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)