After a couple of last minute changes to my diary, I was able to be a late inclusion to the inaugural Gold Coast Pastors Prayer retreat this week. In the 5 years I have been on the Coast, there has been a steady rise in the support, encouragement and collective mobilisation of the city’s churches. Last year, Easter United was an amazing example of how the churches could come together for a common expression of faith, worship and outreach.
There were about 40 pastors of various denominations (including 2 other Anglicans) and our keynote speaker was a church leader from Toowoomba. He has been heavily involved in the network of churches in Toowoomba who have been meeting together for prayer retreats for 24 years! The combined work of the churches in Toowoomba has had a powerful impact on that city over a number of years and resulted in music festivals, flood relief, refugee support and advocacy and much more. Recently they successfully lobbied their council to approve a move to declare Toowoomba a porn free city. But behind the scenes the real strength of this network is the way the pastors are able to support and encourage each other. They meet regularly in a number of different ways and the result is that they have become each other’s biggest advocates.
Sadly, I have often heard church leaders (even Anglican clergy) talking badly of other churches or church leaders. We do not grow the body of Christ or advance the kingdom of God by tearing each other down in a vain attempt to build ourselves up. There are enough people not going to church for all our churches to be filled to overflowing and so we should be rejoicing when we hear that a church is growing, trying something new, doing things differently or that a new church has started. We should also be praying earnestly and practically supporting other churches should they be struggling or going through difficulties. We have been doing this recently by prayerfully and practically supporting Mudgeeraba and the upcoming church plant in the northern suburbs of the Gold Coast. But of course we have capacity to do so much more.
St Paul was very clear in his first letter to the Corinthians, which we are working through at the moment, that the body of Christ is at its best when we work together, support each other and talk well of each other. Yes, there are times when we have to be firm and St Paul was certainly in discipline mode throughout this letter; but we can do this, on the rare occasions it is necessary, with love. In the meantime our natural default should be to cheer on the endeavours of each other.
This does not just apply to churches and church leaders, it certainly applies to our relationships within the church. Do we talk well of each other, often enough? I would suggest that we do not. As we work through this profound letter, I pray that we might be challenged to confront our personal behaviour and particularly in the way we speak of and act towards each other. Each one of us is necessary for the effective functioning of the body of Christ, each one of us has a role to play and each one of us should be affirmed and celebrated.
In our silence we often discourage so I pray that our encouragement of one another can increase and expand as we continue on our journey to be a church known for its relationships.
I thank God for each of you and continue to pray for each of you in my daily prayers.