Following Jesus Together (Sept 2018 onwards)
– We will grow in faith and discipleship and care for each other,
as part of a wider group – ‘the body of Christ’ – I Corinthians 12:12-21, 25-27
The church first adopted a yearly theme in September 2015 with ‘A Christlike Welcome’ (see below) and followed that with ‘Whole Life Worship’ from September 2016 (see below) and ‘Outward Generosity’ from September 2017 ( see below)
In the coming year we are looking at ‘Following Jesus Together’ a variation on the third of the five practices in Robert Schnase’s Book – ‘ Five Practices of a Fruitful congregation’ (Abingdon Press).
During this year we will encourage a wider shared approach to discipleship, with both a challenge to existing groups to build on their strengths, and widen their impact, and a call for individuals to consider joining or forming a new group within the church.
There is also the allied focus on the ecumenical life of the town as we see each other not as an individual church or congregation but as part of the overall body of Christ in Billericay and further afield.
See the leaflets, questionnaires and posters associated with the Together Day planned for Saturday 29th September.
A Christ-like welcome ( Sept 2015 onwards)
We offer a Christ-like welcome when the needs of others are put ahead of our own needs, where we offer a generous unconditional love. Those who have experienced such a rare and precious gift describe it in this way – ‘ they exhibited a restlessness for they really cared about me and wanted the very best for me. I was not just a number. What was done was done with excellence and attention to detail and they were not just passively reacting to me but actively anticipating my every need even though we were initially strange(rs) to them’.
A Christ-like welcome is a very good place to start in being a fruitful congregation as for the first time visitor, the first impression is often key. During this year we have begun a discussion on how Christ-like we are, how welcoming and user-friendly we are – to all people – not just people like us.
In an Away Day we looked at the following passages
- Romans 15:7 – ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’.
- Matthew 20:28 – ‘Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve’
- Matthew 25:35,40, 18:5 – ‘Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me”, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me”‘.
- Hebrews 13:2 – ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’.
- Deuteronomy 10:19 – ‘God says welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the wanderer – Why ? ‘For you were once a stranger yourself (in the land of Egypt)’
- Matthew 22:8-9 – ‘Go into the streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet’.
The bible shows how Jesus reached out and met people where they were, in ways that were real and understandable to them. Whatever their background, education, age, gender etc. he loved them and welcomed them into the kingdom, encouraging them towards greater commitment, but willing to move forward at their pace; and through it all loving them unconditionally as those who were unique and special to God.
How that welcome is expressed in our welcome at the door, our notices, our guidance through the service, our choice and style of music and teaching, our fellowship over coffee and our follow up is part of an ongoing discussion at the quarterly worship consultations.
One project that has been completed is a refresh of all our church notice boards, notice sheets and the website you are on now, to make them more helpful to visitors and passers by. Further changes to leaflets and other publicity can be expected.
Whole Life Worship (Sept 2016 onwards)
This theme tied in neatly with an ongoing focus on practical Discipleship with the two ‘Follow me’ books being used by the church’s many small home groups in the run up to Advent and during Lent. A look at a Celtic approach to being a follower of Jesus, was also a natural link.
Sunday worship is one of the ways in which we are regularly reminded of God’s love for us in Jesus, and then invited to respond to that love. The two great commandments of Jesus invite us to Love God with our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourself. These two are linked as we cannot say that we love God unless we show that love in practical ways to others, and indeed our care for others and ourselves, honours God and is therefore part of our worship.
To love God with our whole being is therefore to worship God with our whole being, using our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we love our neighbour and indeed ourselves as we continue that worship in our daily life, in the way that we care for others and for ourselves. You can see how worship is now being seen as so much more than just what happens for an hour or two in a church on a Sunday. But our worship on a Sunday is still central, and needs to be planned and led so as to encourage this wider worship and not simply be an end in itself.
This means that our worship should aim to engage us emotionally with our heart, and to make us think with our mind. It should create the space in which we are open to the leading of our spirit by God’s Holy Spirit and it should encourage real commitment and the sacrificial giving of our time energy and resources in the service of others. To love God with all our strength is an act of will and dedication that may not come easily.
Outward Generosity (Sept 2017 onwards)
– In response to God’s generous and self-giving love,
we will reach out to others in every way we can;
giving all we can, to sustain and develop this work.
The focus during the autumn of 2017 was to look again at our financial giving to the church, encouraging a more regular and realistic pattern of giving, and in particular inviting individuals to commit themselves to giving percentage of their disposable income to support the mission of the church. In turn the church itself sought to increase the amount it was able to give to others. This resulted in a 20% increase in giving and an increase in planned giving through Standing Orders and the envelope scheme, and the church itself raised its support for other causes to 17% of its income.
Alongside this there was encouragement to be more outward looking and to look again at what time, energy and experience could be shared. This led to an increase in volunteers in certain key areas, though there remains a shortage in some other groups, which has not been helped by the unexpected departure of our Families and Children’s Worker when her husband was moved at short notice to another job. It is anticipated that we will return to this theme in 2019 as we look at ‘pathways for giving and volunteering’.