Scattered Church: 4

By Steve Jones

What a great time we had with the ‘Salt and Light’ family last week at 28:18! The weather was perfect, and Bev and I came back feeling very much refreshed. If you weren’t there, I highly recommend downloading some of the talks from here. Of these, Dave Richards on ‘Never Stop Exploring’ and Francois van Niekerk on ‘Living life from the Mountain’ speak directly to the issue I’ve been considering here: the scattered church.

In previous posts, I’ve written about:

1. The growing significance of the scattered church

2. The relevance of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God

3. What the scattered church is meant to do

Instead of just surviving in this world, the scattered church can THRIVE, both as individuals and as the seeds of new Christian communities.

 

There’s a lot of talk currently about starting innovative ‘fresh expressions’ of church, which are not only in new places but also done differently to ‘traditional church’. I often speak to people who are excited about living for God in their workplace or college, or about somehow planting a new church.

I’m passionately committed to a church that enables Christians to thrive and to be fruitful after they leave the church meeting. I see the church doing this in a whole range of ways, including:

 

Equipping – Pastors, teachers, prophets and others have the God-given ability to fix, train and equip Christians so that they are personally ready to engage in fruitful ministry.

 

Opportunities to learn – Not all training can be done in a classroom, nor whilst sat on a pastor’s sofa! Church activities can provide a training ground, where Christians can learn how to pray for the sick, to organise practical care, to speak God’s word, etc. In a healthy church community, more mature believers set an example and feedback to younger Christians on what they see of them in church life, so helping them to become strong and fruitful in all areas of life.

 

Perspective – We all lose perspective sometimes! We might think that our current problems are insurmountable, or have fixed ideas about how our careers could best progress. We might be stuck in a rut of doing what comes naturally to us, rather than seeing what God can do supernaturally. In church life, we are drawn out of our everyday life, and helped to think bigger and to think biblically.

 

Belonging – The ancient creeds speak of the ‘holy, catholic church’, by which they meant that we should recognise that we are all members of one global church, the body of Christ. We can easily underestimate how important that is.

When Tom Sine spoke at The Kings Centre last autumn, he listed a number of innovative ‘fresh expressions’ of church (sometimes called ‘emerging churches’) that are thriving in communities that the traditional church has not reached. After hearing him, I took time to find out more about these successful ‘fresh expressions’ and found that they were actually all part of large, city churches with regular Sunday meetings. A recent Baptist Union publication put it like this, “The emerging church is not denominational, yet it is parasitic on the denomination”.

I want to be part of a church on which lots of “parasites” are growing – as long as they are reaching out further than the host church can reach!

 

Strategy – Existing churches form networks that can be used to connect up isolated Christians, and to organise strategic gatherings in the places to which Christians are scattered, e.g. gathering medics together to have an impact for Jesus in our hospitals.

 

Special events – The majority of Brits show no desire to attend church meetings, but certain events (like cathedral Christmas services) are packed out by ordinary people. Special events like these are not enough to turn the religious tide in Europe, but they are still a huge resource for mission-minded Christians.

 

For the church to thrive, it is not enough for church leaders to plan events and programmes for church members to join in with. Neither is it enough for church members to take independent initiative. Rather, we need to see all kinds of Christian ministry working together.

In the Second World War, when my grandparents had been married for 6 weeks, my grandfather was called up to train as a fighter pilot for the Battle of Britain. Once on active duty, those pilots had a life expectancy of just 6 weeks. My grandfather began his flight training, but when they realised his ability as an engineer, he was moved instead to work on repairing damaged aeroplanes. It was a less glamorous role than being a fighter pilot and one which carried less risk, but it was understood to be absolutely essential for the war effort. Men were volunteering in droves to become pilots, whilst aeronautic engineers were in short supply.

As I pray for ‘workers for the harvest’, I pray that God would provide people to go out and take some daring risks to extend his kingdom, but also people willing to serve in the church as elders and pastors. Those involved in developing ‘fresh expressions’ of church should realise their dependence on existing churches, whilst church leaders must focus their energies on helping Christians to thrive and to overcome the world.

That’s what I want to do!

 

Steve Jones