"Church Without Walls"

Jesus calls us to follow Him.

The Church Without Walls Report was presented to the General Assembly in 2001. The Report is an attempt to look for fresh ways of encouraging and supporting congregations in the twentieth-first century. The Report invites all of us in the Church to think about where we have come from, where we are and where we ought to be heading.
The Church Without Walls does not seek to impose a single, detailed pattern on every congregation. This point is emphasized in the opening summary of the Report's contents:
'We place into the hands of God's people the opportunity to live out our faith, each according to our own uniqueness, made in the image of God. It is our hope and prayer that the Report, together with the many initiatives within the Church at present, will stimulate the Church to face the future in faith and hope' (9).
The Report begins with the words of Jesus, 'Follow Me' (9). Christ calls us to follow Him. He invites us to be changed by Him. He calls us to move forward with HIm. Moving forward with Christ and being changed by Him will involve listening to His voice. Encouraging us to listen to Christ's voice, the Report recommends 'congregations' to 'study, reflect on and live by one Gospel for one year in the first instance, and let Jesus shape the life and structure of the congregation' (18).
The change which is being called for is spiritual change. This is the change Christ is looking for. The Report emphasizes this point: 'The heart of reform is the reform of the heart. The first proposal for reform is a call to prayer' (37).
In one of 'the many initiatives within the Church at present', the Board of National Mission has produced a thirty-four page booklet entitled 'Lord, Help us to Pray!'. With this booklet, as with the eighty pages of the Church Without Walls Report, it is possible to feel overwhelmed - 'This is all too much for us!'. Like the Church Without Walls Report, the booklet on prayer recognizes the uniqueness of each congregation:
'Go at your own pace. You should not imagine that you are expected to  implement all, or even most, of the ideas in this booklet. What you will find contained here are simply guidelines and suggestions' ('Lord, Help us to Pray!', 16).
Beginning with the Kirk Session emphasizes the important part elders play within the life of the congregation. We are to follow Christ. We are to help others to follow Christ.
The booklet, 'The Eldership: A Training Manual' lays the foundations for following Christ and helping others to follow Him. By emphasizing 'The Biblical Basis for the Eldership' (9), it strikes a similar note to the Church Without Walls Report with its emphasis on listening carefully to what God is saying to us in His Word. Its emphasis on 'Spiritual Leadership' (34) is strikingly similar to the Church Without Walls Report's statement: 'The heart of reform is the reform of the heart. The first proposal for reform is a call to prayer' (9).
When we lay the right foundations - 'We will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word' (Acts 6:4) - we can move forward with God, confident that He will lead us in His perfect way.
We may be very uncertain about how God will lead us forward. If, however, we are serious about following Jesus Christ, we will know the truth of these words from Susan Brown's booklet, 'Church Without Walls: Working it out Together' - 'People at prayer learn to live within the purposes of God with patient hope' (27).
We have thought about important matters. Now, we must pray about them. We have spoken about important matters. Now, we must speak to God about them. This is not only a conversation among ourselves. We must bring God into the conversation. We must listen to what He is saying to us. We must speak to Him, seeking His help.
Let's join together in a final prayer taken from Susan Brown's booklet, 'Church Without Walls: Working it out Together':
'Lord Jesus Christ, you call us to follow You into the familiar and into the  unknown, to places we find easy, and others we find difficult, to follow You tirelessly to the ends of the earth. We need Your strength, Your courage. We need the help of Your Holy Spirit to fill and inspire us, drawing us closer to You, and to one another in You, for Your sake. Father God, You have always gone before Your people, and You go before us. Grant us the courage to follow closely, to walk where You walk and do what You do. May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord' (7,28).


"When the road is rough and steep, fix your eyes upon Jesus."

It is entirely appropriate that we should lay a strong emphasis on the important role that elders must play in the life of the Church. We must, however, stress that, as elders, we are called to be servants. Our work as elders is concerned with the growth of faith within our congregation and community. The question, 'What kind of elders does God want us to be - as individuals and as a group who are called to serve God?' is vitally connected with the further questions, 'What kind of Church is God calling us to be?' and 'How can we serve Him best in our community?'.
We must focus on Jesus by studying, reflecting on and living by one of the Gospels. What will it mean 'to be shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ'? It means this - 'the lives of individuals and congregations being shaped by the "mind of Christ"'. We are encouraged to look beyond our own local situation, to see the broader picture of what God is doing as He calls His Church to live in obedience to the words of Christ - 'Follow Me': 'The shape of the Church in each village, town and city of Scotland will emerge as we take time to "follow Jesus" through a saturation in the Gospel stories'.
A recent 'Church Without Walls' video and accompanying booklet deals with five of the Report's major themes. The first theme - 'The Spiritual Journey' - provides an apt description of what we are seeking to do in our Sunday morning studies of the Gospel of Luke. We are travelling with Jesus, going where Jesus goes, observing what He says and does as He travels from place to place, learning from Him as we accompany Him on His journey. It is also an apt description of what we are seeking to do with the distribution of 'Daily Bible Readings' . This is the point that is made in the 'Introduction' to these notes:
'Welcome to an exciting three-year journey of discovery. On this journey, you will visit places you know well. You will also travel to places you hardly know at all. They will be places of blessing - places where you will meet with God and be blessed by Him ... May God bless you richly as you journey with Him to the many places of blessing found in His Word'.
The Daily Bible Readings refer to 'a three-year journey'. The Church Without Walls recommendation speaks about spending 'one year in the first instance.' The time-scale is not the important thing. It is the journey. It is travelling with the Lord. This is a life-long journey. We will never reach a point where we can say, 'I've reached the end of my journey. I've travelled far enough'. In this journey, there will be times of joy and times of disappointment, times when we are aware that the Lord is very near to us and times when, it seems to us, that the Lord is very far away (the truth is that He is near to us even though we have wandered away from Him). On this journey, we must keep our eyes on the Lord. If we take our eyes off Him, we will stumble and fall. When you are tempted to take your eyes off Jesus, remember these words of encouragement:
'When the road is rough and steep, fix your eyes upon Jesus.
He alone has power to keep. fix your eyes upon Him.
Jesus is a gracious Friend, One on whom you can depend.
He is faithful to the end, fix your eyes upon Him'.
I close by reading words from the part of Luke's Gospel which we have reached - the parable of the sower (8:1-15). They are words of realism. The seed of God's Word does not always fall on good soil. They are words of hope. Sometimes, the seed of God's Word will fall on good soil. Sometimes, the seed of God's Word will bear much good fruit. They are words of challenge. We must keep on sowing the seed of God's Word into the hearts and lives of the people of this community. There will be no spiritual harvest if we do not keep on sowing the seed of God's Word. Without the faithful sowing of His seed, there will be no fruitful gathering in of His harvest. May God help us to be faithful to Him. May God give us the privilege of being fruitful for Him.


Be a friend to others - and lead them to the greatest Friend of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are to 'let Jesus shape the life and structure of the congregation.' By embarking on a major study of the Gospel of Luke - 'one year in the first instance', we recognize that bringing Christ into the centre of the congregation and keeping Him at the centre of the congregation is long-term work. Normally, 'one year' is a long time for a series of sermons. When, however, we are trying to take the Gospel of Luke seriously, it becomes clear that the phrase 'in the first instance' is a very important phrase. There is so much to learn. Soon, a year seems a short time. Our study of the Gospel of Luke - however long it may take - is just a part of a much longer project. We are learning to follow Jesus. This is a lifelong project.
Bringing Christ into the centre, keeping Christ at the centre - What will this mean for us? This is the question that concerns us now. We are to serve our local community for the sake of Jesus. We are not here just for those who are regular worshippers. Our worship is to strengthen us for the task of being Chris's witnesses in our own community. We must never lose sight of God's purpose for the local congregation: 'The local congregation is the space where Christian life is nurtured in practical discipleship, earthed in the concrete realities of local life. The congregation shows the way by serving alongside the community and inviting others to become followers of Christ'. Alongside this 'challenge of becoming a missionary congregation', the Paper issues a warning: 'We must take care that we do not 'develop a fortress mentality of isolation'. If we allow ourselves to slip into this kind of attitude, we will be 'no longer a servant of the Kingdom of God'. We are to be 'a worshipping, witnessing community', 'a real community of faith', 'a Gospel community'. Without the deepening of our faith in Christ as we build upon His Gospel, there can be 'no communication of the Gospel' to others. When we worship God, we must always seek His strength so that we can more effectively fulfill our calling to be His witnesses in our local community. At the heart of the ministry of the local congregation, there is to be the ministry of friendship. We are to pray that, through our friendship, others will find the greatest Friend of all, our Lord Jesus Christ. People will come to Christ as they catch a glimpse of Him shining through our friendship. In Christ, there is 'faith, hope and love'. If these things are real in 'the Bible of our lives, the only 'Bible' many people ever read, we will be Christ's witnesses with the power of a changed life, a life that is centred on Christ, a life that is seeking His glory and the advancement of His Kingdom. When people begin to see Christ in us, 'the Word made flesh' in our lives, they will sit up and take notice. They will be drawn to us and - more importantly - they will be drawn to the Saviour.

If we are to help others to love God, we ourselves must love Him.

The pattern for Christ's first disciples is still the same for us. First, they became disciples. Later on, they became apostles. They were lifelong learners in the school of discipleship. They became the messengers of Christ, carrying His message of love to many people and places. We become disciples - followers of Christ - and, as part of our discipleship, our lifelong commitment to following Christ, we are called, by His wonderful grace, to the privileged responsibility of leadership.
In his 'Preface' to The Eldership: A Training Manual, David Searle emphasizes the important part to be played in the life of the Church by the particular type of leadership which we call 'the eldership': 'this office in the Church is of the utmost importance and could well hold the key to the Church's future growth and fruitfulness' (5). The first chapter of this booklet is entitled 'The Biblical Basis for the Church and the Eldership'. By beginning with the Church - 'What is the Church?' - before moving on to the next question - the role of the eldership within the Church - , this opening chapter underlines its answer to its initial question: 'Which is more important - the eldership or the Church?'. To each of us, the answer is clearly given: 'The Church is more important than you are' (9). The role of the eldership is summed up in a single sentence: 'Their aim is to produce a fellowship of people who love God' (15). If we are to help others to love God, we ourselves must love Him. 'Love the Lord your God...' (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30) - This is our first calling as followers of Christ and elders within His Church. Those who truly love the Lord will do all that they can to encourage others to love Him also.
The second chapter - 'Qualifications' - begins by emphasizing that the work of the eldership is 'high and holy work' (17). In this work, we must always remember that 'our competence comes from God' (2 Corinthians 3:5). We must not try to do God's work in our own strength. We must look to the Lord to give us the strength that we need to do His work. It is emphasized that the 'Biblical Qualifications for Elders' focus our attention on the quality of our godly living rather than our capacity for efficient administration. We are to be enthusiastic - 'eager to serve' (1 Peter 5:2). This enthusiasm is much more than just being an outgoing personality who is good at organizing other people. The enthusiasm which is appropriate to the work of the eldership is a spiritual commitment to serving the Lord. This commitment comes from our faith in Christ and His Gospel - 'hold firmly to the trustworthy message' (Titus 1:9). We are to serve the Lord because we have committed ourselves to living a life that is pleasing to the Lord - 'Keep watch over yourselves' (Acts 20:28). When we are committed to Christ, living a life of faith and obedience, our enthusiasm will come from the Lord and it will bring blessing to the people we are called to serve.


Before we become leaders, we must become disciples.

We need leadership. Can we revitalize true discipleship? It is very important that we understand the relationship between leadership and discipleship. Before we can become leaders, we must first become disciples. We cannot lead others to Christ unless we ourselves are following Him.
Section I of the 'Church Without Walls' Report is entitled 'The Primary Purposes of the Church'. It begins with words of Jesus - 'Follow Me' (9). Section II - 'The Shape of the Church' - also begins with Jesus' call to discipleship - 'Follow Me' (15). Section III - 'Proposals for Continuing Reform' begins in exactly the same way - 'Jesus said, "Follow Me"' (37).
There's a great difference between 'the cycle of grace' and 'the cycle of works'.
The cycle of grace begins with acceptance - We hear the Gospel message that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' (1 Timothy 1:15), and, trusting in Christ as our Saviour, we receive the forgiveness of our sins. It ends with achievement - Submitting ourselves to Christ our Lord, we serve Him as good and faithful servants who rejoice in the great salvation which He has so freely given to us: 'The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly' (1 Timothy 1:14).
The cycle of works is the exact opposite of the cycle of grace. It is a vain attempt to begin with achievement - trying to do all 'the right things' - and end up with acceptance - Surely God will accept me now: I've done all 'the right things'. Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector) highlights the difference between the cycle of works (the Pharisee) and the cycle of grace (the publican). In pride, the Pharisee boasts, 'God, I thank you that I am not like all other men...' (Luke 18:11-12): There can be no forgiveness for those who refuse to confess their sin to the Lord and seek forgiveness from Him. In humility, the publican confesses his sin and seeks God's forgiveness, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner' (Luke 18:13): To those who confess their sin to God and seek forgiveness from Him, God speaks His precious promise, 'If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness' (1 John 1:9).
The great difference between grace and works is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9 - 'It is by grace you have been saved... not by works...'. Using the language of the two cycles, the cycle of grace and the cycle of works, we may describe Christ's salvation like this: He brings us out of the vicious circle of our own sinful works - 'all our righteous acts are like filthy rags' (Isaiah 64:6) - and into the glorious circle of His saving grace - 'From the fullness of His grace we have received one blessing after another' (John 1:16).
This contrast between the cycle of grace and the cycle of works helps us to understand the call to discipleship issued to us by Christ in His words, 'Follow Me' (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:27). These words are spoken to us by our loving Saviour. He loves us very much. He loves us with a perfect love. Behind His words which call us to follow Him, there is His love for every one of us. Before we think of discipleship as a challenging responsibility, we must think of it as a tremendous privilege. What a wonderful thing it is that Jesus Christ - God's Son and our Saviour - should call us to follow Him! Following Jesus will never be a burdensome thing when we keep our eyes fixed on the love which lies behind His call to discipleship.

A life made up of praise in every part

Circles within circles, with Christ at the centre - this phrase sums up our approach to the Church Without Walls Report. We began with a small circle by looking at ourselves as elders. As we explored this theme, we saw that this smaller circle - eldership - is enclosed within a larger circle - the congregation. Beyond the local congregation, there is another larger circle - the parish.
We look now at two even larger circles - the created world and the worldwide mission of the Church. As we look at the various circles of the Christian life, we must never forget to keep Christ at the centre. The Church Without Walls Report emphasizes this point when it speaks about being 'shaped by the Gospel', 'living out the story of Jesus' and 'living out the spirituality of grace'. Christ is to be at the centre of our work as elders in this congregation and parish. As we look out to the created world and the Church's worldwide mission, we are to look out with the eyes of Christ. The change which Christ makes in those who love Him is a far-reaching change. It begins with our personal response to His love, but it does not end there. Personal experence of Christ's love leads to a deep appreciation of the world that God has created for us. The hymn, 'Loved with everlasting love', makes this point very well. It begins with our personal experience of Christ's love:
'Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know ...
... In a love, which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine'.
It goes on to emphasize that knowing Christ's love changes our view of God's creation:
'Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green;
something lies in every hue, Christless eyes have never seen:
birds with gladder songs o'erflow. flowers with deeper beauty shine,
since I know as now I know, I am His, and He is mine' (Mission Praise, 452).
The same principle also applies to our commitment to the support of the Church's worldwide mission. The more we rejoice in Christ's love for ourselves, the more we will appreciate His love for all people everywhere: 'Christ died not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world' (1 John 2:2). The Church Without Walls Report emphasizes that our concern for the created world and the Church's worldwide mission is to be an act of friendship. All of our relationships are to be 'Shaped by Friendship'. The Report develops this theme under the following headings - Friendship with fellow members; Friendship with the next generation; Friendship with the searcher; Friendship with the community; Friendship with fellow leaders; Friendship with other Churches; Friendship with rich and poor; Friendship with the World Church; Friendship with God's creation. Where are we to learn such friendship? If we are to be 'Shaped by Friendship', we need to be 'Shaped by the Gospel'. When we think of friendship, we think of Jesus:
'What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! ...
Can we find a Friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?' (Mission Praise, 746).
This is the Friendship which is to shape all of our life. Getting to know Jesus, the greatest Friend of all, our life is 'shaped by His Friendship'. This will happen as we learn to pray:
'Fill Thou our life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise ...
... Not for the lip of praise alone, nor even the praising heart,
We ask, but for a life made up of praise in every part' (Church Hymnary, 457).

Building on God's Word and walking with God's Spirit

We have begun to look together at the Church Without Walls Report. This is an ongoing process of thinking about where we have come from, where we are and where we ought to be heading. I hope that these introductions to our Kirk Session meetings will help us to become more devoted followers of Christ. I hope they will help us to grow in our commitment to providing spiritual leadership within this congregation and community.
If we are to be devoted followers of Christ, we must ask Hin to teach us to pray. Here's a short quotation which emphasizes the vital importance of prayer: 'There must be a revival of praying before there can be a reaping of the harvest' (Sammy Tippet). This call to prayer is an important reminder to us that 'Without Christ we can do nothing' (John 15:5). If the Church's worship and mission is to be blessed by God, we must bring it before Him in prayer.
Looking at the Church Without Walls Report together with the booklet, The Eldership: A Training Manual, we have noted the important part which must be played by the elders if there is to be a revival of God's work in our congregation and community. The third and fourth chapters of this training manual focus on 'Biblical Teaching on Ordination' and 'Spiritual Leadership'. The first of these chapters makes reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has produced a study manual on the Westminster Confession of Faith - Firm Foundations: A Faith for Today's Church. We are to be today's Church without losing contact with the firm foundations upon which our faith is built.
Being today's Church will not mean change for change's sake. It will mean being changed by the God who has given us firm foundations for our faith. It will mean rediscovering the biblical and spiritual priorities which have too often been forgotten. We must build on God's Word. We must learn to walk with God's Spirit. This is the kind of change we must seek. We must not search for superficial novelty when God is looking for real change, a change in our attitude towards Him. The Church Without Walls Report invites us to think about what it will mean for us to follow Christ in today's world. The Report invites us to do this through a careful and attentive study of one of the Gospels. In our study of Luke's Gospel, we have noted that Jesus 'calls sinners to repentance' (5:32). If we are to be changed by Jesus, we must learn to see ourselves as 'sinners' who have fallen short of God's perfect plan for us. We must pray for real change. We must ask God to give us a spirit of repentace. We must pray that God will give us the strength to turn to Him with our whole heart.
Seeking the right kind of change will mean recognizing where truly spiritual change comes from. It comes from God. It comes from listening to God's Word. It comes when we are obedient to the voice of God's Spirit. The fourth chapter of Eldership: A Training Manual emphasizes the importance of 'Spiritual Leadership'. It begins by pointing out that 'the Church is a spiritual fellowship'. It is different from any other organization. When we begin our meetings with the reading of God's Word and prayer, we are not simply going through the motions of religious ritual. We are recognizing our need of God's help. We need to hear what God is saying to us through His Word. We need to receive God's strength as we call upon Him in prayer. We are acknowledging that our meeting is much more than a conversation among ourselves.We are bringing God into the conversation. We are letting Him be the most important Voice in the conversation. Before we listen to any other voice, we are listening to the Voice of God. Before we speak to one another, we are speaking to God. If there is to be a real input from God into our meetings, into our congregation and community, our worship and mission, our reading from God's Word and our speaking to Him in prayer must lie at the very heart of our life. We are to follow Jesus. In our study of Luke's Gospel, we have seen that Jesus' whole life was steeped in God's Word and prayer. We do not live by bread alone but by every Word of God (4:4; Matthew 4:4). Like Jesus, we are to find 'a solitary place' (4:42) - a place where we can be alone with God.
Our meetings have begun with a much more definite concentration on what God is saying to us concerning His Church and our place within it as elders. This is beginning to be a very special time. It shapes our thinking, giving us a real concentration on our true purpose as God's people and God's servants. I hope that these times will be times when the love of God reaches us and the glory of God becomes our great aim. When this happens, we will receive strength from the Lord. We will be equipped by Him for the privilgeged responsibility of providing true spiritual leadership within our congregation and community.
Our desire to see people of all ages brought into the fellowship of God's people will grow as we ourselves are learning to love the Lord more. Our commitment to this work of bringing people into the fellowship of God's people will increase as our own commitment to serving the Lord grows in strength. In Jeremiah 24:7, we read,  'I will give them a heart to know Me that I am the Lord'. Let us pray that this promise of God will be fulfilled in our own lives. Let us pray that it will be fulfilled in the lives of more and more of the people of our community.

Looking beyond the place where we worship to the God whom we worship

My wife and I spent a few days “south of the border”. No! We weren’t “down Mexico way”! We were much nearer home. We were in England. We were based in Southport. We enjoyed our time there. We also visited Chester. What an interesting place Chester is! There are plenty of modern shops. There’s nothing unique about that! We didn’t go straight to the shops. We took a walk around the city walls. These walls have an interesting history. The walls were there long before the shops. The story of the walls is told on a series of plaques. We read the history of Chester as we walked around its walls. The walls are now a tourist attraction. At one time, however, they were very important for a different reason. They protected the people of the city from their enemies.
In the Old Testament, we read about the walls of Jerusalem. There was a time when the walls had been “broken down”. It was a time of “great trouble and shame” (Nehemiah 1:3). Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the walls were rebuilt. The work of rebuilding was completed. It was a time of great celebration. “The dedication of the wall of Jerusalem” was a memorable occasion. There was much “rejoicing”. The people sang praise to the Lord. They gave thanks to Him (Nehemiah 12:27).
After our walk along the walls, we visited the shops. We were struck by the attractive combination of the old and the new. If we are wise, we will continue to “ask for the ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16). We are to learn from the past without being locked in the past. As well as asking for the ancient paths, we must pray that God will do His “new thing” among us (Isaiah 43:19).
In recent years, we have heard about a “Church Without Walls”. We sing, “We love the place, O God …” We need, however, to be reminded that the place isn’t everything. Beyond the place where we worship, there is the God whom we worship – “I love You, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You …” Beyond the walls of the place where we worship, there are the walls of God’s salvation (MissionPraise, 731, 287; Isaiah 26:1). Coming to the place where we worship is only a first step. Our lives are to be shaped by God’s salvation. This will mean more than being in the place where He is worshipped. It will mean being changed as we worship Him. “Following Jesus today”, “Worship that changes lives”, “Transforming the local congregation”, “Building church round the gifts of the people” – these are titles in a series of “Church Without Walls” booklets. They challenge us to welcome God’s “new thing”. We do this when we follow the “ancient paths”: looking to Christ, learning from Christ and loving Christ.
Chester still has its walls. Today’s Chester is, however, very different from the Chester of a few centuries ago. The old and the new – we need both. We look back to Jesus Christ. He comes to us from the distant past. We move forward with Jesus Christ. He is the living Lord. He leads us on to His future. I began by telling you about Chester. I end by speaking to you about Christ. You may never go to Chester. Make sure that you come to Christ. Chester has changed. The world has changed. We wonder, “Is it a better world than it used to be?” It will be a better world – and we will be better people! – if, “with salvation’s walls surrounded”, we continue to confess our faith in Christ: “Grace which, like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age”. We had a good look around Chester – the old and the new. Look to Christ and “see the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love”. He comes to us from eternal love. Let Him lead you on to eternal life (Mission Praise, 173).
Let us look to Christ for a better and brighter future.

We become what God wants us to be as we build on the Gospel.

‘The Church “works” where people join together, building relationships with each other and the community to which they belong. It is through these relationships that the Gospel is spread. In each place the Church is different. There is no one model that  fits all. We rejoice in the diversity within the Church. We celebrate and encourage it’ (Church Without Walls Report, p.8). People joining together, building relationships with each other, building relationships with their local community - these are the ways in which the Gospel is spread. People joining together, building relationships with each other, building relationships with their local community - this is to be more than a social thing. It is to be a matter of spiritual growth - people joining together on the basis of the Gospel, building relationships which reflect our common desire to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18), building relationships which will help the people of our own community ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4).
We recognize that ‘in each place the Church is different’. We acknowledge that ‘there is no one model that fits all. We rejoice in ‘the diversity within the Church’. We serve Christ in the local Church. This is our privilege - ‘The local congregation stands as a sign of God’s commitment to that place’ - and our responsibility - ‘It is vital that congregations look at and listen to their locality’ (Church Without Walls Report, p.19). Serving Christ in the local Church, we echo the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth - we are ‘your servants for Jesus’ sake’ (2 Corinthians  4:5). We are ‘servants of Christ’, ‘servants of God’ (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23). While we recognize the local aspect in our life of serving Christ, we must never forget that we are to be in the world but ‘not of the world’ (John 17:15-16). We must always remember the words of Paul: ‘Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mould’. God is calling us on to ‘the goal of true maturity’. He is calling us to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’, to ‘prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect ‘ (Romans 12:2).
We become what God wants us to be as we build on the common feature in every true Church - ‘the Gospel’. We build on the Gospel when we ‘believe in the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). We build on the Gospel as we ‘preach the Gospel’ (Mark 16:15). The Church Without Walls Report focuses our attention on the important principles which must guide us as we seek to build on the Gospel.
‘The Church exists by the grace of God and for the glory of God’ (p.10). We rejoice in ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ - ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’, ‘God showed His love towards us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Timothy 1:15; Romans 5:8). As we consider the ‘amazing grace’, let us say, from our hearts, ‘To God the glory!’ (Mission Praise, 31,708). The Church is to ‘be shaped by worship and mission’ (p.31). We are to say, ‘To God be the glory!’ (Worship). We are also to say, ‘Let the earth hear His voice’ (Mission). As well as singing ‘the songs of God’s people’, we must also call upon the people of our community to ‘come to the Father through Jesus the Son and give Him the glory’ for ‘the great things He has done’ (Mission Praise, 708). If the earth is to hear the Lord’s voice, it must hear the Word of the Lord from those who have begun ‘to listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit’. If we are to hear the Lord’s voice and speak His Word to others, we must follow the pathway of ‘obedience’, travelling ‘the humble way of the Cross’. When we do this, our voice will be ‘the prophetic voice’, ‘that authentic voice of wisdom’ which will be God’s Word to our town (p.35).    

Let us serve the Lord with gladness.

The Church Without Walls Report emphasizes that 'Each person is a gift from God to the Church to be celebrated and nurtured.' 'The word 'celebrated' is used deliberately because it emphasizes the joyful generosity which is needed to give freedom to people, so that they can grow and became fruitful.'  The use of the word 'celebration' emphasizes the fact that we are to 'serve the Lord with gladness' (Psalm 100:2). The call to 'serve the Lord with gladness' is addressed to everyone - 'All people that on earth do dwell'. We, who have accepted God's call to become leaders within His Church, are to give a lead to others. By serving the Lord with gladness, we are to set an example which will encourage others to join us in serving the Lord with gladness. At a special service for elders, entitled, 'A Celebration of Eldership', the letters of the word 'elders' were used to highlight key features of the work of the eldership - Eldership, Listening, Disciples, Educators, Responsive, Support. These words set the eldership within both our relationship with God - we are to listen to God's Word, we are to live as disciples of Christ, we are to be responsive to God's Spirit - and our responsibility to the people of God whom we are called to serve in Christ's Name - as Christ's disciples, we are to listen to people with a view to responding in a way that will give support to them as they seek to live in obedience to God's Word as followers of Jesus. The two sides of our life as God's servants - listening to what God has to say to us through His Word and speaking His Word to those to whom we are called to give support in the way of faith and obedience - are highlighted in Isaiah 50:4.
'The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught'.
'Knowing the word that sustains the weary' - This is a very important phrase which provides an apt description of the heart of the work of the eldership. We are to exercise a ministry of encouragement. Chapter 5 of The Eldership: A Training Manual is concerned with 'Relationships with Others' - the Minister, other Elders, the Congregational Board, the Organizations, the Congregation and the Higher Courts of the Church. In each of these areas of our work, we are to be encouragers. The ministry of District Visitation is a particularly important part of the elder's work. Its importance is emphasized in the booklet on the eldership where a full chapter (Chapter 6) is devoted to this subject.

Christ at the Centre

We are to ‘let Jesus shape the life and structure of the congregation’ (Church Without Walls Report).
Bringing Christ into the centre of the congregation and keeping Learning to follow Jesus is a lifelong project.
Bringing Christ into the centre, keeping Christ at the centre - What will this mean for us? We are to serve our local community for the sake of Jesus. We are not here just for those who are regular worshippers. Our worship is to strengthen us for the task of being Chris’s witnesses to the people of our community.
‘The local congregation is the space where Christian life is nurtured in practical discipleship, earthed in the concrete realities of local life. The congregation shows the way by serving alongside the community and inviting others to become followers of Christ’.
We are called to be 'a missionary congregation.' ‘We must take care that we do not ‘develop a fortress mentality of isolation’. If we allow ourselves to slip into this kind of attitude, we will be ‘no longer a servant of the Kingdom of God’. We are to be ‘a worshipping, witnessing community’, ‘a real community of faith’, ‘a Gospel community’.
Without the deepening of our faith in Christ as we build upon His Gospel, there can be ‘no communication of the Gospel’ to others. When we worship God, we must always seek His strength so that we can more effectively fulfill our calling to be His witnesses in our community.
At the heart of the ministry of the local congregation, there is to be the ministry of friendship. Jesus is our ‘Friend’. We are to pray that, through our friendship, others will find the greatest Friend of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.
People will come to Christ as they catch a glimpse of Him shining through our friendship. In Christ, there is ‘faith, hope and love’. If these things are real in ‘the Bible of our lives, the only ‘Bible’ many people ever read, we will be Christ’s witnesses with the power of a changed life, a life that is centred on Christ, a life that is seeking His glory and the advancement of His Kingdom.
When people begin to see Christ in us, ‘the Word made flesh’ in our lives, they will sit up and take notice. They will be drawn to us and - more importantly - they will be drawn to the Saviour.

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