Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea
God’s love for a lost world saturates the Scriptures. Jesus lays down the gauntlet for us as a local church when he says to us in John, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35). If we are to look like the Son of God who loved us and who gave himself for us, a bride reflecting her bridegroom, then we are to love one another in deeds as a local church.
How can we love like Jesus?
What is the starting point for a local church like Mount? We are a bunch of sinners gathered around the cross of Jesus, like every local church. We don’t love or care for others like we should. We see in the Scriptures what we should be, and we are not there yet, but we can take steps to get there.
We have to start by confessing that we don’t love or care for each other as Jesus does and in our own strength we can’t love each other as we should. Yet, as with so much in church life, confession is where everything begins and life springs up.
For twelve years now at Mount, we have read the Bible together as a whole church. As we read, we ask the question, ‘How can you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul, and how can you love your neighbour as yourself?’ After we acknowledge that we can’t do this, God shows us what to do in his Word. We feed back through our ‘Read the Bible Together’ (RBT) groups to the elders how God has spoken to us that month. In this way, Jesus leads his church at Mount and shows us how we need to change.
In the prayer meeting, we ask God to help us change. Without his Spirit, our RBT groups would just be an exercise but with his Spirit, he can use them to make us into a church set up and led by Jesus, listening to his Word and filled with his Spirit so that we can serve one another in love as he has shown us. His Spirit helps us to know forgiveness where we have got it wrong and restoration where we have hurt other members.
What does this look like in church?
Through the RBT groups we have seen that every member needs access to all the means of grace, whatever their background or finances. Every member needs to be in church for baptisms, the Lord’s Supper and preaching. They need to be welcomed when they arrive and be able to join in with all that the church does.
We’ve seen that God has set apart deacons to care for people’s practical needs and to make sure that the widows and the fatherless are cared for and that they know God’s help in church. To do this we had to have a big change of practice. Out went looking after the building and in came DIY days when jobs were done for widows. Out went sorting the insurance and utility contracts and in came church-wide hospitality in deacons’ homes.
It wasn’t easy to make these changes, but led by his Word, we have in a small way, begun to look more like Jesus wants us to. We had to carve out more time to make this work and take away some old roles from the deacons, but the effort to do this has been paid back many, many times over. There is a long way to go but with God’s grace every barrier can be overcome so that all the church knows God’s grace and peace.
Is it just the deacons’ work? No! Praise God that many members do the RBT groups and each month many of us are seeing how to love our fellow members through God’s Word. Furthermore, we are seeing how to love our neighbours!
Praying for each other in our daily lives
God’s care and love is shown through the very things we are called to do day by day. In our local community, others see how God feeds people through a cook, he keeps people safe with a skilled electrician and brings order through an administrator. Through us, Christ cares and shows his love to people in what we do. So we pray for one another in our daily callings. Every week, using the prayer requests that they have sent in, we pray for 20 members and their children in the prayer meeting that they will know his help and his Spirit in their daily work.
We count it as part of what God has called us to do – to pray for one another in the nitty gritty of daily life, so that people are cared for, through us in our callings, in the factory, the warehouse and the school yard.
Doing what we can
What about the people living nearby who are lost? Like many local churches in Wales, Mount is close to very deprived neighbourhoods. Some of our neighbourhoods in Swansea city centre rank in the highest deprivation indices across the whole of the United Kingdom with all the heartbreak of the opioid explosion in our midst. At Mount we only have to open the doors and there are sadly many, many people that God loves, who are addicted and lost and in great danger.
How do we love and care for people with addiction problems and the multiple and deep-rooted issues that come hand in hand with them?
We start with Jesus. We ask him, we read his Word and we know we cannot – but he can through us. Then we do something and we get to work sharing the good news. We ask God for wisdom and help and then use whatever God has placed in front of us to share and spread the message of hope that every person, whatever their background or situation needs, the same good news you and I first heard and believed.
We pray and get ready. We ask for advice from other local churches about what they do to disciple new converts from addiction backgrounds. Some people have houses that can take people in. Others can help pay for the work and pray for it. Others have skills they can share to help those who are baptized into membership get back into work or help learn skills for home life like cooking and caring. By God’s grace we do what the lady in Mark 14 did: she did what she could and we trust that in the hands of the Living God, our labour is not in vain.