BLESSED

To celebrate St Michael's Day this year we are joining together for a weekend of fun, teaching, worship, prayer and action.  The weekend starts at 9.30 on the Saturday and there is children's activities throughout.  On the Sunday we want to make a difference in our community.


The Cause

The core question lying behind so much of what church leaders from right across the West find themselves talking about is what ‘Church’ means.  We are fixated with questions about what shape it should have, what organisational structure, what core values or what direction it should take.  That’s why we read so many books on emerging church, deep church, liquid church, cell church, café church, messy church, healthy church, simple church, organic church, purpose-driven church, seeker-friendly church, vertical church or provocative church.  We are desperate to find the answer to the question, “What kind of church is best?” And the reason we are asking this question again and again is that we somehow know, deep in our bones, that something is wrong in the way are currently ‘doing’ church.  Whichever tradition we are coming from, whichever stream, whichever background, all of us seem to be asking the same thing.  Is this it?  Is this really all there is to it?  Is this really ‘authentic church life’?

For most of us the answer is so obvious we have given up even asking it.  We knew years ago that the way we were doing church was done for, that it was on the way out, that it was dead, and so we joined in with others asking the same questions, prompted by the same uneasiness and dissatisfaction looking for a new way to do things, organise things, structure things.  Out of this came all kinds of experiments and movements and services and expressions - all initiated by radicals who were willing to try a new thing even if this meant that they had to leave the established form of church behind.  Others, no less frustrated or determined, chose to remain within the larger established structures but instead began to conspire with other subversives about how to change things from the inside.  Others, many others, just gave up trying and left.

However, no matter which direction we have taken, whether we have stayed behind or jumped ship, it seems that we all are now arriving at a point of convergence.  No matter whichever place we started there is almost universal acceptance of the ‘need to change’.

Knowing you need to change, however, is not the same thing as knowing what to change or how to change.  And it is here that the conversation takes us.  If our churches are currently perfectly suited to getting the results we are currently achieving and yet we agree that we want to get different results, we know that the only option open to us is to actually change something.  But the question is what?

On reflection it is apparent that we have tried a few alternatives.

One thing we tried has been to change our worship services.  This has meant updating the music, including the children, making them more reflective, making them more youthful, switching off the lights, switching on the lights, turning up the music, turning off the music, making things messy, tidying things up, using videos, or drama, or dance, or tongues, or whatever.  We have taken out the chairs or replaced the pews with chairs, we have waited for the Spirit and commanded a blessing, we have embraced the silence and let the music fade, we have lit candles, dropped stones, and filled walls with prayers.  All of this good, creative, new, fresh, alive.  You can’t say that we haven’t been creative with our worship services.  We have become more Charismatic, more Catholic, more Celtic, more contemporary, but for all this renewal, for all our relevance, our longing for more remains.

Another thing we have tried is improving our image.  We have become more accepting, welcoming, loving, and forgiving, and less condemning, less frightening.  We have taken out the offensive or difficult things from our theology – or at least focussed less on them.  We have embraced the message that God really is love and we have embraced the outsider.  We have rejected the label which once fitted so well – judgemental.  We have become tolerant and accepting.  We talk about life, not hell, love not judgement, forgiveness not sin.

All this has been a good corrective but once again, though important and good, it has not been enough.

Another thing we have tried is getting involved in social action and community issues.  Recognising that God loves the poor and that Jesus was more radical than Che Guevara we have rediscovered our compassion.  We have marched for justice and to end poverty, campaigned for freedom and set up countless projects serving and loving the poor. We left the church buildings and moved into the neighbourhood.  And it has been hard.  Some of us have been burnt out, others have survived – but either way we still long for more.

And then we have improved our presentations, developed our websites, embraced new technology.  We have tried new ways of communicating trying out up to date theories of the best way to teach.  We have shortened the sermon or beefed it up and used videos and clips and stories.  We make people laugh and make people cry.  We call them into action and repentance and commitment.  We have become more relevant, intelligent, persuasive.

And once again it has all been good, vital even.  We know we live in TV/iPad world and we have become so much better at communicating our message.  But despite all this we still long for more.

And then there have been other approaches.  Rejecting the inherent consumerism of our day some brave believers have taken the scriptures seriously and revisited the theme of community, rejecting large programme driven church for smaller scale intentional community.  Radical communities where church is more about belonging than attending have tried to redraw the shape of church life and have brought a prophetic message to the wider body.

Once again this has been welcome and is a great thing, but once again, we have found we are longing for more.  We may find ourselves in a wonderfully tightknit community of faith where we are shaped by the rhythms of a deep spirituality, where relationships stand the length of time and where we live simply so that others simply live, and yet we wonder if there is more.  How come others don’t join in?  How come we always feel on the edge?  How come we never grow?

We have tried it all – new forms of community, new forms of mission, new forms of worship. How come we still feel we are getting it wrong?  How come we still wonder if there is a better model out there?  How come revival seems so far off?

More recently, however, some clever people have noticed something that might help us. Once you’re told it, it seems obvious and you wonder why you didn’t notice it before.  And it is this.  The reason church no longer works the way it used to, or even when we try new variations of it, is primarily because people have changed in the way they think, act, connect and belong.

Take political parties.  A few decades ago many millions of us belonged to political parties, got involved in local and national politics, marched, campaigned, wrote letters.  Today the membership has shrunk to an all-time low.  People just won’t get involved like they used to.

Take membership to societies, clubs, guilds.  A few decades ago you could still enter a town and find a whole array of community groups, sports clubs and voluntary groups alive and well doing the thing that they enjoyed doing most.  And people volunteered to be treasurer, chairman or secretary without difficulty.  Today the numbers of clubs, organisations and groups have shrunk to an all-time low, and those that still exist are running on an ever decreasing, over stretched core.  People just won’t get involved like they used to.

And of course it’s exactly the same for the local church.  Churches still exist, but the way people belong to them has completely changed.  Recruiting volunteers to run Sunday school or youth work or help with services seems harder than ever.  Organising church-wide events often seems an uphill struggle.  People just don’t get involved like they used to.

The church is declining not just because people have lost faith.  The church is declining because the way people relate, belong, think and act has changed.  And it is this change that means that community groups, political parties and sports clubs find themselves struggling for committed members too.  We have changed.  We don’t get our identity from these groups any more.

There is much to say about such a shift, but perhaps this is the most important of them all.  Despite the fact that people don’t commit themselves to organisations, parties or groups any more they do commit themselves to causes, ideals and visions.  And once they have a cause they will sacrifice their time, money and effort for it, as long as it doesn’t become an organisation or institution.

Now if it is true that people don’t join institutions or organisations but they do sign up to causes then perhaps there is life in the old church yet, as long as church gathers people around a cause.  Don’t invite them to join in the organisation, get them to share the same cause and purpose.

With this in mind, if we are to have a future, we will increasingly need to highlight and articulate the cause that lies at the heart of things.  And we will need to do this repeatedly and convincingly so that again and again, normal and sensible people decide to sacrifice everything for the cause that has taken hold of them.

Biblical, or Christian terms, for ‘sacrificing everything for the cause’ are words such as ‘repent’ and ‘believe’ and these are the words Jesus used when he invited people to join in his cause.  His cause was simply stated. It was to announce the arrival of Kingdom of God and to invite people to live their lives in under God’s rule as disciples of Jesus.  And the prize, the reward and the incentive for sacrificing everything for this cause, was what Jesus called LIFE – life in all its fullness, the life of the world to come which nothing could destroy.  Give up everything for this cause and you are promised life.  Loose everything for it and you will gain everything.  Leave everything behind for it and you will find everything you longed for.  Die and you will live.

This is what we need in the church.  Alongside all the other renewals and reformations we need a deeper understanding and vision of the cause which we have been given.  As we know, right at the end of his time on earth, after his resurrection but before his ascension, Jesus commissioned his disciples with one central task – to make disciples and to teach them everything he had taught them about the kingdom of God.

This is our task. This is our central cause.  It is to announce the promise of the Kingdom, to avail it to people, to make it accessible and to invite them into it.  And it is to entice them into Christian discipleship for the sake of finding life.  Everything we do must find it’s place subservient to this cause.  This must become our rallying cry and our number one passion.  To make disciples through the announcement of the gospel of the Kingdom.  This is our mission.  This is our cause.  This is what the church exists for.  Indeed this is what will make the church.  We go and make disciples.  Jesus will build his church.

One last thing.  Given that the cause is to make disciples, we must recognise that it is only possible to do this as a community, as a church.  We must remember that the cause of Jesus can only be articulated through a community of people who live out this cause together not simply through the lives of individual Christians.  Church is fundamental for the gospel to take root.  As Jesus prayed just before he was crucified, the world will only truly respond to the truth of the gospel when groups of people embody this truth in their community life and behaviour together – when they are one, when they are as united with each other as Jesus was united to his Father.

This is our cause.  We can’t do it alone.  We need each other.  Announcing the Kingdom and making disciples.


More than me

We live in a non-committal culture, where you can turn up to Church when you want, expect to be entertained and still keep all of your options open. This is not what St Michael’s Church is about.

St Michael’s is a Church which is unashamedly about re-centring our lives around Jesus; the man who was God and who spoke about a life that costs and a faith that is sacrificial. Commitment to St Michael’s therefore is not about facilitating your social or entertainment needs, rather, it is about engaging with Church as a spiritual discipline; being caught up into The Biblical Story together and the God that is bigger than ourselves. St Michael’s is a Church that seeks to proactively engage with, relate to and challenge the culture we live in. Our love for Jesus means that mission is at our heart and we seek ways of proclaiming and demonstrating the truth of his resurrection. God has a plan to bring about his justice and peace over the whole earth reconciling us to himself and to establish his kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven. To this end we exist to share Christ’s message of good news within our community through relationship, action and word.

As part of this we are dedicated to equipping people to a life of discipleship and challenging each other to actively grow in faith and pursue a life of transformation. We acknowledge we can only do this through the leadership, empowerment, presence, counsel and healing power of the Holy Spirit.


Seven

Coinciding with the New Year is a new book which we will be reading together as a church up to Easter. Written by Richard it's about Discipleship. The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing. This may be hard, but it is not beyond us. The kingdom of God is available to every one of us. It is within reach. It is at hand. It is near. Practical and accessible, this book sets out a framework which will enable you to success in your desire to follow through on your commitment to being a disciple. Seven short chapters outline a rule of life that is easy to remember and possible to achieve. Jesus offered us life. Seven is about joining with others to experience it.

If you want to read it online you can click here Seven


We believe in Church

Why do we do what we do?

We believe in Church. We believe that, contrary to popular belief, the church is amazing
We believe that when the church looks like Jesus, when it sounds like him, when it feels like him, when it gives off his aroma everything changes. Communities are transformed, people’s lives are restored from the inside out. When the church is alive, people come alive. When the church is alive, communities come alive. If you want to change the world, the best way of doing that, we believe, is to be a part of church. In church people discover love and forgiveness and healing. They discover rhythm, purpose and passion. They discover fulfilment, direction and joy. Church matters.

Church gives people the way to salvation. It gives them the tools needed for personal transformation and renewal. It gives them a worldview that makes sense of the world and which gives direction and purpose to life. It gives them a way to find life.

How does Church do this? It does it by introducing people to God in Jesus. It does it through baptism and breaking bread and worship. It does it through engaging in prayer and disciplines and rituals that help us remember and reconnect ourselves with God’s love, his grace, his forgiveness and his presence. It does this through ministry and generosity and self-sacrifice. It does it by sharing the good news about God’s kingdom and inviting people to rethink their lives around it. It does it by inviting others to seek the kingdom, find it, receive it, and enter it. It does this through giving itself away, feeding people, loving them, forgiving them, bearing with them. It does it through blessing rather than cursing its enemies, and praying for those who persecute it. It does this through taking on the enemy and proclaiming that life, not death, wins after all – that love, not hate, is ultimately victorious. It does this by trusting in God, taking risks, living simply, giving things away and ‘taking up its cross’. It does it by loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and believing the unbelievable. It does it by following Jesus and by inviting others to follow Jesus too. Everyone is a disciple. Everyone is a disciplemaker. There is a discipleship invitation everywhere –at home, at work, at the gym, at school, at college, in the hospital.

What does the church do? It prays, it worships, it breaks bread in homes, it devotes itself to the apostle’s teaching, it gives money away to those in need. It makes music to God, and celebrates the sacrifice of Jesus in the breaking of bread. It engages in mission and compassion and outreach. It embraces the poor. It makes space for the broken. It receives the unclean. It teaches and it baptises. It educates and releases. It equips and it appoints. It resources and it anoints. It guides and motivates and trains. It helps people to find their place and their role, their purpose. It prays for healing, sets people free and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour. It restores the foundations, breaks the curses and restores godly ways of thinking. It runs courses, toddler groups, it provides family meals when someone has a baby. It visits the sick, lends out a van and buys a holiday caravan. It sets up a recording studio, reads with kids at school, walks the streets at midnight, runs a foodbank. It mentors, it enthuses, encourages. It blesses the local schools, it joins in with local community activities, it gets involved, it rolls out the red carpet by picking up litter and hiring out skips. It runs a community café and centre as a home from home, facilitating an art group, a breast feeding group, a knit and natter group, and offering countless people a chance to regain their purpose and their direction. It prays for breakthrough. It set up impact groups that make a difference to local people. It believes in people. It blesses marriages and supports families. It gives thanks for children seeing them as gifts. It supports the grieving and gives hope to the mourning. It takes a day off each week seeing it as a gift from God for the benefit of everyone. It lives life as if God’s Kingdom is at hand and available to all. It believes that Jesus is Lord. It believes that Jesus has won. It believes he is good.

This is what we are like. This is what we do. This is how we do it. This is why we do it. Want to sign up for another year?


The life I always wanted

What does being a Christian mean to you? What is the most important part of it all? How do you feel you are doing? Does it all make sense? Do you want to know God better? Have you ever thought something ought to change?

Jesus came to offer us a life in his kingdom and as a church it is our main aim to learn how to live this life well. Church people call learning about this life 'discipleship'. Over the next year discipleship is going to take centre stage in our thinking and living as a community. Some of us have been disciples of Jesus for a while. Others have only just signed up for the journey. None of us feel we've got it licked and all of us want to grow in our life with God.

As the summer time comes to an end and we enter a new season together it is our aim to build each other up and see each other grow and mature. Together we are committed to being and making disciples.

Join us, if you want to make this your own goal. Join us is you want to discover the life you always wanted. Join us if you want to sign up as a student of Jesus. It will be worth it.


Summer Time

It's great when summer comes and regardless of the weather we all look forward to the slightly slower pace that this holiday season brings. Summer is a good time for stuff we don't normally have time for - hanging out in the garden having a BBQ, going on trips to the sea, going overseas, relaxing with a book. As a church August is always a slower time for us and it gives us time to recharge our batteries ready for the new school year in September. Take the opportunity to reflect about your own life with God. Take time to check on your most important relationships. Summer time is a gift to us. Perhaps write some things down that you feel God is saying to you, or read through a gospel and pick up a Christian book. Why not try and go for a 'prayer walk' with God in the country side? What ever you do this summer, may the goodness of God touch you every day.


Revolution

It was a fab weekend! Just getting together, sitting down in the sunshine, going for a gentle stroll, enjoying a cup of coffee, eating great food, were all fantastic, but it was the quality of the the teaching and the sense of what God was saying to us through each other that will really last. During the morning David and Myrtle Lawrence presented us again with the invitation and challenge of Jesus to join in his revolution of love. Once again we were moved and excited to see ourselves as change-makers, system-breakers, culture-shapers. We were encouraged once again to see how this revolution was always intended to extend to the edges of human life. God was coming to bring his kingdom of love and forgiveness and healing to a world longing for justice and freedom. Invited to take Jesus at his word and to believe in him, we have become his disciples. Like Peter, James and John (Jesus' three closest disciples) we looked at how Jesus left us with some incredible resources for living in the kingdom and seeing this revolution through. Later in the afternoon, God seemed to speak in a different mode as we reflected together about what had been said and began to notice how central prayer was in this revolution of love. And so we committed ourselves to forming 'houses of prayer' right across the area as centres of blessing. The day ended with a Hog Roast and Ceilidh in the evening. And you can't help smile whenever you think about it all... Thank you to everyone who helped with food, money, putting away, washing up, chatting... It was brilliant.


Houses of Prayer

A few years ago it seemed clear that god was reminding us once again about the centrality and importance of prayer in our lives. We talked together about how Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and went looking for the life of prayer displayed by the people of God at the time and how angered and disappointed he was with what he found. We also talked about the invitation god was offering us to participate in his mission to our loved world by joining him in prayer. This led us to latch upon the phrase 'house of prayer' and we were encouraged to both make our own homes 'houses of prayer' right across the community, and also to see our own church building as a 'house of prayer'.

The heart of God has not changed and once again there is a call from God to meet him in prayer - either in our own homes or together at church. All over the country and the world we are seeing the blessing that comes when people pray and the church lives up to its calling as the renewed temple of God to be a house of prayer for all nations.

Join others on Tuesday evenings from 7-8, or set up your own 'house of prayer' at work, at home or at the weekends.

And remember - every prayer makes a difference.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil
for the Kingdom
the power and the glory are yours
now and for ever
Amen


Dwell

In a bid to step away from the rush and noise of the world, and to orientate our lives more around the presence and power of God's kingdom, we are re-launching DWELL. Our heart for Dwell is to create a space and time which will enable us to dwell in God's presence without distraction, to sense his nearness and to draw close to him. Using music, silence, images and prayer we are committed to finding God and finding ourselves in him.

So come. Come if you are thirsty and hungry for more of God in your life. Come ready to share and to believe. Come ready to love and welcome. Come as you are.

Date: Sunday 9th April. Time: 8pm. Venue: The Rec House, Twerton