Last weekend we held Co-Mission Sunday. We didn’t call it that. We couldn’t. Not without being lambasted by anyone who knows us! We’re not suggesting that it gets added to the Anglican liturgical calendar like Pentecost, Lent or Advent.
But at this time of year we usually have our annual Co-Mission Celebration. Let’s just be clear. We don’t celebrate Co-Mission (though we’re grateful for all that God is doing in, through and despite us). We celebrate the God of the Bible. That seems like a more wholesome thing to do at the start of the year!
This year the focus of our various church gatherings was the subject of prayer. All of us who preached did so on passages of our choice to try to encourage us to become a network of churches that expresses our professed faith in God in actual faith; namely through prayer. And to do that, we played musical pulpits. Andy Fenton came to Christ Church Balham in the morning and gave us Habakkuk 3. I went to Christ Church Earlsfield in the afternoon and gave them Luke 18. Phil Allcock came to CCB in the evening whilst I headed up to Christ Church Mayfair. Somehow Matt Fuller got an evening off. He tells me it was much deserved.
It was great to invite trusted and treasured colleagues to come and encourage us. And I loved travelling to other churches to try to do the same for them. It’s also really interesting just to see what others are doing and how they’re going. These are my initial reflections.
1. It was wonderfully encouraging to see what God has been doing in the different congregations. CCE nearly fill their building. As Andy pointed out, Southfield’s Methodist is not the biggest building in the world. And that’s true. But God has really grown them since they went for a combined church meeting at 4pm. People of all ages and stages were mixed in together expressing a deep concern for one another. Christ Church Mayfair was virtually full of students and young professionals, all showing a real appetite for Bible teaching and displaying love in the Spirit towards one another. There were lots of people I recognised at both churches, largely from my involvement in Revive, our annual Bible festival for which I’ve been responsible. But there were loads of people I’d never met or even seen before. I chatted to people who’d only come to faith in the last year. At CCE I met a young woman who’d only recently become a Christian. I think I scared the living daylights out of her when I told her that we’d been praying for her since she first came into contact with the gospel! But there she was, weeks after being baptised.
2. These guys felt like family. It didn’t feel like going to other churches. We have very good relations with local churches like Trinity Road Chapel and St Nicholas’ Church Tooting. We do things together, we support one another’s ministries, we pray for one another. We love them as Christian brothers and sisters. But they’re not family in quite the same way as these Co-Mission churches are. It helps that we know some of the people in these churches personally. But there are so many more that we’ve never met and may never meet. Not this side of heaven, anyway! But because we part of the same network of churches they share a common commitment to and participation in our shared gospel initiatives. And the way things work in Co-Mission, it wouldn’t surprise me if a year or two down the line we’re involved in some new church plant together!
3. These churches may not have been planted without help from the network. Christ Church Earlsfield and Clapham Central would not have been planted without people joining them from CCB, Christ Church Mayfair and Dundonald. CCB has contributed to the launch and growth of CCE, Clapham Central and King’s Church Walton on Thames. God willing we’ll be able to contribute to the launch of Sutton and Brixton in the near future. We’ve not sent huge numbers of people. We don’t have huge numbers. But we’ve sent one or two people, sometimes more than that. But then so have other churches in the network. And because of that we’ve been able to get new churches up and running in places where another gospel church is needed. That’s hugely encouraging. The mantra that often gets repeated (by Richard Coekin in all seriousness and by the rest of us in faux mockery) is that we’re ‘we can do more together than we can on our own’. And the truth of it is; it’s true. I think the last ten years have shown that. Under God we’ve been able to plant many more churches than we otherwise would have been able to do if we’d just remained as one church in Wimbledon. By co-operating together and deliberately trying to stay together we’ve done more for the gospel than we otherwise would have done. And that’s great for the kingdom.
4. There seems to be a growing understanding of the value of staying together. I think people are being persuaded that the mantra, though a little bit irritating at times, is nevertheless true. We’re not all about to go and get it tattooed on any part of our anatomy. Not even the staff. But the churches are increasingly full of people who’ve seen that by staying networked we’re learning from one another (perhaps especially our mistakes), we’re supporting one another (perhaps especially in prayer), we’re resourcing one another (perhaps especially with start-up finances) and we’re helping one another (perhaps especially with people). The smaller churches, in particular, have been on the receiving end of the kindness and generosity of the larger churches. And they know how much they’ve gained from a bigger brother who’s helped them find their feet. We’re nurturing smaller churches towards self sufficiency and wonderfully some of the planted churches are in a position to become church planting churches. That’s valuable. And it’s wirth being a part of.
5. We share a similar sense of humour. Everywhere I went, the specially produced video made people laugh. It wasn’t meant to. And there are some good things about it. But it felt to me like a cross between a 1980s Open University broadcast and an episode of ‘Where’s Wally?’ Bit let me quash any scurrilous rumours that I’m piqued because I wasn’t asked to front it! It’ll undoubtedly appear on the Co-Mission website at some stage. It’s worth watching twice; once to get over the visuals. And then secondly to listen to the words. It’s a helpful introduction to what we’re about.