Following Jesus goes in two directions (November 2017)

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We talk much about following Jesus as Christians.  So, we rightly focus on the ways He behaved in different situations, and we seek to follow His example.  We focus on how his life was a journey to the cross, and beyond that to the resurrection, and as Christians we recognise that our lives might go along a similar road.  But, apart from simply referring to going Jesus’ way, have you thought about the direction you are going in, as you follow Jesus?

When we think about the church, it functions in two main directions.  Firstly, coming together.  Church often meets as a group of people gathered together in one place.  For example, many of us gather each Sunday morning at Holy Trinity to celebrate the Eucharist; or we gather once a month to worship in Café Church; we gather at a different time once a month in Nursing Homes to worship with the residents who want to join us.  And it is not possible to be a Christian who never wants to come together with other Christians to worship.  Of course, some are not able to join with others (through illness or infirmity, for example) – but in those cases often other Christians will go to bring the church to them.  Gathering together is an important way in which Christians live out their faith, worship God, and encourage one another in our Christian walk as we do so.

Another important direction in the Christian life, though, is quite the opposite to gathering together.  It is going out, away from fellow church members perhaps, into the wider ‘world’, whether that is in the supermarket, on the bus, at work, at school, or just walking down the street.  We go out as Christians to be (as Jesus put it) salt and light, making a difference in the lives of the people we meet.  Whether we want to or not, we cannot fail to be God’s missionaries.  If anybody knows we have a Christian faith, that we worship at church, then by definition those without a Christian faith will be watching how we behave, what we say, what we do not do or say, in so many different ways.

There is a tendency for most Christians to feel more at ease when coming together with other Christians, and less at ease with going out.  This could be because the Church (and in our case, the Church of England), have been much stronger at freeing and equipping God’s people to serve Christ in church-based ministries than in their Monday to Saturday daily lives.  

But God calls all of us, whatever role we have or have not in the church, to follow Jesus in both directions, both coming together and going out. 

The reality is that if the Good News of God’s love for the world is to be known by all people, then we need to become a great deal better at serving Christ on a Monday to Saturday. 

The Church of England has begun a project to address this issue, in two main ways: firstly, to encourage and enable all Christians to confidently follow Christ wherever they are, every day of the week.  Then secondly, recognising that because of the way the Church of England has been structured, clergy have tended (without necessarily intending it) to give an impression that somehow ordained people are more important than the other 98% of the church membership.  THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE!  We are all baptised equally into Christ, we are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission.

Lay people, like clergy, have callings and vocations. They just happen to be callings and vocations which do not require ordination. Somehow, however, many lay people feel like second-class Christians and can leave the task of mission in the world to those they see as more qualified – the ordained. At the same time, many clergy, though recognising the status that their ordination confers on them in many lay minds, often don’t feel particularly powerful, and yearn for more lay people who are open to growing in discipleship. It is vital that we all, ordained and lay, play our roles as God’s missionaries.

So the Church is beginning to change its culture, and will be increasingly looking for everyone, all of us, to grow in our knowledge and love of Christ, and to become more confident in our living out of our faith in whatever walk of life God has called us to.

If you want to find out more about this, do look at:

https://churchofengland.org/media/3858585/gs-2056-setting-gods-people-free.pdf

Tina Upton