Ministering myself out of a job
After coming to work at a church with problems, John Rider has seen it turn a corner. He explains how this change happened, and his vision for the future
After returning from missionary work in Romania and Israel, I worked as a lay pastor for twelve years. Then in 2015 I was asked to be interim moderator at Holme United Reformed Church because they were losing a minister. I said: ‘They don’t need an interim moderator, it’s more difficult than that. Give me permission to work there permanently.’ I had trained someone up to take over at my previous church so I moved over.
The problem at Holme was with the charity. There was a lot of good work going on here, thanks to the initiative of previous ministers, but the charity was on the brink of going under. It gave advice to unemployed people, plus retraining and a preschool nursery. It had been running for 20 years and had become a business, hiring more and more staff. There was another government cut coming and the Charity Commission’s rules changed so they couldn’t use next year’s money against this year’s, opening up a black hole of finances with no way to fill it. It couldn’t have continued. My first job here was to close the charity.
The charity was also a spiritual drain on the church, and it was overriding what the church wanted to do with its own building. The church allowed the charity to do its own work for it and sat back on its laurels and said: ‘We’re doing all this…’.
The building had a leaking roof. The maintenance hadn’t been kept up because the charity planned to demolish and rebuild it, but it’s ideal for what the church wants. So we did some intense maintenance work – repaired the roof, redecorated, got new front doors and a new sign.
The other work of the church has flourished since then. We feed old people three times a week, and they come for games, a service, monthly day trips. We’ve got the Edge Project, a centre for kids in the estate about to fall out of school, with sessions throughout the week.
We started a charity shop in 2016, every Monday and Tuesday, sometimes with a coffee shop, led by church members rather than charity staff. It’s part of our community mission. We sell lots of smart, good-quality stuff – dresses are £2, coats £1. But people come in who have nothing, so a lot of stuff we virtually give away. They say: ‘We need x, y & z’ and the girls say: ‘Come back in a couple of days’ time, we’ll pray about it and see if we can get it.’ They get it in and give it away. It’s more about being a service to the community than raising money – and yet in two days we can take £100-£200, because people come and spend £5. People get their benefit money, come here first to get the clothes they need, then go to Iceland to get their weekly shop.
We lost the people to run the coffee machine for the coffee shop, but I want to get that back. We give the coffee away for free, and because it’s free that allows me to come and sit with people and speak to them.
It’s fantastic to see the church family doing this work itself. The church has started to grow spiritually again. It is starting to get a vision back, after two years. I have been on the Lead Your Church into Growth course and will run it here. I have no doubt we will grow and see revival.
Our young people have started leading services. We have a service every second month where no one over 18 is at the front. A 13-yr-old girl preached recently and was so good – she said things I would have loved to say! They go out to other churches to take services too.
On Valentine’s Day we went out into the shopping centre giving out free flowers and we had a sign offering people hugs. At Easter we did a similar thing with free chocolate eggs. When people asked why we were doing it, we said: ‘Because we believe Jesus loves you.’ That’s all it was, but it was amazing how people opened up.
We had a garden party and members knocked on people’s doors with invitations. Ten per cent of the people we invited came. In December, when the all-age team led worship, they went out in the middle of the service to deliver Christmas cards, so they’re grasping the vision. When the church starts doing more work in the community, the community starts saying, ‘That’s our church.’ Then it’s easier for them to start finding out about God.
It’s all about discipleship. Churches haven’t been doing enough discipling for a long while. I’m training the people of the church to do my job, and once I’ve done that I can do one of two things: I can head off to church that needs me, or I can send them.
John Rider is lay minister of Holme United Reformed Church. He was talking to Stephen Tomkins
This article that was published in the February 2018 edition of Reform