We recently had the privilege of visiting Italy, Pozzuolli near Naples, to be precise. We stayed with Alec and Patrizia Catchpole and their family. You can find out more about their ministry through these links here and here.
The River of Life church of which Alec is one of the elders is essentially a first generation church made up of those who have been converted within the last fifteen years. It was beautiful to be able to attend their service on a Sunday morning, to be a part of their worship and to meet some of the people.
Their worship service was not dissimilar to ours at Feltham on a Sunday morning. They would not have a split in the service, though, like we have at Feltham with the Lord’s Supper service and preaching and worship all is included in one service in Pozzuolli.
Graciously Alec’s wife Patrizia, and son, Joseph, translated for us and so we could follow what was going on. The preaching by Stephano was sound and lively. The main message was that we are to glory in the Lord and not in his gifts.
Hearing one or two of the testimonies of those converted was such a joy. They were really encouraging to my faith as I was faced with living demonstrations of the grace of our God. This brings me to ponder on the similarity to Barnabas’s experience at Antioch. In Acts 11:22-23 we read: The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
I attended a house group on the Tuesday morning and was struck by their desire to hear God’s word, their affection for Alec and their delight in being together.
Three things I have been left to ponder upon:
- Getting involved in the community. Alec is a gregarious individual and very much a people person. He obviously has a lot of contacts through his mingling in the community of Pozzuolli.
- House groups These seem to be quite fluid in their arrangements. There is one for students and one for the younger adults. Otherwise you can get involved in whatever one you want to and whenever you want to. This may all reflect the haphazardness of the Neapolitan culture, but it has a certain attractiveness.
- Gospel Engagement The commitment to get contact with as many people as possible and get the Word of the gospel, out to as many as possible was striking. I am left thinking about whether we should be more thoughtful about 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. There, in Pozzuolli, they have done various things such as karaoke, concerts, tent missions, watching football on a big screen, playing football amongst others all with a view to making the gospel known to people.
I fear that we are far too lackadaisical in our approach to the affairs of church life. We accept standards that are far too low as regards to how we order our church affairs.
I fear that this is all to do with the fact that we are in essence a volunteer entity. If you are employed a contact and financial remuneration determine that you need to perform to a certain standard. In church though, generally there is no contract and no financial remuneration and or standards can slip.
So we very easily give the impression of casualness and disorderliness. But this should not be so. As Paul says we are the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15b)
We are the church of the living God. Each true church does not stand as some insignificant entity whose activities are of no consequence. No each church stands to represent the God who is God and that God alone.
How can we be doing anything other then striving for excellence when the One we serve is the all beautiful ruler of the universe. We are not some tin-pot republic we are the Lord’s temple.
It seems to me that we Christians in the UK are far too complacent about the loss of our buildings. When a church has ceased to function in a building the normal recourse is to dispose of the premises on the open market. Such an event leads to the accrual of certain funds. This can lead us to being happy that we are being faithful servants of the Lord in the dispersing of funds for gospel purposes.
I am not saying that this approach is to be rejected. It may be the appropriate course of action. Such situation would be, for example, where an area has been depopulated and there are little or few people in an area. Also it may well be an application of the principle that our Lord set for his disciples that if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town (Matt. 10:14).
However, I still would want to make two strand assertions on this subject:
- The loss of a building generally equals the loss of a testimony for our Lord in an area. In the losing of the building there is a losing of a place where the gospel of our Lord Jesus is honoured and declared. Accordingly, we have to ponder upon whether we have lost our gospel vision to make sure that many can still have opportunity to hear the gospel. This loss is compounded in its significance and poignancy when false religions take them over to propagate lies.
- Many churches normally meet in public buildings such as schools and village halls. There are many good reasons why this is a sound approach to existing and living as a church. However, we need to get real and realise that this cannot be a situation that continues indefinitely. The fact that the biblical perspective on homosexuality and transgenderism is so at odds with that of the present zeitgeist in our country means that the doors to public buildings will metaphorically and literally soon be closing. When this happens will we be woken up and wonder why we did not take more action to keep church buildings within the church.
I urge some thinking on this issue.
To a greater or lesser extent all of us come to junctures in our lives when we have to take on responsibility. That may be in the family, in the workplace, in the community, in the church or wherever. Alas, many of us drift into these situation with little thought or preparation.
Joshua was faced with taking on responsibility as leaders of the nation of Israel. Moses, in Deuteronomy 31:7-13 being aware of this focuses on toe things which will be necessary for Him to have if He is to effectively carry out his responsibility.
The Right Attitude. Joshua is called to Be strong and courageous (v7b). With responsibility come challenges, struggles, opposition and difficulties. If we do not set ourselves to persevere through these then we will soon go the way of the snowflake in a heatwave. We will soon disappear from the scene of our responsibility. We may still have the office thereof, but we will cease to function effectively.
So we need those of courage in all different realms. Elders of churches need to be displayers of this.
The Right Dependence. We are not just to be those of courage in a stoic kind of way. We are those of courage because we have a God who we can depend upon in all the struggles of life. Moses tells Joshua It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (v8). Such a God is worthy of our trust. To survive and prosper in any position of responsibility we need to trust in Him.
The Right Guide. Having commissioned Joshua, Moses in vv9-13 delivers the Word of the Lord to the priests and the elders of Israel. They are to have custody of the law and make sure it is read every seven years. Implicit in this is that all the people including Joshua will have the Word of God to guide them. Jesus must lead according to the Word that all the people know. Otherwise His leadership will be of no account and should be rejected.
So fellow leaders, have courage, depend on the Lord and follow His Word. Then you will be a blessing in your sphere of responsibility.
The plan of God as it unfolds in the book of Acts and into the epistles is to have churches established and built-up. This is God’s agenda for this age. In one sense the church is His mission plan for this age. Churches are established and out of those churches other churches are established.
I have been pondering on this issue particularly as regards to the sending out of missionaries to other pasts of the world. The goal should always be for those sent out either to link with churches which are already in situ in the location where they go to, or if it is a completely spiritually barren area to establish new churches.
There is something wrong for people to be just loan rangers or loan groups operating independent of churches.
This also raises issues more close to home. To engage in evangelism is absolutely vital and we give thanks to the Lord for all mission agencies who are labouring for the Lord. But these should always be operating in connection with local churches.
The commission of our Lord is to go and make disciples. Disciples are formed in the context of a local church. A convert can be any where, but a disciple should always be in a church. Evangelism should always be about recruiting disciples.
Is your church praying for the raising up and recognising of further elders? It would be my contention that a church that has decided it has enough elders is in a very dangerous position. Churches should always be aware that the death of the church is being hastened if there are no elders in place or being raised up to bear the load, under God, to carry the work of God in the church forward.
So every church should be praying for the coming forward of the next generation of leaders. And the present leaders should be taking the lead in this. If your present leaders are wanting to protect their position and not welcome new younger elders then they are not fit for the role of elder. Being an elder is a releasing ministry not a constraining ministry. Ephesians 4:12 tells us how elders are one of the groups with the responsibility to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
It is a great concern when you observe churches where the present elders are moving into their seventies and eighties and there is no initiative or energy to look for younger elders. Such churches are effectively sealing their death-knell.
My traversing of different churches earlier in the year has led me to ponder upon the issues related to order, rigidity, familiarity and informality. When I use these terms I am thinking of the general structure of our services.
I am left wondering whether our churches at the more conservative end of the evangelical spectrum, have not adopted an overly rigid form. We have justified under the guise of being orderly and reverent.
We have seen the excesses of the charismatic movement and deemed that anything that smells of the charismatic approach to worship needs to be rejected. So as soon as someone lifts their hands or claps or moves their body in worship, we conclude, with pharisaical like undertones, that they are “going charismatic”. This, of course, alternatively, means they are “going-off-the-rails.”
We instead stick with our rigid formality and comfort ourselves on being faithful and reverent whilst all the time having no sense of God.
Now I am not arguing for chaos. But I am arguing that we need to think about how we reflect the working of God in our services. I know that some people (and some cultures) are more demonstrative in worship than others and perhaps we. anglo-saxon Brits. are less so. But surely there can be more room for the showing of emotion and expressing that in different ways in our worship services. In this context I have written previous;y here about David and Michal.
Let us also be thoughtful of those from those more demonstrative cultures who come among our churches. I feel we have lost many over the years from our church, Feltham Evangelical, because they could not accommodate themselves to our church culture. Many, I feel, we could have led into a better understanding of God’s way, but alas they moved on from us. There were things they liked about our church, but we expected them to adjust too much. In the end they went somewhere they were more comfortable with. It all makes me wonder whether we could have done more to prevent this.