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I’ve been  doing some research on congregational amalgamations. One thing is very apparent: amalgamations have a greater chance of being ‘successful’ if they are driven by a conviction that the participating congregations are able to serve God’s mission better together than separately.

What is also apparent is that most congregations enter into the conversation about amalgamation when they are desperate: the leadership of the congregation are tired of working very hard to keep things going; the building is in need of major repairs; the finances are unable to sustain the ongoing costs.

Often, then, people enter into the conversation hoping that an amalgamation will solve those problems. Past experience indicates that that will probably not be the case. If nothing is done to address the dynamics that caused the decline and the crises in the first place, within a few short years, the new congregation will be facing the same problems again.

Addressing those dynamics is hard work. Once a congregation enters into the process of amalgamating with another congregation, its people can be easily distracted from that hard work by the technical details of making an amalgamation happen. However, figuring out why God has called them to be the church in a particular place and time is critical to their becoming a flourishing congregation. That work needs to be done before, during and after the amalgamation process.

In the recent past, many congregations tried to do that work by developing mission or vision statements and by listing their values. I am not convinced that that has been helpful or fruitful. Many congregational mission statements are merely generic descriptions of what the people think a church should be. They are seldom very compelling. They are usually focused primarily on the church rather than on the mission.

So, what does a congregation do in order to get a clear sense of what God is calling them to be and to do in their particular place and time? I suspect that the answer to that question lies in story-telling. The Church is a story-formed community. The Bible doesn’t list a set of values. It tells stories about the Triune God and about the people who have lived in response to and in obedience to that God.

What would it look like to reclaim that way of being the Church? People would need to know the Story well. It would need to dwell deeply in their hearts and their lives. The sad thing is that so many Christians have given up on our Story. They are not convinced that the stories in the Bible have much to say to the way they live their lives. It is a great challenge for their leaders to wrestle with the scriptures so deeply that the Story catches fire in their own lives. Then they will have something to offer their people.

The people will need to know the Story well enough that they are able to work with it creatively. Then, there will need to be a culture in the congregation that nurtures in them that creativity and celebrates it.

I am wondering if a way to start would be to give story-telling a more prominent place in the life of the community of faith. Have people tell the stories of what God is doing in their lives. Discover what biblical stories are living at the heart of the community. Learn those stories. Wrestle with them. Tell them to each other. Let those stories shape the decisions that are made. Let them be the lens through which the congregation sees what God is calling them to be and to do.

Does anyone know a congregation where that is happening? I would love to hear about it.

God of great faithfulness and unending compassion,
you dwell in eternity
yet you meet us in this time and this place.
You rescue us from forces that diminish your good creation.
Through your Son Jesus
you seeks us out when we are lost.
You bring us home.
You pour your life out in sacrifice for ours.
You welcome us into the company of your people.
You grant us freedom and the power of your Holy Spirit.

We have received goodness
and grace
and gift
beyond our deserving.
Our lives are blessed because we belong to you.
We begin this day in gratitude.

Keep us, Lord, from the pride that will not admit our need of you.
Keep us from the fearfulness that will not trust you.
Keep us from the busyness that leaves no room to welcome you.

We turn to you
for you have the words of eternal life,
the life abundant and true that we seek.
Meet us here, Lord, in our need
so that your powerful
bold
reliable presence
will loom greater than our pride,
larger than our fears,
more compelling than our busy pre-occupations.
Then, shape us by your grace
till our whole life is lived
to your glory.

We ask in the name of Jesus
who shares your glory
so that the love with which you have loved him
may be in us.

 

God of the new creation in Christ,
God of new beginnings,
we come to you this day
in daring hope
That you can begin again in us.

Redeem us from our slavery to fear and anxiety;
rescue us from pride and jealousy;
restore us to the healing mission of your Holy Spirit;
renew in a a passion for your work.

We set our lives within your renewing grace.
By your Holy Spirit,
forgive us,
revive us
reshape us
in the image of your Son Jesus,
for we would serve him
to whom we owe our life
our salvation
our hope.

 

One of the tendencies in our culture is to try to manage things by making them one-dimensional. A friend and colleague, Paul Miller, has written in his blog about the importance of dealing with life’s complexity — of keeping things complex so that we experience the full richness of life; of learning to navigate life’s paradoxes. Specifically he reflects on spirituality and how the richest treasures are to be found by keeping it multi-dimensional.
I encourage you to check out what he has to say:  http://waterloopres.blogspot.ca/2016/03/more-on-dwelling-and-seeking.html

 

A prayer for Good Friday

God of great mercy,
you have drawn us into this community
of those who would follow your Son Jesus.

You draw us again into the story
of Jesus’ last day.
Open our hearts by its Truth;
renew our spirits by its Grace;
deepen our walk with him
who calls us friends
who gave his life for all.

Patient God,
we offer you our longings to be faithful
and our failures to do so.

We live surrounded and sustained by your grace:
where we cannot keep faithful to you,
you remain faithful to us;
even as our love falters and stumbles,
your love endures;
where we pull back in fear,
you draw us forward into your Reign of Love.

We know the price you pay to live us.
Receive our grateful praise.

God of time and eternity
through your Holy Spirit
you lead us to places
where the light of your presence is shining;
through your risen Christ
you off us the blessings of your Reign of Love in our midst.

Yet, we are a double-minded people:
we want the future you have promised
but there are times when we are afraid that you will lead us
where we do not want to go;
we delight in the new creation you offer
but there are times when we cannot see it clearly enough
to dispel our fears of the unknown.
We want to be held by your life-giving power,
but there are times when we are afraid to let you
get that close to us.

Ground us deep in your love–
so deep that our fears and doubts give way to
joy and excitement at what you are doing;
so deep that our freedom and courage grows
strong enough to join you in your new creation.

Move us to act in your world
with a hope that cannot be deflected or destroyed.

Form us and transform us
so that we become signs of your truth
wherever we live and work and play.

We ask in the name of Jesus
who did your will
even when the Way ahead
was dark
and difficult
and dangerous;
who offers us your Holy Spirit
so that we love you
by keeping your word;
so that we can know your peace.

God of our salvation,
in Jesus Christ
and through your Holy Spirit,
you promise to be with us through
all that life may bring us.

We are grateful for signs of your faithfulness all around us:
for the work of your Spirit in the lives of
those who commit themselves to your mission;
for the presence of your Spirit
carrying us in times of crisis and trial;
for the creativity of your Spirit
opening new channels of peace and reconciliation
after all our best efforts have failed.

Teach us who bear the name of Jesus
to live into and out of his grace
with such passion and commitment
that other people’s lives are blessed
and our communities flourish.

Let your healing waters flow over us
that we may be instruments of your grace
wherever you send us this week.

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