Thursday, 22 November 2007

How does the garden grow

Willow Creek have commendibly admitted that one of their policies hasn't been working - see here.

They have previously assumed that by getting people serving, their faith would automaticaly deepen. Their own research now shows that this isn't necessarily the case.

It begs the qustion: How according to scripture can we hope to see people's faith strengthen? A number of points can be made:
  1. We should not throw the idea of service out fully. Paul wrote of "knowing Christ, and teh fellowship of sharing in his sufferings" (Phil 3). He clearly saw some link between the two. As we give ourselves up for the sake of God's kingdom, we would usually rely more on Christ and know the shared joy of serving his purposes with him.
  2. The primary means faith is developed is however surely by God's word brought home by his Spirit (Isaiah 55:10-11). Thus, exposure to good, applied bible teaching must be key. But with this should be attempts to ensure that teaching strikes home. So homegroups where through discussion it can take impact are crucial, as are regular encouragements to be using good bible reading notes. One aid that is often lost today however, is the Rabbinic model of giving a place for questions of theteacher alongside his teaching. Questioners from listeners often reveal whether they have 'got the point,' and so can help ensure that the sermon doesn't miss the mark and is not misunderstood. With congregations of less than fifty, there could be a pause for questions just before the conclusion of the sermon. This could then be followed with a final exhortation so that the call of the sermon is not dampened. With larger groups, a sermon slot towards the end of a series could be given to questions on the series. Preferably perhaps, fifteen minutes for questions with the preacher could be given after the service over coffee in a seperate room. The great advantage of having a question time each week is that it signals to the congregation that they should be realy pondering what is said, and that the preacher is not infallible, but simply more learn-ed, and that ultimately, we all learn together as we agree on what the text actually says and conform our minds and wills to it.
  3. What Willow Creek may have neglected to factor for is that the impact of God's word and the deepemning of faith isultimately a soveriegn work of God whose Spirit blows where he pleases. Specific prayer for individuals by one-another in the congregation and by the pastor must also be key. Ephesians 1:15-23, Phil 1:9-11, Col 1:9-12, show that this sort of praying was forefront in the apoostle Paul's mind and so at his first thought in his letters. We would do well to pray his prayers then for each other.
  4. Encouragement is a further way we need each other (Heb 10-:24-25). Church is not just about our engagement with God, but our admonishing and teahcing one-another to live lives that are pleasing to him (Col 3:16). Again, homegroups an a mentality of encouragement at church social gatherings must also therefore be key - interest in people's home and work lives, an unpatronising and warm urging to do what's right in each situation, and a commitment to pray in one's private devotions for the situation their fellow Christian faces.