November 4, 2014

How Do We Get Our Churches to Embrace Change and Move Forward?

How do we implement a vision for reaching lost people in Scotland?

Local congregations need to face up to the facts on the ground. Scotland is less than 2% Christian. Even in the good old days it was never more than 10%, but society felt more Christian. Christians felt like they were the moral majority as they were surrounded by church buildings and institutions founded (largely) on Christian ideals. Churches were established, they grew, children went to Sunday School, and all felt well with the world. That is not the case in Scotland anymore. These same churches are now dying with aging congregations, often travelling in to worship, who are somewhat bewildered, and often in denial, about the changing face of the world around them. They now have to face up to life on the fringes, and it is painfully hard for them to accept. Yet new Christians don’t feel that same sense of loss that Christians in their 50’s and 60’s perhaps feel. We are used to being a minority religion. We don’t mind it. We embrace this world with excitement, hopeful of the opportunities to witness to the glory of Jesus.

The church has been built and established by the blood of Jesus. It is not ‘ours’ or ‘our family's’. It is not our personal power domain or plaything. It belongs to Jesus. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Paul reminds the Ephesians that it is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).In other words, the church is the jewel in Christ’s crown. Jesus reveals in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The universal church of Jesus Christ will never die. End of. But, unfortunately, local expressions of that universal body can and do pass out of existence all the time. Travel north from Edinburgh to the Highlands and you will pass through city after city where you see boarded up church buildings that are now carpet warehouses or nightclubs or have been converted into homes. We must not use the promises of Jesus about the church to excuse spiritual and evangelistic inaction. We must not lose our vision for the lost. I tend to find that when a church is stagnant or aging, it tends to focus inward and hold on to the gnats and camels of Matthew 23:23–24. They argue over any old point from the carpets to the use of hymn books. If power is held by a few who will not change and are scared of new ideas then death is not far behind. Are you scared of losing power and control? Remember, it is Christ’s church not (y)ours.

Evangelical Christians must be courageous and walk forward in faith. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25). Theologically Conservative Evangelicals often baffle me. We have a high view of Scripture, an unerring love for the centrality of the gospel in our preaching, and a tight doctrinal reign on the supreme sovereignty of almighty God over ALL things and yet our visions remain so small, feeble, and powerless. We, among all others, should be the most courageous and fearless in our approach to evangelism, mission, and change. Instead, far too many of us are far too easily satisfied with reading about the fantastic faith fueled exploits of long dead brothers and sisters from another era. Where are our Hudson Taylors, William Careys, Adoniram Judsons, and George Muellers (to name but a few)? We should be attempting mighty and outrageous things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, far too often, we settle for the day of small things. Revival never started with the words, ‘patience brother’ or ‘let’s hold a meeting to consider your proposal’. Our young people are looking for a great cause to rally around, not a dying institution to be smothered in. We must encourage our youth (where they exist) to sell all and give all for the sake of the kingdom and we must let them know that the safest, surest, and most encouraging place to do that is their local church(es).

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