When the church is beautiful

Church is taking a bit of a battering at the minute. I suspect church members’ meetings aren’t usually the go-to antidote to that either. Most the hair raising stories you hear from Nonconformist churches normally include, at some point, some pretty ropey members’ meetings.

Well, I’m just going to say it – I’ve come to love our members’ meetings. Time was when I would head into them with dread and foreboding. I won’t go into the gruesome details why. But these days they are a real joy. We had one last night and, without sharing all the business of the church (that isn’t really any of your business!), let me share some positive things.

Unity and purpose

There is a real sense of togetherness in the church these days. It is rare for us as elders to be standing in front of the church terrified about how the church will take this or that thing. We don’t worry because we know that everybody is operating from the same principles. Doesn’t mean we always agree on everything, but when we disagree, it is always done well. But better still, you know the disagreements don’t come from leftfield, but from a genuine desire to make much of Christ. And that’s got to be good, hasn’t it?

Care & concern

It is terrible to hear stories of churches who don’t care well for their pastor. Men who are run into the ground by demands and pressures without any thought for his wellbeing. I am so grateful that is not the case for us. One of the items on our agenda was discussing a sabbatical for me. It is, in reality, glorified sick leave dressed up to make me feel less bad about taking it – which is caring and kind of them to frame it that way. But, better than that, when we discussed how long it was going to be, a number to people were quick to say it should be longer. I know what you’re thinking, but sometimes self-interest and kindness happily coincide. Yes, they may well be glad to be rid of my preaching for longer (fair), but I am sure they were thinking of me too!

Even apart from that, we had a few folks stepping down from different ministry roles for a variety of reasons. Everybody was glad to release them. Not because they were all terrible at their jobs (they weren’t at all!) but because people would rather see folks flourishing in their love for the Lord and his church than driven into the ground by ministry responsibilities they can’t bear. I was encouraged by the way people responded to all of that.

Gospel drive

We presented the results of a couple of meetings from a team looking to do a review of the ministry of the church. We presented our vision and values, the broad results of what those teams discussed and a clear position on which ministries we would continue and those we would stop. We looked at what we might improve and what we might expand. We looked into how we would build in enough time to allow people to do all the informal, but no less important, stuff too. But again, it was great to see the gospel driving the discussion. It wasn’t about what we individually liked or didn’t, what we ‘felt called’ to do or not. Instead, it was all about what would maximise the gospel opportunities and make much of Jesus in our context.

Why am I sharing all of this? The church is taking an absolute pasting at the moment. In many ways, rightly so. But when the church is functioning as the Lord calls it to function, despite all its flaws and sinful tendencies, it produces something beautiful. Something worth seeking to protect. Something worth pressing on to serve.

Some would seek to create this sort of thing through manipulation or coercive control. The people the Lord has given to the church are there to be used as resources to serve the ends of self-serving leaders. That doesn’t produce anything good or godly. It creates terrified sheep who get battered and bruised until they are deemed of no more value to the leadership and spat out by the abusive system.

But when the church is knit together by the Holy Spirit and the Lord himself is at work in and through them, He creates something beautiful. The sheep are cared for by loving undershepherds who are themselves serving the Great Shepherd on whom the sheep themselves are feeding. He creates a church united in purpose and a people who truly love, care for and serve one another out of love for Jesus. When you can see that in your members meeting, you know the Lord is truly at work.

The church may be taking a battering, but when Jesus is at work the church is at its most beautiful.