30 April, 2015 Gerry Straker
The elders at Church by the Bay met to dream about church growth over the next 10 years. How big did we want Church by the Bay to be? How many church plants will we have done? How many full-time staff and ministry trainees will we have? We were dreaming of great gospel growth to reach the thousands of the lost around us here in Morecambe.
As we thought big, we saw how great the gap was between our dreams and reality. Church by the Bay is a new church plant, small in number - about 50 people on a Sunday - 50 very ordinary people. How on earth can a little church like us even start thinking about church-planting?
As we considered the disconnect between our reality and our dreams, two things dawned on us.
1. It starts with us.
“The cavalry isn’t coming” as we’ve heard before. Our dreams start with us, the elders. We need to set the example in getting to know non-Christians, and bringing people under the sound of the gospel. We need to show the church family that we are doing evangelism and inspiring them to copy us. We can’t merely talk about it and expect it to happen. And as elders we are to set the agenda: both outlining our vision and plans from the front, in our midweek small groups and ‘talking it up’ informally within our church. We are to excite them with our dreams and what they could do for the kingdom.
2. It starts with the men that we already have.
We considered that the most important thing we needed in order to achieve our goals is more well-trained men. Men to lead their families well. Men who are reaching other men. Men who could lead Church by the Bay in the future, or be an elder in a future church plant, or lead an evangelistic Bible study in another part of Morecambe. Again, the cavalry isn’t coming: we cannot wait for ready trained men to arrive from outside our church. We need to start with the Christian men already in our church family.
We have 15 ordinary men committed to Church by the Bay, including the elders. How could we train them so that they can reach their potential in gospel work? The first step we needed to take, was to find out where they needed training. Therefore, at the next elders meeting, we carried out an appraisal of the men in our church, including ourselves. We asked 16 questions of our 15 men...
· Has he ‘caught the vision’ of Church by the Bay?
· Is he willing to be trained?
· Does he lead his wife to love Jesus more?
· Does he lead his family to love Jesus more?
· Does he know non-Christian men?
· Is he building relationships with non-Christian men?
· Does he invite men to things?
· Could he share a gospel outline?
· Could he answer an apologetic question?
· Could he direct a conversation to the gospel?
· Does he pray in groups comfortably?
· Could he train up another man in a 1-1?
· Could he lead a Bible study?
· Could he lead a meeting?
· Could he think about preaching?
· Could he be an elder?
Of course, we were simply sharing impressions, not giving a definitive assessment. And the questions we asked may never apply to every man. But the exercise enabled us to get a feel for where our men are at and showed us where we are as a church. It showed us that we are nowhere near where we need to be. It showed us what kind of training we need to put on and for whom. It reminded us that we continually need to teach and explain our vision for our town and beyond to our men – even though they’ve heard it many times before. Finally, it reminded us that we need to constantly teach that all our big dreams start here and now with the people we have with us here and now.
Naturally, this is only the beginning of a very long process. But these two exercises: our 10 year dream, and our appraisal of our men, has helped us in three ways:
1. The first exercise has lifted our horizons from fire-fighting and everyday maintenance, to thinking big for the Kingdom. We have a great God who does great work.
2. The second exercise has grounded that big thinking into where we are now as a church. The huge task is only doable when we think in small steps. We are able to make what we are doing already far more purposeful: the aim of the training that already takes place (e.g. preaching group) is not simply to make what we do on Sundays better, but to train men to be future elders and future preachers. And we are better able to plan appropriate training that is needed for our men to reach their gospel potential.
3. We have been reminded that the obvious thing we need to do (which is sadly so often lacking) is pray. Pray for our dreams, and pray for ourselves and the men we are starting with on this long road to growth.