The Future of the Church

I once talked my way out of working for a denomination because of my particular belief about the way mission/church needed to survive the challenges of the 21st Century.  I am a firm believer, passionate advocate, of church in its simplest forms.  Since then I’ve concluded that it needn’t be either or, but can be both/and.  What do I mean by that?

Well, I believe that the key basics for ‘church’ are like the three sides points of a triangle.

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UP – the inward journey with God, loving God with heart, soul, mind strength.
IN – the commitment to community, ‘loving one another, our neighbour as ourselves’
OUT – making disciples of all nations, beginning where we are.

These encapsulate the great commission and the great commandment of Jesus, simple as that.  This is what he asks of us.  All of us are called to have these three areas of focus.   These are the kind of communities which are simple to start with 2, 3, 5, 10, 30, 350 people (although the bigger you get the more challenging it becomes to sustain the ‘face to face’ focus – relational discipleship).

Making sense so far?

The reason I believe this is the way forward is for several reasons:

a.  we’ve become dependent on ‘professional Christian staff’ to such an extent that its no longer doable.  There is a rapid decrease in accredited ‘ministers’ and people training for ministry.  Now, thats not a bad thing.  Ministry was organised very differently in the early church.  It was much more organic.  There were still ‘roles’ for folks, but the work wasn’t dependent on professional clergy….that came much later.  So, we are finding, by default, the need to revert to pre-Christendom arrangements.

b.  we’ve become dependent on buildings and they are extremely costly and can….can, not always….limit our mission.  They say that we shape our buildings and then they shape us.  This is true.  So much energy can be tied up on keeping the house but God, I sense, is actually saying ‘what about my house?’  But is the church building not God’s house?  No.  Quite simply, no.  God is building a spiritual house made of living stones, people.  That is the spiritual house he is concerned for.  So, we are finding, by default, the need to revert to pre-Christendom arrangements.

c.  because we’ve become dependent on a. and b. we are constrained by having to maintain a whopping budget.  An honest survey of New Testament teaching shows that there was never a building to be kept.  The finance was to support itinerant Christian workers responsible for encouraging churches over large areas as well as ensuring that Christians locally and extra locally were resourced.  Churches are being priced out of the game.  They have lost the internal life that often means that if churches face losing their buildings, they see no future.

Honestly, there are many cases where the church is dying and there needs to be new missional emphasis to build organic, simply churches that can grow exponentially through making disciples.  However, there are also churches who, although have an expression of ‘inherited’ institutional forms of church also have enough strength, gravitas, energy and ability to reinvent themselves to have the best of both worlds.

I give you Trinity as an example…the church I currently lead.  It is a large church by British standards….350 membership, with around 150 or so adherents (people who come but aren’t members) plus a wide impact through a 7 day a week community centre and cafe.  It can do a good Jesus show on a Sunday morning and pack in some crowds with that ‘gathered’ expression.  However, it is also beginning, with encouragement, to explore scattered forms of community.  LifeGroups have been in place for a while but we are also exploring other patterns such as Missional Communities…in both of these, the characteristics of IN, UP and OUT are encouraged.  And, it is here where the real life of discipleship, devotion and mission can really begin to take shape and lead the church outward in new directions.

So, my journey has been interesting.  God by his grace has brought me to a place where I can see the full extent of his vision…of a church gathered AND scattered, a Both/And scenario.  However, if the gathered church model, the big church expression is going to survive, it must increasingly find ways to remain small and uncluttered at the same time, enabling and training disciples to start their own small churches, simply churches, organic churches.

As for my calling in this setting, inspite of my slight dislocation that I mentioned in the last blog, I am here to paid the dream of gathered and scattered.  This, I believe, will equip the Trinity community to be ready for the season to come.  My work will, increasingly I hope, become a blend of enabling effective gathered church as well as pioneering scattered models.

Everyone should follow Jesus.  It is our task to enable this for the communities that God has sent us to.  Exciting!

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