Thursday, March 26, 2015

The iceberg is melting

Church in decline
I've lived in University towns and cities since I was 18 years old. In those places church can look quite healthy. There are young people in the church. There are congregations that feel big (200+).

The view is distorted though. Half of churches in the UK don't have any teenagers. The church population is aging and declining. That's a problem because when the clock goes forward that's an absence of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s... and a population who are heading for their eternal home.

The church might be growing in London but the national picture is numerical decline.

And these might be days of small things.
But, who can settle for that?
Who could settle for people not knowing Jesus?

I'm persuaded that knowing Jesus is good.  And not knowing Jesus is bad for people and for this world. People not in churches means people not walking with Jesus but walking against him and away from him and means further ruin for this world.

Hope for the world
It's been said 'the church is the hope of the world' but few would agree today. Why is that?

1. People don't want Jesus
And that's a problem that goes to the depths of the human heart which on one level the church can't do much about. Paul anguishes and weeps over this, and goes further.

2. Church has to ask about how well it is representing Jesus
How's our communication? Are we - even with the best of motives - getting in the way? Paul as he travelled around learned the local language and concepts and beliefs, and contextualised the gospel to his situations.

Being heard
Contextualisation means communicating in a way that can be heard. The message musn't compromised - the church is the community who believe in the crucified Christ, a people who have repented to Christ and found there is none like him.

But, we have to ask how does the gospel fulfill what people in our culture desire?
And how does the gospel subvert what people in our culture desire?

Doing that means lots of listening.
And listening. And listening.
That means taking time to understand people.
That means understanding language.

e.g. The success of 50 Shades represents a desire for intimacy and acceptance. The gospel affirms that. But, the gospel challenges 50 Shades saying that the love we're made for isn't found in an abusive relationship.  (See Daniel Strange's For our Rock is not as theirs for more on 'subversive fulfillment')

Posture and Tone
And doing this means changing our posture and tone. There is urgency but the world is rarely changed in a moment. Real change takes a generation. It takes time day after day, week after week to paint the picture, re-enchant this world, to rebuild plausibility for the gospel, to engage a secular age.

Gospel-believers don't strut. Gospel-believers have empathy.
The Church must live as those who know what is to seek life outside Christ.
The Church must knows what it is to fall in love with this world.

The main thing as the main thing
Church know that everyone is in the same situation: I need Jesus, and I think everyone else does.  The 'gospel' is good news for every person. Every person - made in the image of God, an image marred to its very core. Christ is good news for every person who will have him. And the Triune God is on the front foot in seeking people.

He's yours if you'll have him, do you want him? Do I want him?

That's not easy. But we're finding that it is possible - if personally costly - to move some of the barriers out of the way. And when that happens people find church is a place that helps, a place they can safely consider Christ for themselves, and begin to see what it would mean to entrust themselves to him.

The iceberg is melting. Jesus hasn't changed. But there are  hard choices and hard work to do if our society, our friends, our culture are to consider Christ, and if church is to be a movement of people who represent the Triune God in his world.

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