August 2009

I was asked to write something for Pulse, the Co-Mission Magazine, before we went away. I thought it only fair that you got to look at it first. This is an edited version of what will appear at some stage this term.

Things are a mixed bag for us at the moment. There are encouragements; but also discouragements. There’s growing maturity; but also disappointing immaturity. There are joiners; but there are also leavers. There’s joy; but there’s also sadness. I’m sure that most church life is like this. But that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with!

Christ Church Balham (CCB) is one church with two congregations.  We’ve got an all age congregation consisting mainly of young families that meets at 10.30 am. And we’ve got an evening congregation consisting of young adults that meets at 6.30pm. Our evening congregation was planted in October 2002 and our morning congregation launched in February 2005.We don’t have our own church building at the moment. We can’t afford one. And the Church of England doesn’t seem enthusiastic about helping us out! And so we hire Chestnut Grove School on a Sunday for church and midweek for our small group ministry. Otherwise we use people’s homes, and various pubs and cafes for other church activities. I do my best work in Cafe Nerro!

There are so many reasons to praise God at the moment. He’s been so good to us. There’s so much great stuff that’s happened in these last 12 months. He’s used us to reinvigorate the stagnant faith of some, to train others in gospel ministry and to comfort those facing personal suffering. He’s preserved our unity as we’ve considered the potentially divisive option to move all age church to 4pm. He’s brought a handful of wonderful unbelieving people who are keen to explore the bigger issues of life. And it looks as though we might be able to raise the money necessary to fund our new children’s worker Apprentice.

But as you would expect, we’re a church with issues. Let’s talk about those. You don’t want the sugar-coated account of life at CCB, do you?

In all age church we’re trying to work out how to grow a congregation where lots of people have limited capacity for ministry. Lots of our families have pre-school children. For them, sleep is the single most precious commodity on the planet! But it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. The Mums are understandably exhausted and the Dads are working long hours. This is not meant to be critical. I well remember those days myself. It’s simply an observation. But it means that people find it hard to look outside their own family situation. It’s hard to find the energy to care for your own family let alone anyone else’s. So we’re a congregation that consumes ministry resources. It doesn’t contribute a whole load. Consequently I think it’s fair to say that at the moment we’re under performing in the evangelism department.

All age church is one from which people move on. Sometimes that’s for good reasons. But because of where God has placed us, CCB will always be a congregation that people leave. It’s the nature of our hybrid inner city suburb. People tend to be here only for a while before heading off to suburbia or ‘the regions’! Typically two types of family tend to stay long term in Balham; the wealthy who can privately educate their children, especially at secondary school, and those at the other end of the economic spectrum who have little social mobility. The phenomenon of ‘middle class white flight’ is prevalent as people look for the extra bedroom, a garden, better secondary schools and a supposed greater quality of life. If we’re going to make a lasting impact for Christ in Balham we’ll need people to live here longer than the norm. Wonderfully God has answered our prayers and though we’ve had to lose dear friends, a number of families are planning to stay. I can’t tell you how encouraging that is!

In evening church we face the common issue of maintaining holiness.  We have all the usual godliness and immaturity issues that you’d expect of a church working with young adults. London culture provides little assistance for those of us that are serious about trying to fight against temptation and live for Christ. We all find it easier to be wicked than holy. And so we’re indebted to the high quality of leaders God has given us in our small group ministry, Knowing God. They do a terrific job of providing sound biblical instruction, personal encouragement and accountability to the 60 or so people God entrusts to our care. We had to exercise formal church discipline for the first time this year which, as you’d expect, was difficult for lots of us.

The other issue our 20s and 30s face is learning how to cultivate an evangelistic life in the area in which we live. Many at evening church work up in town, few work locally. And so for most of us the only people we know locally is our church friends. The upside of that is that we have a strong social network of Christian friends. But you can see how that might limit our options at a guest service! CCB has been staunchly enthusiastic for lunch time ministries to help our workplace evangelism. But we’re working hard to encourage one another to generate contacts in the locality. We’re looking to join sports clubs, sign up for local educational courses and start book groups so that we can widen our friendship networks. We’re especially mindful that A Passion for Life presents a ‘once in a London lifetime’ opportunity to reach people in our neighbourhood. We don’t want next Easter to pass by and be full of regrets. And so one of the things we’re doing is trying to become better connected with our Balham community.

We have so much to be grateful to God for. And we are, honest. But I’d love Him to use us more to save the lost. My prayer and continual hope is that during these next 12 months we might see the wholesale conversion of our friends, neighbours and colleagues. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

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