Where are we going as a Church ?
Wow, what a question ! How big is that ? And yet despite the enormity of the question it is one that we must all answer. I find that some people say that the Church has changed too much (modern hymns, lack of pews, irreverant worship etc.) and others will say that it hasn’t changed enough (ancient hymns, too many pews, stuffy worship etc.). People tell me that they won’t go to Church until it reverts back to being how it was when they were children and I also find others who tell me that they won’t go because its still the same as it was when they were children ! How can we know the way forward with such contrasting views ?
I can’t even look around for evidence as to what is working, for I find that traditional Churches are growing as long as they remain true to their identity and not become liberal in their liturgies, and by contrast I find that the whole Fresh Ex[pressions movement is blossoming with new worship developing all over the country. Indeed in December 2008 there were 717 expressions registered on the Fresh expressions website, and I have no doubt that there are many more who have not put their details on the website.
So, where do we go from here ? Do we become hard line and revert to traditional Methodist ways of doing things (and before anybody shouts “yes” it includes things like weekly attendance at the class meeting as well as Sunday attendance and Bible Study) or do we scrap everything and say “lets do it differently” ? At this stage I want to say that the answer should be neither for I believe that the biggest mistake that the Christian Church has made over the last 40-50 years has been to jump on the latest band wagon trundling into town. I think this has caused uncertainty, loss of confidence, and a general lack of direction.
Whoa, sweeping statements you say but the evidence seems to be before us and from someone who firmly believes in the whole Fresh Expressions movement. I say that the answer should be neither simply because Churches (i.e. all its people) should be listening more to what God wants than what the community around us demands, more than the loudest voices within any particular congregation and certainly before what the Minister demands. As I look around I see growth in the areas who are regular in prayer, whether that be in a traditional or non~traditional sense. Prayer is the key. Prayer of individual Christians on their own in their own homes and also regularly in communal prayer groups. This prayer should also not be a spiritual shopping list asking God to “do things our way” but it should also include a time of listening for what he has to say to us.
I have long been interested in the Welsh Revival of 1904 and over the years as I have studied this I have regularly been returned to the concept of people gathering to ask for Gods direction and to pray for revival. 100,000 people were converted in Wales as a result; swearing stopped in many communities; fighting and violence disappeared and even football matches had to be postponed because the supporters were in Church !!
Similarly the Moravian Community of Hernhut (Saxony) began a 24 hour prayer meeting that would continue non-stop for over a hundred years. This was in 1727 and as a result by 1791 that small community had sent out 300 missionaries to other parts of the world. They had committed themselves to pray, in turn, for an hour each day until God sent revival. The current movement of 24/7 prayer mainly amongst young people which is currently in force has now generated a multi-national movement changing the lives of many and inspiring thousands.
I don’t recite these stories as anything other than to say that prayer should be at the heart of all that we do, and all that we are. We were created as human beings to have an ongoing relationship with God our Heavenly Father and yet we have subjugated that so often into a once a week gathering to sing hymns that we like. If we want to know where we are going as a Church then we need to begin by seeking God’s will and direction. Whether that be in traditional patterns or fresh expressions isn’t the point; the point is that it will flourish only when God leads and we follow.
Are we prepared to pray for Gods guidance and for us to have courage to follow, even if we don’t like where he takes us ? I hope so.