Adopting a posture of ‘sentness’

Adopting a posture of ‘sentness’

For many, September marks the start of a new term in their church, perhaps following the pattern of the academic year. While I accept that there is a general tendency to slow down over August as many enjoy holidays, I have been reflecting on whether the analogy of a new term is that helpful. I recently attended an induction service, where the speaker, who previously held a senior position in a theological college, made much of the role of the pastor to teach; it left me with a question around the danger of building a relationship with God principally as an academic exercise, and that the role of the congregation was simply to learn, not that this was what the speaker was saying I hasten to add!

It seems to me that we like to find models in society to which we can overlay onto the church, hence the academic parallel and the reference to ‘academic terms' in many churches. To a degree, I do see education as being an important part of discipleship; however, I would argue that practical outworking needs to be at least as essential as theoretical learning. From my own time at theological college, and from many conversations with other students over the years, it does seem that we communicate, either inadvertently or intentionally, the primary role of a minister is to organise services and meet the needs of those paying the bills. Invariably we use the metrics of 'Sunday morning attendance' and ‘giving' as the way of understanding and measuring church health; on this basis of these metrics, the rural church is often understood to be struggling.

I cannot help but reflect that this needs challenging and that we need to recover our ‘sentness’ as Christians. I am not calling for a raft of new programmes, nor am I rejecting traditionally structured churches, I am merely questioning if we are placing too much emphasis on the pastor or minister to be the one to bring renewal and a missional impact on our communities. Our Anglican sisters and brothers have been wrestling with multi-parish ministry for quite some time, the Methodists and United Reformed church have similarly been working by circuit ministry, and I understand that the Baptists are also exploring this approach. My anecdotal research questions whether this is a viable rural model if we continue with the premise that the minister will primarily be the one who does all the teaching and preaching, while the congregation consumes. It strikes me that this approach apes that of a consumer culture, where retailers try harder and harder to attract people to them.

Now I know I have now mixed my metaphors and moved from school to shopping; however, my gut instinct is that we are merely using the wrong model when it comes to church. I have been reflecting on John 20, that just as God sends his Son into the world, so Jesus sends us to continue His work and share His life*. I would love to see the role of the church to be more of an equipping station, which prepares and then sends people out for works of service where they are; that we become less focussed on consumers and more focussed on sending out, being centrifugal in force. This could be a great opportunity for the rural church to lead the way by showing our ‘sentness.’

So, my challenge as we begin the ‘new term’, is not to think and strategise along the lines of attracting people to our next big event, but instead focus on how we can encourage our church to adopt a posture of sentness, which perhaps begins with those of us who lead.

*Just as the Father has sent me, I’m now sending you.” John 20:21b (The Passion)

GDPR is nearly here!

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GDPR is nearly here!

If your response is ‘what is GDPR?’ then you really need to read this!

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the biggest changes to data protection regulations that we have seen in many years and comes into force on the 25th May 2018.

Our detailed understanding of its implications is evolving all the time and this Bulletin builds on, and supports, two previous Rural Ministries Bulletins which you should read first:

This Bulletin gives more information on obtaining ‘consent’ and the exceptions to this requirement.

How do I get consent?
The GDPR requires that you have explicit consent for nearly all the data you hold and you can only contact people for the purposes they have agreed to. Large national charities (eg The National Trust) may want to contact people on their database for a variety of reasons: new products, special offers, events, membership and each of these may require separate consent. Most rural churches do not have that level of communications and so a simpler approach to consent may be appropriate.

Rural Ministries has collected a number of forms that are in use, either by ourselves or by churches we know, and which we turned into example forms. We do not claim they are perfect but and you may wish to adapt these for use by your church.

  • Rural Ministries data review form – this is the form we used in 2017 to contact everyone on our postal mailing list. Download here

  • Rural Ministries ‘Contact us’ card – this could be amended for churches to use. In many cases you will only need name and email address for first contact. Download here

  • Event consent form – people signing in for basic event such as a Light Party don’t want to complete long forms when queuing to get in, so how about this simple way of capturing permission to stay in touch. Again, just a name and an email address is all that you need to collect to invite them to the next event. Download here

  • Possible church data consent form – this allows you to collect and store more details as they develop a closer relationship with you. Download here

With the right forms getting consent for new contacts is relatively straightforward. For existing contacts, you need to go through the process of contacting people. Do not be worried about having to delete a large part of your contact list – the chances are that if they do not reply then they are not interested, or may even have moved away.

Other reasons for holding data
There are some cases where data can be stored and used without obtaining consent. This includes where data processing is necessary:

  • for the performance of a contract to which the individual is party.

  • for compliance with legal obligations – eg Gift Aid or Anti Money Laundering regulations

  • for the purposes of ‘legitimate interests’ – this applies where there is a reasonable expectation that the individual will want you to store their data. Examples could be the local companies that you use for servicing the boiler or fire extinguishers, and your contacts in your local Churches Together group or denominational regional office.

What data should I store?
Firstly, you should only store data you have permission for (see wording on the Church Data Consent form above), but you should also record the basis for holding the data. On a spreadsheet this may be a box where you enter ‘2018 light party sign up’, ‘contact us card’, ‘Gift Aid’, ‘Legitimate Interest’ or other descriptor. You should also store the date entered and/or consent last received. Any forms containing consent should be stored securely.

You should also ensure that the issue of data protection and compliance with GDPR is discussed and minuted at a leaders meeting (ideally before the 25th May), its importance is recognised, and the steps towards compliance are agreed.

Heating systems and gas safety

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Heating systems and gas safety

The safety issues relating to gas are well known and include fire, explosion, carbon monoxide poisoning. It is therefore important that gas boilers, heaters and cookers are well maintained and safe to use regardless of whether they run of natural (mains) gas or Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). 

Health and Safety legislation (The Health and safety at Work Act 1974), places an obligation on all employers to ensure the safety of all persons, not just employees, using the premises.  Even if you do not consider your church to be an employer there are many legal grey areas and it is good practice to treat volunteer workers with the same protection as a paid worker. 

Gas Safety Regulations state that installations should be “maintained in a safe condition so as to prevent risk of injury to any person”. It is very difficult for an unqualified person to carry out adequate checks so the work should be undertaken by a Gas Safe engineer who is registered for that type of installation and for the work being undertaken. 

The testing and servicing intervals are not specified in legislation requirements exist for landlords (residential and commercial) including the need to have installations checked annually. It is therefore reasonable to expect churches to adopt the same requirements. 

Regardless of the servicing level carbon monoxide alarms are recommended by many insurers for rooms where there are combustion appliances. 

Oil installations do not have as many safety issues as gas systems and are not subject to the same regulations however it is still important to ensure they are serviced and maintained regularly not least because their efficiency can reduce more significantly that gas systems if not serviced.

Other heating system issues that are import, especially as winter approaches, is that pipes in unheated spaces such as roof or floor voids are lagged to prevent freezing and then bursting in very cold weather. 

Some churches supplement the main heating system with portable LPG heaters. There are many issues associated with these and they are not recommended.  
 

A little bit potty?

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A little bit potty?

God spoke to me recently through a plant. It wasn’t an audible voice emanating from a flower, or the shaking of leaves to form a recognisable Bible verse; it was in my sharing with my spiritual director about my walk with God, that I became aware of the fact that my heavenly Father had been speaking to me for a few weeks. I simply hadn’t made the time to quieten myself to hear. Without boring you with unnecessary horticultural detail, I made several cuttings from a Hawthorn bush some months back, many of which I had planted out earlier in the year to thicken an existing hedge. I had a cutting left over which I placed in a pot and have been watering and feeding over the past weeks, along with my tomatoes, runner beans and beetroot; I have done this day in and day out without thinking. 

So how did God speak to me through this plant? It was in the realisation of this plant’s utter reliance on me for care, feeding, watering. Just this past week it was infested with caterpillars (Swafly) which I promptly removed. Without my intervention, it would be just a stick by now. I imagine this Hawthorn wants to be a tree, or indeed a larger bush as part of a hedge. It was never designed to be stuck in a pot, however, at the time there wasn’t a visible gap for it, and I didn't want to discard it – it was one of the better specimens, so I kept it in the pot and had been caring for it ever since, looking for the right place and right opportunity to use it. 

Perhaps some of us in ministry have wanted to do great things for God; we have a killer sermon that deserves an audience of hundreds, a new idea for mission which will transform our country or a style of leadership which could remodel church meetings across an entire denomination - but instead of having the opportunity to exercise this gifting we found that we are pot bound. 'Lord, if only you would release me into something bigger - I could grow for you in so many ways, bear fruit, be productive’ we may have pleaded. 

You see a pot has constraints; a pot limits growth and confines the roots in their search for food and water; but a pot also creates a micro environment of conditions most suited to the plant at a particular time. It was whilst reflecting on this that I came to recognise that what was being offered to me by God was so much better than being planted out; I was being offered care, nurture and watering from my heavenly Father. Rather than being reliant of my own abilities, I am wholly dependent on Him for all things. I don't see this as a negative; actually, it gives me the opportunity of encounter and ultimately affirmation by my heavenly Father which I am not so sure I would have benefitted from if I were growing freely in the soil. 

It can be all too easy to view other leaders with envy; many are leading large churches or working in senior positions within some of our denominations. There is a temptation to put oneself forward for similar positions of significance, perhaps believing that a larger platform will afford us the opportunity to influence for the Lord, and that this is our destiny. I am certain that God has a place and purpose for each of us, but at the moment could He be saying that we should be content with living under His care and provision in a pot? He will use us, but at this time we are too precious and vulnerable to go it alone. Now is the time for intentional feeding, care and support. Father God has already a great place in mind for you, but to be ready for this you’ll need to be just a little bit potty. 

Simon Mattholie