Between gaps in the conference I'm involved with, I've just started Pete Grieg's award-winning book Dirty Glory. Crazily, God is already challenging me, and I'm only in the Introduction!
Grieg says, of being in Chichester on a road-trip with Archbishop-Welby-designate to pray in various UK cathedrals: 'Who could possibly have foreseen any of this ten years earlier when we had begun our [24-7 Prayer] quest just down the road, in a pop-up prayer space in a faceless warehouse on a dead-end street at the edge of town. Back then the cathedral authorities viewed us suspiciously as the lunatic fringe: fire-breathing zealots, radicalised youngsters taking it all a bit too seriously. But a decade of non-stop prayer in more than half the nations on earth had carried us a mile and a half across town, from that first peripheral prayer room cocooned in clumsy graffiti, to this fan-vaulted temple, built a millennium ago, at the geographical and psychological centre of the city.'
That is the story of my tribe, the charismatic-Pentecostal, New Church, taking-it-all-a-bit-too-seriously 'lunatic fringe' movement! By God's grace, we've moved from the edge to the centre. We've birthed movements for prayer, justice, mission, worship. We've gone from the fringe to the centre, from being viewed with suspicion by the mainstream, to being significant catalysts for change in our towns and cities. We've gone from pariahs to gatherers, often playing significant roles in unity movements. We're now running state-funded schools and other projects, have tribe-members in very significant positions of national influence and our movement is renewing the church across the world. Unthinkable! We've been part of seeing the restoration and renewal of God's church. I'm rightly proud of that, our era in the long story of God's people.
I could stop there, but Grieg carries on to note Welby's statement: 'Without prayer there will no renewal of the church, and without a renewal of the church there is very little hope for the world.'
We could easily settle, grateful for what has been achieved, and slightly nostalgic as we reminisce about the journey we have come on. It is right to celebrate, honour and acknowledge what God has done, but more importantly, we must look ahead to the rest of the journey. There is a task to complete! Our tribe is called, I believe, to keep reshaping, pioneering, restoring and renewing.
(One key current and ongoing challenge is to see missional DNA restored to the church, that church would rightly again be seen as 'family on mission', God's people concerned to see his justice in the world, and church as 'a community of missionary disciples' rather than as place of refuge and nurture for Christians. This is a call to be an apostolic church, and not (just) a pastoral church. Family on mission, not just family.)
Whatever the task in hand, as an activist, I could easily dive into action, but Grieg's story of 24-7 prayer, and Welby's comment should cause me to pause. The so-called charismatic renewal has reshaped the expression of church in our day, but these massive changes have been birthed in prayer, in worship, in seeking to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obedient to his enabling, empowering and direction.
My challenge as an activist is to learn again the rhythms of prayer. To stop for long enough to spend time at the feet of Jesus. To listen again to the voice of God through his Holy Spirit, not just about what to do, but how I am to conduct myself in the doing, and also in the not doing. I need to remind myself that God wants family not servants (John 15:15). I am looking forward to pressing on with Grieg's book, and am praying that God uses it to reshape my prayer life, as I believe he wants to reshape the prayer life of Oxford Community Church in these coming months.