3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I’m writing this before going on holiday. Usually that would sound a cautionary note in preparation for what you’re about to read! By this time of the year I’m typically exhausted, irritable, impatient, discouraged and unable to think straight. But not this time! And I don’t think it’s because we’ve taken the foot off the ministry gas. As has always been the case, God has equipped us and given us the resources we need to serve him. But this year I’ve been able to find real joy and pleasure in what we’ve been able to do together in partnership for the gospel. So like you, no doubt, I’m tired but thankful. And I’m hugely grateful for that. And when we look back over the last 12 months, what’s not to be joyful about? It’s been a terrific year. And so, with Paul I can honestly say that it’s not been hard to thank God and pray with joy for our partnership in the gospel.
Here are four features that have put their mark on the year.
1. It’s been a year of sad departures
We’ve said goodbye to a number of old friends, especially from the all age congregation. And the truth is that we miss them. We miss their friendship. We miss the contribution they made to community life. And we miss the encouragement of having them around. But it’s good that we miss them. It would be odd if we didn’t. It would say something depressing about the relationships we’d built if we didn’t notice their absence! We’re always going to be a church from which some people will feel that they have to leave. It’s inevitable. It’s a shame. But let’s not let it prevent us from building real, deep and supportive Christian friendships whilst God has us in Balham. God continues to bring new people to us. There will be many in our congregations who weren’t here this time last year. Let’s keep providing one another with the support that we need to live for Christ. The quality of our community life remains one of the best things about CCB. Lots of people find real friendship among us. Let’s pray that everyone finds that.
2. It’s been a year of big plans
The evangelistic programme of events for A Passion for Life (AP4L) was really ambitious. We really stretched ourselves. It was the culmination of 12 months of planning and preparation. And it all got quite busy! Of course, there’s more to an evangelistic life than attending and recruiting people to events. But it remains a hugely successful way of helping unbelievers engage with the gospel. And that’s one of our passionate convictions at CCB. The Women’s International Cuisine Evening, the Men’s Curry Night and the John Lennox Event were the stand out events in our week’s programme. But behind the scenes people were praying, people went out on a limb and got involved in gospel for the first time in ages and lots of unbelievers got to hear the gospel in language that they could understand. Was it worth it? Undoubtedly. And one of the unexpected joys of AP4L was the opportunity to work together in partnership with other churches. It was terrific to be able to stand together with other Christians as we sought to proclaim Christ to anyone who was willing to listen. Let’s pray that AP4L was the beginning of a renewed confidence in the gospel for each one of us; not just a passing fad of feverish guilt motivated activity!
3. It’s been a year of fresh initiatives
I’m really enjoying losing control of church life! A number of new ministries have emerged that are symptomatic of healthy godly initiative. The Christians against Poverty (CAP) Money Management Course is now a necessary and valuable fixture in our church calendar. It’s gone from strength to strength under the leadership of Tom Stanbury, Claudia Demuth and Helen Fielder. Phil Craig has used the Film Nights to help Christians and non-Christians alike engage with secular cinema and debate what they’re preaching. They’re hugely popular and are obviously providing a credible way of getting into the big conversations. Lauri Moyle and a small team of people with a particular concern for ‘social ministries’ have discussed how to take that forward. Please pray that together with the elders we work out what’s desirable and sustainable going forward. Wonderfully the Co-Mission Partnership has approved the formation of a Transformation Support Group that will function in the same way that the International Support Group encourages International Missionary Partnerships. Let’s pray that in partnership with our embryonic Transformation Action Group we can stimulate our community involvement.
4. It’s been a year of new professions
It wasn’t that long ago that we struggled to gather enough people to make a single Christianity Explored (CE) course. But typically we’re able to run a full course each term. In the article about CE, Bec Bold has expressed her understandable frustration at being denied the opportunity to pursue her ongoing interest in discussing the reliability and relevance of the Christian faith once CE finishes. I feel for her. I’m probably at fault. We do need to raise up more people who are able and willing to run follow up courses to CE. But isn’t it wonderful to have contact with so many people who want to pursue conversations about the big issues of life. But even more wonderfully it’s been a year of new professions of faith in Christ. We don’t tend to shout about it. Perhaps we should. But we’re concerned to let people find their feet in their new Christian lives. I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have either had a dormant faith brought back to life or who would say that they’ve turned to Christ for the first time. It doesn’t get much better than that in ministry. Let’s pray that God continues to use us to help people turn to Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of transformation held out in the gospel.
Thank you for your prayerful, sacrificial and enthusiastic support of all that we’ve done together for Christ this year. That’s the gospel partnership that Paul spoke of in Philippians 1. My prayer is that it will long characterise our church life at CCB.
Yours in Christ