from the Convener of the vacancy, Derek McKelvey.
How many members does your church have? This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked as a minister. It is a difficult question to answer. Do we count every head? All the names on the computer? Those who never come to church who have not contributed to its funds for years? Or do we count those others who attend church every week; many of whom are active in contact groups and outreach ministries but have not taken out ‘membership’?
The concept of membership is totally foreign to the Gospels. It is entirely a product of the institutional church and has created massive definition problems for all denominations. The Gospels do not deal in terms of members and membership but in terms of Disciples and Discipleship.
The concept of a disciple is simple. Jesus met Andrew and A.N.Other (possibly John as he often remains anonymous in his own gospel) and Jesus says to them ‘Come and see!’ Shortly after, he says to Nathanael ‘Come with me!’ Disciples follow and walk around with Jesus. The Christian faith is not a religion but a relationship. It is not simply ‘taught’ but ‘caught’. For ten years we ran a discipleship group in Fisherwick by inviting up to 25 people per year to spend time reading scripture and eating meals together with minister and staff in order to discover what it means to walk closely with Jesus, with each other – and to learn from each other.
This winter’s programme in Lowe is designed to offer an opportunity to everyone who wants to engage with us in ‘discipling’. It is made up of several parts and you can engage with it at different levels. The more you engage, the more you will get from it. But, even just by reading this and coming to worship we believe it offers a deeper understanding of ‘being a disciple’.
The preamble below explains more of how it works – but one word at the outset. You do not need to be a ‘Christian’ in your own, or anyone else’s definition, to be a disciple – most of the disciples were God-seekers when they started following Jesus. It was much later that they understood who he really was and probably only after the resurrection that they both fully understood and fully believed. This winter we hope that those who already believe will grow in their understanding as they walk into a deeper relationship with Christ and his people – and that those who do not yet believe or are unsure of what they believe will walk into a full understanding of who Jesus is and how he walks with us by his Spirit and believe.
The leadership of the congregation is committed to walking with you through this winter. We aim to be able to talk with anyone at any time about anything that concerns or interests you.
So now I will issue the same challenge that Jesus did to John’s disciples long ago: ‘Come and see.’
How to engage with the Discipleship programme ‘Come and See!’
There are several building blocks to this programme:
- These booklets will be issued online or in print monthly to everyone who attends Lowe, or is on the roll, or who requests they be sent to them. These booklets, based on Matthew’s Gospel, provide readings for Monday to Friday each week together with some of my comments. The readings from Matthew are supplemented with other scripture passages to explain the week’s passage. There are also questions to get you thinking before each Sunday, as well as some suggestions to include children.
- The services each Sunday will be based on the readings from Matthew in the week before. The morning services follow through the gospel in the order it is written with two exceptions. First, Chapters 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount) will form the basis of the preaching for the evening (Sunday Night Live) services through the year. Secondly, the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection will be used during Holy Week and Easter so they match with Easter.
- The Contact Groups will follow this programme in their meetings throughout the winter, offering an opportunity to talk through with others, in an informal and relaxed setting, what you have been thinking and feeling as you read, listen and pray. A list is to be found with contact details at the end of this booklet
- There will be occasional ‘Discipleship Forums’ where there will be an opportunity to ask questions and express opinions. Those of us who are involved in the preaching and writing of the programme will be available to answer and debate at these forums.
- For those who are interested there will be an opportunity to be ‘discipled’ or ‘mentored’ (to use today’s ‘in’ word) in one to one conversation with fellow members.
The whole adds up to an opportunity to see who Christ is and learn from him in company with your fellow travellers on the Christian Way. One of the earliest descriptions of the Church was as the ‘People of the Way’ – it is also one of the most accurate as we are all on the journey – none of us have yet arrived and we all are still learning, discovering and being surprised by the companion God gave us for the journey, his Holy Spirit.
If you want information on steps 3 and 4 there is a list of contact groups at the end of this booklet together with contact numbers for the leaders/hosts. Details of the ‘Discipleship Forums’ will appear in the booklets and in Church announcements in the Order of Service or on the website www.lowe.church. If you would like details of one-to-one discipling speak to one of the staff or elders or email email@example.com
Enjoy the journey
A few further thoughts
- Participation on the course is not restricted to Lowe members or attenders – the booklets will be available in Church, and you may take copies for family and friends.
- All the booklets, sermon notes, and YouTube recordings of the services will be available online at lowe.church
- Feedback is positively encouraged – I welcome comments, criticism (preferably constructive but any sort will do), suggestions and fresh insights. When time permits these may be incorporated into something more, if God permits.
- If you can’t get peace at home to read, remember that the prayer room beside the Hub is open daily from 9.30am – 1.00pm and some evenings when organisations are on. No-one will disturb you and, as Bibles are available there, you don’t even need to bring one with you.
A brief introduction to Matthew
I hope to give a more complete introduction to Matthew’s Gospel at the services on Sunday 18 September at the outset of the programme, but the following points are worth noting:
The source community in which and for which it was written is probably Antioch in Syria, the third largest city in the Roman empire [after Rome and Constantinople (Istanbul)] and a thriving centre of East – West trade. It had a large Christian community formed first by Jewish Christians escaping the persecution in Jerusalem who will have continued to have a strong link with Jerusalem and all things Jewish. But this community also had a large contingent of non-Jews and Hellenistic Jews who would have had a real passion for mission and would, by character, have had a moderate attitude to the cultural wrangles between Jews and Gentiles in the early Church.
The author is the man identified in the text as the tax collector who follows Jesus in 10:3. Mark and Luke name this man as Levi. Papias (the early Church historian writing some 60 years later gives him as the author but there is no way of proving (or disproving) this. ‘Matthew’ whoever he was, was a learned man who wrote cultured Greek, certainly a Jew who knew the Old Testament thoroughly and was keen to show that Jesus was the Messiah promised by and foreshadowed in it, but one aware of the Gentile community and at home in it.
He borrows a large percentage of Mark’s Gospel as his frameworkbut both alters and elaborates it and adds material of his own, some of which comes from a source also used by Luke.
The result is a Gospel which, though not the earliest written, has a universal appeal and integrity and can easily be seen as a ‘Discipleship Handbook.’ It contains more of Jesus’ teachings than either Mark or Luke and arranges it in five separate discourses (probably to parallel the five Books of the Law in the Old Testament) and because, throughout, it sees the Christian way as just that – a road to be travelled with Jesus. So now, add Matthew to your companions!
So here is the beginning of the Journey.
 John 1:35ff
 John 1:39
 Children here mean those of Primary school age and perhaps the first two years of secondary school. Older teenagers should be encouraged to use the booklet for themselves
 The first will be on Tuesday 25 October at 8pm after the Prayer meeting
 Acts 8. The community is also mentioned in Acts 11:19-26 and Acts 13:1-3. The fact that Paul was sent out from this community and spent little time there resonates with the lack of ‘Pauline’ expressions and thought in the Gospel
 Jews who have lived for generations in the diaspora of the Greek civilisation (and now the Roman Empire).
 The Gospel of Matthew contains around 612 verses of the 662 verses of the Gospel of Mark, and mostly in exactly the same order.
 Mark was, as may be obvious by the fact that Matthew and Luke both use his text as the framework of their very different accounts.