Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Looking to God's Grace

Daniel Jenkins' The Gift of Ministry, though published in 1947, reminds us of the opportunities and challenges of being a minister and many of the things that Jenkins cites remain relevant seventy years later. Certainly, those of us who think that the church is never going to struggle or face problems are likely to be disappointed. That is not how it is. God has never promised to eradicate all the difficult stuff - but what God has promised is to be with us, and the great thing of being one of God's ministers is the offer of relying on God's grace.

As Jenkins puts it (p. 135): "... especially in days like these, the grace of God may work more by enabling ministers and churches faithfully and patiently to endure than by adding multitudes to the numbers of those that are saved.  What we must deliver ourselves from is the notion expressed by many enthusiastic spirits in these days, that the Gospel is not triumphantly spread abroad simply because we fail to 'sell' it effectively enough and that all that we need to be is more energetic, dynamic, up to date and super-efficient.  The task is a difficult one and we are almost certain to be performing it badly if we go forward under the illusion that it is likely to be easy."

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Leaving Church

The fact is that, for the most part, more people are leaving the mainline Christian denominations in the UK than are joining. Our membership is in decline. It goes without saying that we should encourage people to join us – but should we be helping those who want (perhaps even, dare I say it, need) to leave to do so.

I have recently read Church Leavers by Alan Jamieson, Jenny McIntosh and Adrienne Thompson. It’s a sequel to Jamieson’s A Churchless Faith, in which he explored why people leave the church and where it leaves them. This slim collaborative volume is sub-titled Faith journeys five years on – and it follows up on the faith journeys of those whom Jamieson had interviewed as part of his original research – at least, as many of them as could be located.

Jamieson (and his research) are based in New Zealand and the theological perspective is exclusively evangelical – but I believe that the thinking has a much broader application.

For the most part, it is clear that leaving church does not mean leaving faith – and the thinking raised some interesting and relevant questions for me. For example, why do we not engage more helpfully with those who are drifting away from church? Is it sensible to let someone go with our ‘blessing’ as being part of the faith is surely more important than being part of a particular church – and a good going may help a later reconnection in some cases? What are we (should we be) doing to help church to ‘work’ for those for whom it is not ‘working’?

As the ‘Postscript’ to the book says: “Perhaps we can dream that a growing number of churches will become less concerned about who is in and who is out and more affirming of mature seekers who are ‘working out their own salvation’.”

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Sharing the Gospel

One of the things that seems to concern folk in the mainline Christian denominations in the UK these days is the fact of the church's shrinking. There are notable exceptions, but broadly that is what is happening, and it ought to concern us. However, it is always worth reminding ourselves of our primary task. As somebody said to me recently, what we are called to do is 'not to grow the church, but to share the gospel'. Putting it another way, we are not called to be successful, but we are called to be faithful. Of course, it is encouraging when churches grow, and we should rejoice when we see that happening. However, when things are going in other directions, there is no need to despair. Our role is to tell the story - and doing that is what matters.