In March 2017 Session agreed to appoint a Sub Group to reflect on present church activity at Maze and to present back to Session a draft of priorities for future life and witness. The adopted guidebook, “The Vine Project” (pub. Matthias Media 2016) and associated material has been the basis of that review. Many of the points raised and assumptions made in the following paper arise from questions posed in chapters of this book.
The Vine Project Session Sub Group met over a period of six months (March –September 2017) and reflected upon the broad aim of church life as witnessing to Jesus and seeking to make disciples who love and follow Him in their daily lives. If it is the aim of an individual to move closer to Jesus, then it ought to be the aim of all the organisations of a church to reflect that same ambition, just as it is the initial desire of the church to introduce people to Jesus. In essence that is the guiding principle that steered the Sub Group – to see how church life in Maze is helping and encouraging individual men, women and kids to move closer to Jesus.
The primary discussion involved looking deeper into the activities of all the regular organisations and the general makeup of the congregation to determine a base line for our church experience. Inevitably there is a degree of limitation inherent in a discussion carried out by a few men no matter how good the guiding manual and process might be. It is all too easy to drift into pessimism or misplaced optimism depending on one’s own natural disposition so attention has focused on broad consensus (even if the initial group was small.) It should be stressed these are broad perceptions of a few individuals who themselves are passionate about following Jesus, and crucially committed to the expression of church in Maze, as such much can be gleaned from these insights however limited.
It is recognised the knowledge of the Sub Group is partial and any assessment made is, in that sense general and imprecise. However, enough caveats!
The draft 2020 Vision Statement was understood to blend very well and helpfully with the present church motto – Knowing, Serving and Sharing Jesus; and reflecting on both could aid our congregation in developing a form of witness and presence that is relevant in our present age. The Vision Statement could be seen as expanding on the simple motto.
“The Vine Project” introduces a 5 stage “spectrum” upon which it is possible to place every person connected with Maze and, indeed, each organisation.
That spectrum could be presented as…
- Engaging (remote from church life with a need to make contact though unlikely to be much by way of gospel presentation)
- Evangelising (those who do not make a profession of faith but well enough acquainted with church life that they can hear the gospel being presented on occasions)
- Establishing-new (new or young Christians who are being helped to understand their faith)
- Establishing-growing (helping longer established believers understand the gospel)
- Equipping (Christians who are ready for training to help others in the faith)
If we were to imagine this spectrum ranging from (left) far away Jesus and religion to (right) totally committed to Jesus then the idea of moving closer to Jesus could be spoken of as encouraging people to take one step towards the right.
Summarising all of this in a picture form that might look something like this…
The aim of any church should be to enable people to move progressively towards the right of this spectrum, which might be understood additionally as moving closer to Jesus as faith develops.
The spectrum @ Maze (Individuals)
Recognising the caveats expressed above, it was attempted to place every person connected with Maze onto this spectrum with an additional place on the spectrum understood as Establishing (stuck) to represent those who have made profession of faith but are not showing any signs of moving towards equipping. The following results detail the picture for roughly 400 persons:
The same exercise was carried out to describe those within church under the age of 18. For clarity it was noted that there are many more children connected to Maze than considered here – the numbers considered were those known to the Sub Group as children of Maze church families (this was performed with a broader brush stroke and the Establishing category was reduced into one combined category) with the following results for roughly 75 persons:
Immediately it can evidenced there are large numbers on the periphery of church life about whom little is known because there is no meaningful contact with the fellowshipping life of church; perhaps in the distant past this contact was much stronger for many. Additionally the establish(new) category was very low and the establish(stuck) very high proportionately.
Negatively, this means it is right to query why there are low numbers of people coming to faith, i.e. conversions (though recognising it is hard to gauge what has happened in one person’s heart), and secondly, why so many Christians are stuck in their faith.
Positively it can be deduced there are many within church who are established in their faith; also that it is perceived that the equipped category is large and this should be seen as a positive change for Maze PC. Evidently there is a huge mission field connected with our church and that is evidenced by the evangelising category for those under 18.
On further discussion it was felt that growing opportunities for service within the general church structures have enabled people to develop in their faith and grow closer to Jesus. However, there seems to be a growing sense that it is possible to be a passenger in church where it is easy to participate on a Sunday morning yet without the challenge of service later in the week in a public way expressed through the life of the congregation.
The spectrum @ Maze (Ministry Areas and Organisations)
The small group carried out a separate analysis of the church organisations and activities connected to Maze PC (a total of 26 specific ministries) and made a broad judgment on the perceived effectiveness of the organisation in each of the areas of the discipleship spectrum (engage> evangelise > establish > equip). While no separate data has not been presented for this, it was noted that each organisation has a different role and function and may more naturally fall into one position on the spectrum than others; and that certain activities may not be relevant at all. However, applying the same principles to all areas of church life including organisations it was felt that many aspects of church do encourage Christians to move closer to Jesus as evidenced in the routine efforts of the likes of Sunday Club and YF, men@maze, women@maze and Summer Bible clubs.
Reflecting upon the perception of the wider community of Maze PC it was concluded that youth work was seen as a strength and, indeed a reason for connecting with the church itself.
In light of the fact that there is no “uniformed organisation” within Maze – it added to the importance of running and supporting the Youth Clubs and Duke of Ed Groups as points of contact with community as they serve as vibrant witnesses to the place of church in our locality. While these organisations have a high involvement of leaders it was considered a good and important role and they should be assisted in ensuring there is adequate help.
In gauging where there are strengths in Maze’s makeup, factors would suggest that is in the category Establishing (growing) and this is probably one development of the benefits of the fellowship group structure adopted over the past number of years (and coupled with the pastorate model for pastoral care provision.)
The Church (in terms of ministry activity) would seem to be weakest at the opposite ends of the spectrum – in evangelising and equipping.
If there are aspects of present church life that could enhance the task of moving others closer to Jesus it was considered that Youth Clubs have a significant role in that as well as the pastorate organisational system within church. It would be beneficial to have a review of organisations and assess where they see their priorities as fitting in with the larger vision.
Sunday @ Maze
Over many years it has been the guiding principle to see Sunday as the shop window of church life – this is the main point of contact with our community. While worship is primarily centred upon God and the church meets in response to his saving initiative, it is seeing the church in worship that is in itself a witness to the world. There is a strong desire to do what we do as well as can be done and to ensure that regular attenders would be confident to bring their non Christian friends to church.
There has also in recent times been a strong focus on the work of the welcome team in conjunction with church ushers to help identify new comers and help them feel at ease. There is a focus on connecting the bible to real life and experience and encompassed within all aspects of worship.
A consideration of numbers does seem to indicate a degree of success. Comparing (for instance a March attendance figure) for 2016 and 2006 indicates the following:
All of these indicators are significant and can tell a story of their own and there is scope to discover that context.
Roadblocks to future growth
Maze PC has much to praise God for in times past as we have experienced growth and blessing, but as Maze continues to flourish there will be a new set of possible problems to circumnavigate.
To some extend Maze could be viewed as a Comfortable Church where many people enjoy and like what goes on but are content to keep it that way without too much that is personally spiritually dangerous. There is also an argument that Maze is a Cluttered Church where there are lots of committed people doing lots of things but still they are not sure why they do them and they are certainly not seeing the results they might expect. While Maze can be viewed a Caring Church by those who get the most from their involvement and they experience a degree of warmth and care, it can be a place of stunted growth where people become used to the status quo – corporately and individually.
There is a pressing need to refocus our vision and to ensure that our efforts enhance that vision.
While there is much activity in all aspects of church life (for which we are thankful) it does need to be stressed that volunteers need to know why they serve as they do and what they are aiming to achieve. We need to recognise the difference between simply being busy and being busy with purpose. It is not enough simply to expend energy and in a growing church much energy will be spent! It is not enough to flail our arms in the air, we need to see where our efforts are directed. To that end there has to be a greater understanding of the church’s core convictions around which we stand and the motives that drive our passion in Christ. Specifically this needs to be the case within church organisations and equally importantly how the purposes of each organisation coalesce to form the grand vision.
Phil 3 v15-17 (The Message)
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal.
As the church continues to grow it is becomes ever easier for church members to become passengers rather than active participants in the cause of Christ. Effort must be made to reach out to new comers and enable them to fit in and find their place in service, which is their meaningful response to Jesus’ saving love.
Romans 12 v1-2
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
All this cannot be performed in a vacuum. People’s lives are busy and work can consume every waking moment if we allow it to. The task of Maze PC is to shine a light to a vision of something greater; and that is the Kingdom of God, and to further demonstrate why it is a good thing to serve within the church in it’s practical expression here in Maze.
2 Timothy 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace
Matthew 5 v13-15
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The Vision is a clear one… to move individuals connected with Maze Presbyterian one step to the right (just a little closer to Jesus.) It sounds simple but it will involve a large degree of reflection, personally and collectively. It will require significant buy-in from the leadership of the congregation starting with the Kirk Session who will need to give a strong lead and example. We will need to equip and train; and continually cause each other to remember why we do what we do.
Key Point Summary
- In March 2017 a small Session Sub Group began to reflect on church life using the Vine Project Manual
- The Group conducted broad based research on the spiritual life currently evidenced within Maze PC
- An interim report was submitted to Session in September 2017
- Next stages:
Maze Kirk Session – September 2017