the baby and the bathwater

October 6, 2007, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

local: pertaining to or characterized by place or position in space; spatial; pertaining to, characteristic of, or restricted to a particular place or particular places; pertaining to a city, town, or small district rather than an entire state or country

I was chatting to a musician friend a couple of years ago. He played in the band of a worship leader who often travelled the world leading worship. For one particular event he travelled with the aforesaid worship leader to Australia. The flight for the band took a whole day and night and cost a whole lot of money. Then one evening during a time of worship my friend said this thought came to mind:

‘surely someone up the road could have done this’

And he’s got a point.

We are dominated in our world and in our culture by internationalism; whether in business, in entertainment, in politics. Networking tools such as facebook mean that we can keep in touch with people all over the world at the click of a mouse. Many high streets in many countries, especially in the most developed parts of the worlds, look quite similar, and are often dominated by the international brands of Macdonalds, Next and Starbucks. (Although actually, Starbucks is a specific gift from God to worship leaders, and so probably stands out on itself as acceptable and honourable). And in recent years, the church has seen the rise to prominence of a number of worship leaders that also have an international presence.

Now I have to say at this point that this isn’t one of those ‘if I can’t be an international worship leader, then no one should be allowed to’ sort of rants. In fact, personally, I can’t think of anything worse than travelling around the world on a cramped tour-bus, losing sleep, eating badly, playing and singing night after night, venue after venue to the hoarding masses. The fact that I can’t sing in tune and my guitar playing is really pants, so no one in their right mind would ask me to anyway has absolutely nothing to do with it either. And I also have to say I have been significantly helped by some very high-profile worship leaders along the way, for which I am truly thankful. To have had one-on-one time with worship leaders who have such a greater wealth of experience than me has been awesome. To observe, even be-it ‘from afar’ worship leaders with considerably more skill and anointing than me, has helped inspire and urge me on in my own worship leading. I would count many of them as worship leaders with an apostlistic gifting. And I hope, that for many years to come, I will still be able to benefit from them in this way. Our church sings their songs and it’s worship is enriched because of them

And yet.

And yet there is something about the growth of internationalism in our worship that also leaves me slightly dissatisfied. You know, I think you could go to most churches around the world and still expect to sing the songs that you know, with bands all sounding much the same. One of my good friends, David Gate, calls it ‘McWorship’. In one sense it’s great to be able to get a sense of unity in the church in this way. But after a while, I just feel like I want things to be different. To be a bit more fresh.

A bit more local.

So let’s step sideways for a moment.

I love seeing my two young girls develop their creativity. Elizabeth, my eldest (actually, she will get cross with me if I call her Elizabeth, rather than Lizzy as she now like to be known) plays the flute. She recently passed grade 2 and is now moving on to grade 4. Just recently I’ve noticed a change in her attitude. We used to have to tell her what to do, note by note. Sit with her and work through each piece of music. We used to have to explain what a crescendo was, and a staccato and so on. But now, she is doing much more of it all herself. She takes much more of the initiative. And that makes me proud, because it shows she is growing up. In fact generally in life I am finding that Lizzy is less and less likely to take my own views and likes and dislikes on for herself without challenging them. She is growing her own character and mind and heart and soul. Sometimes that is frustrating, in that part of me longs to have a daughter who just gazes longingly into my eyes and hangs off my every word. But it just doesn’t happen. And actually I’m glad. Our lives as a family are so much the richer for her difference. She is growing up, spreading her wings, and beginning to fly.

Growing up, spreading her wings, and beginning to fly.

And this is what my longing is for my church.

My local church.

In a rather unsightly looking set of buildings opposite a car park in the center of Cheltenham.

When I look at the birth of the church in the New Testament, I see the first apostles moving from place to place, planting churches, and encouraging them, before moving on. New churches got ‘the best’ help when they were at their most embryonic, when they were starting out. Over time we see those churches grow and develop, and new local leaders take on more and more local responsibility.

As a church here in Cheltenham, we have just sent a group of people into another church in the town which was on it’s last legs. The vision for that church is to grow, to raise up it’s own leaders, to make a huge impact in that area of the town. Initially, as the ‘mother church’ we are having to invest and support and encourage. They are getting a significant investment of our time and resources and people – some of the best we can offer. Over time, whilst links will always be strong, our involvement will surely diminish as that church spreads it’s own wings and begins to fly. It’s our first (but hopefully not last) venture such as this, and I’m sure we have, and will make many mistakes along the way. But I sense that we are bumbling, in our own imperfect way, into something that resonates, al-be-it faintly, with New-Testament times.

Someone, who was involved in running a conference, once said to me that hopefully, a few years down the line when the conference got big enough, it would be able to attract higher profile worship leaders, but for the moment they would have to make do with more local unknown people. And I sort of see what they were saying.

But something about this feels up-side-down.

Surely the aim of a church or conference or whatever, over time, should be to have less and less reliance on the ‘high profile’ itinerant leader or worship leader. Surely it’s aim shouldn’t be to get strong enough so that it can attract the ‘high profile’ people, but that it becomes strong enough so that it doesn’t need them so much. And surely this is what apostlistic ministry is about: not to develop resources for the church – providing an ever increasing volume of book, songs and cd’s – but to develop leaders of the church, so that they can do it themselves.

So it can become truly local.

Grown up.

It can then place more emphasis on developing it’s own creative mind, heart and soul. Write songs just to serve it’s own congregation. Record albums just to serve it’s own membership. Write books that speak into the lives of their own communities. Spread it’s wings and fly.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Theres’ a bunch of us down here in Nailsea who meet in a school. It’s a bit uncomfortable, takes a long time to set up and unles we start really early the musicians (who are great) won’t have had a good enough sound check.

Yet there is something we gain by being local, not importing anyone but growing our own everything. We are a safe place to have a go. People have a go at preaching, worship leading, meditations, children’s work.

We used to have a vision for our own building. Now we have refined that simply to growing out of our current building.

It’s all fun but often messy. Thanks for your post. It made sense. For what it’s worth I think you can sing. Come here if you want to hear some people who can’t.

Comment by St

Thanks Steve. Too many people think of ‘local’ as failure. I think it means success! It’s great to hear a little of your church’s story.

Comment by Neil Bennetts

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