Today sees the launch of a community audit I am leading – A Church4U? at an event based in a local school, followed by a church service focused on the story of the road to Emmaus. The focus of the audit is to use surveys, focus group and films to discover the heart and soul of the area- a place with two distinctive christian communities yet no dedicated church building. We hope to discover what residents, and those working in the community, understand church to be, and also if they want to be part of a vision that will establish a multi-use church building as much about community service and a place to be as a venue for Sunday worship.
After the death of Jesus the disciples lost heart and hope. Their Rabbi and leader had died and they were devastated and had little idea of what to do next other than to return to their former lives. It was as if that previous three years had counted for nothing. On the Road to Emmaus Jesus revealed the truth of his mission to them and they learned that they would receive power through the Holy Spirit. They would gain hope and a new mission and would have some story to share- a story destined to turn the world on its head. Today two churches will meet in a community centre without any outward visible sign that they are church. I will be asking them about how many people they are walking with every day on their own road to Emmaus and how these strangers or friends will be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus?
For a previous post on a related topic see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/now-you-see-me-now-you-dont/
In the opening chapter of Acts the resurrected Jesus tells his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promises of the father- The Holy Spirit. The disciples are excited at the prospect of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel- they still don’t get it! Only a few verses later Christ tells them to be his witnesses on Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth and then he disappears! As my friend George Lings would say, the message may have reached the ends of the earth but the church has set up a number of mini-Jerusalems. How many Christians effectively reach out beyond church walls other than through blitz events like Hope and Soul in the City and specific ministries like Street Pastors?
Some would say that the church is obsessed with Jerusalem and making it look better, bigger, slicker and brighter- when the real need is to set up camp in Samaria or even venture to the ends of the earth. As a church we tend to focus on people who are like us- Churched- those comfortable to be our people. What about the de-churched on the fringes of Samaria who are at least 3 times bigger than we are and many of whom don’t like who we are? What about the non-churched where we could come into contact we a group amongst the under 45s who are 6 times greater than that age profile in our churches? There is some excellent news and stories around the Back to Church Sunday initiative for which we should praise God, but we can’t ignore the facts that around 40% of the populations have had some experience of church yet have not returned- was it really their fault. My friend George suggests that the complex DNA have the church has dominant Anglican genes called worship and pastoral care and that evangelism and mission genes are recessive. For a national church, the Church of England, the number of people who appear to be deeply alienated from us is disturbing. It’s time to leave Jerusalem.
In the UK just 18 of the more than 300 commercial radio stations broadcast a regular religious show, an all-time low for on-air spiritual content, according to Whistling Frog Productions. This past week I was at a conference which was focusing on the impact church and faith issues can have within a media culture obsessed by celebrity. Maybe God goss.com provides part of the answer. God Goss.comis a new and developing brand based around a weekly, one-minute “showbiz”-style bulletin of fun and serious religious and Christian news. It aims to amuse, inform and give faith a bit of a fairer press than it sometimes gets. At the moment the bulletin is broadcast on Heart 103 and Heart 96.3 Cambridge and Bristol- you can check out the sound files yourself at http://www.godgoss.com/
If you can see a use for GodGoss.com in helping to gossip the gospel on your local radio station then get in touch and I’ll pass on your comments to the team. If it’s not the sort of thing that appeals to you, but you can see the impact it can achieve then please add the GodGoss.com team to your prayer list.
A few weeks ago a met a Jewish Christian called Steve Maltz and he gave me a copy of his book ‘How the church lost the way’– a fascinating argument about how the Way of the early church has been obscured by the influence of Greek philosophy which has worked its way through every facet of our Christian life, from doctrine to rituals and from practices to attitudes. Steve does a great job in taking the reader on a journey back to the roots of the Christian faith with a compelling simplicity and invites us to consider the implications of boxing in our faith to ritualistic church attendance and hymn singing. To get the full flavour of Steve’s argument you’d have to read the whole book for yourself but here’s a brief taster to wet your appetite:
” To a religious Jew everything is spiritual, everything is theological, everything is sacred. Life is not compartmentalised…the key distinction between Greek thinking that has insinuated itself into all parts of the Church thinking and practice…Jesus once had a spat with a Samaritan woman about acceptable ways to worship God. He spoke to here of future time when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth, so worship is going to have to be infused in spirit and in truth. It needs to be of a spiritual nature because God is spirit, but it needs to be based on truth..The Western Church has evolved into a rigid pattern whereby the phrase we will move to a time of worship is a cue for throats to be cleared, brains emptied of the mundane and legs and arms placed on standby and praise and worship is understood as a musical genre. It puts God in a box and misrepresents him as someone who can only be worshipped in recognised spiritual ways, such a sprayer, singing and proclamation. Hebrew worship frees us up totally to worship him using every part of our created being, body and soul with our arms, legs, voice, mind and spirit.”
All I know is that these arguments will run and run as people strive for the authentic model for Christian community and worship. While we do , just let’s remember He is the God of Jew and Greek and Brit and African and American and Indian and Chinese and Australian and so on and so on until the ends of the earth and for all time. I am sure we are getting parts of our worship and understanding wrong and we have missed out on much, but thank God for the Good Shepherd who never gives up on the strays who have lost their way and thank God that we can keep asking questions and discovering more of Him each day. Steve’s idea about everything being spiritual and there being nothing out of bounds for God is also echoed by teaching minister Rob Bell. See this brief excerpt from his film Everything is spiritual and judge for yourself:
In yesterday’s Times Online, Ruth Gledhill reports that according to a cross-party group of Christian MPs “The primary cause of unhappiness in Britain is not lack of material wealth but a loss of faith in God and religion”. In a new report on wellbeing, the MPs say that the Christian voice is not being respected properly because it comes across too often as “negative”. Not exactly a rocket scientist conclusion is it?
The report claims that despite the recent emphasis on “happiness” studies in some schools, and the debates on British identity and wellbeing, Britain is becoming increasingly miserable. It says: “One impetus behind this project was our sense that there is a strong feeling of disaffection among the inhabitants of these islands. It seemed to us that our national sense of wellbeing is at a low ebb; people are wanting something more out of life.”
The MPs say that all legislators, charities and companies should subject decisions to a fivefold test, such as whether the action will encourage people to develop positive relationships in their families and communities and whether the action is socially and globally responsible. The authors argue that if values related to relationships, responsibility, trust, self-esteem and potential – all with their roots in the Judeo-Christian beliefs that once underpinned Western legislative philosophy – were to have greater emphasis in society, everyone’s wellbeing would improve.
I supect many politicians (regardless of religious conviction) will be concerned with relationships, responsibility, trust, self-esteem and potential when they get a kicking in today’s Local and Euro elections. I wonder if the church is sending a special flying squad of chaplains to help them cope, or are they already getting expensive life coaching sessions paid for on expenses?
Flip your second home, vote in the house of commons, clean your moat, redecorate your house, tell a few lies, claim your expenses…surely there must be more to life than this?
For Ruth Gledhill’s full report see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3913720.ece
This week I opened a copy of The London Evening Standard to find a strange bedfellow amongst the adverts for forthcoming concerts from Bryan Adams, Booker T, Spinal Tap and James Morrison. The Catholic singing trio The Priests are to play London’s Hammersmith Apollo on 17thJune. Performing live in concert with a full orchestra The Priests, who have already been seen on GMTV and the Classical Brits, will perform songs from their number one album including Ave Maria, Irish Blessing and Abide with me. Can you imagine the light show and the costume changes at this gig? I am sure it will be a sell-out concert and make a tidy profit.
When the recent revelations that thousands of children were beaten, raped or abused by clergy and members of religious orders Vincent Nichols, the new Archbishop of Westminster urged Catholics to pray for the victims yet said that it takes courage for the guilty clergy to confront their pasts. As the Archbishop himself pointed out; “Wounds need to be healed..they need to be met with honest, compassionate sensitivity…and start the road to recovery and healing.” Would it be appropriate for the Priests to help start this process and donate some of their profits to the victims of abuse perpetrated by some elements within the Catholic Church? That really would help the priests to go to number one in my charts.