Man bedecked in orange raises his hands in the air

Week Five - Growth

This year's Lent Challenge is accompanied by a six-week online Lent course. The material draws on the key themes of the new diocesan vision, Transforming Church, Transforming Lives - prayer and growth; transformation and the mission of God; the people of God, Church and Kingdom.

Each of the six week sessions begins with a time of prayer and a conversation starter to introduce the theme. This is followed by a Bible reading - and a reflection on that passage drawing on the tradition of lectio divina. This is a way of reading Scripture together, listening to it as God’s word to us, and prayerfully reflecting on it. Lectio divina might look something like this:

  • Read the passage through once
  • Keep a few moments silence
  • Read the passage a second time with different voices
  • invite everyone to say aloud a word or phrase that strikes them
  • Read the passage a third time
  • Share together what this word or phrase might mean, and what questions it raises

After reflecting on Scripture, a short reflection is offered to lead into further exploration of our response to the week's theme.

The discussion questions engage with the vision of Transforming Church, Transforming Lives. The ‘footprints' section is an opportunity to consider practical actions which we can take in the week ahead; actions which enable us to be alert to the activity of God in the world. These suggestions stand alongside those related to projects supported by the Bishop of Guildford's Foundation and the Diocese of Kebbi in Nigeria. Each weekly session ends with prayer.

Lent Course 2017 - Week Five - Growth

Word document version of Lent Course 2017 - Week Five (as shown on this page of the website) - for simple download and print.
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Opening Worship

Lent crosses imageGod the father, Lord of creation,
have mercy upon us.

God the Son, through whom all things were made,
have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth,
have mercy upon us.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, creating and saving God,
have mercy upon us.

You visit the earth and water it;
you make it very plenteous.

The river of God is full of water;
you prepare grain for your people
for so you provide for the earth.

​You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
you soften the ground with showers and bless its increase.

You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.

May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness
and the hills be girded with joy.

May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep
and the valleys stand so thick with corn
that they shall laugh and sing.

God of our days and years,
we set this time apart for you.
Form us in the likeness of Christ
so that our lives may glorify you.  Amen.

Conversation
  • What images or language of growth resonates with you and your experience of God?
Reflecting on Scripture

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 3:5-11)

Reflection

When you were a child, perhaps your in height was marked, at regular intervals, in pencil on a door frame - the dates and growth spurts left for posterity until they were painted over! In our daily lives, we look for signs of growth more often than we think: when we inspect seedlings in the green house; as we leave dough to prove; as we look at savings or pension forecasts; as we plot our progress in learning a new skill, reflect on our approach to situations we find daunting or evaluate our use of social media.

When we think of ‘growth’ within the life of the church, perhaps we most readily turn our mind to numerical growth.  Whether it’s in the realm of economics or church attendance, numbers give us a way of quantifying and evaluating our common life. Numerical growth is evident in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles - we hear of ‘multiples’ from the call of the 12 to the sending out of the 72, from  3000 on the day of Pentecost to the many thousands who responding to the good news over  subsequent generations.

As in our examples from daily life, the language of growth carries with it ideas of progress and development, health and vitality. There is much that is good and holy within the life of the church which can’t be ‘counted’ in numbers; and often the witness of small churches has expressed faithfulness and hope in the face of poverty, social upheaval and persecution.  Indeed, Jesus’ own language about growth embraces the example of the sower - who preservers with a reckless generosity and sees both disappointment and exceptional fruitfulness. Jesus uses language from the realm of horticulture - acknowledging the need for pruning as well as life bursting from a seed which is dead and buried.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we are given a range of images to help us think (and pray) about growth in a way which both expresses our dependence on God and the expectation of fruitful collaboration as God’s servants.  It is God who gives growth: a factor so important that Paul says it twice! He’s cutting through our human tendency to celebrate personality and to focus instead of different gifts and calling. 

It might be that we are natural ‘seed’ planters: using opportunities, events, conversations to express something of our hope, faith and love. Some might be effective evangelists - who find ways of telling God’s story in a way which connects to the lives, questions and desires of others. Whether that’s in work with schools, funeral ministry or acts of community service, we must pray for our ‘planters’.  Others will be blessed with the gift of nurture and encouragement. That might be expressed in teaching, preaching or pastoral care; it might be expressed in spotting potential in others or having the patience to walk in friendship in different seasons of life.  It is important to pray for those who faithfully ‘water’ the seeds of faith and commitment.

Whatever our gifts and callings, we have a common purpose as God’s servants. Paul’s use of the imagery of ‘fields’ reminds of the different seasons of the agricultural year from ploughing to harvest. His language of building reminds us that we must prioritise a firm foundation - relationship to Jesus Christ. Drawing on Paul’s vision, let’s be unafraid to pray for growth - in mature faith, in deepening relationships and yes, in numbers. Let’s remember that God’s ‘measurement’ is in faithfulness and character - shaped by worship and scripture. Such a pattern creates an attractive and authentic common life rooted in God. Guided by the Spirit, let’s pray for God to give the growth.

For Discussion
  • What are the blessings and challenges facing your church, whatever its size?
  • What is the growth that we pray for: in commitment, vision, numbers, prayerfulness, character? What foundations do we need?
  • As a church, we belong to God and God gives the growth: what then is the job of church leaders and church members?
Fingerprints
  • This week, pray for the growth of God's Church locally and across our Diocese; notice signs of growth in your own context; consider how you might invite others to share in worship and witness during Holy Week and Easter.
Closing Worship

Let us pray
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

A short period of silence is kept

Let us hear our Lord's blessing on those who follow him.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.

​Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

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