We all know that the human body requires a number of different substances to function correctly. A few of these are used in large quantities, but some we only require a small amount of. They are known as 'vitamins'. We need a daily intake. With a few exceptions, it almost does not matter how much we get: as long as we get some each day, our bodies can remain healthy.
The same is true of our spiritual life. We need a regular dose of a range of activities. Spiritual vitamins take effect as we apply or do them: we cannot just sit back and receive them. To change the analogy slightly, spiritual health requires spiritual exercise.
These vitamins apply both to our individual lives and to our life as a church: just as my life cannot be healthy unless I take the vitamins, our life together cannot be healthy unless we take them on the corporate level. For some reason I cannot explain or justify, it seems that all the individuals in the church taking a vitamin is not enough: in some sense, the church itself must also take the vitamin in order to be healthy.
I attempt below a simple classification of the vitamins which seem to be important at the moment. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just a helpful one. We start with worship, which is perhaps the fundamental vitamin, containing all the others. Following that, we look at the 'Big Five', and finally we look at the structures we need to promote the vitamins within the life of the church.
Worship expresses the nature of the relationship between God and ourselves. It is not a doctrinal statement, but a giving of ourselves in love and in response to God's prior self-giving. It is an act of adoration to the One who loves us; a response of gratitude from the creation to the Creator; an acknowledgement of complete and utter indebtedness from the saved to the Saviour.
Everything we say and do should be an act of worship. Everything which is not worship is not worth doing. Everything else described below either springs out of worship and is an expression or worship, or it is an empty and worthless shell, fake spirituality.
The first response of worship is to express praise to God, and our personal adoration of Him. We not only love Him, we have to tell Him how much we love Him. Love needs to be expressed, in words and action.
We think of praise as singing, but it does not need to be expressed in that way. God can be praised in simple prayers, in music without words, in art, dance and drama. All of our creativity can be engaged in discovering ways to express the wonder of who God is and what He has done.
What we do when we meet together as a family has to be a real expression of our life in God. Otherwise, it is just a performance. We constantly live with this tension: we want the services to 'go well', and we want them to be honest. This is not the place to explore this issue, but we have to face it.
Just as in my life I have to give God the freedom to act as He wants to, to be flexible and abandon my plans when He wants to do something different, so too we need to give God space to allow Him to work in our church services. So much of the time, we are in control, and He cannot do a thing unless we let Him. This is the wrong way round!
It is not enough for the leader to pass control back to the congregation for a while. This is still 'us' in control, especially as most of the time the congregation is told what to pray. No, we need to make places in the service when we all come to a stop, and allow God to speak to us, and perhaps through us to the others present. A point of stillness in the middle of the activity. Worship is the place where God reminds us that He is God, and we are called to worship within the Church Services as well as outside them.
This is not a call to stop planning. God clearly wants us to plan and prepare for the future, but He also wants us firstly to give Him space, and secondly to be flexible and abandon our plans when He comes up with something better.
The Church Services should be a time of meeeting with God, but only to equip us to continue meeting Him in a real and powerful way through the rest of the week. What we discover of God in the Services must remind us of and bring us closer to the God who is present in and working in our everyday lives.
If we see the Services as being 'special' because 'God is there', we are excluding Him from the rest of our lives. The Services are only of value if they touch the rest of my life.
This is part of the reason why Housegroups are so important: they are a way we can deliberately bring God into the everyday part of our lives. They meet during the week, not on Sunday. They meet in someone's home, not in the Church building. They are led by an ordinary person, not a Minister. We can all contribute, not just the gifted few.
We have to remember it is my relationship with God from Monday to Saturday which determines my spirituality, not how well I can pray on a Sunday. If He is not real in my life during the week, He is not real in my life.
I have already covered these areas in PT065 - 'Working Together' - but as a quick reminder...
We live in the world, and God wants to speak to it through us. It is all part of us being salt and light to the world. We cannot help but live, so people will see the reality of God in our lives (or the lack of it!) whatever happens. But we have to make a choice about how much we get involved, and about whether we choose to speak, to provide God's view of events, to explain how He feels about things.
People out in the world generally have a strange view of God - if we do not communicate what He is really like through prophetic words and actions, we cannot blame them for failing to understand.
In order to communicate what God is like, we have to be involved with people, and involved in the causes and events He wants to support. We cannot say that God is interested in the way our society develops if all the Christians keep out of politics! I have covered this more fully in 'Reaching out to the World'.
There are a number of obvious points to make.
First, we need to work on developing contacts with people outside the Church. This is a part of 'Reaching out to the World'.
Secondly, we need to work much harder at building on our contact with people who visit or get in touch with the Church for one reason or another. It used to be impossible for a stranger to walk into Westborough and avoid a conversation with someone. It used to be impossible for them to leave without Derek getting their name, their address or telephone number, their response to the service, and an idea of whether they would be coming back next week. Whether they intended to return or not, they would get a short note in the post, or a 'phone call during the week saying it was good to see them on Sunday, and to get in touch with us if they ever feel the need.
Teach & Reach - training!
Housegroups - pastoral care
Understanding and applying
Housegroups - discipleship
Developing spiritual gifts
Infrastructure: Buildings, committees, etc.
"We constantly live with this tension: we want the services to 'go well', and we want them to be honest."
There is a way beyond this dichotomy - either we play-act and the services look great, or we are honest and the services are a confused mess like the rest of our lives. The answer is to recognise the reality of God's activity in our lives. We celebrate who and what He is, what He has done for us, and what He has promised to do for us. We take His word seriously. We do not pretend that we live it or have experienced it all, but neither do we explain it away.