Get a cup of coffee/tea, sit down and make yourself comfortable as this could be a lengthy read: however I do think it to be important.
Like many of the churches within our circuit, Methodism stands at a crossroads in its life, torn between its past and the future, between appreciating and enjoying that which has sustained many over the years and discovering the new that will draw fresh disciples, between clinging to the comfort we know and venturing into the unknown with its risks and fears.
Some things to consider, reflect on, discuss and pray about……….
Sacrifice. Wow, there's a starter for you ! I believe that discipleship is sacrificial and a major part of discipleship is 'being a witness for Christ'. In other words mission. Jesus said “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds” (John 12:14). In various other places in scripture this point is made. John 3:3 & 5 speaks of dying and new life: Matthew 18:3 speaks of becoming like a little child: Galatians 2:20 reminds us of being crucified with Christ and 1 John 3:14 shares that the Christian is one who has passed from death to life.
So often we want to bring people into our Churches with minimum effort, like having a beautiful rose garden without thinking of the need to prune the roses or feed the soil. Discipleship is sacrificial in as much as it demands we need to sacrifice some of the old in order to cultivate the new. Sadly, in every Church there are those 'who do', those who 'complain about those who do', and those 'who don't do anything'. We need to ask ourselves (me included) at all time which grouping we're in.
We need to die to our own fears, our sense of inadequacy, our clinging to comfort zones, our sitting on the sidelines of church watching others get burnt-out doing everything and we need to become risk-takers.
Pray. We must be prepared to pray. We all say we do it but is it an integral, committed discipline or is it something we squeeze into a gap in our day, a passing thought ? I spoke above of gardening and our gardens need regular tending. In the same way our Christian lives need feeding through committed prayer. We cannot carry out Gods work withou consulting him regularly. Church history is scattered with the ruins of well-intentioned and yet failed ventures because Christians didn't consult Gid in prayer nor sought his power through prayer.
In the Good News version of the Bible the word 'pray' is used 54 times in the Gospels alone and always in connection with Jesus. He placed a great emphasis on prayer and Scripture records the times he went to pray.
This was a practise continued by the early Church, Acts 1:14, Acts 16:25 and Paul frequently urges the early Christians to develop their prayer time, often citing his own prayer life as an example.
John Wesley made it a discipline to rise at 4.00am in order to begin the day in prayer: the Celtic tradition holds a daily discipline of morning, midday, evening and night prayers. Next time you're in Church look in the Worship book and you'll find the Methodist discipline of daily prayer, morning and evening.
I think prayer should be corporate as well as individualistic, believing, expecting, persistent, specific and if it contains all of these things it will become the means by which the dead seed becomes the flower.
Thirdly, Watch & Listen. Too often we don't look around us and see God at work, we don't listen for what he's doing. I used to have a Church of 39 good folk but clinging to the ways they'd known all their lives. About a mile away was another Methodist Church of over 200 and growing. When I challenged my church about this they retorted “ah yes but that's not how we do things” and when I said that it was obvious God was at work in the other church they simply came back again with the same answer. In other words they didn't want to be sacrificial, nor pray to seek Gods will, and they certainly didn't want to see what God was up to elsewhere.
We need to look around us and see what God is doing, at the Churches who are growing, at the growth of Christian work such as Street Angels or Pastors, at the needs of our community. For instance I had a Church on a council housing estate where because of my school work I felt that we should be doing something amongst young single-mothers. I was assured by the church that there were no single mothers in the area, only to find the 1991 census which confirmed that estate had the highest number of single-mothers in Europe! So often God is calling us to things that we fail to see.
That's why I particularly like the Fresh Expressions '360 degree listening course' as it teaches us to listen to God, the Church tradition and the community.
To those who have endured this to the end, congratulations, but I also say lets all, die to self, pray, read our scriptures and watch and listen.