Everyday Church

ec_1a669943a2532db37ebf7a13ee30767d1This week I’ve been reading the latest offering from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis called Everyday Church. It’s an interesting and stimulating read which is a follow-up to Total Church and deals with the practical realities about churches being gospel-centred communities.  They start with the vital question of how we reach the 40 million people in the UK who are not open to attending church as it is. That is certainly a question which the wider Christian church should be asking. There are a number of helpful and thought-provoking comments. Here’s one:

One of the common assumptions when people fail to turn up to church is that we need to improve the experience of church gatherings, the “product”. We need better music, more relevant sermons, multimedia presentations, engaging dramas. Or we need to relocate to pubs, cafes, art centres. We need cool venues with cool people and cool music. The problem with this approach is the assumption that people will come to church if the product is better. But remember that 70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service, and these figures are even higher among young people….Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there – not until we go out to connect with them where they are, where they feel comfortable, on their territory. We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. Continue reading “Everyday Church”

Evangelical Ministry Assembly

This week I attended the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London, and as well as enjoying the excellent addresses on the theme “Preaching that Connects”, I had the opportunity of catching up with some fellow pastors from the “mainland”. The EMA has grown in numbers in the past 29 years and all 850 places were booked by early April this year. The Assembly plans to move to the Barbican in 2013 so that they can accommodate many more people. It’s a good opportunity for evangelical ministers from many different denominations in the UK to share together. The conversations away from the formal sessions centred on the significant moves that are taking place in the churches in Scotland and England. Continue reading “Evangelical Ministry Assembly”

Window on the World

imgresMost Sunday evening we include an item in our worship service which we call “Window on the World”. It’s an opportunity for us to consider what is going on in our world beyond the narrow confines of congregational life.  This weekend, George Ruddock, one of our members who has been a teacher in India for many years, opened the Window on the World for us. His insightful comments and anecdotes are an excellent summary of the changing face of global Christianity. This is what George said:

There are three main things to I would like to report.

The first is that the church in India has no intention of dying out. In Britain, church attendance is falling and Christian witness seems to be reaching far too small a circle.   The Indian church has its problems. The church needs good leadership. It needs to maintain Biblical principles and teaching. Some Christian groups are very poor and need resources. There are far too many denominations and too much rivalry between them.  Nothing strange about that. More Asian is the fact that Christians are under constant danger of persecution – from the authorities, from the community, or at the level of family.  But in general, the church is thriving. Churches in South India are overflowing.  And in many other places right across Asia, the church is growing.

The second thing is that missionaries are moving into the most unlikely places. Each weekend up to Christmas, I visited the 13-year old boys’ dormitory to inspect their rooms and to give them marks for tidiness. And of course, I talked to them.  I did not teach them. There are three boys in the dormitory, from Scotland, England and the USA, whose parents all work in Outer Mongolia. I said “Do you all live in Ullan Batoor?” – and they laughed. “That’s how foreigners all say it! When you get there, remember to say Illan Batter.” But who would have thought, 20 years ago, that Christians might run a Bible College in Outer Mongolia?

There are twin sons of Spanish Christians who work with drug addicts in Delhi. One day, I overheard one of these youngsters shouting at a girl in Chinese. I asked him about his ability to speak a foreign language.  Yes, it was Chinese. “So who’s your girl friend?”  He was only 12, and he explained very solemnly that he had only met the girl since she came to school from Hong Kong  “Are you from Hong Kong?”  “Oh no” he replied,  “I’m Australian”.  “So how did you learn Chinese?” “My parents work in China, for an organisation founded by Hudson Taylor.” “Which part of China?”  “Yenan Province.” Yenan Province was Mao Tse Tung’s heartland, the base from which the Chinese Communist Party spread communism right across China.

Some of us remember the Great Cultural Revolution in 1966. It was a revolution that was against anything old, anything foreign, and against any and all religion. One of my snapshot memories is of Dr Craig, the former minister of this church, on Easter Sunday saying that nobody knew of a single Easter Sunday service in Peking in 1966.  And now Christianity is back in Yenan.

Thirdly, new Christians expect persecution and trouble  It is a normal, regular part of Christian experience. Some believers buckle under pressure, especially from their family, and especially over issues of education and marriage, which depend on the family. The early church had to decide what to do about believers who denied Christ and ran away. The Asian church faces the same questions today. But many Christians find great strength and great grace and persist in hope.

A woman who is a member of the catering staff in the school where I taught has worked there for years and is from a Hindu family.  I don’t know when she became a Christian, but she was living at home and I am told her brothers set out to give her a rough time, to shake her out of her new Christian beliefs, until they decided it was hopeless.  She still lives at home when she is off duty and in the holidays.

She comes to Bible Study. One evening, the passage being discussed included something Jesus told his disciples about persecution. So we said to her,  “You know more about persecution than any of us.” And we waited for her comment.  She smiled quietly.  She is a very gentle soul. And she said only this: “When I think what Jesus suffered for me – it is nothing.”

The centre of gravity of global Christianity is changing, as George’s remarks illustrate. It is becoming a faith of the poor and persecuted. Western Christians need to note this trend and think again about mission and ministry in their own areas.

A good debate

Yesterday, the General Assembly of PCI passed a resolution in which it “viewed with concern” the direction of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to move towards approving those in same-sex relationships as being eligible for the ministry. The resolution was proposed by Very Rev Dr John Lockington, and seconded by Rev Nigel McCullough (Hill St Lurgan), who both spoke in a very measured way about the important link between PCI and the Church of Scotland and the overall feeling of dismay and sadness that the Church of Scotland would consider allowing congregations to call openly gay or lesbian ministers.

The Church of Scotland Moderator, The Right Rev Dr David Arnott, responded to the proposed resolution and made an excellent speech. Those who watched the debate in Edinburgh had been impressed by the dignified and gracious way in which he had chaired their Assembly. He confirmed that their Assembly had set up a theological commission to report on the theological perspectives on same-sex relationships at their 2013 General Assembly. He reminded the Assembly of the point that was well-made in Edinburgh that in any controversy there is no “them and us”, it’s just “us”. Continue reading “A good debate”

Opening Night

Rt Rev Dr Ivan Patterson
Rt Rev Dr Ivan Patterson

Last night was the opening night of this year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The in-coming Moderator is Dr Ivan Patterson, minister of Newcastle Presbyterian Church in Co Down. In his opening address, he outlined his theme for the year, “The Word is Life”, picking up on the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible and highlighting the life-giving and life-transforming nature of the message of the Bible. It’s a great theme, and Dr Patterson will be a blessing to our church as he expounds this theme throughout the year.

There were some changes to the format of the opening service this year, and the chat afterwards among the ex-moderators and visitors at the reception was that while some of the changes were good, not everything was as good as it might have been. Here are some of the points that were made:

  • As in recent years, there were a significant number of empty seats in the beautiful, re-furbished and air-conditioned Assembly Hall. We need to get the message out to people, and especially to younger people, that there is space and that this is an important event for our church. But, then again, what young person under 25 is going to opt for a two-hour church service on a Monday night?
  • The Memorial Record of those ministers who died during the year was left out of the opening service and will be read at the Communion Service on Tuesday. The reading of the Memorial Record was traditionally a sombre moment in the service, but it was an important link with the on-going work of the church, and a reminder that we stand in a great tradition of Christian service and ministry.
  • The ex-Moderators were no longer seated on the platform but had prominent seats at either side at the front. Generally this was thought to be a good move. And instead of the whole contingent of ex-moderators processing out to bring in the new Moderator, that task was given to Donald Patton and myself as the two most recent (and most mobile?) incumbents. That probably saved us a few seconds in the timing of service overall, but some thought that it deprived the service of a significant piece of Presbyterian pageantry.
  • It took 70 minutes before we reached the point of welcoming the new Moderator. While the reflections of the out-going Moderator are a key part of the opening night, everyone really wants to see and hear from the “new man”. We should have got to that point more quickly.
  • The out-going Moderator’s comments on the key characteristics of healthy churches were very helpful.
  • The failure of the out-going Moderator’s excellent DVD on mission to play properly made the arrangements appear amateurish, and the inevitable hesitation and re-arrangement must have sounded strange to a radio audience.
  • The innovative blend of singing and Bible reading might have been better. I was sitting close to the piano and couldn’t hear the Bible reading clearly. The introductions to the congregational singings were a bit complex and many members of the congregation were unclear when they were meant to join in and didn’t start singing until the music was well into the first line of the hymn. But once they got going, they sang very well.
  • The service had been running for 95 minutes before the incoming Moderator was able to address the Assembly with an excellent word. Not only were the non-Presbyterian visitors, as well as seasoned Assembly-goers, beginning to wilt by that stage, but Dr Patterson seemed a little rushed and I felt he had more good stuff to say.

Having said all that, maybe I was talking to too many grumpy old men after the service. However, it is a great evening for the Presbyterian Church to showcase itself, and the fact that it still gets radio and media coverage means that we should do our best to impress. As both Norman and Ivan said, we need to do more to connect with the real world. That doesn’t mean that we should necessarily abandon all tradition. The Royal Wedding is the recent proof that there is still a market and a spiritual appetite for traditional worship done well.