a very good read!

The next Readers' Group Meeting is 3rd September, 2009, when we shall be discussing Jodi Picoult's book, My Sister's Keeper. See you then!

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