Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Church Planting: Bring your coffin...

Church is about relationships.  The story of the universe is about the relationship we were made for it's ruin, it's redemption and it's final perfect realisation and enjoyment.  It should therefore be no surprise that relationships matter.  But it should also be no surprise that the ruin of the fall marred relationships and continues to mar relationships.  It should also be no surprise that church is about relationships.  Every "one another" in the Bible is predicated on relationships which are significantly developed and committed enough to enable that one anothering to happen.

But our society is increasingly moving away from relationships, certainly on anything more than a superficial level.  Ask yourself honestly how many people are you truly friends with?  How many are committed deeply to your well being?  So deeply that they will put themselves out for you in times of crisis?  Who rejoice with you, mourn with you, sit with you, listen to you?  Whose very presence brings comfort even in silence?  How many of your friendships are like walking through a puddle rather than swimming in the depths of an ocean?  If we're honest these relationships are few and far between.  Increasingly sociologists tell us they are becoming scarcer, the number of those deep committed friendships we experience has reduced some suggest by as much as half.  We settle for superficial friendship whilst longing for something deeper.

There is another facet of this change.  As our society has become more fluid, more temporary, more mobile so our commitment to a place, to people, to community and to church has shifted.  In the 1960's many people would attend 1 or 2 churches in their lifetime.  Now many of us have attended more than that before we leave home because we have moved with our parents work.  That mobility subtly influences the way we think of church and in turn impacts the churches we plant and their effect on the area evangelistically.

When we planted I asked people who were coming with us to commit to a minimum of 5 years.  How do you feel about that?  About right?  Too great a commitment?  I now think that was a totally wrong expectation to set.  Instead I should have said bring your coffin with you.  Come with me for life.   Missionaries in earlier times often took their coffins with them because they didn't expect to return home, it was a sign of their commitment to the people they were going to reach with the gospel.  How about us?

Pastor is that your expectation about your current pastorate?  How long do you plan to be there?  5, 10, 15, 20, years?  Is that a biblical expectation or a worldly one?  Is that careerism or calling?  Church member is that your expectation?  Are you there until something better comes up or until the next promotion comes available?  Or are you called too?

I particularly think that in working class and deprived communities being there for life matters.  Committing to that early on matters because you will want to give up.  You will experience push back, you will experience set backs, you will experience slander, you will experience unexpected barrier after barrier to the gospel.  You will find that the slightest perceived slight or failure will bring the shutters that have taken so long to raise up crashing back down.  You will find preconceived misconceptions about church, that surface and have to be refuted again and again.  But you will also find a harvest field that is ripe for harvest amid the hardships and hard hearts.  So church planters bring your coffin.

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