This is the first blog in a short series exploring what the elders believe God is saying to the church at the moment.
It's very nearly Christmas!
Throughout this term, we've been "praying for growth" as a church, for upgrades in our maturity, our extent and our numbers.
At the same time, Bev and I have found it to be a very full term. It kicked off for us in September with Bev doing jury duty, which was ultimately very satisfying, but stressful along the way! I've also had plenty to occupy me, with some particular pastoral needs to support, as well as welcoming new people into the church, developing some new leadership training and leading a series of Saturday conferences. You've probably had plenty going on too.
In previous years, I might have looked back on all those activities and felt pleased that we'd done so much good stuff. In this season of "praying for growth", I find myself looking at things rather differently.
I find myself less interested in what we did, and rather thanking God for all that he did, which was so much greater.
- After we prayed for more houses for the Edge Housing Project, one almost immediately came up, and then a national charity got in touch out of the blue offering to buy another house. The first of these is going to be officially opened by the High Sheriff in January.
- After we prayed to become a more multi-ethnic church, Christian groups from several ethnic minorities have contacted us, asking if we might work together in new ways.
- There has been an improvement in follow-up from our street outreach ("The Turning"), with more individuals wanting to meet up or even come straight along to church.
- Our regular "Learning Community" to support church leaders in our own local region has been "gate-crashed" by leaders from another 10 churches, who want a bit of what we've got.
God has also been at work for individuals. To name just a few:
- I think of someone who has experienced personal pain this autumn, who was surprised by a profound experience of the love of God, which was utterly transforming for them.
- Just yesterday, I woke up early and was surprised to find myself praying for an old friend to whom I had not spoken for years, only to discover that this friend had a particular need that morning that merited prayer.
In Jeremiah 33, we find the prophet under house arrest - a tougher circumstance than any we have recently faced! In that moment, God says to him, "Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you do not know" (v.3). I love the fact that God has prepared answers to prayer that are better than we even know to ask for! And that's not dependent on us being in a great place personally, but simply reflects him being the LORD Almighty.
So, we're going to keep "praying for growth", and look forward to God surprising us with his answers in 2018!
He's already been stirring me personally to commit to a 40 day fast in the New Year, which I take as a sign that he is gearing us up for more game-changing breakthroughs. (And, just as well that I will have the Christmas season to fatten myself up first!)
Beyond that, I'm especially looking forward to our first ever Church Getaway (9-11 February), which will have the theme of "Being God's people". There will be plenty of fun and relaxed time together, and also sessions looking at being God's body, God's temple and God's family - as well as God being our shepherd.
If you've not yet booked in, be aware that places are limited, and the booking deadline is Friday 5th January!
Between now and then, I wish you a very peaceful and life-giving Christmas.
He is Emmanuel. God is with us.