Was reading a book about a vicar’s experiences as he sought to teach renewal in his traditional Church of England church. It rememinded me of the content of my very first blog entry here. But more than that, I really couldn’t believe that it has taken me so long to read this book….its been on the shelf for a good few months. The title of the book put me off actually….its called “Building a new church alongside the old.” It sounded too much like an instruction book, but is actually very helpful in helping facilitate and enourage renewal in traditional congregations.
The main thrust of his teaching was that he had identified three stages of renewal in a church setting.
- Renewal of the Leader. He identifies this as a major element. Unless a leader is personally spiritually renewed (by this he means born-again and baptised by the Spirit), it is unlikely that a church will move into renewal. He talked very poignantly about the difficult decision that faces members of a congregation who are themselves spiritually renewed but are in a church where the leadership is not. Ironically, ‘new churches’ do have a good few people who were simply unable or unwilling to pray their way through to breakthrough in their old-stream denominations. Some people are right to leave, I fear. I’d hate to be a leader of the church where people left because it was inhibiting people experiencing renewal…God forbid.
- Renewal of the congregation. Of course, unless the leader is renewed, the renewal of the congregation can’t begin. But he talked of the importance of persevering. His experience of his parochial (parish based) church was very trying. 70-80 people from a 130 strong church experienced renewal at the time the church were forced by their community to split. The church wanted to take out the Victorian pews in order to adapt the building to their growing needs, not only in the need for space to worship freely, but to accomodate other community activity. One of the ‘traditionalist’ members known only to attend church twice a year decided to start a public campaign against the removal of the church pews. The ironies of the Church of England meant that this matter would have to have gone to court to solve the dispute…the vicar had to back down and suggested that they worship in the local community centre in the evening. He continued to pastor the traditional church, but led the other group in the evening in a local hall. A sad story but a strong statement about his desire to see the church renewed. We see this in quite a few places in the UK Salvation Army today…not about pews, but about ‘new expressions of’ church/army popping up…even officially!
- Renewal of structures. When the leader and a congregation are renewed, renewal of structures comes from that. In his case, the old stubborn structures of the C of E changed…he was released from parochial ministry to pastor this new, non-parochial church called ‘Fountain of Life.’ This is quite an unusual thing for the C of E…to allow a church to exist without its own set parish of benefice (collection of parishes). The result is that the traditional church were left to worship as they please, but the Spirit was not quenched in that they were permitted to exist as a renewed congregation. This one vicars desire to see the church renewed brough great challenge to the C of E. Of course, The Salvation Army has had the same experience…the renewal of individuals, particularly those influenced by the Roots movement/ethos has led to all sorts of ‘non-typical’ Salvation Army corps.
I wonder if some corps have got to the stage where it is too difficult to try to push renewal with the result that the whole corps will welcome the change. Its a sad thing to admit. The jury is still out on my own particular corps, but I see so many corps in these days that would see difficulty in welcoming renewal (that is presuming we have enough renewed officers).
My desire is that there would be no need for ‘building a new church alongside the old’ but considering this is already part of Territorial teaching in the context of the Army’s church planting course, the tide seems to have turned.
The challenge of ‘ALOVE – The Salvation Army for a New Generation’ is a challenge…it is a prophetic statement that the way that salvationism is currently expressed in the UK is not so much irrelevant but lacking spiritual authenticity. ALOVE is a ‘renewed’ movement within the ranks. But what about the rest of us? It is not simply the youth that need a renewed Army.
There are many in our congregations who are desperately trying to express themselves in worship in a format which does not help them to. Captain Martin Thomson alluded to that in his blog late last year…the old worship sandwich problem.
Leaders and congregations need to count the cost of renewal.