Monthly Letter – March 2016

Dear Friends

Men can’t multi-task. So they say (I can’t really check that out while I’m writing this).

There’s got to be a flip side to this gender limitation, though; and the flip side is (presumably) the way a man can at least often have some focus, a single-minded, all-engrossing focus on the task-in-hand.

It’s a challenge along just such lines which is one of the tasks we now face. Call it recovering focus perhaps; think of it maybe as a careful and communal re-calibration of the life of our fellowship here; or simply use the word ‘vision’.

However we choose to describe it, the task is important: the need to know both why we are here as a fellowship, and where, under God, we are headed. Otherwise we’ll simply dither, drift, and die. And who wants that?

So what is the ‘vision’ God has for us here? Why, in the purpose of God for these days – why are we here? What does He mean us to be and to do? And where, under God, are we headed?

And I mean, by the reference to ‘we’, not ‘we Christians’ generally (or big ones for that matter!), but ‘we here at Gilcomston Church.’ Where are we as a fellowship presently headed? What is the Lord intent on accomplishing through us here in the days and the years up ahead?

Well, let’s start with the words of a single-track man: the apostle Paul. You remember his words in the letter we’re presently studying – “This one thing I do..”?

(Well, he was a man, after all, ill-equipped by the fact of his gender, you’d think, to aspire to anything more than any one thing at a time – though you’d hardly have said that this man was exactly inept when it came to his simultaneous juggling of a hundred and one different tasks!)

This was a man who knew very well just why he was here, and where it was he was headed. But when he affirmed, “This one thing I do”, he was talking about single-minded devotion to Christ: he was setting down a statement of the focus which each and every follower of Christ will share, no matter who they are, or where and when they live.

That’s a ‘general’ sort of focus: an important focus, for sure – but necessarily merely general in its nature, a ‘vision’ of the destiny we have in Christ, a fervent affirmation of the goal to which we’re all as Christians moving.

We’re here to sound out the praises of God, and to go and make disciples; and we’re headed, and preparing, for eternity – a fuller, richer, resurrected life in realms so thoroughly expansive that it’s hard for us to even start imagining how wonderful they are.

That’s all maybe clear enough (well, it should, I hope, be clear enough!) and, yes, that’s all just great: but it’s ‘general’ not particular, and it merely sets parameters, within which we are still obliged to figure out the narrower, more specific set of answers to the issue of the ‘vision’ for our congregation’s life. And the “one-thing-I-do” line of thinking provides, I suggest, an important key to addressing that critical question.

It goes against the grain of modern thinking even to suggest this, I know – but I’ll state it nonetheless: we’re none of us God. We simply can’t do everything. None of us. No individual. Not even a Spirit-filled, turbo-charged, action-man apostle who makes multi-tasking, modern, working women seem ham-fisted by comparison with him.

The apostle Paul himself was very clear about the scope and limitations of the work he had been given by the Lord. He may have been thoroughly single-minded in devotion to his Lord: but he never imagined that somehow, single-handed, he was called in his discipleship of Christ to change the world – and that no matter how well and how often he might hone all his multi-tasking expertise.

He was but one small part of what he would aptly describe as the spiritual body of Christ. He was clear from the start about his own specific role and responsibility; and in the process of describing to the Christians at Rome just what his own specific calling actually was, he sets out some helpful, general guidelines for our each determining with clarity just what our own small part in God’s great story is to be (Rom.15.14-21).

He puts it like this – (1) What our part in the story is to be is, firstly, His call always, never ours; (2) our part in the story will, secondly, always be part of the wider gospel ministry whereby people both come to Christ and grow in Christ; (3) and finally, our part in the story has always God’s reputation and glory in view, not ours.

So when we translate these very basic guidelines onto the canvas of our congregational life, we should be quite clear that our calling as a fellowship is simply to share with other gospel fellowships in advancing the kingdom of God – and not to be promoting, pursuing, or pressing the claims of some nebulous ‘empire of Gilc’.

It should also be clear that our context is therefore significant, as one among several vital considerations which come into play in our discerning together God’s ‘vision’ and call for us here at this time.

By our ‘context’ I mean, not least, just the fact that we’re one of a number of evangelical churches rather crowded together in a striking concentration of gospel work: not exactly an ecclesiastical, Aberdonian equivalent of London’s impressive ‘Square Mile’, nor quite a smaller Scottish version of America’s famous ‘Bible belt’ – but nonetheless a compact little geographic corridor of evangelical life reflected in a range of different fellowships.

This very proximity is itself a rather striking providence of God: but it does raise important questions to do with our ‘vision’. For if we recognize that the Lord Himself has set these separate fellowships here together, and if we recognize that He sets us here to complement each other in the progress of that ‘kingdom’ work of gospel proclamation to which we’re all committed – then some of the central questions we do well to address are these:

  • Where in God’s wise providence do our own ‘distinctives’ lie? [One unique feature of our congregation’s life, for instance, is the fact that our building fronts onto Aberdeen’s main street]
  • What are our strengths?
  • Where does our ministry’s ‘centre of gravity’ lie?
  • How do we build on the perspectives set out in the vision-casting paper, ‘Future Gilc’?
  • And, as important as any of the above, how do all of the answers we’ve given tie in to the work of the kingdom, orchestrated by the Spirit of Jesus, through the range of evangelical fellowships right here in the centre of town?

These are just some of the questions which the Leadership Team are now asking, as we seek, with you all, to discern and embrace the call of the Lord on our life as a church at this time.

Back to where we started: we simply can’t do everything. But by the same token we dare not sit passively back at this time, content with what’s a fragile sort of ‘status quo’, and concerned only to secure a comfortable, safe and inward-looking life – we dare not sit back and do nothing, for there’s crucial kingdom work to be done in these days. Neither everything; nor nothing. But some one thing – which may well have a hundred and one different facets when it all gets worked out in our life.

And the “one-thing-I-do” single-mindedness, seen in the calling of Paul, has its roots in the question he asked when the man was found flat on his face at conversion – “What shall I do, Lord?” [Acts 22.10].

A dangerous question to ask! Because the Lord in His answer (as He generally does in response to both questions and prayers) had a whole load more to give to Paul than the poor man perhaps had bargained for: and it won’t be any different with ourselves as we ask the same sort of question today.

“Get up!” said the Lord to His dust-covered new-born disciple (face on the ground is fine for a while, but there’s work to be done – and while the ‘we-are-all-dust-and-to-dust-we’ll-return’ sort of mantra is certainly true, it’s only the serpent, and never the saints, who‘s consigned to crawl on his belly, and eat the dust – and of course eventually ‘bite the dust’ – all the days of his wretched life): “Get up! Go into (the city), and there you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.”

Do you see that? “..all that you have been assigned to do.” Not what he’d ever have chosen to do: not what he’d have ever even thought to do. It’s the Lord’s call; always.

Scary! But more than a little exciting!

Well, we’re risk-takers here: we’re asking the dangerous question. What shall we do, Lord?

And now that we, too, are beginning to pick ourselves up from the floor and the dust is beginning to settle – we’re waiting ourselves on this Jesus in the confident hope that He’ll make it all clear for us here just what He has assigned us now to do. The adventure has barely begun!

Yours in Christ’s service

Jeremy Middleton