As Lesley and I were returning from Clergy Conference , before we had reached the top of the hill coming out of Launceston, we had decided to preach on some of the discipling information we had heard. The first thing which came to mind was Who what where when and why, the why being most important.
I delivered my sermon to Woodbridge a fortnight ago and felt afterwards that it was received as another blah blah blah, heard it all before type sermon. The content i feel stacks up and if you would like to read it it is on the blog page of the website. I can get you a copy if you would like.
In super summary the who was you and me, the what is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the When is always, the Where is wherever we are, but mostly in our circle of influence, the why is the great commission from Matthew’s gospel along with numerous other scriptural sources.
A bumper sticker I saw at Clergy Conference gave another reason for discipling, it said, Accept Jesus into your life now and spend the rest of eternity in the non-smoking”
The reason it seemed to be like water off a duck back at Woodbridge was of a much deeper nature and begins with….
The book Bishop Richard had us read before Clergy Conference was called the Vine Project; it flows from a previous book by the same authors called The Trellis and the vine. Col Marshall one of the authors was keynote speaker at the training day last week.
A synopsis of the first book was included in the first chapter of the Vine Project. Both books examine the experience of very large numbers of traditional churches most of which were declining in membership. The Pastors, rectors, priests in charge had tried countless numbers of programs to train and encourage evangelism, faith sharing outward focus of the churches with the almost universal result of foundering of these initiatives, burnout of church leaders and maintenance of the status quo.
The authors describe how this is because the programs and initiatives introduced were what they describe as part of the vine. The culture within these churches which caused these attempts to founder were part of the trellis. Stated otherwise the trellis is the foundation within the organization or the culture which determines the product or fruit of the vine. The vine naturally represents the outward efforts and the constraints stemming from the trellis which cause the vine or the product to stay within the bounds of the culture of the organization.
Therefore, it did not matter how many projects and plans were put into place, if the culture did not exist to support and maintain them, they foundered, energy failed, and the status quo returned.
It takes a real courage for an organization to examine its culture objectively and ask what is it about that culture that is stopping change and growth, growth being the coarse measurement by which positive change can be appreciated.
I can hear you thinking, he is criticizing us for not working hard enough or doing something wrong
I cannot imagine a group of people in any organization who have worked harder that members of this church to keep it going and that includes the years of cake stalls and fund raising events as well as the operational work and the ministry. Since we have been in ESM.
We have always known what Jesus told us in the great commission, we know what Paul and other epistle writers tell us about sharing the good news. I know it already happens but I don’t know how much, I have heard a few examples of members taking opportunities to share elements of their faith to people sometimes who were previously known, sometimes not. I suspect that there is more sharing happening and I think there is a trellis syndrome which is part of the culture of this Church. Which keeps it secret.
I make the observation that we are a largely middle class group who have had relatively conservative upbringing in terms of our social behavior, quite regardless of politics. I make no reference to politics. Being largely of English descent , a bit of Irish plus one Scot as well as a few other odds and sods. As
There is also a tall poppy syndrome which is at least in part a Australian tradition, we don’t like to big note and promote ourselves.
Consequently if we do something for God, we don’t like to speak up about it.
I believe that we need a new trellis and pull out the old. When we read Paul’s letters, does he hold back about telling his readers what he has done?, no way, and at the outset he makes it clear that he is not boasting about himself, any boast is credited to Jesus Christ, and all Jesus had done along with the Holy Spirit.
On the face of it, he boasts unashamedly and often, he holds himself up to be the paragon of excellence upon which all followers should model themselves. And he is right.
His advice to his first readers and the untold millions of readers since them has provided encouragement and direction and inspiration to countless of millions of Christians.
2 Corinthians 11
E.G. . 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
And in Chapter 12
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In 2 Corinthians,, 3;
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit;
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation
“Join together in following my example, he tells the Philippians in Chapter 3 and later, all you have seen, heard or received from me, put into practice”
In Colossians Chapter 4 he asks them to devote themselves to prayer that God may open a door for them (Paul) to proclaim the mystery of Christ.
We need to pray for each other that such is the case.
If we believe Paul was inspired by God to follow Jesus, it is up to us to do what he said and followed his instruction to witness, share, evanglise, disciple He has built a trellis which every church should incorporate as a keystone of their church. If we can abandon for Christ, our good manners and dignity when it comes to sharing with each other and the world about us, at every opportunity we will grow the Kingdom and have a new Church.
Learning to share and practise ourskiting for Jesus will make us better able to share when the opportunities present to the world at large.
As we consider the trellis and vine concept in our Church, the logical next step, perhaps previous step is to consider the trellis structure within ourselves. Are there any obstacles within us to thwart attempts to follow Jesus command?
It may be as we examine our personal culture, “I do not do evangelism, not my gift” It may be “I am too nervous, and would make a mess of it” It may be, That’s what we pay the Rector for, Oh that’s right, the rector is a part of the congregation, not separate, can’t really get away with that one. In our hearts, we may not believe that direction applies to me.
We may have to delve deep and challenge ourselves, consider the scripture, God’s plan for the world, the priceless treasure we have in Jesus and the thirst in the world for the satisfaction of the spring of living water that never runs dry and leads to eternal life.
I believe that the new trellis we need to establish is a skiting trellis, where we boast about what we have done for Christ, about the opportunities and challenges presented about how the Spirit has guided and aided our efforts.
It is inescapable, that every believer is called to be a discipler and every church needs to place discipling in the highest order of priority. May God bless us as we re structure the Trellises in this Parish that much fruit be borne on the branches which depend and live through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Perhaps the most important information gained at Clergy Conference was that of pathways, that there are five e’s in the process of discipling, engage, evangelise, establish 1, establish 2 and equip. .Engaging is what most Anglican churches are best at, creating contact in our communities, giving gifts to our communities, whether for the needy or the spiritual bereft. Most fell down on the evangelism front, establishment of early believers and more mature believers, i.e.1 & 2 was also ok and most were pretty low on the equipping front, giving members the tools to engage in the whole process.
Pathways needs to be addressed in more detail in the near future. Meanwhile we are working on a couple of fronts, and as we are quite proficient in the engaging process the next step is witnessing and faith sharing which slots in before evangelism.
I want to lead us in a prayer now which commits us to learn and practice and engage in sharing and invite you to repeat the prayer after me, if you would prefer not to be included in this prayer, I am sure that you can cross your fingers and God will understand.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your blessings of this life, especially for all you have done for us in Jesus. Guide us and help us Lord to share with each other our victories and what we have learned by our failures as we practice faith sharing within the Church. Give us pride to share with each other and help us to use our sharing skills to lead people to Jesus. Provide the opportunities to share and to move people closer to Jesus wherever they be on their faith pathway. Help us to not only shine your light but to speak that light into people’s lives. We ask it for Jesus sake, Amen