Where's A Good Church?

Many people are searching for a good church in this time of spiritual confusion in mainline churches. As an Anglican priest I have a preference for traditional Bible teachings and sacramental worship - but have also fought a thirty-year war against non-biblical teachings in the Anglican Church. Like many seekers I have bumped around and discovered the power of more charismatic music and worship in Messianic Jewish, Roman Catholic and evangelical churches. During the Covid lockdowns we have all had a wonderful opportunity to church shop online and discover new options. I have had the wonderful opportunity to train for and do "interim ministry" in over a dozen churches and share what I have learned in the resources below. The short answer to "where's a good church" is one that scores a high balance among "Orthodoxy, Community, Relevance and Outreach" as explained in the questionnaire below. Best practice would be to print the questionaire and fill it out after you visit a church and see its strengths and weaknesses. The other resources below will help you understand what it is you are looking for. I will respond to comments and emails - jgishler@gmail.com.

Thriving Church Questionnaire

(The related Chapter of Going Spiritual: Discovering, Developing and Healing a Spiritual Life is available for free download at https://www.spirituallifeteaching.info/p/going-spiritual.html on the Going Spiritual page.)

Many people are searching for a thriving church that will help them develop a rich Christian spiritual life. As established churches decline new thriving churches are emerging. The question for many people is Where’s a good church?  What is it that are people looking for that seems to be so hard to find? Don Posterski of World Vision Canada and Irwin Barker of the Angus Reid Group conducted a statistically rigorous survey of 761 Canadians to discover the answer in the early 1990s. The sample was divided between those attending thriving churches and those attending failing churches. The study revealed that the distinctive characteristics of thriving churches were:
·      Orthodoxy – in touch with the truth
·      Community – in touch with personal needs
·      Relevance – in touch with the times
·      Outreach – in touch with the needs of others[1]

It was the balanced combination of all four characteristics that made for a thriving church. In fact over focus on one area at the expense of others robs people of a rich spiritual experience. Churches that emphasize orthodoxy at the expense of community and relevance can become judgemental and soul destroying. Churches that over emphasize community at the expense of orthodoxy and outreach can become irrelevant social cliques. Over focus on relevance to the culture can lead to under-focus on orthodoxy and solid teaching that nourishes our souls.

In this questionnaire you will discover the present balance and identify the strengths and weaknesses of your church using four scales. Please rate the church on each of the examples below from 1 to 5 (ideal), calculate the average and circle this number on the Average scale below.

1. Orthodoxy – How in touch with the truth is this church?         

Orthodoxy means “correct doctrine” as taught in the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, 10 Commandments and in the Bible in all places and at all times. For example:
·      Is preaching and teaching really Bible-based or more like a personal interpretation?   (       )
·      Is the danger of sin and need for repentance, confession and salvation in Jesus taught?  (       )
·      Is personal and church-led Bible study encouraged and widely practiced?     (       )
·      Is the whole Bible taught including the work, experiences and gifts of the Holy Spirit?  (       )
·      Is there a powerful and vital healing ministry as in the Apostolic church?  (       )
·      Is this a Christ-centred and Holy Spirit led church? (       )
                                    Average for Orthodoxy: 1     2     3     4     5  (Ideal)

2. Community – How in touch with your personal needs is this church?       

Community is a basic human need. We all need to feel we belong, are appreciated in a group and have deep emotional relationships with a few other people. For example:
·      Is there a feeling of emotional connectedness during coffee hour and other gatherings?  (       )
·      Are people friendly, welcoming, inclusive or torn by conflicts and power struggles?  (       )
·      Did you make two friends here in the first six-months (who’s home you have been in)?  (       )
·      Is there a newcomers group, course or intentional process for welcoming people?  (       )
·      Have the leadership talked to you, visited you or been in your home in the last year?  (       )
                                  Average for Community: 1     2     3     4     5  (Ideal)

3. Relevance – How in touch with the times is this church?         

Does the preaching, teaching, Bible study and ministry of this church help you deal with problems and issues at work or at home in your daily life or is it more intellectual and theoretical? For example:
·      Is the teaching relevant to your life and work or more on church history and doctrine? (     )
·      Are you learning to survive in the culture and grow in your relationship with Jesus? (     )
·      Do you leave this church with new hope in your heart? (     )
·      If you had a problem at work or at home would you go to the leadership of this church? (     )
                                    Average for Relevance:  1     2     3     4     5  (Ideal)

4. Outreach – How in touch with the needs of the community is this church?  

Christians promise in their baptism to “proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ” and to serve others. Is this church more like a holy huddle of the saved or are many people involved in reaching out to serve and proclaim Jesus in the local community? For example:
·      By hosting a day care or drop-in programs for young people, moms and tots or seniors?  (       )
·      By working in or opening a food or clothing bank at the church?  (        )
·      By sponsoring and inviting outsiders to attend an Alpha Program or Cursillo Weekend?  (       )
·      Are members and the leadership involved in local community activities?  (       )
                                    Average for Outreach: 1     2     3     4     5  (Ideal)

5. Circle the number on the scale below from your average scores above - see any areas for growth?

The Thriving Church Model[2]

[1] Don Posterski and Irwin Barker, Where’s a Good Church? (Winfield, B.C.: Wood Lake Books, 1993) 19.
[2] John Gishler, Going Spiritual: Discovering, Developing and Healing a Spiritual Life (Calgary: Gishler Group, 2018), 129.

Resources Below:

  1. The Interim Ministry Opportunity
  2. St. Georges, Calgarys New Visioning Process
  3. Vision # 1: A Spirit Led Church
  4. Vision # 2: A Forgiving Church  
  5. Vision # 3: A Healing Church
  6. Vision # 4: A Loving, Transforming and Serving Church
  7. Vision # 5: A Christ-centred Church
  8. Vision # 6: A Praying and Proclaiming Church

1. The Interim Ministry Opportunity

(by The Rev. John Gishler, Trained Interim Priest)

     When a priest leaves a parish there is usually a fear reaction. What will happen to us now?. Many parishes try to avoid this by promising a new priest as soon as possible. They don’t want to face the reality that “soon” will be six to twelve months away. For more and more parishes the decline in numbers and offerings means hiring a full-time or even part-time priest is unrealistic. These parishes need a trained Interim to guide them in exploring the options of partnership with nearby Anglican or Lutheran churches, having a ‘Permanent Deacon’ in Charge or even a ‘Lay Reader – in Charge’ under direct clerical supervision. The temptation is to solve the interim problem by using supply ministry for Sundays and save a bundle on salary. This approach misses the opportunity to use the interim period positively to heal the past, determine the future and begin moving in a direction. The poor new priest arrives when everyone is still mourning the beloved pastor - or angry that they took so long to leave. It is not a happy way to start a ministry.

      The alternative is to size the interim opportunity for healing and re-thinking direction. Most parishes tend to be moving in the direction chosen by their clergy, so a change of clergy is the best time for a review of direction - before the new priest is interviewed. The good news is that there are clergy who have been specially trained and who have experience in several other parishes doing interim ministry. The standard 80 hour course provided by the Interim Ministry Network teaches priests how to minimize tension by developing a contract with a parish and diocese, how to smoothly enter and exit the scene, and how to help the parish move through the five key interim tasks:
1. Re-establish Diocese Linkages
    Many small rural and even some big city parishes tend to operate in isolation from their denominational leadership. The selection process for a new incumbent requires a good working relationship between the parish Canonical Committee and the Diocese - the Rural Dean, Archdeacon, Executive Archdeacon and Bishop. The first task of the Interim is to ensure that these linkages are in place and that the process of Canonical Committee selection and profile drafting is underway.

2. Come to Terms With History
     Depending on the history, there will often be feelings of grief or anger floating around, usually surrounded by considerable fear of the future. Nothing is more comforting that the presence of someone who has already helped several other parishes through a similar time and can assure everyone that it is an opportunity, not a problem. A trained interim will spend a great deal of time visiting everyone to listen to their story; helping them work through their feelings; and helping them grow in their faith. This is also a good time to invite those who have left in frustration to come home and be part of a new future.

3. Identify New Directions
    Since clergy have a way of moulding parishes to their own particular agendas; the interim is an opportunity to step back and re-think the particular local direction and goals of the congregation. A high church congregation might decide they want to move more into outreach. A liberal congregation might decide they have a deep hunger for Biblical teaching. These are critical questions to discuss and resolve before new clergy leadership is selected. Most interims can help with some form of Visioning or Strategic Planning exercise to determine these new directions.

4. Managing Changes in Leadership
    As the direction changes, some of those who have provided years of faithful leadership will decide to step aside. Others will discover a passion for the new direction and offer themselves for leadership. Great care is needed to honour and celebrate the contribution of those who have built the congregation in the past and kept it going through difficult times. New leaders need training and help in working with those who have trouble with change. A trained Interim Priest has the skills and opportunity to do this - they are not a candidate for future employment and can say what needs to be said in love.

5. Developing Commitment To New Direction and Leadership
    The heart of Interim Ministry is listening. A trained Interim Priest will have visited most of the people in the parish in their homes and listened to their frustrations and hopes. The new direction will be based on these conversations, Vestry discussions and congregational meetings to discuss the parishes history and develop a Strategic Plan. Because the new direction comes from the hopes of the people, they own it and will support it.
Interim Ministry is an opportunity for growth. This growth depends on healing the past, determining a realistic future and getting people working together towards this future. A trained Interim Priest knows how to do this and is particularly recommended whenever there has been a long incumbency, major conflict or decline in numbers requiring a neutral party to negotiate an amalgamation, Partnership or new form of lay-led ministry.
The most important and difficult task is to get everyone involved in this process to ensure that there is broad support for any new vision or mission before a new incumbent is interviewed. One of the most helpful processes for determining core values and church visioning is described in Moving Off The Map: A Field Guide to Changing the Congregation by Thomas Bandy (a Canadian).

The following materials include a link to the Interim Ministry Network which provides excellent training and educational support for clergy, a description of a the Bandy visioning process at St. George's, Calgary and five sermons on alternative Biblical visions.

2. St. Georges, Calgarys Visioning Process

by The Rev. John Gishler, Interim Priest

     Determining a new direction is one of the most interesting tasks facing an Interim Priest. This is a key difference between an untrained and trained Interim. The Interim Ministry Network Course trains clergy to actively use the interim period to help the parish find their own direction before hiring a new priest. When people started coming out of the grief cycle at St. George’s, it became clear that many were running out of energy. St. George’s is a larger parish so there is always a lot of ministry happening. What was lacking seemed to be a common sense of direction to motivate, unite and focus this ministry.
      The good news is that a Canadian, Thomas Bandy, has developed a new visioning process. This is different from the usual ‘send the Vestry away for a weekend approach’. The problem with the Vestry process is that what seemed wonderful and inspired to a few people has no real meaning for the rest of the congregation - and no buy-in. Bandy’s process goes to the other extreme. It takes three to four months. Everyone is invited to be involved in three Congregational meetings, Focus Groups and Prayer Triads. It is a ‘team building” exercise during which Focus Groups learn to work together, not to politically vote and agree on values and beliefs; but to discern them spiritually. The process starts with gaining Vestry and congregational commitment to give this priority over regular programs for a three to four month period. This is a cost - but there is also a tremendous payoff as you work toward the “Motivating Vision” and 15 word blockbuster “Key Mission”.

 1. Determining “Core Values”
The first part was easy. There was a parish dinner to review the history. Then the Focus Groups meet to discuss “Core Values”. We started with a Bible reading and a prayer and went on to discern what our real values as a church are based on our history. The results were presented, discussed and agreed to at a second Congregational Meeting. Just to keep the process honest, a number of former parishioners were interviewed by phone to find out if these are the real values or the ideal values of the congregation. The result:

St. George’s Core Values:
  • Compassion
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Church Family 
  •  Respect
  • Prayer and Praise
2. Determining “Basic Beliefs”
Then it got interesting. Most Anglicans have never thought about what they really believe - we tend to ’leave that to the Minister’. The Focus Groups met again to discern a list of seven “Basic Beliefs”. All existing Parish groups became Focus Groups. St. George’s started three additional groups to include anyone else. Part  A was easy - we started with a sheet that included the Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Eucharistic Prayer 3 (BAS). Each person underlined the words they wanted to discuss and circled the phrases that were most important to them. To move this from a head exercise to a heart exercise we then asked each person to take five minutes to record a traumatic incident in their life and the three beliefs that had helped them at that time. Then we came to the hard part. Most groups had to have two meetings. We were asked to imagine ourselves as a group of Christians meeting in a home when the neighbours who are not Christian come over obviously distraught. The tell the group that their daughter has just phoned and is contemplating suicide. They are asking for help. “What would we as Christians have to say to the daughter to give her a reason to live”? This is a terrible question, but it helps us know what we should say to the person sitting beside us on the bus.

We Believe:
  • Life is God’s gift.
  • Gods’ love is unconditional.
  • Jesus died so that God will always forgive us.
  • In the power of prayer.
  • God has a plan for our lives. 
  • In the guidance, comfort and healing of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Visioning Services (see Visions 1-6 below)
Our next step was a number of visioning services where has sermons on alternative visions (posted below) based on the readings for the Sunday. These were prayed about and discussed in small groups which came to a consensus on the following vision for St. Georges:

Our Motivating Vision
  • St. George’s is a Christ-centred community that equips and empowers people by praising God, praying, studying Scripture and participating in the Sacraments.
  • We take Christ to the spiritually oppressed so that they will receive the victory of wholeness and hope.
  • We equip ourselves for ministry to the sick and wounded using prayer, study and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to identify needs, discover our calling and be Gods’ love in action.
  • We proclaim the truth of Gods’ love and forgiveness to everyone, especially to the vulnerable and to the oppressed, by advocating for justice, praying for righteousness and feeding the whole person.
 The last step was to synthesize this all down into 15 words that we include on our bulletin and use in our dismissal every Sunday.

 “We proclaim Gods’ grace, love, forgiveness and
healing, to all gods’ children, in Jesus name.”


3. Vision # 1: A Spirit Led Church

(A series of visioning teachings by Rev. John Gishler, April 27, 2003)

       The death and Resurrection of Jesus forced the Disciples to adapt to a new and very different situation. The issue was one of identity. Who were they and what were they trying to do. Just like modern churches dealing with the challenges of "Post-Christendom" or what others call "Pre-Christian" society, they had to develop a new understanding of their vision and mission. Every church in our own time that plans to survive and grow, must face these new conditions. Like the early Disciples we have recently become a small minority in a hostile world. We are uncertain of whether we are part of the church we grew up in or whether we are forming something new. As in the post-Resurrection days there is a major lack of leadership and confusion about direction. In this series we will be examining six alternative visions of what it means to be a church. This is being done to support a visioning process at St. George's, where the congregation is in the middle of discerning a new vision and mission. It is appropriate that we begin by suggesting that this process and the church itself must be Holy Spirit led.

1. Jesus is founding a new Church

     In a parallel to Jesus own Baptismal anointing, He breaths on them and they all receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is to replace Jesus as the 'leader' of the new church. Notice how in the Gospel reading (John 20.19 - 31) Jesus also passes what is essentially divine authority on to the community of Disciples.. In a startling sentence he tells them that "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven." (20.23). This is very clear. It is very exclusive. It is also not very politically correct. It means that only those who are part of this particular group - not the Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists; can be given forgiveness in Jesus name. This is not to say God may not have an alternative for these groups. He may, it's just that we do not know about it. This is why membership in the Church is so important. This is why we define membership so carefully as being 'in Communion' and why the Church has had such a long history of battles over who is in Communion with who. We are facing an example of this in the Diocese of New Westminster where seven parishes have rejected the authority of the Synod and Bishop and formed the "Anglican Communion of New Westminster". Our salvation hinges on forgiveness in Christ. Inclusion is a critical issue.

2. The Holy Spirit replaces The Hebrew Law as the source of authority
      Following the Covenant with Moses and the Ten Commandments, Hebrew scholars and teachers had developed a very detailed set of rules to govern their religious life. The problem was that they spent so much time arguing the details and substituting human wisdom, that many began to ignore God and loose their connection through prayer and prophecy. Logic and argument had replaced the Holy Spirit and prophets as the source of wisdom and authority. In today's Gospel Jesus corrects this by anointing the Disciples with the Holy Spirit as a sign that this is the source of authority that they are to listen to. This was prophesied in Joel (2.28) who said "I will pour out my Spirit on all people.." Christians are Baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church Jesus founded is to be Holy Spirit led.

3. The Church is to be a community
      Notice that Jesus comes twice and stands "among them". He is not reaching out to individuals sitting anonymously at home in front of a TV. Jesus is reaching out to those who come together in faith. The community tests our love and models our forgiveness. The Church is not to be 'me and my Bible' as many people who have not learned to love claim

We are to be a Holy Spirit led Church
     We are not to be led by the 'smart guys' or people with agendas. We are not to be led by people without love who have only studied the Bible - particularly the 'evangelicals' who often tend to turn the Bible into a new set of rules similar to the Hebrew "Law". We are not to be led by managers and politicians. We are to be led by people who pray and listen to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. These are the people that Jesus comes and stands among.

4. Vision # 2: A Forgiving Church

(homily notes for April 4, 2003 by Rev. John Gishler)

       This is the second vision of the Church that we are looking at as we try to discern what the Bible and the Holy Spirit are saying to us now about our own mission as a particular church with a particular history and situation. Last week we looked at how the Disciples adjusted to the departure of Jesus and His replacement as leader by the Holy Spirit. This week we are looking at forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. Forgiveness is the reason Jesus had to come and give His life to defeat the power of the evil One. The correct translation of the Lord's Prayer is "deliver us from the evil one". Jesus sacrificial death - if we claim it; pays the spiritual price and makes forgiveness possible.

1. We grow spiritually as we forgive.
    Anger and bitterness are the poison of non-forgiveness. This poison blocks our joy and prevents us from being in a right relationship with God through Jesus. Many people are not even aware that they have been hurt - often long ago, and are still are angry at God, angry at other people or angry at the Church. We do not like to face this reality. In fact many people are in deep denial about their anger or bitterness. The good news of Jesus is that now there is a way to forgive, to be forgiven and to free ourselves from the bondage of un-forgiveness.

2. The Church is to preach repentance
    There can be no forgiveness without repentance. Repentance means we have exposed and renounced our secret guilt and broken its power over us. Our repentance and turning to Jesus for forgiveness opens the gate to grace. The grace of Christ flows down over us, washing away the shame of our guilt and restoring us to a 'right relationship' with Jesus and with each other. The writer of 1 John (1.3) tells us that "Everyone who has this hope in him (Jesus) purifies himself." This is the power and good news of faith in Jesus. This grace is free. We can not earn it by promising to be good or doing good works. It is a free gift to us only as a consequence of having this hope in Jesus. Our forgiveness is not cheap - it cost Jesus His life. We have to remember that there are no "Cross-less Christians". In our Baptism we are spiritually connected to Jesus death on the Cross. We celebrate this good news every Sunday. As a Church we try to be a people who have gone through repentance to joy. We are not to be a "happy clappy" Church that denies the continuing reality of sin. We are not to be a Church stuck in the guilt and shame of personal piety. We are all to be always on the move, facing our guilt but moving through forgiveness to joy. The joy of our spiritual life comes out of the ashes of repentance.

3. The Church is to proclaim forgiveness in Jesus name

    We do not do this in our own name - that would be Psychology. We are proclaiming a much deeper forgiveness in the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm has laws which we barely understand. One of them seems to be that rebellion or sin must be paid for. The good news we proclaim is that Jesus has paid the price for all human sin. There is nothing we can do that God will not forgive, as long as we repent and plead the blood of Christ. The challenge is that many people have trouble believing believe this. They do not believe that God could forgive them. Their God is very small. Our job is to help people come to Jesus for forgiveness.

We are to be a forgiving church
We are in the forgiveness business. This is what we do. Unfortunately many people have been hurt by judgementalism in churches. Insecure people in churches tend to judge and look down on others. Our challenge is to be so diligent in self examination, repentance and forgiveness; that we clean out our own spiritual garbage, become secure in Christ's love and radiate joy. This will give others the confidence they need to come to us, go through the self-examination and repentance process and receive forgiveness. We are to be a forgiving Church.

5. Vision # 3: A Healing Church

(Visioning homily notes for May 11, 2003 by Rev. John Gishler)

Today we are looking at scripture to try and understand more deeply what it is we need to be and do as a church. We all think we know what we are supposed to be doing as a church , but if you check you would find many different answers. Today we are looking at the church as a place of healing. We are considering the church as a 'hospital for sinners' and those suffering from emotional, spiritual and physical injuries. Ezekiel (37.1-14) is asked the basic question "Can these bones live?" (All clergy ask themselves this.) Peter heals a lame man in the name of Jesus (Acts 2.42-3.10). Our Lord commissions his followers (Luke 9.1-6) to preach and to heal.

1. We are all healed by love
Anyone who walks into this church today will sense the love. My wife and I have sensed greater love in the Chinese Anglican Fellowship and St. George's than in any other church we have attended. You can feel the love healing you and restoring you to wholeness. Love is extending yourself for others. This is what people do in these churches. This is also what mothers do. This is why we honour mothers today. Their success is not in making a lot of money in business or being a professional. Their real success is in extending themselves for their families in daily acts of love. The love and joy they experience themselves and give to others is far more meaningful than being a CEO or earning a lot of money. Mothers make a difference because they bring healing into families. The church is to be like a mother, bringing healing to people.

2. People come to church for prayer for emotional and spiritual healing
Sometimes we need more than a hug. Sometimes we need to have someone put their hands on us and pray for healing. Jesus extends his love for us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some people are given a special gift for healing. When they pray for you something happens. It may not be dramatic, but somehow the energy of the Holy Spirit flows through their hands to our bodies and souls and spreads healing. Often people feel a warm glow or full of joy. If there has been prayer for the release from spiritual oppression, they may feel a great weight lifted from them. This ministry of prayer for healing is available in many churches at most services. It is not an extra, but at the heart of what we do as a church to preach and heal by our example.

3. People also come to church for physical healing
Our 'Scientific age' is very sceptical about this. Many people will tell you this is just a cultural thing, that ancient people were superstitious, that they just imagined heeling's. Others will assure you that these things only happened long ago. Those of you who have done the Alpha Program may recall Nickey Gumbel's story about healing. As a young curate a lady asked him to pray for her back one day in church. He didn't know what to do, so he mumbled a prayer. She thanked him and left. For the next six months Rev. Nickey Gumbel avoided talking to the lady to avoid embarrassment. One day they were each going around the same corner of a hallway in opposite directions and almost collided. Before he could think he asked how her back was. "Fine" she said, "ever since you prayed for healing."

We are commissioned to be a healing church
Like Nickey Gumbel, most of us have stumbled into this ministry by accident. It is a ministry that was almost lost - but there it is, all the way from Ezekiel to Acts. We are just beginning to learn that we are really spiritual beings with temporary bodies. These bodies often need to be bathed in the warm glow of love. We find this love in our families and in our church community. We find this love in the healing and forgiveness we receive through our worship together. When we are feeling particularly broken inside, we know we can come for prayers of healing and personally experience the healing love of Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The church needs to include healing in its mission.

6. Vision # 4: A Loving, Transforming and Serving Church

(homily notes for developing a motivating vision \  Rev. John Gishler)

     We are examining Scripture to see what the Bible says about what we are to be and do as a church. What we are to be is our motivating vision. What we are to do is our key mission. It is critical to define these very precisely and gain a consensus. If a church does this well, it will save its vestry and leadership a huge amount of time in repeating long arguments over priorities. In the ideal thriving church; issues are decided not by long leadership meetings that focus on control; but by checking the idea against the vision and mission. These are the boundaries. Anyone may do anything within these boundaries without having to seek approval. The job of the leadership is to maintain and interpret the vision and mission. So what do we really mean by being a 'loving. transforming and serving church'?

1. Love is a verb

     Love is an action word. It means someone is doing something. M. Scott Peck defined love as "extending yourself for the other". The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8.26-40) illustrates this. Philip is led by an angel. Notice it does not say 'vestry had a meeting' or the Committee on Evangelism had a meeting and decided'. This is how declining churches work. In the church of the New Testament, individuals are operating freely withing a mission statement (to preach and heal) under the guidance of angels or the Holy Spirit. Philip doesn't need permission, control or supervision. Philip goes out - here is the verb. He runs up to the chariot and engages the Ethiopian in conversation. Philip is motivated. He is on fire with the love of Jesus. He loves Jesus and loves all of humanity. He is exploding with the good news of God's love in Jesus. This love gives him the energy he need to run up to a complete stranger and meet him where he is. This is what the Prayer Triads at St. George's have been learning how to do in coffee shops in the North East. Philip can only do this ministry of preaching because he knows the story, is following the guidance of the Holy Spirit and is motivated by love.

2. Love drives out fear

     Love and fear are two sides of a coin. We are all in a tension between being motivated by our love and controlled and bound by our fear. Fear is what is behind the judgementalism and control that can paralyse a church community. My quote of the week is "Religion is for those who are going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there." Love moves us beyond friendship to 'intimacy'. Thomas Bandy, author of "Kicking Habits", my favourite Church Growth book, compares two churches. "St. Friendlies" is declining while "New Hope In The Heart" church is thriving. One offers a very friendly community, the other an intimate personal relationship of transforming love with the risen Jesus.

3. Love transforms us into servants

     St. Friendlies could easily describe a typical Anglican church that offers people a chance to serve on committees that talk about and control ministry. New Hope In The Heart, the thriving church; offers people a chance to be personally transformed by love, gifted, called, equipped and sent out to do ministry. They have found the 'Alpha secret' - many people are not happy with their lives, want intimacy and meaning and are willing to be transformed to get this intimacy and meaning. It is this new hope, this motivating vision that energizes people and leads to church growth. The church becomes a place where people want to be.

Churches need a motivating vision of love, transformation and servant-hood

     It is important to understand the radical nature of this love. It is easy to confuse what the Bible means by "love" with 'niceness' or "friendliness". There seems to be almost an unspoken assumption in some churches that if we can just get a 'nice minister' everything will be ok. By "ok" we might suspect they really mean they won't have to actually do anything - like risking change or being personally transformed. Thriving churches are places where most of the people are on a personal journey of transformation, energized by the healing power of love. This means letting go of our fear. It means letting go of "my way" and allowing us to try your way - particularly when we feel certain your way is particularly silly. Love teaches us and gives us the courage to refocus from 'my needs' to 'your needs'. This is the process of being transformed into a servant. A servant who dies to self with Christ so they can be raised with Him.

As more and more people die to their fear of the future and are raised with new hope in their hearts, we build a church that loves, transforms and serves.

7. Vision # 5 - A Christ-centred Church

(Visioning homily notes for May 25, 2003 by Rev. John Gishler)

     The readings specially chosen for today all point to the importance of Jesus as the central focus of our vision of who we are as a church. Habakkuk tells us to wait for Jesus. John tells us to believe in Jesus. Luke tells us to watch for an experience of the risen Jesus. If we were to think of ourselves as in the business of marketing, then Jesus - the real Jesus who died and rose from the dead, would be our 'product'. Jesus is what separates us from the many other religions and forms of spirituality that float around us in the world. Our motivating vision as a church is not centred on being a good person, doing good works, keeping the Ten Commandments, obeying the Church or experiencing the Holy Spirit. We may do all of these things. They may be very important to us. But the central focus must be on Jesus as the one who saves us. Jesus is the one we are Baptized into a relationship with. Our motivating vision as a church is how we describe our experience of Jesus in this particular church family.

1. "We believe that Jesus died so that God would always forgive us."
     These stunning words have come out of a visioning process at St. George's Anglican Church in Calgary. They were discerned by ordinary people meeting in focus groups to determine their "basic beliefs" in contemporary language. These words capture the essential difference of Christianity in one sentence. No other religion offers the hope of complete forgiveness from wrongdoing before death. No other religion offers such a self-sacrificing, loving image of God. All we are required to do is believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that we are connected to His death and resurrection through our own Baptism. It is this belief in the uniqueness of Jesus that defines us as a Christian community and includes us in the covenant of forgiveness. We begin a lifelong and eternal spiritual relationship with Jesus as we believe in Him. This means that we do not depend on, or believe in, our self or our own goodness for our salvation.

2. We are all on the road with Jesus
Many Christians have their own Emmaus story. We may meet Jesus during a crisis in our life. We may meet Him in the Eucharist as we celebrate another opportunity to be forgiven and re-energize our Baptismal relationship. Like the travellers on the road, we know it is Jesus because our hearts burn with joy inside us. We also experience the risen Jesus as our hearts warm while we are in our personal prayer time, singing praise songs or in public worship. Some of us are privileged to see the risen Jesus working with us as we pray for healing or walk with people in spiritual direction. Two of the words that begin to describe us best as a church family are "Christ centred".

Our motivating vision is a description of our shared experience of Jesus
For each of us this experience will be a little different. Some people have recently become serious Christians and are still waiting, like Habakkuk, for a personal experience of Jesus. Others are still like the travellers on the road, who were kept from recognizing Jesus while He was right there with them. It is up to those who have had a personal experience of the risen Jesus to take the lead and share their knowledge with others. We do not determine a vision by majority vote. We discern it using spiritual principles. One of the spiritual principles is that the Holy Spirit will reveal the same idea or image to more than one person. When one person speaks it, others will catch the excitement and agree. Our community is like an 'engine' of truth. The question to ask and consider in discerning our motivating vision is "what is it about various experiences of Jesus that excites people in their spirit, and draws them into the community?" It may be a song that reaches deep inside us to light a fire. For some people it may be an image or a picture. For others it may be a Bible verse or word of knowledge given in prophecy. As with all issues of spiritual discernment, each person's contribution must be tested by the spiritual reaction of others. Does it excite everyone, or just a few people with a particular agenda?

The final test of the motivating vision will be "Is it Christ-centred?

8. Vision # 6: A Praying and Proclaiming Church

(Visioning homily notes for June 1, 2003 by Rev. John Gishler)

      We end this series of visioning homilies by re-examining what Jesus himself claimed as His mission. (Luke4:16-21) Notice that Jesus mission is very radical, not politically correct and created conflict. The religious authorities of His time decided they had to kill Jesus. Jesus clearly comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. Our own Motivating Vision as a church family must not be watered down to avoid controversy or be popular. Our "Motivating Vision" will be a song, image or statement that says how we plan to carry out this mission of Jesus. What are we going to do together to become anointed to proclaim the good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to prisoners and release to captives?

1. How are we going to ensure our mission is prayer based
      Notice it does not say that Jesus went through Rabbi School and was selected by a committee. He did not work His way up through the religious hierarchy. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit. His authority and authenticity was given directly by God. We can be sure there was a long life of prayer before this happened. The stories of the healing miracles authenticated what Jesus taught. Jesus was not just a smart, holy man. This was God intervening in human history in response to over a thousand years of prayer for a Saviour. The people at St. George's have been praying during our visioning services for "words of knowledge". We have been given these through a number of individuals and Prayer Triads. Our "Motivating Vision" itself is prayer based. It also needs to indicate how our work as a church will continue to be prayer based.

2. How are we going to proclaim the good news to the poor ?
     The "poor" are any people that do no know the good news of Jesus love and forgiveness. Many of the people around us are spiritually impoverished. They do not really know or believe that Jesus loves them or that all their sins can be forgiven through Jesus sacrificial death on the Cross. Notice that "proclaim" is an active word. We are not to sit at home, respecting others religious freedom and their right to die in their sins and not have eternal life. We are to love them more. Our "Motivating Vision" must indicate how we are to love other people like Jesus and actively proclaim the good news.

3. How are we going to proclaim freedom to the prisoners ?
      Many people are in the invisible prisons of false religion, guilt, shame and open mindedness. They are prisoners to wrong ideas about God. They can not believe that God loves them and wants to forgive them and heal them. Our vision must indicate exactly how we plan to free them by proclaiming the truth. We can not force them to believe. We must respect their freedom to choose. Our "Motivating Vision" needs to indicate how we plan to free those who are in these invisible prisons.

4. How are we going to proclaim recovery of sight for the blind ?
This is a further clarification of proclaiming the good news and freeing prisoners. Jesus has given us a very deep spiritual mission. In healing prayer, we literally "speak healing" to whatever is causing the blindness or illness. We pray for healing of the physically blind. We also, much more commonly, pray for the healing of the spiritually blind. This is how the "prisoners" are released. Healing is the other half of proclaiming. Healing is the consequence of proclaiming. The church is in the healing business.

5. How are we going to release the oppressed?
    Again we are being even more specific on why we proclaim the good news. We are to take on both human and spiritual oppressors. Inactivity is not an option. Un-involvement in controversy is not an option. It does not say form a committee or encourage others. Jesus is saying to us - You, John, release George over there from whatever is oppressing him. If it is poverty, find him a job. If it is an employer go to the employer and confront him in person. If it is a demon or spirit of sickness, take authority over the it and command it to leave. All Martin Luther King said was that discrimination was wrong. He proclaimed.

Our mission is to make a difference - the visioning question is how ?
    The mission is not to be good, civilize children or just keep the Ten Commandments. We are to first discover and then proclaim the good news of God's healing and forgiving love in Jesus. It is dangerous. We expect controversy, opposition and conflict. We are in the business of proclaiming truth, being changed and changing lives. Our "Motivating Vision" as a church tells us exactly how we plan to do this.