(Jesmond Parish Church is praying to grow to 2000 over the next five years as part of a larger project. A church meeting was held on 20 May to explain the next step. Below is a transcript of my address that followed the presentation by Jonathan Pryke.)
Some of us heard recently, at Prom Praise in the Sage in Gateshead, Peter Kerridge of Premier Radio say that in our region on a Sunday 97½ percent of the population will not be in church. That means that out of an Anglican Parish’s average size of 4000 people, 3,900 will not be in church (of any denomination) on a Sunday. And that is critical. For without a common belief system, at some point there will be social break down. When that happens, it is frightening.
So how should we respond to this in the light of our vision at JPC for Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain coupled with our JPC Founders’ vision of being “a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of sound scriptural and evangelical truth in a growing and populous town [or city]”?
With regard to church growth, a few years ago the staff ministry-area leaders and then, independently, a September lay-leaders conference came up with the same numbers for us to pray and work towards. Jonathan Pryke has spoken of this specific vision, namely for a fellowship of 10,000 people being discipled - with 5000 in church plants and 5000 in JPC (but on a number of sites or campuses).
A plant is a separate daughter church while a site or campus is part of the mother-church’s structure. This means, for example, all the children’s work on such a campus is under one senior children’s co-ordinator with the benefits from economies of scale and the gifts of leadership.
Such a multi-site model of working will not be an innovation of JPC. It is already happening around the country (and in the Church of England). And it has to happen, if we are not to let some strategic churches (of all denominations) in England go into extinction because of dwindling congregations and a lack of full time leadership.
Now I have mentioned our “vision” and values because there are always five things prominent in churches that are growing in spiritual health and in numbers. And the first is their vision under God.
But then there is the Bible, prayer, strong but shared leadership and common sense in terms of management and responding to needs. So how do those four relate to our present situation at JPC? Can I start with the Bible and one thing I am convinced is relevant.
It is Luke 12 where Jesus is talking about the final Judgment Day and how we must be ready for that day. He says that means that, even when there is a delay, we should make sure we grasp the opportunities that God is giving us. Jesus teaches this by way of warning through his Parable of “The Absent Master with three Unready Servants”.
One of these servants is positively irresponsible, getting violent and drunk. The other two simply do nothing and so are irresponsible by the sin of omission. One of the two is knowingly failing to act, while the other is ignorant of the master’s will (so he will get only “a light” punishment). But it is then that Jesus says – and so relevant to us - in the second half of verse 48 of chapter 12:
“Everyone to whom much was [and is] given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
When John Stott came to preach at JPC in the early 1970s, just after I had arrived and the church was much smaller, he said to me words to this effect, “you have a great opportunity here.” Since then one of my jobs has been and, still will be, to encourage people to take the opportunities God gives us. So I thank God for all the people who have grasped past opportunities and helped the church get to this point in its history. It has certainly been great team work of literally, over the years, thousands of volunteers and many staff. Through their efforts, all of us (and I certainly include myself) have been given so much from the ministry of others.
But we are now at this fork in the road. The PCC and the staff ministry-area leaders and myself believe there are great opportunities before us that God is calling us to, as Jonathan has been detailing. So how are we going to respond to them and that Parable with Jesus’ conclusion:
“Everyone to whom much was [and is] given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more”?
One response must be prayer - another mark of a spiritually healthy and growing church. This is where Luke 11 is so relevant with Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer and the Parable of “The Friend at Midnight”. He then gives us these promises in verses 9-10:
“ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
And he concludes by saying that prayer for the Holy Spirit will always be answered. So we can pray for the Holy Spirit’s help for discernment and for his help for any opportunities that God puts before us. Is it not amazing – or it should not be amazing – that once people started to pray for the church to grow to 2000 in five years, this opportunity for us to take on St Joseph’s came up? Of course, the confirmation of all this will be our financial support, as it was with the Curate’s House (now 56 Holly Avenue), the South Gallery, Eslington House, 3 Osborne Road and Holy Trinity Gateshead.
I heard a comment last week with regard to such needs as we now have. The speaker said that “if the size is not intimidating to you, it might be insulting to God.” So we trust £1,500,000 will not be insulting to God! In our praying we must remember Ephesians 3.20-21. In verse 21 we are told that God wants us to pray for “glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations”. How God must be grieved with this generation when he sees churches collapsing. And how we ought to pray believing, on the basis of verse 20, that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think [listen] according to the power at work [present tense, i.e now] within us.” May that characterize our prayer as a church.
So we need vision, the Bible and prayer, but then leadership that is strong but shared.
Leadership and common sense
If we are to get to 2000 with double the staff numbers, as I have explained on more than one occasion, we will need some major changes in staff structures. As vicar I will need to be more a chairman with certain legal responsibilities, with a mentoring and advisory role and involved in more writing and wider affairs. Jonathan Pryke needs to be more the Senior Minister and treated like a new vicar who is in for the long-haul, with hands on leadership and with people aware of that. And the responsibilities and relationships of the other staff and volunteer leaders will also need to be reviewed.
Time forbids me to say much about common sense in terms of management and responding to needs, except that, of course, we can improve; and critically we need to be responsive to the younger electronic generation.
But thank God for having got us this far, so that it seems he can present us with new challenges and new opportunities as Jonathan has explained.
So let us now pray. As yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, here is a special Pentecost prayer (from Contemporary Parish Prayers):
“Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire with a new love for Christ, that we may be alive to the opportunities of these times and bear our witness with urgency and zeal. Save us from complacency and from fear of new ways; inspire our minds with the vision of a world won for our Lord; and stir our wills to pray and work until your will is done, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”