Last weekend Grace Church went away together. We had a wonderful time, Stuart Bell (New Life Church, Lincoln) and our pastor Nick Sharp spoke, there were great times of ministry, and, best of all, God was with us. It was also a special anniversary for Adrian and me; on the weekend away last year in Newark, we were welcomed as members into the Grace family. One year on, I’ve been pondering on why I love my church so much, and why I look forward to being with them every Sunday and mid-week.
1) God-centered: Jesus is genuinely loved and honoured. At every meeting we celebrate His majesty, authority, grace and compassion. We remember with thankful hearts what He did for us at the cross: defeating Satan and the curse of sin, sickness and death, and providing a way for us to have an intimate friendship with God. We welcome God’s presence among us by His Holy Spirit. I love seeing God visibly at work in people’s lives.
2) Word-centered: We love the Bible; it is taught faithfully every Sunday and in our mid-week Community Groups. We are encouraged to read it, study it, memorise it, meditate on it and obey it. It’s a key way of getting to know God, and our desire is to know Him more and more deeply.
3) Great Worship: The worship is real and from the heart. There’s an intimacy about it that I love. We don’t just sing cold truths about God; we sing to Him, passionately declaring our love for Him and dependence on Him, acknowledging His power and authority in and over our lives. The spiritual gifts are practiced. I admit that this took a little bit of getting used to, coming from a reformed, non-charismatic background. On our first Sunday at Grace Church, someone brought a prophetic picture of a sweetshop crammed with all manner of delicious sweets, chocolates, lollipops, etc. In the picture, people pressed their noses up against the window, longing to enjoy the sweets and candies inside but not taking the plunge of stepping through the open door. That picture spoke clearly to me: I could see these people at Grace Church had a dimension in their Christian lives that I didn’t have. Jesus told a woman He met by a well in Samaria that one day His followers would worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worshipping God with the aid of His Holy Spirit, using spiritual gifts (especially tongues and prophecy) and the wonderful truths of His Word is an incredibly uplifting, instructive, edifying experience. It’s alive and real; it’s about a Person that we truly adore and are in awe of.
4) Growing Together: The expectation is that we grow together in God. We expect to see God at work in our lives. I love the fact that not only do we pray for one another during ministry times in meetings, but it is a common sight to see twos and threes sat praying together after the meeting. And it’s not just physical needs we pray for, like provision of jobs, help during exams, etc. But we pray for inner needs, for deliverance from fear or habitual sin, for a more intimate walk with God. In general conversation, it’s completely natural to share what God is doing in your life, and normal to look for Him doing more.
5) Expectantly Prayerful: It is great to be part of a church that asks God to do things and then looks for Him to answer. A big thing I’ve learned in the last eighteen months is that God delights to bless us, He wants to do far more for us than we desire or are willing to ask Him. It’s a joy to be part of a church that asks and sees God drawing people to Jesus. It’s great to be part of a church that believes God heals today, not only by using doctors and medicine, but miraculously. Through prayer alone we have seen limbs grown to normal length, backs healed, paralysis completely lifted, and (in my own case) healing from cerebellar ataxia. It is exciting to go on adventures of faith as a church family and as individuals.
6) No Gossip: In the two years I’ve been there, I’ve not heard any gossip. This is a great blessing. It means that people can sing out prophetically and in tongues in our meetings without fear of being laughed at or belittled (who cares if they don’t always hit the high notes or go flat?). It means that you can share a personal need during the ministry time and be lovingly prayed for and supported, not judged or have your problem gossiped about to others. It means church is a safe environment, where you can be yourself, practice the gifts, and grow in God. Believe me, this is invaluable and, sadly, highly unusual.
7) Love Nottingham, Love the Nations: There is a real desire to actively share the amazing God we know with those around us. We want to see Him move in our city, to save people out of sin and addiction, and to bring healing to broken relationships, hearts, minds and bodies. We pray and we act. Doubtless we could do more, but we try to use the resources we have. We also have a heart for the nations. One of the things that drew Adrian and me to Grace Church is the fact that mission is not just talked about and prayed for, but it is done. Our friend Ruth was sent out to Central Asia last October, and our friends James and Ruth are beginning training in Bible translation next month. People are encouraged to go, as well as give and pray.
Grace Church is not perfect; it’s made up of imperfect and unlikely people brought together simply because we love God and want to see Jesus honoured and famous in our city, our nation and our world.