Ministry is usually something of a mixed bag. Often there’s stuff to celebrate. But then there’s usually a fair share of rubbish. And that’s because ministry is essentially a people project. And, as people, we have an extraordinary capacity to both lift the spirit and make make you want to hit the spirits.
There were some definite low moments this year; saying goodbye to my wonderfully loyal assistant minister and good friend, Pete Matthew would be chief among them. He’s now blessing the town of Woking with his uniquely brilliant mix of people skills, organisational savvy, evangelistic fervour and faithful Bible teaching. Though a planned one, he was also a big loss. In more ways than one! (let the reader understand).
But there were some real encouragements this year. And I spent a couple of minutes last night scribbling them down. I didn’t want to forget God’s goodness. I wanted instead to be able to bring to mind the spiritual highlights so that I could rejoice i what God had given me in 2012. And so, in reverse order, sort of, here they are;
10. Theology Breakfast. We launched this in the Autumn term. It’s for the hardcore lover of systematic theology. We meet at 0630 on a Friday morning for an hour before work. Most normal people would prefer to be in bed at that time of the week and that time of the day. We’re no different. It’s just that we love getting our teeth into doctrine so that we might better understand God’s word. We’re a small but enthusiastic crowd. And it’s been a real treat to think through the implications of the Bible’s teaching on itself. This term it’s been the authority, clarity, inerrancy and sufficiency of the scriptures. And it’s been a real treat to go deep in the company of others who share a similar appetite.
9. Balham’s Big Survey, our May mission. There are lots of reasons why I love being in ministry. And mission, if it’s not the chief one, is right up there in the top three. I never want to run a church that exists just for the people who already come to it. We’re not simply about providing Christians with a spiritual home whilst they’re in London. God has given His people a mission; to take the gospel to all people. And we’re not going to ignore that. And so we simply can’t understand and enjoy the great news of the gospel and keep it to ourselves. If others don’t want it; that’s sad. But it’s their call. They’re of age. They can decide. But I do want them to make an informed decision. I want to be certain that they understand what they’re rejecting. And so our annual mission is a real highlight. Our week of concentrated and perhaps somewhat artificially concerted effort for the gospel does at least make sure that we never let ourselves forget that many people in our networks and in our neighbourhoods have never heard and understood why Jesus Christ matters. This was a week where we put other distractions to one side and focussed especially on providing opportunities for others to come to events and hear the gospel. As per usual, the beneficiaries are not only those that hear it but those that share it. God teaches us that we can do it, that there’s nothing like it and that we can’t go back to being indifferent about the plight of those without it.
8. Taking up residence in the Mews. After more years than has been good for us, we’ve finally got the staff team all working under the same roof. Anyone who enjoys working on their own probably ought not to be in ministry. If they love reading, studying and writing, that’s all very well. But go and be an academic. Just don’t run a church. It’s only now that I realise just how unhealthy it was for me to be working in my own study with very little contact with people during the day. Now that we’re in the Mews, I’m not sure that our productivity has increased. I spend far more time having conversations and interacting with people. But it’s been so much more effective in helping us work together and serve the congregation. And that’s a real blessing.
7. New people. One of the undisputed blessings of being in our post graduate style inner city suburb is that we get new people moving into the area all the time. The downside, of course, is that people are also always moving on. Balham is a stop on the journey, not the final destination. And many of them find their way to us. And that’s a real joy. We love having new people join the congregation. And not simply because I grow tired of the old one. That’s simply a scurrilous rumour! It’s just that I like it when God adds new people to our church family. I like change. I like different. I like new. And so the numbers of people that He keeps bringing to us is a real source of pleasure and thanks.
6. Small Group Ministry. I’m a massive fan of small groups. When they’re done well, they provide a brilliant way of helping people understand and apply the Bible and a brilliant way of generating wonderful Christian community. I’m not at all sure that churches can grow in spiritual maturity without them. The trouble is, they’re not often done well. And so this year we decided to go hard at our small groups and really put some welly into our prep, their organisation and their resourcing. Wonderfully we’re beginning to see the fruit of that. I attend two small groups most weeks and pay attention to what’s going on. It feels like a ministry OFSTED. And that’s alright. I’m there to help. The guys who run the groups can’t expect to be experts. They all have busy, demanding jobs and many have not been trained in the specific skills of handling a small group scenario. That’s where the staff come in. We’re employed to train them. And it’s a real joy to be doing so this year. There’s been a noticeable improvement in the group dynamic and most encouragingly, the appetite for playing a part in becoming a great small group.
5. Watching Brixton take shape. It’s still very much in the embryonic stage, but Jay Marriner is doing a great job in recruiting, coalescing and pastoring a core group to plan a new church into what he describes as the capital of black Britain, namely Brixton. It’s early days and we’re a way off being able to launch a ‘standard’ Sunday meeting but there’s a dozen or so people who meet every week to study the Bible. He’s meeting new people every month, it seems. He’s meeting up with new contacts and reading the Bible with them. God is giving us the momentum to get something going. We’ve been really serious about praying for this fledgling evangelistic ministry. Jay and I shoot the breeze and talk church planting at least once a week. And then I just look on and watch God make it happen. We’re in God’s hands about what might emerege and when it might happen. And that’s a great place to be!
4. Female Staff. It’s just great having ‘girls’ on the team. It felt a little odd having an all male staff team, much as I love Alex’s and Jay’s company! Wonderfully we’ve been able to afford and persuade two quality women to come and join us. Hannah looks after our kids’s work; training the leaders and teaching the kids. And Abi pastors our young women; teaching and training them. And already, in a short space of time, the benefits have been tangible. It is terrific having them on board. They bring a different perspective. And they’re such an encouragement.
3. The 10th Birthday Celebration. October saw us celebrate God’s goodness over the last ten years. In October 2002 a fairly inexperienced group of about 20 people started meeting for the first time as Christ Church Balham. Ten years later we’re a church of 130 adults, and one of the founding members reckoned that we’ve said ‘goodbye’ to almost as many in that time. That’s remarkable. But it’s God who’s given us the growth. You only need to look at some of my sermons to know that it wasn’t the quality of preaching that brought people along! But the chance to look back on ten years of faithful gospel ministry and see what God has accomplished through us, in us and despite us was a real treat.
2. Conversions. There’s nothing like it. This year God has been busy behind the scenes in the hearts of a significant number of people. And we couldn’t be happier. I don’t have favourite converts, of course. But there’s one that causes me to rejoice a little more excitedly than the others, if I’m honest. And that’s simply because we seemed to be making so very little progress with one man in our congregation. He’d been hearing the gospel from us for a period of a few years. But very quietly, he went away on his holiday and came back to tell us that he’d given his life to Christ. Priceless.
1. The spiritual highlight of 2012, for me at least, has nothing to do with Christ Church Balham. It has to do with my family. It’s hearing my daughter praying in her room after she’d finished her Bible study, completely unaware that I was passing outside her room. This wasn’t prayer for show. It was the honest pouring out of her heart to her loving heavenly Father. And it completely knocked me for six. It was real and it was for the conversion of one of her closest friends. In all honesty, if I got to the end of my life and all three of our children knew, loved and served the Lord, I’d die a very happy man. I’d take that every time over recognition, acclaim or anything that local church ministry might afford its’ practitioners.
So all in all it’s not been a bad year, has it? Praise the Lord.