Thought for the Month (September 2013)

As you read this letter the Local Mission and Ministry Review (LMMR) process will have started and people will perhaps have mixed feelings about this. I guess most of us like to get on with what we are doing with minimal interference from outside and, as churches in the Tunbridge Wells Group, we have largely been left to get on with it for the seventeen years Karen and I have been Ministers here.

Yet a number of us are excited at the thought of this review because we have come to the conclusion that we do not have the answers to the problems we face. We do actually need help with envisioning the future, particularly with Karen and I retiring next February.

There was a time when all a church had to do was be friendly and inviting, and offer a number of interesting activities and people would troop in. The emphasis on Jesus Christ would vary from church to church, but the key thing was that the social club was good and bound people together.

Nowadays there are many competing clubs to choose from and churches struggle to provide the best social mix. If people are to come to our churches it has to be for other reasons than just a good time. In our modern value-for-money world, churches don't offer best value for money and they get a lot of bad publicity. The result is that many churches struggle, with members getting older and numbers failing to increase or dwindling.

In short, if churches are to flourish there has to be something else an extra dimension. We need to remember that God has plans for His church and it is fulfilling God's plans that provides a secure future. We have to bring people into contact with the living God in such a way that lives are changed. That is the heart of the Gospel. The church is not like other organisations: it is supernatural, it deals in the mysterious; it connects us with the eternal and it transforms human relations. It is in these areas that our future lies.

That's what makes church so exciting and yet the transition from the social church to the vibrant, exciting supernatural church is not that straight forward and we need advice; we need people who have seen what God can do and want to pass it on to us. That is the LMMR process, seeing the potential in churches and helping them to realise it.

Discouragement is the work of the devil, and the LMMR process is there to encourage us, to help us to appreciate who we are and what we have achieved and what we could be. Each church has a facilitator and it is their job to get to know the church and help them see their potential. We can be negative and defensive as we meet the LMMR team but I hope we will be open and keen to see new possibilities for the future. The times are a changing and we either grasp that or we wither and die.

So let's welcome Hilary Miles, Andrew Mills, Pam Rowden, Steve Allott and Lesley Cumming into our churches and see what their wider perspective can do to help us. These are challenging times but our God is a great God and He has a future for us. The words that keep coming back to me are that what God has started He will carry through to completion (Philippians 1v6) and I pray that at the end of this process we will see clearly what is of God and where He is leading us.

The key purpose of LMMR is to help us envision what our churches will look like in four years' time and help us to plan for that future. This, we believe, is a God-given opportunity that must be grasped. Our role is to pray with perseverance and to work positively with the LMMR team. This is a timely reminder that we are part of a denomination that is looking to the future and encouraging each of its churches to do the same. Change is on the agenda but that is exciting when God is in it.

As our time with you draws to an end, it is our desire that the best is yet to come and that what we have built together will be a sound foundation for the future. We intend to spend our remaining time with you, looking to a time when we are no longer here but when God is all in all. Never forget that you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 7 v23) and that your future is totally dependent on Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2 v2). It will transform your view of the future. We worship a great and awesome God.

May God bless and continue to encourage you.

With love, Bob and Karen

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church