Friday, 24 February 2012

The local Church is the hope of the world

This is a rough text of my talk to the Men's Dinner at the Golf Club last night!

I just wish this story is true; I heard it told a few weeks ago. It is the story of a police exam question: there is a house fire that you are called to attend, the smoke is billowing across the main road, which then causes an accident and a car swerves across the road and goes into the river; a man emerges from the car and you recognise him as a major criminal wanted by the police who then runs away. What do you do? Some bright spark wrote: take off my uniform and merge into the crowd!

There are times when merging into the crowd seems a good idea and yet..

When Ian asked me to speak, he suggested I reflect on the Church nationally a little; so I will, but the title I've given is this: “The local Church is the hope of the world.” This a quote from Bill Hybels, one of the moving forces behind the Willow Creek association in Chicago. He tells the story of being in San Jaun Airport, Puerto Rico, watching 2 boys fighting, 9-year old battering a 7-year old, whom he then went to rescue. On the flight home, he came to the conclusion that the gospel is the only force in the world that can change the make-up of the heart; it is the only hope of world. The local church offers the gospel to the world.

The Church in Scotland in 2012: there are 3 issues:
§ Same-sex relationships & ministry debate; what will happen to the Church; there is a great deal of concern; can two views live together? There is a great deal of uncertainty for future. The Theological Commission will report 2013. Some have left the Church already; some will leave when they see what happens in 2013; others will stay.

§ £6.8m hole in budget, where will the money come from to sustain the ministry of the Church? Will we have a balanced budget by 2018? The Presbytery plan is to reduce the number of ministers by 14 in the next few years! There will be gaps and black holes in the city, where there will no church presence. We have an equation: Church = building + minister + congregation; we need a new one! This is not just Church: there are other Christian organisations where opportunities and people but no money!

§ Leadership – in 10 years something like 50% of ministers will have retired; we're not recruiting enough and couldn’t afford them anyway! (Ian later added that there are 50 ministers under the age of 40!)

“What will the Church do?” we will wait forever for the centre to act. The denomination in almost in melt-down; should we preserve the institution? Is it worth saving as it is?

I'm hopeful for the Church! There was a TV programme in 2010 that showed empty pews and told us that the Church would have gone by 2030. I wanted to make another one all about the growing churches; we have life beyond 2030! We won't look the same; Church will be different, but we'll still be here.

I want to focus on the LOCAL Church – it is up to us to have bright ideas, to plan for mission, to work for the future. No-one do this for us; we have to work out how to develop, grow, nurture, plan, equip, do the building.

“I will build my church” said Jesus, but not what we mean by church. The DNA of the Church is simple: a people committed to Jesus; a people committed to one another. How do we do that?

HOPE – there is no other force than the gospel that can change people; the way we think, speak, behave, act. “You have words of eternal life” said Peter to Jesus – our challenge is to be a conduit for these words into our community and society.

We can talk down the Church, we listen to the publicity of Secular Society and the atheists who want rid of Church and religion; you see it in the letters’ pages; in the issue of council prayers; sometimes the Church wants to become like the world and almost secularise itself and take its attitudes from the world; I think that a secularised Church is empty.

God is still at work – why should 8 parents decide to come to Messy Church on a wet Saturday afternoon in February , to something with 'Church’ in the title and bring their young children? What does that?

The Spirit is still at work, we have to run to catch up.

“There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. The potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp.” (Hybels 2002)

Friday, 3 February 2012

Risk Taking?

Risk is part and parcel of life. For some of us, the biggest risk we take is getting out of bed in the morning!

Statistics suggest that being a cyclist in the city is a risky business!

The FA has decided not to take the risk of John Terry being captain of the football team at Euro 2012 with a court case hanging over him.

I am a part of some of the biggest risk-averse organisations in Scotland: the Church is not renowned for being quick on its feet and willing to take risks; we feel the need to know the answers to all of the questions before we take any kind of decision!

I'm chairing a meeting this afternoon in Glasgow as part of Scripture Union to consider a proposal for a piece of work in the city under a multi-faith banner. Will SU take, what is a huge risk and dip our toe into the water? Or will we consider the risks too great? Time will tell.

This morning, our Bible reading passage was in Joshua 3, the story of God leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. They had to cross the Jordan - in spate! How? Well, God said, put your feet in the river and it will stop flowing! Risk: trust God's promises, or get swept away in the flood if it didn't work! Well, God kept His promises (of course, He did; He is a promise-keeping God), the risk paid off and the rest is history.

The promise God makes to us is to be with us in every day and every circumstance of our lives and that He will guide us, lead us, strengthen and help us. Dare we take the risk of taking Him at His word? At face value?

Do we consider prayer a risk? Here are some words I found recently.
"Why is there so little anxiety to get time to pray?
Why is the so little forethought in the laying out of time and employments so as to secure a large portion of each day for prayer?
Why is there so much speaking, yet so little prayer? Why is there so much running to and fro, yet so little prayer? Why so much hustle and business, yet so little prayer? Why so many meetings with our fellow-men, yet so few meetings with God?
Why so little being alone, so little thirsting of the soul for the calm, sweet hours of unbroken solitude, when God and His child hold fellowship together as if they could never part?
It is the want of these solitary hours that not only injures our own growth in grace but makes us such unprofitable members of the Church of Christ, and that renders our lives useless. "
(Horatious Bonar)