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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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What is life like in an independent church?
'Independent' really means 'non-denominational', because it doesn’t belong to some of the older denominations like the Anglican, Methodist or Baptist church. However, lots of churches belong to larger groups like New Frontiers International, or Vineyard. Independent churches might have their own building, but a lot meet in a ‘borrowed’ space, like a local school, leisure centre or cinema.
Some churches are made of lots of house groups, where Christians meet in people’s houses on a Sunday morning, just like the first churches in the Bible did.
This is one person's account of life in an independent church:
"I go to a big independent church. In my church, there is a team of people who lead the church. There are full-time pastors with special responsibilities to look after the different people who belong to the church and to the community. For example, there are pastors for the adults, a youth pastor who runs everything the church does with young people, a children’s pastor who heads up Children’s Church on Sundays, and a few parent groups in the week.
"We live in a university city so we also have a Student Pastor who leads a team of people working with students living in the area. In our church, none of the pastors are ordained. In other words, they have not been to a special college to get a qualification to be a vicar and they do not wear special clothes on a Sunday. They are people who feel God has called them to lead the church and are committed to serving and praying for the wider church family.
"The church has over 1000 members and so we have a lot of smaller groups that meet during the week. These are led by volunteer leaders. In fact, the church couldn’t run without the many people who volunteer to help run all the different programmes and activities that happen during the week.
"During worship, we usually spend a lot of time singing, which is led by a band who keep people focussed on God. Everybody is welcome to join in. There’s a big box of percussion instruments and twirling ribbons left by the front of the stage for any children in the congregation to make their own special praise to God! Sometimes the band plays quietly, while people make up their own special songs to God. They might sing in English, or in a special language that God gives them. This is called singing in tongues.
"During the service, there is usually a talk based on a passage in the Bible. This might be given by one of the pastors or somebody from the congregation who is good at teaching others about the Bible. These talks help us understand more about God, about his love for people, and about what it means to live a life that pleases Him.
"After the talk, there is often a bit of time left to think about what the pastor has talked about and to say thank you to God. Often we sing some more songs to help us express this. A team of people who are happy to pray for members of the congregation wait by the side of the church. If there is something that troubles you or something you would like to know more about, they are there to pray and help.
"Once a month we take communion. This is done quite informally. The worship band plays quiet music and you can choose how you take the bread and wine. Some people are served by a team of people. Others choose to kneel by a simple wooden cross and pray quietly by themselves.
"The most important rite of passage in our church is baptism. This happens when a person is old enough to make the commitment to follow God for themselves. When children are small, they are often dedicated. This means that during a service, a family will say thank you to God for their child’s life and, along with the congregation, promise to set an example of what it means to know and love God.
"When people make a decision to follow Jesus, they are invited to be baptised. This is a public way of saying that they believe in Jesus and want to live their lives according to what he taught. A pool that looks like a small swimming pool is opened up under the floor, where the new Christian is baptised by full immersion. In other words, they are completely dunked into the water. They often tell their story of how they met God and made a personal decision to become a Christian as part of the service."
You can find more information about the Vineyard Church movement here.