Video for October 26th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
There is a powerful theme that runs through the Bible that God is enough. This is not just for our spiritual well-being but also for provision for the ministry to which he calls us. Paul writes to the Corinthian Church about temptation, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
There is a fascinating and moving story in the second book of kings, chapter 4. Elisha encounters a widow on the verge of having her sons taken into slavery to pay a debt. He encourages her to gather as many empty vessels as she can and transfer the little oil she has remaining into the first of them. There is a miraculous provision; the oil doesn’t run out, and she is able to sell the vast quantities to pay of her debt and live. Jesus acts the same when he feeds the five thousand from a very small quantity of bread and fish. These stories are not just examples of God’s goodness but pictures of his modus operandi. We are encouraged to believe and trust that a life of faith that seeking to be obedient to God will be provided for.
Sadly, this is not a trust in God that I encounter a lot in the Church of England. In gatherings I usually ask first for people to share signs of encouragement. It is often hard to get people speaking. I have no such problems when I ask about challenges. Finance, young people, lack of volunteers and declining congregations feature very highly. Our challenge is to bring together the Biblical vision of a God of abundance with the reality many of us experience in the day to day running of our churches.
I would argue that if we are feeling lack, the problem may lie in the what of what we are doing. Gil Rendle, in his book Quietly Courageous, says this, “It is currently being learned that there is no longer what is needed to continue what has already been done. But there are sufficient resources to do what we’re currently called to do. There is enough!”
Part of our problem is in the habit of institutions (and the church is no different) to engage in additive decision making. People come up with all sorts of good ideas and people say yes to them for all sorts of good reasons, even though there aren’t the resources available. This can lead to a legacy of commitments it becomes very difficult to shed in order to focus on what God is currently calling us to do. Our church faces the back drop of 3-5% a year decline simply baked in because of our age profile. The key to kingdom faithfulness must be to encourage growth and to help younger people find Christ. Otherwise we merely re-arrange the deckchairs as the Titanic slips beneath the waves. But the question we ask must be, “how can we encourage more people to follow Jesus Christ?” To focus on the question, “how can we get more people to come to church?” rather misses the point. Simply to seek more volunteers to keep the institution going in the same way in neither an attractive sell to those who have already voted with their feet, nor really what the church is for in the first place.
I say this having just presented 39 awards in the Cathedral to fantastic people who have given so much to sustain the life of our local churches. It is a humbling thing to present to someone who started singing in their choir on May 10th, 1944, or someone who has faithfully played the organ for 76 years. To say we must do things differently going forward is not to denigrate the wonderful service and dedication that has got us this far. Our strategy is about adapting to the future, not criticising the faithfulness of the past.
Our task together is to discern what to stop; where to focus our energy and resources, all with the goal of prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will for the church in the here and now. This is likely to be a challenging journey for us and probably at times a painful one. But God has placed us here for such a time as this. It remains the case that there is no plan B for the growth of the Kingdom. I think the Church of England has a huge contribution to make to the task of making Jesus known and encouraging others to follow him. I pray we won’t have to pass the baton on to someone else through lack of courage and vision.