Finding Common Ground

At the time of writing, we are 52 days away from the 100th anniversary marking the end of the First World War.

Remembrance Day gives us an opportunity to reflect and remember what has gone before us, to give thanks for the sacrifices made by so many. It is a time to remind ourselves of the freedoms we enjoy, and, often take for granted. It is a time where we are reminded of the fragility of mankind and our propensity to carry out all manner of evil. Most significantly it reminds us of our desperate need for a saviour.

As the learning mentor for need-oriented outreach/ evangelism, I see Remembrance Sunday as an opportunity to reach and engage people with the good news of Jesus. It is one of those rare occasions (like Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings and funerals) where people from all walks of life are willing to cross the thresh-hold of our churches, which provides us a great opportunity to tell people about our wonderful God in a natural way.

Throughout the bible, sacrifice, thanksgiving and remembrance are key themes. For example, we read on a number of occasions that God continued to remember the Covenant He made with his people (Gen. 9:15-16; Exod. 6:5), the Israelites are constantly reminded to remember all that the Lord had done for them (Deut 8:10-18; Joshua 1:13). Today remembrance is most clearly expressed and demonstrated when the church gathers to partake in the Eucharist to remember the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave up his life on the cross so that we may have relationship with the Father. We respond in thankfulness for all that He has done through his death and resurrection and for giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who follow Jesus live with the hope that someday Jesus will return to the Earth and all things will be redeemed in the new creation, where we will see an end to all suffering, pain and mourning and we will be with God forever (Revelation 21). For those who don’t follow Jesus, the future seems much less optimistic.

 

I believe that if we are to see our neighbours, our friends and family come to know Jesus we need to recognise the opportunities that come along and make the most of them. As we gather to remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of those who have laid down their lives in battle let’s take this opportunity to introduce people to the One who gave the greatest sacrifice of all!

As we gather to remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of those who have laid down their lives in battle let’s take this opportunity to introduce people to the one who gave the greatest sacrifice of all!

I know that this isn’t always an easy thing to do, but when we are given such natural opportunities we need to take them and trust that God will speak through us and our worship services in a powerful way!

In order to help you do this I have I have taken time to collate a range of resources to assist you in preparing your services. Here you will find, sermon outlines, videos, ideas for children and teenagers, a link to special Messy church remembrance service, a Eucharist of remembrance, prayers and many other ideas. Finally if you would like any further help please feel free to give me an email: (gareth.fitzpatrick@covcofe.org) or give me a call: (07757225001) and I will be happy to assist you as I can.

Click below for resources:

Remembrance Day Resources

More Words…

So, in my last post, I was exploring some of the challenges I have faced when helping people to understand the importance of “Spirituality” in their everyday walk with God (and, on occasion, in my job title!).  However, over the last few months, I have also discovered that the word “passionate” can also present some issues for a few people.

“Isn’t it all a bit exuberant and demonstrative if one is described as passionate?  We don’t do that – we’re British!”

“can’t it actually mean that you’re a bit excessive or radical?  Will it not potentially put people off?”

(This is a conversation I have had numerous times, so I paraphrase multiple people, rather than quoting individuals!)

“Passion” doesn’t mean that you have to be a raving fanatic, an overly-expressive bouncy person who waves their arms and spontaneously worships in the street or that you have to be all mushy and sentimental about God like you’re writing him a Valentine’s card (in fact, don’t get me started on that last point…!).   It doesn’t even mean that you always have to be happy – frustration, doubt and sorrow can all have a place in our walk of faith (just read the Psalms!). 

What it does mean though, is that there is a deep-seated sense of identity and conviction in your relationship with Jesus.

Passion means you’re authentic and real and that something holds a deeply-rooted significance to you.  It means that you’ve found something that’s really worth your time and energy.  It means someone or something has become a defining part of your identity and will shape your decisions and lifestyle.  That’s how we need to approach our faith.  As disciples of Jesus, we need to be real, to be seeking to become more like him and allowing his teachings and the knowledge of his sacrificial love to define our identity as a child of God.  How we do that can vary greatly: from denomination to denomination; from generation to generation and – in my experience as an individual – from day to day!

Passionate Spirituality isn’t about what you do, or where you do it.  It’s about the why.  It flows out of a heart that recognises the importance of having God at the centre of all you do and all you are.  Why do we worship?  Why do we pray?  Why do we read the Bible?  The answer to all of these questions should start with a desire to draw closer into God’s presence and establish his rule in our life.  What we do will be a more personal reflection of what helps us to fulfil this purpose.

If spending time practising the ancient disciplines of the saints of history is a way you can still yourself and feel close to God, then that’s wonderful.  Contemplative traditions are rich and beautiful and if this is something you have never explored, then I encourage you to have a taster. 

If sitting with a coffee, a note pad and your Bible for a good long session of exploring God’s word is something that makes you tick, then make sure you do that regularly – and if it’s not something you do, have a go!  The Word of God is an incredible gift and gives us a clear glimpse into his design for humanity, his saving grace through Jesus and the revelation of what true discipleship is about.

However, if cranking up the worship music in the car and belting your heart out is your “soul time”, or popping on boots and a waterproof and stomping around God’s beautiful creation gets your heart beating faster (not just because of the exercise), or if going out into the town or city where you live and ministering to those who need to experience some love and compassion in their lives makes you feel like you’re in God’s presence then, oh please, yes!, go and do it!

Live enthusiastically, love deeply, serve faithfully and be a whole-hearted, whole-of-life disciple…

Or have passionate spirituality…

Or refer to it as “soul-growing”…

God really won’t mind what you call it, as long as you’re finding your way to do it.  He just wants you to come to him.

 

If this idea of discipleship and spirituality is something you feel you would like to explore further, then I would be delighted to meet and have a chat – please do get in touch – lisa.holt@covcofe.org

The Parish Giving Scheme

Coventry diocese is about to launch a local pilot of Parish Giving Scheme, with the plan to launch it fully in Spring 2019.


The Parish Giving Scheme is a modern, free to use resource to help your church members plan their giving and, where appropriate, do so tax efficiently. Tried and tested by more than 30,000 people, the Parish Giving Scheme will support churches in tackling static giving, maximise cash-flow and reduce administration. By utilising the Direct Debit payment system, the Parish Giving Scheme is also the most secure and flexible method of regular giving available. 

Benefits for donors:

·         A simple way to regularly give financial support to your church

·         Being in total control of your giving

·         The option to increase giving annually to protect your gift against inflation

·         The Direct Debit Guarantee Scheme protects your gifts

·         You can give anonymously if so desired

·         Can give monthly, quarterly or annually

Benefits for your Church:

  • Stable and predictable giving making it easier to budget for the year ahead
  • Efficient reclaim of Gift Aid
  • Protection against inflation by church members choosing to increase their gift annually by inflation rate
  • It’s free of charge to the church and donors, as costs have been covered by the Diocese

Benefits for your Church Treasurer:

  • Reduced administration and paperwork
  • Saves time for them and the people who count the money and do the gift aid returns

Over half of Dioceses across the country are already successfully using the scheme, it’s really exciting that it’s now coming to Coventry Diocese. If you’d like to be involved with the pilot get in touch with Katie on Katie.wilson@covcofe.org

It’s Only Words…

“What is in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”

– William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

One of the most common questions I’ve had since taking up this post has gone along the lines of “Passionate Spirituality?  Isn’t that all about mindfulness and meditation?”  Someone else asked me whether it was “contemplative stuff with candles”.  The most entertaining was a comment I read online, along the lines of “I tried it once.  It wasn’t for me”.

 

The idea that spirituality is something we do as a one-off made me smile (like dyeing our hair purple or running a marathon – bucket list checked!).  However, at the same time the fact that it is clearly so misunderstood that it can be reduced to a “thing you tried once” made me really sad.  Passionate Spirituality should be an integral way of life for the effective, spirit-filled Christian

I think the issue is often with the word “spirituality”.  For some people, it conjures up ideas of Eastern philosophy, zen-like attitudes and yoga.  For others, it directs their thoughts to the resurgence of interest in New Age spiritualities – crystals, Gaia philosophy and inner-goddesses.  Others do see it as a Christian concept, but as a discrete branch within Christianity that takes a narrow view of contemplative prayer or ancient monastic traditions only followed by the holiest of people.

From the start, I want to make it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with contemplative prayer, meditation on scripture, lighting candles or any other form of expression that a person’s faith is drawn to.  There is a rich and symbolic history behind all of these things and the opportunities they present to “be still and know” God’s presence are incredibly valuable… 

…but these are still only a tiny selection of the ways in which we can have a passionate spirituality at work in our lives.  So, let’s strip it right back and work out what it’s all about.

Let’s start by using different terminology.  If “spirituality” has connotations for you that are negative, confusing or just plain vague, let’s talk about “discipleship” instead.  The origins for the word are well-known to be focussed on learning from or being a student of someone, but the Latin word for disciple also had close ties to the word “Capulus”, meaning “to grasp” or “take hold of” (commonly used to refer to the handle of a sword).  So discipleship could be seen as grasping learning and understanding about God.  Passionate Discipleship, then, is about being eager and enthusiastic in doing so.

Passionate Discipleship actively seeks opportunities to draw close to God.  Passionate Discipleship seizes time, space and activity in which to grow in knowledge and understanding of the nature of God and the person of his Son, Jesus.  Those first disciples lived their lives in the presence of Jesus.  They travelled with him, ate with him, talked and laughed with him and then grieved with him.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we get to do the same – looking for God’s hand in every aspect of our lives and taking every day (not just Sundays!) as an opportunity to grow in our faith and live it out practically through prayer, worship and our relationship with others.

 

“Spirituality” and “discipleship” merely describe the journey each of us are embarking on to follow the path Jesus has set and become transformed into his likeness through the time we spend learning from him.  Moses was physically transformed by the time he spent in God’s presence.  Paul had his whole outlook on life turned upside down.  Encountering God fully, whatever label we put on it, should be our greatest goal.

So, that’s all clear then…?  Well, not quite…

 

In the second instalment of this blog, we will be exploring the concept of “passion” in relation to our Christian faith and considering how a combination of commitment to following Jesus and conviction to do it whole-heartedly can lead us on our way to being the followers he has called us to be.

 

Until next time…

Delegation

In a recent blog I encouraged those of us who are inherently ‘busy’ people to take steps to rest and spend time with God as a priority. As part of that, there will be tasks we are doing that we need to hand over to someone else, whether giving them complete responsibility, or by delegating aspects of the task to another person.

So how do we do this?

To delegate is to entrust a task or responsibility to another person. We see a couple of really clear examples of this being used in the Bible; with Moses, and the Apostles.

In Exodus 18, God has just brought the Israelites out from under the rule of Pharaoh in Egypt with Moses as their leader. So we catch up with Moses as he tries to carry out his new responsibility of managing the disputes and needs of the newly freed Israelites as they negotiate life in the desert, whilst still finding time to seek God and His direction for them. It’s a pretty daunting task, and that’s before we remember that there are around 600,000 men, besides women and children! I think it is safe to assume that Moses was a busy man.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law swings by for a visit. He watches Moses in action for a day, and then gives Moses some advice: delegate. He points out that Moses’ current method of doing it all himself will result in both himself and the people being worn out. It’s working for no one. He suggests Moses appoints capable leaders who fear God and are trustworthy to serve over smaller denominations of people, with Moses focusing on the task of seeking God and teaching the people. ‘That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.’ (vs.22) 

‘That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.’ Exodus 18:22

 

We see the Apostles faced with a similar situation in Acts 6. The early church is growing fast and the Apostles are carrying out their tasks of teaching the word and prayer, but they’re also trying to handle the increasing conflicts between the different members of the church about who gets what food. They recognise that the time they’re giving to resolve these conflicts is causing them to neglect the ministry of the word that they have been called to, and so they take action: they delegate. They appoint 7 men, full of the Spirit and of wisdom and give them the responsibility of handling the food allocations. This releases the Apostles to carry out their ministry. Do you know what happens as a result of this? ‘So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.’ (vs.7) That’s a pretty great outcome.

So how does this apply to your situation? I imagine it is unlikely that you are in charge of over a million people, but each of us, whether at home, work or church, can be faced with tasks and responsibilities which seem overwhelming. We are also probably familiar with the frustration of being bogged down with day-to-day urgent tasks and therefore unable to focus on the things we feel are most important, perhaps the things we feel most gifted towards or called to. So here is your action: delegate. 

You have to invest time in this in the short term to make time long term

Now I hear you saying it: “there’s no one else who knows how to do it and I don’t have time to train anyone!” I have been there and I agree – it is rather unusual to find someone skilled and willing just waiting to help you and identifying and training someone new can be time consuming. But you have to invest time in this in the short term to make time long term.  

 

First you need to identify the right person. In the passages above we see Moses choose capable men who fear God and are trustworthy. Similarly the Apostles chose those full of the Spirit and of wisdom. What I find interesting here is that there is as much emphasis on the chosen people’s character and attitude to God as there is on their ability. I think this is something we often overlook when assessing someone’s suitability for a responsibility. I encourage you to prayerfully consider who to choose – seek God’s wisdom and discernment and remember He doesn’t always choose the obvious person.

Once you have identified someone to delegate to, you will need to train them and give them the authority they need to carry out the task on your behalf. There is a widely used model for delegation that you may find helpful:

 

 

This model shows the process of delegating a task to someone. You start by letting them observe how you do the task and talking to them about what is involved. You then get them to help you with the task, giving them parts of it to try. Gradually you switch roles so they are doing the task with your assistance. Finally, you step back and observe as they have a go by themselves. At each stage you will need to be talking to each other to check understanding and to clarify or correct. 

This process might take 5 minutes for a small task, or months for a bigger project handover. Try not to cut corners, as you’ll probably find the whole task back in your lap when they struggle and fail without having had good initial support. Ultimately, once they are able to do the task confidently, they can then begin training up another person, and so we raise up and multiply lots of leaders to share the load.

 

By choosing to delegate, we not only free ourselves up to focus on the tasks which only we can do, but we also create opportunities for others to grow and flourish in their character,  gifts and ministry. As I look back on my life, I am able to do my current roles thanks to someone somewhere in my journey seeing potential in me and entrusting me with responsibility. Take the opportunity today to give this chance to someone you know.

we create opportunities for others to grow and flourish

If you would like some help with how to delegate in your role, please get in touch!

Our Place in a Culture of Isolation

We live in a culture of isolation. We have elderly people who can go days without talking to another person. We have young people who have moved for jobs and do not have family around them. We have parents without a support network to raise their children with. Many people do not know their neighbours or the people on the street. People are expected to live their lives as islands; not to impose on others, to solve their own problems and to do it alone.

There are places where this doesn’t happen, places where instead of isolation there is real community. It can be seen in a crisis, when a community or country draws together in support of those in need. But on the whole, across the country the feeling of isolation is a reality.

One place a culture of isolation should not exist is within our churches. Jesus commanded us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34) and also to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Our churches should demonstrate a culture of community between one another and that shines out beyond the membership of those who attend on a Sunday.

“Let your light shine before others”

This culture can be created in a multitude of ways; in our welcome of people, in our prayers, in practical and emotional support in times of need, through our encouragement and our desire to spend time together.

But, when we look at how Jesus really loved, we realise that it is more than being loving and kind but requires sacrifice and honesty as well.

Jesus went outside of his natural/expected friendship group. He loved and spent time with Romans, Samaritans, people who no one else went to and people who on paper had very little in common with him. Many people feel isolated and we are called to draw people into real community, regardless of the age difference or seeming differences in experiences or needs. 

out of circle

It can be as simple as inviting someone round for lunch who would normally be eating alone or standing with a parent whose child is playing away from where people are gathered.

clocks

Jesus sacrificed his time and made time in his schedule to help others. When word came to Jesus that Jairus’ daughter was dying (Mark 5:21-43), he left what he was doing and went to her. He didn’t rush off continuously, but when he was needed he made the space to be there. We are called to be involved in each other’s lives and support one another. Acts of kindness are not restricted to when we have time, people’s needs don’t wait for when you have a space. 

It might be doing something outside your natural circle or inviting someone in. It could be sacrificing a conversation with a friend to talk to someone having a tough time. It could be creating time in your busy schedule to cook a meal for someone who is having a challenging week. 

Jesus had close friends who he shared his whole life with. He travelled with the disciples, they discussed faith and shared meals. When Jesus was nearing his death, he went with his disciples to pray and shared with three that his “soul is overwhelmed” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus did not hide his thoughts, his future or his anguish from them. God created us to desire friendships that have real depth. We might meet with someone regularly, but that is not the same as sharing our personal and spiritual questions, challenges and fears. 

sharing

It is a choice to speak more openly and honestly about your life with those you are closest to. It is a step of trust and confidence in the other, that can develop a deepening spiral of openness, trust and understanding between you all.

challenge

Jesus cared enough to challenge his friends. He saw them as God saw them and the people they were called to be, so he held them accountable for their thoughts and actions. He raised them up by encouraging, teaching but also challenging them. A friendship with deep honesty creates opportunities for accountability and growth. Ultimately it is about walking together towards God.

It might be a willingness to discuss topics you disagree on, with the aim of understanding the other’s views and opinions more clearly. It may be asking the tough questions about each other’s faiths and lives. It might be encouraging and holding the other accountable for changes they wanted to make in their lives (and wanting them to do the same in return).

Jesus told us to love like him. It is no easy challenge but one that can transform a person and a community. In a society where many people are isolated and alone physically and emotionally, a church that loves as Jesus in these ways brings people together in a culture of love and community that shines out. There are things you already naturally do and others that you will find challenging.

  • How are you already showing love like Jesus?
  • Who is loving you as Jesus loved?
  • What area is the biggest challenge? How can you begin to show love in that way?

Refreshing Waters

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.  Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” 

– Ezekiel 47:12

 

What a welcome blessing the rain on Saturday 28th July turned out to be.  Farmers and gardeners rejoiced at the refreshing downpour, the reservoirs were topped up after weeks of hot dry weather and the ducks on the canal in Sydenham relocated to the puddles in the carparks!

Meanwhile, over in Budbrooke, the Serving Christ Team were holding a retreat day for lay leaders from across the Diocese, designed to offer time and space for refreshing and replenishing aside from busy lives and ministries within churches.  The idea had first come about after Jen and I had both been meeting with churches who were blessed with enthusiastic leaders who were giving their time and energy to faithfully serve the churches but who were reaching exhaustion and in need of time and space to just “be” with God themselves.

 

Further conversation led us both to reflect on Ezekiel 47 as a relevant passage, with imagery of a river from the temple and fruit trees growing on the banks to convey the depth and expanse of God’s blessing for us.  Very quickly it was felt that God was calling us to step out and hold an event where people in ministry could be ministered to.  The vision was for a day where they could be supported, invested in and blessed with time to be with God away from their busy lives.

We welcomed 28 people from 21 churches to St Michael’s Centre in Budbrooke, supported by our colleague Gareth and Lay Reader Gemma Took, and were hugely encouraged by the day.  As people arrived, there was a buzz of conversation and it was incredibly special to see people greeting old friends from across the churches and taking the opportunity to begin conversations with new people.  We then began the first session of the day with a time of prayer and sung worship, which led into some teaching on the passage, along with a time for reflection and discussion, before breaking for lunch.  The key themes we wanted to bring out from Ezekiel were focused on the refreshing power of the river in his vision, the depths of God’s blessing and power, if we allow ourselves to go deeper, and the rich fruits that He can grow in a leader who is nourished, filled with the Spirit and empowered to pause, rest and invest in their own discipleship.

 Over the lunch break, we had the opportunity to chat with a number of people from across these churches and hear their stories.  Stories of blessing and new opportunities in churches, stories of personal encounters with God, and stories from countless years of faithful and sacrificial service to their churches and communities.  What a wonderful, spirit-filled group of people we met that day – and how they deserved to rest and enjoy being with God!

 

 

The afternoon session was given over to personal time with God, using a selection of creative prayer stations, quiet spaces for individual prayer or just the beautiful natural surroundings that Budbrooke provides.  The idea was for people to be as active or as still as they liked, and to just allow them to find space with God.  The feedback we have received, both on the day and since then, has drawn out how significant this time was.  

It is such a rare treat for most of us to get off the treadmill of daily life and just be with God – and how special and powerful those times are.  Building in regular time with God is a lifeline to those in ministry and that afternoon became an oasis for those present.  Finishing with another time of worship and a short Eucharist, led by Rev David Brown, we drew the day to a close with words of refreshing, blessing and commission.

 

So, having spent the day thinking about how vital God’s living water is, flowing from his throne out into the temple and then out again into the lives of his people, we prayed that those who joined us would feel refreshed and well-watered… and as we walked out of the church at 3.30pm the heavens, quite literally, opened.

 

If you would be interested in coming on future retreats, or would like support to host one of your own, please get in touch with Lisa (lisa.holt@covcofe.org) or Jen (jen.thornton@covcofe.org) at the Serving Christ Team to discuss – they would be delighted to help you.

12 opportunities to thank your givers

When did you last say thank you to those who give to the ministry and mission of your parish? Saying thank you to your givers isn’t only good practice, it is good manners too! On the rare occasions we do acknowledge those giving to the church, it’s often in the most begrudging way. As soon as the gift has been acknowledged, we tell them off for not using gift aid, or start mailing them for further financial appeals. What kind of message is that sending to our donors? Often it’s read as “we’re acknowledging your donation, but it wasn’t enough.” We need to offer sincere thanks, with no tag line of “please give more.”

Here are 12 ideas of simple ways to show your appreciation to those who are choosing to invest in your church. You don’t need to do them all, but you should aim to thank all your donors at least once a year. Don’t be overwhelmed by this, it doesn’t have to come from the church leader or the treasurer every time. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture and you don’t have to do it alone. Even the smallest act of gratitude can go a long way, and a team of people to help you do it can make it simple.
Some churches choose to use some of these methods only with their high impact gifts, but I challenge you to treat all your givers the same. It is incredibly important to acknowledge the act of giving more than the size of the gift. This is always true, but especially important when thanking our givers. 

Send an annual giving statement with a letter of gratitude. This is great for helping people see how much they’ve given and as proof for their tax returns. There are letter templates available on https://www.parishresources.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Thankyou-Letters.docx

A handwritten note is one of the most powerful ways you can say thank you to your donorsIt doesn’t have to be a long drawn out note; just a few quick sentences from you or someone on your leadership team will do. A little time and postage are a small price to pay in return for their gift to your church. 

How about getting your kids’ group to write a couple of lines of thanks for the impact they’ve made? The kids could sign around the border.

Put something on social media thanking your supporters. “Thank you to everyone who has donated this year, our food bank has fed 30 people this week because of you.” 

Send thank you emails. An email is an easy way to BCC all your regular donors with a quick update about the impact they’re making and how grateful you are.

Thanking them in person, face to face; visiting all your church volunteers and givers each year can be both a rewarding and humbling experience (and it isn’t only the vicar who can visit other people!). At first people will be shocked, and even suspicious of your motives, but then they realise you just want to thank them.

 

Tell them how their money is used, give some real facts about where the money has been spent. How many candles have been purchased, how many hours staff time have been used, how many bibles have been given out etc. Show donors more than just facts and figures, use pictures and say thank you continually. 

NewSpring church created a fantastic video that briefly breaks down how every dollar given to NewSpring is spent. I know not everyone can create something this polished, but your givers will appreciate the effort made. Putting the information together, sharing it, and letting people know that you’re grateful for their giving helps build trust and confidence. 

Get crafty! Do you have some crafty people in your church? Could you get them baking cookies, making wreaths, knitting scarves, or making cards to give as a small gift to show your givers they are appreciated? People don’t give to get something in return, they give out of faith to God, but everyone loves and appreciates a gift when they don’t expect it. 

Send a postcard! Take a photo of one of your ministries, such as café church, and turn it into a postcard with a quick note on the back thanking them for their part in it. 

The Touchnote mobile app can be used to quickly and easily turn your photos into postcards and post them out via the app without much effort from you. 

Send an anniversary card, email or letter on the 1st, 5th 10th, 15th year they have been donating. Celebrate them as a donor and their commitment to your church. 

Tell stories! These can be done as part of your service, ask people to come up and talk about what a difference the ministry or mission of the church has made to their life and how it couldn’t have been done without donations from the church. Think outside the box! How many children have gone through your parent and toddler group, children’s ministry or uniformed groups? Could you ask a parent to talk about how much the church has meant to them, even though they’ve never been on a Sunday before (this could be done on video, or read by someone else on a Sunday if necessary) 

Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration about how to thank your donors. How many are you going to try and complete?

Many of the tips above require you to hold data for your givers. For information regarding General Data Protection Regulations (2018), and the implications for local churches www.parishresources.org.uk/gdpr/  

A word to the busy…

‘When you want something doing, ask a busy person’. This saying is often said in jest, but it has its basis in reality. Often there are a small number of people doing a large chunk of the work. When a new task comes along, those people are already in the habit of doing, of planning, of meeting deadlines, so squeezing one extra thing in is a possibly a nuisance, but manageable. They either volunteer willingly or are volunteered by others who see them as capable.

Does this sound familiar? Nowadays it feels as though ‘busy’ has surpassed ‘fine’ as the most common response to the question ‘How are you?’. We repeatedly tell everyone how busy we are, as if busyness is a virtue. Yet my sense is that we are more tired, less healthy and less productive despite our unending efforts.

In Luke 10, we’re introduced to Martha. Now Martha gets a bad rap sometimes, but I’m pretty fond of her as I think we have a lot in common! Martha has opened her home to Jesus and those with him and is rushing around preparing a meal for them. She is being hospitable and this is not wrong – Jesus showing up at your house is kind of a big deal! However, in her desire to serve their meal, she has missed an opportunity to sit with the Lord and learn from Him. With her focus narrowed in on the tasks that need doing, she looks to her sister for help, and sees that Mary is doing nothing. This is unfair! We don’t know whether Martha is just annoyed that her sister is doing nothing while she has to work, or whether she is longing to be there with Mary and Jesus, and wants Mary’s help so they can finish faster. Either way, she cries out to Jesus and His words to Martha make something clear. Time with Him is the priority. Don’t be so distracted and focussed on the things you are doing, that you miss out on the moments of being with God.

 

Is this something you do? As a busy person, I certainly can become focused on the important tasks on my to-do list, and they often are important. However in my focus on those tasks, I can put off and put off my quiet times until the tasks are all done…but I never quite get to the end of that list. I cry out to God that it’s unfair and I need help to get through my list! But I think what Jesus said to Martha is His message to us too: stop and spend time just being with Him. Stop before the list is complete, even when there is a pressing deadline. Don’t miss those special moments in God’s presence.

Don’t be so distracted and focused on the things you are doing that you miss out on the moments of being with God

Your value does not depend on what you achieve

Busy person: your value is not based on how much you do. Your value does not depend on what you achieve, nor is it impacted by another’s opinion of you. You are a precious and valued child of God. Your identity as His beloved child is unshakeable. First and foremost, that is who you are, by His grace. Just let that sink in.

Our Father God invites us to rest. He gave us the command to keep the Sabbath, a day of rest set apart to the Lord. He knows we need it and it demonstrates our trust in Him that we stop for a day, believing He will provide for our needs despite our lack of work, as we rest in Him. After Jesus sends out the twelve disciples and they have returned full of stories of all the things they have done, Jesus responds by saying: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” He knows what we need, a pattern of work and rest. The world will not stop spinning if you step out of the flow for a break.

So let’s look at that to-do list of yours for a moment, not to see what task to cross off next, but to prayerfully consider the content. As you look down the list, take a few moments to ponder these questions:

  • What is your attitude towards this list? 
    Do you grumble your way through it? Procrastinate? Enjoy the challenge? 
  • How many of the tasks relate to a role or responsibility you have? 
    Are they essential tasks? If not, what is their purpose? Is the number of roles you do sustainable? 
  • Which ones do you enjoy? 
    Which are you good at? Which drain your energy? 
  • Which tasks could be done by someone else? 
    Why are you doing these tasks? What prevents you from handing them over to someone else? 
  • Do you fear not being busy? 
    Why/why not? 
  • Does spending time with God always get pushed to the bottom of your list? 
    Why might this happen?

I encourage you to take a marker to your to-do list and blot out any unnecessary tasks. Take steps to delegate and pass on tasks that you don’t need to be doing (more on how to do this in a future post). But most importantly, fight to protect and prioritise your time with the Lord. Whatever that looks like for you, be it quiet prayer and bible study, a walk in the countryside, getting to the midweek Eucharist – whatever helps you encounter God and know Him more, prioritise it. Rest in Him. He will strengthen and nourish you with His love and grace. This is your choice.

whatever helps you encounter God and know Him more, prioritise it

“Let the children come to me…”

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”  Matthew 19: 13 – 15

 

In recent weeks I have been feeling challenged by the provision churches make for children in worship.  I have met with a number of churches and individuals who are exploring new ways to bring different congregations together, create a new approach to all-age worship, start children’s groups or reach out to children and young people in the community.  But I have also had conversations with people who don’t fall into the category of child, youth or young parent, who have been led to question their place within these services.  As a church, we have a real desire to see the next generation coming to know Jesus and begin a relationship with him…  What we aren’t necessarily sure of is how to do that!

At a recent Praxis event in Birmingham Cathedral, this question was being addressed directly.  One lady I spoke to had lots of children in a lively charismatic church and wanted to find ways of making sure that worship was more than just singing and dancing.  Another gentleman I spoke to came from a traditional church where the desire was for younger people to join the congregation without losing the distinctive nature and tradition of how they did worship.

There seems to be a growing challenge in a consumerist culture where we look at what we get out of church – but we need to readdress our attitudes.  Worship isn’t for us, but for God.  We’re there to bring an offering of praise and celebration (and some days, lament) in response to life’s journey and God’s presence with us.  As such, church isn’t there to “entertain” or “put on a show” for the congregation, but to draw them into God’s presence.

How then do we bring children into an environment that is authentic worship, teaches theological truths and yet is accessible for them to feel that they have something of value to offer alongside the adults in the congregation?  Based on the conversations and conferences I have recently been involved with, there seem to be a few key things to bear in mind.

Children are smart.  There can sometimes be a feeling that we have to “dumb down” worship or teaching to make it “easy” for children.  However, are we actually giving them an introduction to the faith?  Are we helping them understand the nature of God’s love and the saving grace of Jesus?  If all we do is put on a circus, with a vaguely moral message, they may as well be watching Cbeebies, and we’re actually cheating them out of something far more meaningful.  Creativity or metaphor isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but they must be properly explained and put in context.  We shouldn’t sell them short – the children I have come across have a hunger to really understand these wonderfully rich Bible stories and often ask the pertinent questions that we adults feel afraid to.

Secondly, we can’t presume that all children enjoy worshipping in the same way (or in the way we plan for them!).  Adults and children alike are all different from one another in the way they approach God in worship.  For some, it’s a gentle spirituality that seeks time and space to be still as an offering of worship to God.  For others, a lively and charismatic setting, with music and dance is more their scene.  Some like the depth of tradition found in the beautiful old hymns, others like the relevance and accessibility of modern worship songs with a more contemporary feel.  When we welcome anyone into our churches, we need to offer them the opportunity to just be themselves.

Creating variety, space and opportunity for children and young people to offer their own ideas and suggestions will probably be very enlightening.  If you’re doing a lively action song, make sure that you also have times of stillness and quiet.  If you’re having an interactive “everyone shouting out the answers” type sermon, make sure there’s a space and activity for those who don’t feel able to join in to be nurtured and learn God’s word (particularly if you have children or adults in the congregation who perhaps struggle with over-stimulation or lack of clear routine).  We need to be aware that catering for certain demographics should not mean alienating others and any changes we make to the services we hold still need to reflect the ethos and identity that first drew people to the congregation.

Finally, children love to feel like they can offer something to the wider life of the church.  Get them on the prayer or reading rota.  Let them take up the collection.  Get them to write a bit of liturgy or have an interactive preface where the whole congregation can offer the things they’re thankful for.  Interview all ages about their life events or achievements as a “testimony” slot in the service then pray for these things.  You’ll be surprised how little services actually need to change in order to cater for children.  The fact they feel involved and valued is far more significant than whether we do action songs (which I know for a fact some children find excruciatingly awkward!).  The bonus is that, by involving all ages in all elements of the service, you overcome the idea of a “family” service or “children’s service” and develop an environment where all generations, in whatever stage of life they may be feel like they can belong.  Church is the family of God, and a family is a spectrum of ages.  We need to ensure that each member has their place, and can be drawn into God’s presence through authentic and inspiring times of worship.