Fr. Jose Poch

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Seeing the Future (Part II)

          In my last blog, I shared with you the concept of you having a personal vision of a godly future, a future that is based on God’s calling for your life. What would your Heavenly Father want to see as a fruit of you having lived this life? What difference will you make in this life for the Kingdom of God? Why not take some time one day this week and prayerfully come before God and ask Him what would it look like if you followed His will for your life? And set that as the course for your life that it be a truly abundant life for God’s glory. It may be an amazing exercise that might change your life.

            But the same process applies to churches and organizations. In this blog I would like, for the benefit of the people of St. David’s, but also for all those that might be interested, to share what I believe is the vision that the Lord our God has placed in my heart. This is the vision under which I have been operating during most of my ministry. The vision of St. David’s is this:

            “St. David’s is a Christian Church, with no less than 500 active members, who are fully   equipped in God’s Word, empowered for ministry by the Holy Spirit and sent to carry out  the ministry for which we have been called.”

            First of all this is a very measurable vision, measured by the number 500 but also by the adjectives used to describe it, active, fully equipped, empowered, and sent. By making it measurable we should be able to tell at any given time how we are doing in fulfilling it. Clearly this is a bit of an audacious vision for us, it was always intended to be so, yet reachable, and it will remain so, and in the future, because we are nowhere near 500 active members.

            We are, however, a very active congregation in many ways, locally and beyond, and always looking for new places and opportunities to serve and expand the Kingdom of God. I will not boast here about the many ministries that our people are involved in. St. David’s and its leadership has as a main directive from the Lord the making of Disciples and the Word of God is preached, taught and lived faithfully day after day until every one of our members is fully equipped in God’s Word. The empowerment for ministry by the Holy Spirit is an essential part of who we are and we seek to introduce all of our members to the real presence of the Holy Spirit with all His gifts and fruit. And lastly we are a sending congregation, sending all of our members into the world, wherever they are planted, to love and serve the Lord, whether in the mission field or in the service of the needy in the community, as well as to evangelize and seek those who are away from the love of God, introducing them to a new and abundant life in and through Jesus Christ.

            We have a great deal more to accomplish, this vision is so audacious that I don’t believe that we will ever fully accomplish it and that is the point in a way. A vision needs to be not easily reached but always challenging and dynamic, thrusting us forward beyond our current abilities and realities. This would make it God’s vision for a world in great need.

            I would truly like to hear from our members in response to this blog and the setting down of this vision statement for the present and future of our church, but the invitation is to all who read this blog, share with us your thoughts.

            Let’s blog!

            Fr. Jose+


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Can Anglican/Liturgical Churches Grow?

T he immediate answer is “of course!” “Why not?” All churches are intended to grow. From all that I read in the New Testament about the Great Commission and the Early Church through the Book of Acts, a church that is fulfilling what the Lord asked them to do should grow and should grow exponentially. I have always been interested in what Luke reports in Acts: 

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. . . . So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-43; 46-47, NKJV). 

Perhaps the Church is growing globally and that is great, but statistics tend to indicate a different reality locally. I have been reading the latest issue of Outreach Magazine; the title on the cover is “America’s Fastest-Growing Churches.” They identify the hundred fastest growing churches in the United States per state. In first place is Texas with nineteen churches, in second place is California and North California with seven, followed by Virginia with six, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee with five each. Forty churches in the list are Nondenominational, twenty-five are Southern Baptist, sixteen are Independent Christian and nine are Assemblies of God. One of the articles in the Issue makes the statement that 50% of churchgoers attend one of the largest 10% of American congregations. That means that the other 50% is spread out among the other thousands of churches throughout the country. Last set of statistics I heard about churches in America is that most churches in America have an average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of less than 100 each week. 

The 2011 Parochial Report for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) indicates 708 member congregations with a projected ASA of 62,470, which equals approximately an ASA of eighty-eight per congregation. In a study I conducted of our own diocese, the Diocese of Western Anglicans (DWA), in 2011, the statistics indicated a total of eighteen established congregations (nine church plants) and an approximate ASA of 112 per week. Of course, both for ACNA as well as for DWA, some congregations’ ASA are above the average and some are below the average. The same can be said for the national averages, however, the statistics speak for themselves. 

My original question, and one I hope will get us all thinking and hopefully will cause a great number of responses to this blog (that is my intention), is: Can Anglican/Liturgical Churches Grow?

First of all liturgical churches and especially those in the Anglican tradition which are the product of the 16th Century Reformation in England and the new more modern Reformation within Anglicanism (ACNA) are Evangelical in their approach to Scriptures, in their preaching and teaching from the Children’s Sunday School to all adult programs and especially in the preaching of the Word during Sunday services. The Word of God is alive and effective in Anglican/liturgical churches as much as in any non-liturgical church and anyone seeking to know God better can find Him and be found by Him in our church. 

Secondly, Anglican/liturgical churches offer through the beauty of the liturgy an opportunity for a deep encounter with God. When liturgy is done well, it is a living thing that invites and draws you into the mysteries of holiness, piety and reverence before God. Something that is lacking most of the time in non-liturgical churches which seems simpler and more mechanical in their worship style. Perhaps this is attractive to some in a new fast paced, multitasking, rapid and instant-results culture and that is fine if that is what you are after in the worship of God. But biblical worship is none of this, it is intended to be intentional, purposeful, worshipful, reverent, careful and highly spiritual. The liturgy offers these things. Perhaps we clergy should take more time explaining and demonstrating the purpose and beauty of the Anglican liturgy. 

I believe we have much to offer the world and YES! Anglican/liturgical churches can grow but we must look honestly at the issue posed before us in this blog. What do you think?

Let’s Blog!

Fr. Jose+

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Church "Spies"

A member of our church recently gave me a newspaper article from the Religious section of The Star, Saturday, September 7, 2013. The title of the article was "Church 'Spies' Uncover Unwelcoming, Unfriendly Congregations." The article is about a visit from a trained ‘spy’ to a church in Pennsylvania. This 'spy' works for a consulting company in Louisville (Society for Church Consulting), his job is to visit congregations unannounced and then evaluate them in their ability to welcome and attract visitors.
This "spy" commented that the welcome center in the foyer of the given church was empty, that is no one was there to welcome visitors and guide them around. When he asked if he could attend an ongoing small group or Bible study, he was guided to their “friendly” group of 60 persons.
He reports: “Not a single person spoke to me or asked me what I was doing there.” The article continues: “Actually, consultants who do church ‘spy’ work know that outsiders rarely receive warm, friendly welcomes when they visit most American congregations.”

The "spy" also commented on church websites that are boring, broken, or full of out-of-date information and church facilities that include few if any signs to help visitors find their way around. Some churches don’t have clearly marked guest parking and many are poorly equipped to promise parents that their children will be safe and secure. He also comments on “boring, abstract, Bible-deficient sermons and music ministries that show a lack of effort or worse attempt to recreate an ‘American Idol” show.” Ultimately, the ‘spy’ comments, all who visit a church are looking for something or may even be in a serious crisis and are looking for help.

I wonder what a "spy" might say if he visited St. David’s one Sunday. I actually would welcome such a visit. Scary, yes, but how else would we know the truth of how visitors see us and how else will we see areas in which we all need to improve. If we are a place where we “Live Jesus” as our Mission Statement says, then I would want to know if a visitor truly experiences Jesus in our midst. Does he see Jesus in us? Does he experience the love and the grace of God among us? Does he see Jesus’ smile on our faces, feel Jesus’ touch in our passing of the Peace? Does he feel welcome in Christ’s house, the church? I would welcome such a visit!

Our church should always be ready for such a visit, because, in fact, we are visited each Sunday by individuals that even though they may not work for a consulting company as the "spy" in question does, they are nevertheless there to check if they would feel welcome among us, if they should bring their families to St. David’s, if they could trust us to love them, to teach them, to guide them and to help them find a place of peace in a chaotic world of dog-eat-dog. Each Sunday visitors comes to our church looking for and expecting to find true Christians who believe what they say they believe and friends with whom they could feel safe and who would welcome them into their lives, as they would want to welcome them into theirs. Every visitor is sent to us by Almighty God who draws all unto Him and unto His Son. Each visitor is a potential child of God entrusted to us.

            Let’s Blog!

            Fr. Jose+