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A Recipe for Success

A Recipe for Success

Monday July 10

Life and Work's much-loved columnist, the Very Rev Dr James Simpson, has chosen some of his favourite pieces from over 10 years of meditations.

In his second selection, from February 2007, he offers checklists for church failure and success.


A check-list on a church noticeboard (aimed at those responsible for locking up the church) was headed “HOW TO CLOSE THE CHURCH”.

A similar list could be prepared entitled “HOW TO CLOSE THE CHURCH PERMANENTLY.”

Leave everything to the minister and the faithful pillars of the kirk. Unfortunately in most congregations the pillars are outnumbered by the caterpillars, those who occasionally creep in and out, whose membership is more of a convenience than a compulsion.

Never volunteer for anything. When asked to help, say ‘No’ firmly. Live by the philosophy of ‘avoidism’. The principle is simple. Avoid all situations and meetings that might lead to involvement.

Settle for a decaffeinated form of Christianity, one from which the challenge, discipline and sacrificial giving have been removed, one that won’t keep you awake at night.

Divorce faith from thought. This will foster unbelief in others.

Protect the status quo. Stifle all innovations. Be like the man who was tempted to join the Greek Orthodox Church because he had been told that there change in the fast track takes 400 years.

Regularly criticise your minister and the elders. Throw poisonous darts at all who do not think exactly as you do. Write intemperate letters.

Always speak of the church’s shortcomings and its least attractive members, never of her glories, or of those ‘salty’ members, to be found in every congregation, who truly are ‘the salt of the earth’.

One could however draw up another list of duties and responsibilities, and entitle it HOW TO KEEP THE CHURCH OPEN.

Make it a priority to worship regularly. A full church and enthusiastic congregational singing make worship more inspiring. Numbers do attract numbers.

Make time to welcome incomers to the parish. Tell them about your church. If they express an interest, offer to accompany them the first time.

Encourage your minister and office-bearers. What a refreshing effect a word of encouragement can have. Mark Twain said he could live for two months on a compliment.

“Love your neighbours.” Remember that the whole world is our neighbourhood, and all who dwell therein – black and white, the clever and the not so clever, the overfed and underfed, the rich and poor, insiders and outsiders, the godly and ungodly. People are more likely to be attracted to a church if the members reflect the caring spirit of Christ.

Challenge the prevailing secular culture rather than mirror it. Too many who pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ on Sunday effectively bar its coming on Monday. More important than group discussion about compassion and forgiveness, is actually caring for and forgiving others. The activist is not the person who points out that much more needs to be done for the poor and the disadvantaged, the young and the elderly. The real activist is the person who enters the fray on their behalf.

Be open to change. Don’t make what was done yesterday the norm for church life today. Heed the Psalmist’s injunction to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. Through the words of some modern hymns are banal, others are very meaningful. How I wish CH4 had been available earlier in my ministry.

Involve young people in as many aspects of the church’s life and worship as possible. Don’t expect them just to sit and listen.

Remember that the Church’s greatest need is not for more committees, but more commitment. What a debt the Church owes those who, in Shakespeare’s phrase, ‘hold it a vice in their goodness, not to do more than is requested’.

Never forget that what the Church at its finest stands for – faith, hope, love, justice and peace – our world needs more than anything else.

Pericles once made a great plea on behalf of the city of Athens. “Think what Athens may become and be worthy of her.” I would make a similar plea on behalf of Christ’s Church.


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James A Simpson's books, written to raise funds for cystic fibrosis research, are published by Steve Savage and available in shops and online.