Dear CPC family,
In this month’s pastoral letter I would like to give you a brief report of what happened on our recent elders‘ half-day away. We decided it was important to set aside some time to discuss the strategic direction of the church, especially as we look forward to what we hope will be an imminent lifting of all the restrictions that we have endured over the past 15 months. Where, we asked ourselves, do we want the church to go postpandemic? What will be CPC’s ’new normal'?
In answer to these questions, we considered two main areas of church life: our worship services and our pastoral care. In terms of the former, we are content with the current structure and order of our services. We believe they have an appropriate gospel and covenantal ‘shape’. However, one matter we did discuss at length was why our services are elder-led rather than more participative. At the vast majority of our services, one ordained man will lead everything from the front, with the occasional other elder or deacon (or man in training) doing a reading or prayer. Why is this? Nowadays, most evangelical churches have greater participation from the congregation during corporate worship. Our practice will, by comparison, seem quite strange to most Christians.
Of course, this does not mean that we’re wrong and they’re right! I happen to think there are good reasons for having elder-led worship services. But one thing we probably need to be better at as a session is explaining to you why we do things the way we do (expect some of this in future pastoral letters). Scripture is not as clear on the issue of who should do what in a worship service as we might think. More serious reflection is needed on passages such as 1 Cor. 11-14 and 1 Tim. 2. But let me just assure you in case you’re worried: any changes we may introduce will not be too radical or sudden; we are, after all, Presbyterians!
Other matters we discussed in relation to our worship services included: the frequency with which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper; sung worship and instrumentation; the content of our intercessory prayers; and the role of our prayer meetings and home groups in connection with the corporate worship of the church.
When it came to the subject of pastoral care, we recognised that more could be done by us to provide you with the support and help you need. To that end, we have decided that we will assign each member and regular attender of the church to a particular elder. Whilst I will seek to visit everyone in the congregation at least once during the course of a year, this will mean Peter and DJ having particular responsibility for those in their group (although they will still be very happy to talk to you even if you don’t happen to be assigned to them!). We believe that adopting this more structured approach to pastoral care will ensure we shepherd you more effectively.
Complementary to this greater formalisation of pastoral care is another area of church life that we are very keen to develop: discipleship, especially one-to-one Bible study and prayer. Perhaps this is something you already do with a friend from church; if so, great – keep doing it! If not, let me encourage you to start doing it. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need an MDiv or a PhD to do it. All you need to do is ask someone (perhaps a younger Christian and someone of the same sex) if they want to meet up once a month (or once a week if you’re keen) to read the Bible, talk about it and then pray together. It need only last an hour. It’s very simple, very enjoyable, and very profitable. I’m doing it with a couple of others at the moment and it’s one of the most encouraging things I do as a minister.
Yes, nothing is more important for a Christian’s holiness and happiness than worshipping God with his people and hearing the preaching of his word every Lord’s Day. But discipleship of the sort I’ve described plays an invaluable role in maturing us as Christian believers and in enhancing the pastoral care that takes place within the church.
In addition to these two main areas of church life, we did also discuss subjects such as evangelism, officer training, women’s work, and the training of our children and youth. We need to think more about most (if not all) of the matters we considered, but I believe it was a very helpful half-day away which, in God’s goodness, will bring about lasting benefit for the church. (I will, as I’ve said, speak more about some of these matters in future letters, as well as in other contexts.)
Please do pray for us as we seek to implement certain changes and as we try to lead the church in a direction that we think is good and wise. And may we all go forward together as one in the cause and for the glory of our great Shepherd and Head.
With love in Christ,