As we begin a new year, we have a new motto verse. The aim is to give us some things to aim for as a church. A vision for what we could do in God’s strength.
Our focus will be on reaching the community that our church building is placed in. We are Hardwick Baptist Church. We are wonderfully situated thanks to the foresight of church leaders over 50 years ago.
If we don’t reach this estate for Christ, who will?
If we are going to reach it, we are going to need to prioritize our time and effort on this community.
In this article I will outline some ways we can do this.
Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean you don’t seek to share the gospel with work colleagues, neighbours, family members or friends who aren’t Christians.
But, it does mean if we are serious about reaching the locality around our building it will take great commitment, change of routine, maybe even a house move.
The gospel calls us to radical sacrifice for the sake of others, because Jesus first made the most radical sacrifice to serve and save us.
Here’s the verse:
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8b (NIV)
We will think about this in two ways. First, how we love non-Christians, share the gospel with them and also our lives. Secondly, how we do that with one another as brothers and sister in Christ.
And we will do those two things under 3 headings that I have lifted straight from the verse.
It sounds simple doesn’t it? It sounds obvious too. When Jesus summarized the law into two great commandments, they both involved love. Love of God and love of people.
As Christians we are called to love all people, friends and enemies and anything in between.
But, our love for people must flow out of a love for God and the love that God has for us. That’s how we are able to love both friends and enemies.
It was Paul and the team’s love for the people in Thessalonica that flowed out in gospel proclamation and the sharing of their lives with them. He literally says that they were “affectionately desirous” of them.
When you love someone you will do anything for them. You want what is best for them. When you love someone there is a desire for deep relationship, for honesty, for openness, for everything to be a two-way street.
Love of a person or a group of people grows as you get to know them better. In some relationships, that will blossom and flourish quickly. We will naturally get on with some people in church better than others. But there is no option to only love some people in the Christian life. We are commanded to love all.
Love for unbelievers is similar. Some of us will find it easy to love the homeless, the asylum seekers and others who have nothing. We find it easy to have compassion for them, our hearts go out to them in their need.
Some of us will find it easier to love a group of people who have a shared interest with us. Some of us will find it easy to love the poor, others the wealthy, others the old, others the young and so on.
But equally, if we flip this thinking around, there will be some groups of people we each find it really hard to relate to, understand and love.
For some it will be the arrogant we struggle with. For others it will be the antagonistic atheist. Some will find it hard to love the gay man or woman who is unashamedly open about their sexuality because we are not sure how to approach them or explain our view point. But in each of these cases we are to love these people. All of them, without exception.
Those things are difficult, but that can easily become excuses not to try. We need to remember the way Christ has loved us, while we were still sinners; murderers, thieves, greedy, slanderers, selfish, proud and sexually immoral. He showed us grace. He was willing to die for us.
When we grasp this we will be able to show the same kind of love and grace to the people whose sins we find most abhorrent, to the people we really don’t get on with, to the people from completely different social and cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Do you have a heart for a particular people? Is there a person or group of people you long to see saved? Are there friends whose spiritual growth you take great interest in? Take that and seek to grow it.
A love for people will manifest itself in 2 ways when it comes to evangelism and discipleship. We will share the gospel with them and we will share our lives too.
In order to do that we need to know the gospel.
Know the gospel
If I asked you to tell me the gospel I imagine you’d all give it a pretty good go. Some would be more long-winded than others, but in essence you’d probably all come up with something along the lines of:
The good news that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. If we trust in Him we can be saved from judgment and enjoy eternal life, knowing God now, and forever.
That would be a fair answer and a true one. There’s nothing false in it. You might want to add or change some of the wording but that’s basically it.
The question we need to ask is, do we know how to relate that gospel to the world around us? Do we know how to present that truth to our culture?
Do we also know how to apply the truths of the gospel to each other in every area of life?
Let’s think about the first element of that, presenting the gospel truth to unbelievers.
Would we just present the gospel in a standard way to all people? Or should we?
Let me show you what I mean using a couple of case studies.
· A single mother of 4 who lives in a council house. Her eldest 2 kids are in school the others are under 3. She has very little to live off financially, wishing for a stable relationship. Between getting the older kids to school, taking the younger ones to play group and keeping the house relatively clean she has very little time or energy left for anything else.
· An alcoholic man in his mid-40s. He spends most of his day in the working men’s club.
The greatest need for each of these people is forgiveness, to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. That goes without saying.
But, that being taken for granted, which of their needs does the gospel meet and what is the way in to speaking about Jesus with each one. Do we just run up to them and give them our gospel definition we were thinking about earlier?
The single mother is looking for love. A bit like the woman at the well in John 4 she ahs sought satisfaction in a series of relationships and they haven’t worked out for whatever reason. She needs help, care and support, but where will she find it.
The Christian community is the perfect place for her to receive this. They can show love and model good relationships. Most of all they can speak of how relationship with Jesus is the one thing that truly satisfies. He can be trusted unlike others who have let her down.
The longing she feels and has tried to fill, comes from the fact we were built for relationship with God.
The alcoholic may have numerous reasons for the place he now finds himself. In the end it is an addiction and an escape from reality. The gospel says that the world is broken. It is messed up and hard to face, but Jesus knows that, He experienced loss, sorrow, betrayal, ridicule and has done something about it.
Jesus gives hope, even to someone like this alcoholic. Hope in this life and hope for eternity. Plus He gives the strength to change.
Secondly we need to think about how knowing the gospel well, and sharing it with one another, will help to build us up.
Do we truly believe that the gospel is the answer to out lives in every respect?
Do we know how it helps us to parent?
Do we know what is calls us to do in terms of looking after elderly parents?
Do we know how to support one another with the gospel when our boss at work unfairly singles us out for criticism because we are Christians?
Do we know how the gospel helps us to deal with mental illness?
Do we know how the gospel challenges what we watch on TV, read in books, look at on the internet?
Do we know how the gospel affects the companies we use and the clothes we buy?
These are the kinds of things we need to think about. We need to be ready to apply the gospel in this kind of detail in our own lives but also in the lives of others too.
Reading good Christian books will help us do this. So will spending more time in and out of each others homes which we will come onto in a minute.
No area of our lives should be off limits to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is Lord over all, not just in a big picture way, but in every square inch of creation and every area of thinking and living.
Our final point is:
Willing to share our lives, our very selves
The previous two points have been hinting at this in their application already.
We can’t teach the gospel in a relationship vacuum.
The gospel isn’t just a message, it is a person, Jesus. God didn’t write it in the clouds, He sent His Son. He is the gospel.
We need to share our lives with people. We need to get to know people. That is how relationships work. That is how trust is built. That is how we are able to say the hard things and know they will be listened to and acted upon.
In this point I want to outline 3 things.
a) How we build relationships with the estate
b) How we get the gospel to a generation that does not come into church
c) How we can deepen relationships so that we really know each other and can point out sin, so that we are all growing in Christ.
For some of us building relationships with people on the estate will be easier than others. Some of us live next door to them, our kids go to school in the same place, we see them at the shops, when we take the dog for a walk we pass them in the street.
Some of us get the chance to meet parents, guardians and grandparents when they pick up and drop off at Discovery and GA.
But for some, this will feel like an impossible task. You don’t live here, you are not able to help out at the youth work, and you’ve got no reason to come to Hardwick except for church services.
Here’s how I think we can overcome that.
How about going for a prayer walk before or after the church service morning or evening? You’ll get a feel for what it’s like and may even get the chance to chat to someone on the street.
Or why not pop into the shop to buy a paper or get some milk? You can build up some rapport with the shop-keepers.
Why not volunteer to do some reading in one of the primary schools? The teachers really appreciate it and the kids love it.
If you’re partial to a pint or a game of dominoes, why not go for a drink in the working men’s club once a week.
Use the local hair salon.
And whatever events we put on the reach the community in the coming year, be at them even if you’ve got no friends to bring.
Or finally, why not park a little but further away from church and walk. That way at least you are visible for a few hundred yards before you enter the building. You can pray for the houses you pass on the way too.
We can’t rely entirely on the work with young people and associated special church services to reach Hardwick. They are wonderful and God has most certainly used them and we pray He continues to do so. But they must be the starting point, not the sum total.
That leads to the second thing. How do you get the gospel to a biblically illiterate society? Jesus is merely a swear word on their lips and maybe a baby in a manger, but nothing more. They see church and the people in it are out of date and irrelevant. To them we have nothing to say that is of worth.
The way we start breaking that barrier down is by meeting people, being their friends, showing them that we are kind human beings facing the same struggles and joys in this world as they do but with one key difference, a real hope, a Saviour.
With this in mind I want to float some ideas that I want us to do as a church. We might not get them all done but I want us to give our best shot.
Monthly curry nights for men. We order curry from a takeaway or a restaurant and we publicize that fact. We invite friends, dads of DB and GA kids. It’s a chance to try curries, have a bit of camaraderie about who can eat the hottest one, build some relationships and then seek to invite them to look at the Bible 1to1, in a group or attend a course.
Monthly or quarterly ladies’ nights. We invite a local beauty salon to come and provide manicure, pedicures or facials. There’d be some food and maybe some entertainment. Lots of young mothers on the estate won’t get a night out to themselves. If we give the dates far enough in advance they can arrange babysitters.
A BBQ after the morning service, weather permitting. We could have some face painting, jewelry making and games for kids. In the service we get kids from GA and Discovery to take part.
It would be good if we could re-start a toddler group. It would help meet a need in the community and build relationships.
Build connections with the team that run Hardwick in Partnership to see if there are ways we can help with them.
Run a holiday club in the summer for a few days.
This might sound like mission impossible. But, I believe that if we are serious about reaching this estate it will take a huge effort. It will take self-sacrifice and all of us will need to pull in the same direction.
We will need to pray and rely upon our great God who can do immeasurable more than we can imagine.
We will have to prepare for the long haul. Barring revival there is no quick fix to reaching this generation and particularly those with no, or only negative, church experiences.
Finally, we need to share our lives with each other.
This is something as a church we are pretty good at, but we can be better. There are lots of calls, texts, emails and visits that go on each week.
Sharing lives with each other will mean popping in on one another when we drive passed. Delivering food to those on their own or who might find it difficult to cook for themselves on a regular basis. It will mean being in and out of each others homes, meals during the week and having a house full on a Sunday.
In many ways, this is one of the major advantages of home groups that we will be starting in March.
In a home group you have the capacity to gather together, study the Bible, apply the sermon form Sunday at a deeper and more personal level, you have the chance to ask honest questions and share struggles that Sunday morning isn’t the forum for.
You might get to discuss situations that have arisen since the Sunday morning.
A sermon on a Sunday is the primary source of teaching but even the best delivered and applied sermon can’t give detailed application to every individual. Home groups get much closer to that when done properly.
It enables the sharing of spiritual joys and struggles, the chance to pray together in a smaller group. It is more personal, more informal and a more relaxed atmosphere. I personally am more likely to express doubt, sin and struggle to a smaller group than in a large gathering.
Home groups, I hope and pray, will enable us to get to know one another better and grow spiritually together.
The concerns that have been raised with me as good ones. Ones I share. Particularly about cliques developing.
In conclusion, Because we loved you so much we were delighted not only to share the gospel of God with you but our lives as well, is a great summary for what I think we need to do in the year ahead.
Let’s plan and pray to that end, that we would develop relationships with this estate, share the gospel and our lives with them, and one another, so that Christ may be known and glorified.