Encouragements from a visit to a former member

Yesterday, I went on a jolly to Newcastle. I went to see one of our former Iranian members and see how he was getting on since he moved. I went with one of our church members and had a brilliant time. We had a good chat in the car on the way up, ate some awesome BBQs kebabs when we got there and had an altogether good time with my friend and his brother.

It was my first and only time in the city and, I don’t know what this means, but I spent the day in Fenham. I will let those in the know determine whether that was a good area for an ambassadorial visit. My only knowledge of Newcastle is Jesmond (which I understand is posh) and Byker (which I understand is not). I presume Fenham is somewhere on the spectrum between the two.

The main reason for my visit – apart from wanting to see my friend – was to see how he was getting on in his new area and, particularly, his new church. I was minded to think about the importance of transferring church membership. When my friend moved, we were sure to link him up with a church (so far as we knew any fairly near his home). We drew the boundaries around three inter-church groups: Grace Baptists, FIEC, NE Gospel Partnership. We sent my friend the names of a few churches and let him work out where he felt he wanted to go. Having landed on one, we wanted to see how he was doing.

I was encouraged and sad in equal parts. My friend has found himself at a smallish church full of older, English folks. He and his brother are the only non-locals in the congregation and there is only one other person who might be considered young (by which he was defining that as 40ish). I was saddened that he was unlikely to have close friends. It was also unfortunate there is relatively little (if any) evangelism going on. My friend, philosophically, opined that it was just the reality of the age of the congregation. But an unfortunate picture of an ageing membership and limited outreach was not hugely encouraging.

On a more positive note, I was heartened by my friends approach the church. He was keen to tell me that the church were due to come over to his house, which he wanted to use for blessing the church. Despite the church approach to evangelism, he was also keen to try to invite people to the church. We had a discussion about how the Iranian work at Bethel Church developed from just one guy turning up and suggested he may just be the catalyst for something similar where he is. We also reminisced about how he helped bring Iranian people to us when he was in Oldham and could do the same now. Having said how he wasn’t sure who he would invite, he immediately jumped up and ran out of the house with some food. He came back to tell me he was just dropping some food to his next-door neighbour who is a single man on his own. His neighbour popped round later to drop his stuff back. We discussed how having church stuff at his house regularly might allow him to invite his neighbour to his home and how that may be a stepping stone to his coming to church. I was encouraged by all of that.

My friend told me about the teaching at the church and how it was benefiting him. He spoke about how his brother was able to gain from it too as he translated. His desire to serve the church – despite what seemed to me its obvious limitations – was so encouraging. I was excited at the thought that my friend, simply by force of doing the kind of stuff he has always done since his time with us, might end up accidentally revitalising that church with Iranian people. Whether that will actually happen, I don’t know. But I was really excited by the possibility and encouraged that my friend did not seem daunted by that task.

What really heartened me was my friend’s attitude to church. He wasn’t taking a consumeristic approach and asking whether this church was full of people just like him. He wasn’t looking to see what the church would do for him and make that the main basis of whether he would go. He was pleased to serve wherever he was able. He was keen to do whatever he could to revitalise the church, even though he wouldn’t see things in those terms. I was so pleased by his desire to serve his brother through translation, his willingness to open his home for the use of the church and keenness to invite others to hear the gospel as he was able. I was particularly pleased by his view of church and the importance of transferring his membership to a new place.

As a relatively young believer, my friend could teach many more mature believers about church. It is also a delight to know that the training he acquired in Oldham – he, with a bit of persuasion, ran Christianity Explored in Farsi for us alongside being involved in open air work and our Muslim outreach – he wants to use to bless another congregation. Even though the church may not be, from a consumeristic point of view, the kind of place somebody in his position might choose, I am hugely encouraged by both his view of the church and desire to serve it. I am pleased that, though he is no longer with us, he is blessing another church. And what a blessing he is!

It was a day well spent. The moral here, if folk who have come to faith and/or grown under your ministry, make the time to go and visit them.