About Us » Facing the future
This report was presented to the church by our minister, Nigel Ford, on the first anniversary of his appointment in November 2015.
Church Night - Wednesday 4th November 2015
My first year at CHBC has been a year of listening, learning and praying. Val and I have visited about 60% of church members in their homes (we still have quite a way to go); I’ve visited people at their place of work; we’ve visited people when they’ve been in hospital, and visited home groups and the Tuesday group when invited to do so.
My emphasis in this first year has been in building the church up. Sermon series over the last year have included “Living in the Light of Eternity”, Discovering Joy (Philippians), Psalms, and Alive in the Spirit. I’ve prepared notes for Home Groups to use alongside most of these sermons. The notes are also suitable for personal reflection.
Val and I have also spent quite a bit of time trying to make contact with church members who, for one reason or another, have stopped coming to church. This has included phone calls and visits, which have not always been easy. It’s important to keep an accurate record of our membership and the job is very much on-going. One idea the leaders are currently considering is forming a “friends” group of those who are no longer active members to retain their friendship with the church, should they wish to do so. This will come to a church meeting in due course.
Outside of the church, I’ve had meetings with the chaplains at Poole and Bournemouth Hospitals.
I’ve also made some key contacts in the community - C h a s R o w l i n g (Community Development Manager for Borough of Poole); Judith Bacon (Poole Wellbeing Collaborative); Fran Wheatley (Steering Committee of ARCH) and Katie Pathak (Community Organiser of Canford Heath 50).
In local politics, I’ve spent time with Cllr Peter Adams (Mayor of Poole last year) and Cllr Ann Stribley (the current mayor). I’ve got to know our local councillors Jenny Hodges and Sandra Moore (both of whom have been very helpful). In the run-up to the General Election I met two of the candidates, Vikki Slade (Liberal Democrat) and Michael Tomlinson (Conservative). Michael Tomlinson was elected and I hope he will join us for a service in the New Year.
I’ve met all the local church ministers. Before his retirement, I met with Peter Gibbs at least twice a month for prayer and hope to rekindle this once St Paul’s appoints a new vicar. The Canford Heath ministers meet approximately every six weeks. I am also part of a regional Baptist ministers group, which usually meets at Bournemouth Hospital. This group meets every six weeks or so to share news, undertake training and pray (I’m coordinating this group until November next year).
In terms of our own spiritual support, Val and I meet with a group of ministers from across the Purbeck region which includes our friend Mark Hatto from Swanage; and Stephen and Lesley Coles from Stoborough. This group meets for prayer every month.
I am part of an accountability group led by David Craig (the former minister of Calvin Road Church, now Bournemouth Community Church). This is a more intensive pastoral group. We meet for two days, three times a year. The emphasis is not so much on church ministry, but rather on my own spiritual walk as a disciple of Jesus (rather than a church leader), family life and health.
Val and I have also rekindled our relationship with Steve Brady, who was our pastor at Lansdowne Baptist Church in the 1980’s. Steve is now the Principal of Moorlands College, and he has kindly met with us a couple of times as a mentor, offering his friendship and support.
This year, Val and I have attended two conferences. We participated in a regional ministers’ conference for the Southern Counties Baptist Association, and a national conference for the Evangelical Ministry Assembly. We also attended the SCBA AGM in Newbury at this time last year. We are conscious of the pressures on the church budget, and appreciate that our attendance at such events may need to be reviewed.
Val and I have joined the electoral roll of St Paul’s church, and we attended their Annual Parochial Church Meeting a few months ago. As a church, CHBC has a special relationship with St Paul’s. Val and I are pleased to be gradually developing friendships with members of the congregation, the PCC and Church Wardens. I participate in the Joint Council which meets three times a year.
The elders have asked me to say something about the rhythm of my week. Val and I try and make prayer a foundation to each new day, and have a system of prayer for church members. We both attend the Monday evening prayer meeting whenever we can and consider this to be a priority.
With regard to rest days, we began by experimenting with taking Wednesday and Saturday as days off. This wasn’t too successful as we quite often have meetings on Wednesdays and frequently there are events on a Saturday, or last minute preparation for Sunday. We tried moving our days off around according to the demands of the week and putting the details in the weekly newssheet but that hasn’t been too easy for the church. Since the summer we have tried to take Thursdays and Fridays off. This seems to be working reasonably well.
On working days, we each have our own pattern of working. We share a diary (mainly because we share a car). We try not to work from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. So, if there is an evening meeting, we try and take a couple of hours off during the day.
I meet with Bryan almost every week. We each come with a list of day-to-day items to discuss, and spend time in prayer together. Bryan has been a tremendous encouragement to me, and I find it very helpful indeed to have the sounding board of his wisdom and experience not just within CHBC but more widely too.
More widely, I am accountable to the elders as a group. Part of our away day in June was spent discussing trust and accountability, as these are hugely important issues.
I try and visit the Coffee House at least once a week, usually to meet up with someone and sometimes just to be there.
Val and I do most of our pastoral counselling together at the manse, although we each have one-to-one pastoral meetings when that is more appropriate to do so.
What have I learnt about CHBC?
CHBC is a warm loving church with real, supportive relationships that reflect the love of Christ in practical ways.
CHBC is an inclusive church, offering visitors and regulars a warm and openhearted welcome.
CHBC has gifted people in leadership, but there are also many other very capable, spiritually mature people quietly using their gifts for the glory of God.
CHBC is a prayerful church. The Monday evening prayer meeting is among the best church prayer meetings I’ve experienced, even though I understand attendance is not as high as it has been. Prayer is the powerhouse for our life together and outreach, and Monday evenings offers an excellent opportunity for this to develop.
CHBC is a “yeast in the dough” church, where God’s Kingdom permeates communities locally and beyond, through a myriad different ways. We are largely invisible, but have the potential to be significantly effective. There is scope to build on this hidden nature of our identity.
What are the challenges that face us?
1. Our congregation is ageing and we have very few children and young people. We no longer have the “critical mass” needed to encourage families visiting for the first time to return.
We are living in a fiercely secular age, where church going is often dismissed as “religious recreation, fulfilling for a few but irrelevant to many”.
Many of the tried and trusted ways of reaching out in evangelism are no longer effective or appropriate. Mission weeks and door-to-door evangelism both have negative connotations today and can be more harmful than beneficial to sharing the Gospel. People no longer trust most methods of written communication. Email, fliers, advertisements and posters have very little value as effective means of inviting people to attend events.
Facing the Future...
God loves CHBC and has plans for us. He wants us to work with him in showing and sharing the Good News of Jesus.
We are not impoverished by not having our own building. In many ways, not having our own building is an advantage in our changed and changing world. The exile is a helpful picture of this. We are no longer living in a Christian country, and Christians today can feel like God’s people of old in exile: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? “ (Psalm 137).
What the people of Israel didn’t realise, however, is that their exile was part of God’s loving plan, not to harm them but to give them hope and a future. It was while they were in exile that God helped them face the future, clarify who they were in him, and rediscover their mission in the world.
As Christians living in 21st century Britain we can either bemoan the secular society in which we live or we can choose to see God’s gracious hand on us in our exile. As members of Canford Heath Baptist Church, we can either think negatively about the lack of our own building, or we can think positively, and rediscover (just as the people of Israel did) that our identity is not to be found in land or bricks and mortar, but as Children of God in Christ Jesus.
For these reasons, I have come to believe that the lack of our own building is a positive advantage in these changed times. Churches with buildings talk about the importance of “reaching out” but they often see their mission as “getting people in” to as many programmes and groups as possible. The trouble is that fewer and fewer people are “coming in”.
CHBC has an advantage. Our circumstances mean that, more often than not, we have to go out.
Jesus described the Kingdom of God as a little yeast worked into the dough. I think that is a powerful illustration of God’s mission through our church. Each of us has a little yeast, and God asks us to work it into the dough of our wider lives, the circle of contacts we have, the many opportunities God gives us to serve him across this town and community - whether it’s A.R.C.H. or Routes to Roots, or the Foodbank, or Debt Relief, or U3A or the Living Well Mental Health Project or Dementia Care or Age UK - I could go on...
This is why we are focusing on “IMAGINE” this autumn. In his book “Imagine Church” (published three years ago) the Christian author and thinker, Neil Hudson, wrote this: “There is no way to re-evangelise this nation apart from the impact of the daily lives of ordinary, everyday Christians.” I absolutely agree with him.
What is the point of church, then? If by “church” you mean our Sunday meeting and home groups, the purpose is quite clear. These gatherings are, God willing, the occasions when God will refresh and renew us all for the vital business living our ordinary everyday Christian lives in such a way that we have an impact on those around us. If you want a bible verse, then Ephesians 4 is where I’d direct you:
“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.
Church is a vital filling station, where we can be equipped for the works of service that God has called us to. It’s the place where the yeast is activated ready to permeate the dough.
Does this mean that there is no longer a place for special outreach events? No. It’s good to have occasions when we are consciously aiming to welcome newcomers among us, but the purpose and expected outcome of these special events need to be clearly identified. Creativity is needed, as is a willingness to work collaboratively with others. Effective outreach events are usually operating at a very basic “making contact” level. We need to be confident enough in what is proposed, to personally invite our non-Christian friends, family and contacts.
Our monthly Pop-In, and the programme of events organised for men and women are also worthwhile in that they have huge potential. We must, however, continually remind ourselves that these are opportunities for inviting and embracing newcomers rather than merely providing a social programme for the insiders.
This is what the special day on Saturday 14th November will be about. It will aim to help us understand the changes that have happened in society and how we churches can best show and share the gospel.
Why is it called “Imagine”? Quite simply, we need our imaginations to help us conceive of a whole new way of thinking about the church, the world, our place in the world, the opportunities we each have every single day to be yeast in the dough.
On each Sunday over the next few weeks, we are going to have a particular focus to guide our thoughts, and a specific question in which to employ our imaginations. Here are the questions:
Imagine what might happen if we really believed in God’s power to transform people’s lives?
Imagine what might happen if we were gripped with joy and gratitude by the difference Christ’s love
has made to our lives?
Imagine what might happen if we looked around at the people we spend our days with and asked God: how do you want me to be good news to these people today?
Imagine what might happen if we rediscovered our resources in Christ and learned to be channels of lavish blessing to our fellow citizens, wherever we meet them?
Imagine what might happen if we created Christian communities where people were safe to be who they are, and encouraged to become all that they can be?
Imagine all this in a country where the overwhelming majority has rejected the Church, disregarded Christianity and doesn’t even know why Easter is a public holiday.
Nigel Ford 4 November 2015