How do we face up to the situation we find ourselves in?  First we must look at the facts as best we know them.

Of the church congregations that we presently have, up to 60% will not be in existence in ten years time.  Take a look at churches that you personally know.  What percentage of their congregation are over 75 years old?  How long can they carry on?  In ten years time 50% of ordained ministers will have retired.  Of those in training now only about 5% are under 35 years old.  The majority of these are already aged fifty or over.  After they are ordained they will only have about ten years of ministry. 

Perhaps the crunch question is, not how many churches will survive but what kind of churches.  They will certainly not be the present ‘one style fits all’ congregations,  because that style fits only those who already belong.  There is nothing wrong if a congregation wants to keep things as they are, with a paid staff person providing a sort of ‘I will hold your hands until you die’ kind of ministry.  As long as that is really what they want.

Any re-visioning of the church will demand that we give up on the expectation that the next generation of Christians will be the ‘spitting images’ of us.  It has been said that God “Does not do the same thing twice”.  Like the trek through the desert that the Israelites undertook  under the leadership of Moses, he is always beckoning us onward to new destinations and new things.  Like them, we will at times long for what was in the past and will in the rigours of the journey sometimes despair of our present situation.  Yet when we look up to the distant horizon, we will always find there the presence of God, “As a cloud by day and a pillow of fire by night”, WE WILL NEVER WALK ALONE.

In Part 2 we remarked that “the clock is ticking”.

What do the various clocks that you have around your home look like?  Plain and functional, embellished with decorative designs, grandfatherly or digital – perhaps the Cuckoo shoots out twelve times at noon.  Yet behind all these differences there lies two essential components.  One bit that knows the time – the mechanism. The other is the bit that shows the time – the clock face.  Without these two things the clock will either not know the time , or it won’t we able to show it to you.

The Church Clock

Oh, thou who dost these pointers see,
And hear’st the chiming hour.
Say, do I tell the time to thee:-
And tell the nothing more:-
I bid thee mark life’s little day.
By strokes of duty done:-
A clock may stop at any time,
But time will travel on.
I am a preacher to a few, –
A servant unto all,
As here I stand tick, ticking,
Like a death-watch in a wall:
And, it were well that those who see
These fingers gliding on,
Should think a moment now and then,
How fast the moments run.
(Evelyn Waugh)

In local church life also there are also two essential components.  The bit that knows the good news for its community and the bit that tells the good news to its community.  These two things must be at the heart of any venture in mission.  You cannot have one without the other.

You know how it is?  Something has happened!.  You are so excited about it that you can’t stop yourself telling the first person you meet.  That’s mission, outreach, “Go ye into every place and preach the good news”.  But how do you tell it?  In your excitement it just comes bubbling out, sometimes so incoherently that the person you are telling can hardly get a grasp of what you are saying.  Effective mission depends on knowing what you are saying and how to say it. 

Just firing off a few gospel arrows at random in the hope that some of them will hit the target and then retreating again behind the battlements, is not the way that Jesus went about the kingdom work.  His whole life was one of being with and along side the people he sort to ‘capture for God’.  Put another way, ‘He talked and walked’.  How much we need to ‘Walk the Talk’.  Jesus was not selective in the company he kept.  He was called the “Friend of Sinners”, he stood alongside  the outcasts of his day and also spoke to those who thought they had got it all ‘sussed’ out.  What’s more he had the happy knack of speaking in a way that grabbed people’s attention and in such a way that what he spoke of connected with their everyday situation. 

Firstly, we must know our faithIt almost goes without saying that the Bible must be the dictionary, encyclopedia and source book for that. We would not attempt to assemble and then operate a complicated piece of machinery without reference to the assembly module or the operating instructions.  Nuff said!

Secondly because the church is a community, it only functions properly when we do things together.  The primary source of that sense of community and ‘belonginess’ is when we come together in WORSHIP.  Even evangelism and mission must take second place to that.  True worship  is the birthing stone and reason for everything else that church does.

” To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God.
to feed the mind with the truth of God,
To purge the imagination by the beauty of God,
to open the heart to the love of God,
to devote the will to the purpose of God.
(William Temple)

John R


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