Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Problem of Belonging

One of the big problems that any work like NYNO will face is that of it being ‘second-class’ church.

Most work, I’d suggest, that is done to meet the needs of older people who find it difficult to attend their old church is admirable. Putting on a small, short service, once a fortnight or once a month is not a bad thing to do. A subtle problem that those who are running it face is that we rarely think of it as church, with all the spiritual significance that would go with that. It’s a service that we do (to God and to these people in front of us), not really church on its fullness. This is understandable. There are relatively few people there. They are older than our usual congregation. We have other things to do!

We have found that even if we want to take these small congregations seriously, it’s very difficult to do. Perhaps one way of summing up the problem is that we don’t identify with these people, we don’t belong to them. In our own minds, we belong elsewhere. The amount of time and effort we spend on other congregations rather than these small ones is an indicator of where our heart is.

The problem exists in another form too. Christian residents of sheltered accommodation will often have existing long-term connections with other churches and these connections must in no way be undermined by our work.

The answer lies, we hope, in those who lead any individual NYNO congregation committing to it as their primary place of Christian worship. NYNO congregations can’t be extra good works. To be different at all, they have to be ‘first-class’ church. They have to be places in which Christians can participate in Christian community, in sharing their lives together, in which younger people can be blessed by older people.

NYNO congregations cannot primarily be about more able people going into the accommodation of older people in order to be nice to them, or even to bless them with the word of God. That risks being patronizing. If we can’t recognize that older people are our peers, that it’s genuinely a privilege to be with them, that we belong with these people, we need to think again.


Church Leadership and Mission

Where two are three are gathered …

This being the case, any gathering of Christians can be considered the Body of Christ in the place that they gather. While it’s true that these two or three must not pretend that they are isolated from the wider communion of saints, including what we might more intuitively call the local church, the opposite also holds. Those two or three must not pretend that that are less than the body of Christ, the church. Just because they are a subset of a wider Christian community does not mean that they can or should forget that they are to live in accordance with the life-giving grace of the God who has saved them and brought them together. Or, to get to the nub of the issue for this post, the two and three are called to mission by the God who is missionary in his nature.

Now, the previous paragraph was something of a flanking manoeuvre. What I had in mind is the interesting fact that a church leadership team, and church planting team, are an expression of church and perhaps a more than usually important one. Whether they be two, three, four or more, they are a Christian community and as they live their lives together they are called to be a witness. Again, this doesn’t mean they can think of themselves as an exclusive club because they are the church. In fact, precisely the opposite is the case. Because this group are the church they are called to embrace and witness to others.

The logic of this seems to take us to some interesting places. It means, for instance, that church planting team cannot be static in its membership. If such a team is genuine Christian community and not merely a group of people exercising church leadership, then it must it be out-going in its life, seeking to bring others in, sharing its life. It means that the membership of such a team must seek our diversity and can’t be content with its own life. In its very constituency and life a leadership team must exercise a ministry and communicate a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). Quite practically, this means being diverse and introducing its ideas to new and different people. The leadership team needs to be missional. This will be lifeblood for the future church. Here is a leadership who model in their life together the overflowing grace of God, constantly seeking to enlarge the scope of its conversation because it recognises that the content of its conversation is the life changing Gospel.

What might the alternative look like?  Well, it would be an inward looking group. One that had no confidence in its message and had no desire to share it. One that was frightened or jealous of the stranger. One that held onto power, forgetting that control belongs to God.

All of this is said in awareness of the much that is said of the necessity of preserving the clear ethos and vision of a young fresh expression of church. It is undoubtedly the case that a strong character who does not share the distinctive ideas of a new project can derail it quickly. But let me suggest further though, that all God’s people have a contribution to make to the church. While I might be tempted to agree that power seeking Christians with borderline personality disorders should be firmly shown the door if attempting to make themselves comfortable in new leadership teams, at the same time, might it not be better to ask first if truth can be told, repentance sought, and reconciliation achieved? The consequences of not doing this may well be that further down the line we discover we have built a church that is not missional and therefore, as some would have it, not a church at all.