A new year, new possibilities
September is a good time to consider the deeper change God longs for in our churches, and the steps each one of us can take to contribute to it, writes Trevor Neill
Happy New Year!
It’s likely that most of us reading this article will now be having a ‘double take’ moment checking the date of this post. There’s no need to panic. September arrives when we’re two thirds of the way through the calendar year, but it’s been suggested that this is actually a moment when it’s more natural for many of us to be making resolutions about our priorities and habits for the coming season of life.
The Anglican priest and theologian Ian Paul notes that the summer is a time when most people have the chance of a longer break with the opportunity that brings to reflect on their lives. It also points to the fact that September marks the beginning of a new academic year, which focuses the energy of many to think about challenges which lie ahead. It’s understandable that he concludes that the autumn is the time of the year when we’re most open to the possibility of change in our lives.
As we look ahead to the coming months, there are lots of reasons to be hopeful and a sense of many possibilities emerging. Here at Selsdon Baptist Church our Ministry Team is growing and changing, we are actively exploring new ways of engaging with our community and Alpha is about to begin.
But it’s important to remind ourselves that, exciting as these initiatives are, our faith is about far more than projects and programmes.
The American management guru Peter Drucker is famous for saying, amongst other things, that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Any one of us who has been part of an organisation which is facing up to the need to change will be able to identify with these words. Leaders and managers can come up with clever and innovative plans and do their utmost to persuade others about the compelling reasons why change is needed. Often, however, these plans come to nought because there is something deep within the character or culture of an organisation which makes it difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible, for people to change their behaviour.
It’s safe to say that author of the last book in the Bible, John the Revelator, wasn’t familiar with the term ‘corporate culture’. Nonetheless, he was instructed to write down the Letters to the Seven Churches which are found in Revelation 2 and 3 and which we’ll be thinking about over the next two months in our Sunday morning preaching series at SBC. There’s one particular aspect of the letters which you may wish to reflect on in the coming weeks.
Each of these letters is addressed ‘to the angel of the church’ in the seven locations named in this book. New Testament experts have offered various theories about who these angels might be: are they just messengers? Or could they be thought of as heavenly figures who somehow embody the character of the church they represent, a sort of living embodiment of the church’s culture?(1) It’s striking that these letters often address issues which lie behind the surface of a congregation’s life, matters such as how deep and alive a church’s love for God is or the extent to which people are willing to turn a blind eye to sinful practices.
If you want to work out a church’s culture, there are lots of signs that you can look for.
Is this a church where people easily forgive each other or one where grudges are held?
How does the church treat its leaders?
Does the church want to work with other congregations or does it keep itself apart?
Who are the major figures in the church’s history who are respected by others, and what were these people like?
Sometimes it can feel as if the culture of a church is so fixed and settled that it’s almost impossible to change. But I have no doubt that a shift can occur when enough people are open to new ideas and to relating to each other in new ways. So, as we move into September and all that this ‘new year’ might offer for us, we might find that this is a good time to consider the deeper change God longs for in our churches, and the steps each one of us can take to contribute to it.
How would church change if each of us resolved to talk on a Sunday to one person we’ve not had a conversation with until now?
Who else would we meet if we moved from where we normally sit?
How might we hear differently from God if we go along with an openness to learning something new about him?
Who could we invite into our home, for a meal or a drink? Who among my neighbours might be waiting for an invitation to Alpha?
These might sound like small steps, but a willingness to take them would be a demonstration of something deeper, a reflection of who we love most and whose approval is most important to us.
My prayer is that in the months ahead, each one of us will feel more ready and able to act in ways like these, opening up new possibilities in the process.
Happy New Year!
Image | Sushobhan Badhai | Unsplash
The Revd Trevor Neill is lead pastor of Selsdon Baptist Church in South Croydon. This article first appeared in the church magazine Insight and on its website, and is republished with permission. Trevor’s first book, Bridging the Gaps, will be published by Instant Apostle early next year.
(1) This idea is explored in depth by Walter Wink in Unmasking the Powers, 1986, Fortress Press
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