Ive been thinking about what the Christian community does when we are scattered away from church meetings. In my last two posts, I wrote about the growing significance of the scattered church and the relevance of Jesus teaching about the kingdom.
Gods kingdom affects the whole world and every aspect of life. Sadly, throughout church history, many Christians have not paid attention to Jesus teaching about the kingdom. Instead, they focussed very much on the church. Lacking an understanding of the kingdom invading the world, they were happy to see the church as separate from the world. They created sacred spaces, they consecrated ground and they developed an entire Christian sub-culture.
In this context, the church adopted a particular model of impacting society, in which people were invited to come to a church gathering and there to receive the benefits of Christian ministry, especially communion and preaching. The great spiritual awakenings of Whitefield and Wesley were recognised as such because lots of people starting going to Christian meetings, either in church buildings or in the open air. It therefore became commonplace to read this experiences back into the gospel stories and to believe that the kingdom of God is made up of well-attended Christian meetings. Many clergy had very low expectations of what Christians could do outside of Sunday services. They taught people simply to steer clear of sin and to look forward to the next meeting and perhaps to invite others to come.
The scattered church is meant to do far more than this! It is meant to be a demonstration of the kingdom of God in the world, an example of heaven on earth or, as Jesus put it, a light on a hill. This happens when we simply live every day like Christians, doing for others what we have learnt to do within the church community, including:
- Praying with authority We can pray anywhere! Prayer is not only for quiet moments and Christian meetings. We can say grace in a busy restaurant as easily as in a house group. Its wonderful to offer to pray with a colleague who is sick.
- Community We can love all kinds of people! Love is not reserved for the church family. We can extend friendship to the people we meet, and be open with them about what weve experienced and what we believe. Whilst being careful not to be patronising, we can offer care and counsel to all sorts of people.
- Serving Service has a special place in extending Gods kingdom. Despite Jesus unique ability to exercise power rightly, he did not seek positions of authority from which to exercise this ability. He chose to serve. A servant is willing to do other people good at their own expense, and such selfless service is usually well received.
- Speaking about Jesus Talking about Jesus is probably the single most significant thing Christians can do when scattered across the world. We can pray for people, but how much better for them to learn that they can pray to their own heavenly Father. We can show love, but only by being born again will a person be assured of Gods love for them. We can care for people and guide them, but it would be far better for them to follow Jesus, the good shepherd! We can serve people, but do they know that Jesus served them by dying in their place?
The early church got scattered, but had the courage to keep praying, loving, serving and speaking about Jesus when they were scattered. In Acts 8:1-4, almost the entire church community was scattered because of persecution. It is recorded that they told people about Jesus wherever they went. The result was that people gained an interest in Jesus and new church communities were formed in different places. In fact, things went so well that some Christians formed the habit of actively going to new places in order to be able to form new churches there. Instead of inviting people to come to existing church meetings, they went out and started new Christian communities in the places where people lived and worked.
I believe this is what we should be aiming for today! Remember that most Brits call themselves Christians and consider themselves spiritual, but 80% of under-30s have never once chosen to go to a church meeting.
When we Christians are scattered away from our usual church meetings, life can be so much more than merely surviving. We can be the seed of new Christian communities forming in the places where we live and work. These new communities need not be independent local churches. They might start with a film club or as a youth group or in a café.
The British church desperately needs to develop a more robust strategy for starting new Christian communities in the places and the sub-cultures where there is no church life. This cannot be done by a few leaders alone, but is an adventure which God has prepared for the whole church!