By Edward Hobbs, New Wine
At the start of this year as a church, we went back to basics. We asked the questions: why are we here? What are we for? It’s so easy for big, old, traditional organisations, like the church, to just exist because they exist. Through history, and over time, we lose sight of who we are, and what we are for. We’re too well established to cease to exist, we just stop being and doing what we were designed to be and to do. So with the help of two passages, Luke 10:27 (The Greatest Commandment) and Acts 2:42-47 (The Fellowship of the Believers) we decided it was pretty simple: love God, love each other and love others. If we could refocus at the start of the year on those things, then maybe we could be more the church that God wants us to be. Love God – it’s an obvious place to start! Church should be a place, and an environment, that helps us to love God, with heart, soul, mind and strength.
If that is what we are to be about as Christians, church should help us to do it. It should help us to love God more. Do you come away from church loving God more? Acts 2 says the early church, as they sought to love and follow God’s call on their lives, devoted themselves to the word of God, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. This wasn’t something peripheral to their lives: they were devoted to it. In fact so devoted that they got together daily to encourage each other. And as they sought God, and welcomed the presence of his Spirit, those potentially dry ingredients of Bible, prayer, sacraments and fellowship are clearly brought to life. And amazing things begin to happen; wonders and miraculous signs, a supernatural level of caring and sharing, evident joy as they praised God with glad and sincere hearts.
In fact it appears that as they gave themselves to loving God, so they also began to love each other. As the pastor of a church one of the things I love most is when new people come into our church, and they are blown away by the way people love and care for each other. It reminds me of what early Christian author Tertullian said of the early church: ‘see how these people love one another’. If, as we give ourselves to loving God, we also give ourselves to loving each other, this is a message that guests will hear louder and clearer than any sermon! If we will live together, love together, eat together and share together, as they did in Acts 2, then I wonder if we also might see people being added to our number daily. Many people in our over-connected society are hungry for real relationships, for places where they can know and be known, and they should find that in our churches. It strikes me also however, that as the early church gave themselves to loving God, and loving each other, they were never content to just stay in their holy huddle, they were always looking for ways to love others. Yes, they came together, they worshipped, they encouraged each other, but then they went out with a mission; to take the good news of what had changed their lives, and to see it change the lives of others too.
All too easily our churches can become introspective. They can become about the building, the worship, the liturgy, about us getting our ‘God-fix’ so we feel good about ourselves, when they are to be about God, about his kingdom, and about helping others to find their place in it. If we are to live up to the challenge of Archbishop William Temple, we need to make our churches exist for the benefit of those who are not yet members! And if we truly are seeking to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, we then can only be turned outwards to love our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:27). So that’s how we started the year at St Andrew’s, reminding ourselves who we are, and what we are for. It formed our New Year’s resolution as a church. It’s certainly something we are going to have to come back to; loving God, loving each other, and loving others. But if we could do that consistently over the next year, and the coming years, I truly believe our lives, our church, and our town would be radically changed.
Edward Hobbs is vicar of St Andrew’s Cullompton, and leads a New Wine Leaders Network Group in East Devon