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Torquay - Paignton - Brixham

 

From the Superintendent Minister

It seems to me that the local church exists for three purposes: worship (looking upward); communal discipleship (looking inward); and witness mission and evangelism (looking outward).  Somehow, we have to maintain a proper balance between the three.

In recent years there has been a renewal of emphasis on worship in many churches.  Some churches have done this through revising their printed orders of service and producing new service books.  Other churches have done it though different worship styles, often using new songs and a variety of instruments.  No one doubts the importance of offering God worship that is honouring to him.

A lot of local churches claim that, whatever else their limitations may be, they are friendly.  This may or may not be the case.  I do not want to mistake friendship for Christian fellowship, but some churches stress the inward fellowship dimension so heavily that they end up neglecting the upward and outward dimensions. The danger of looking inward to the exclusion of the other two is that the church becomes insular: its congregation becomes isolated from the community in its attitudes, language and worship, and contented with its own view of itself.

 I think it is generally accepted that reaching out to others is the weakest dimension in many churches in Britain today.  Of course, it is also possible to become so intent on wanting people to come along that the church loses all its distinctiveness, for fear that being different might put people off.

 In short then, there are grave dangers in being a one-dimensional church.

Upward only

A congregation that only looks upwards might have good worship and feel that it is really relevant – and it might indeed be relevant to the people who attend, but each worshipper is thinking primarily about what he or she gets out of the worship (for this is often the way it is) and little about other people either inside or outside the church.

Inward only

A congregation that only looks inwards might have a strong sense of fellowship but it operates in a way that newcomers do not understand.  The people who already belong don’t understand why other people perceive the church to be unwelcoming and unfriendly – they are welcoming and friendly to one another, but don’t see that newcomers do not share this experience.

Outward only

A church that only looks outwards has a strong sense of mission and might feel that it is being faithful in evangelism and service in an age when many churches have lost their missionary zeal.  The pitfall with this is that everything is superficial, and faithfulness means numerical success above anything else.  We ought to be aware that there are also dangers in being a two-dimensional church.

Inward and outward

The congregation that looks inward and outward makes the church a friendly social club that welcomes new recruits.  Everything is judged by whether more and more people will come – worship is limited to safe, unchallenging services or meetings with perfunctory devotions.

Inward and upward

The congregation that looks inward and upward makes the church a place where ‘how I feel’ is what really matters.  The congregation prides itself on having lively worship and fellowship, but does not think much about the wider community or the needs of people outside of the church.

Upward and outward

The congregation that looks upward and outward teaches doctrinal truth and the importance of evangelism. Its limitation is that it preaches a gospel of love but does not show love to the people that it already has.

Three-dimensional churches

Only the congregation which looks upward (in worship), inward (in fellowship), and outward (in mission) can be the properly balanced local church – and my guess is that the properly balanced local church is made up of members who reflect that balance in their own worship, fellowship, and witness.

John Haley

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