It seems to me that the Christian Church has a glorious future…
…as long as it can remember why it exists.
I read a lot of negative statistics. Mainly along the lines of:
“Church attendance continues to fall in all denominations across the UK.”
I feel it acutely. Working for the training arm of the Church in Wales, those I am training are constantly being told that the Church in Wales will cease to exist a decade or two from now (those predicting these things are a big vague on the actual date). And I wonder what it feels like? To be that minister who must fill in the annual return to the denomination and declare that there are many less people in the pews this Sunday than there were on this date a decade ago. Undoubtedly under the glorious reign of their predecessor!
But I want to challenge the measure of success. Not because I want to massage the figures, not because I want to justify my own existence(!), or to suggest we bury our heads in the sand and ignore wat is happening around us, but simply because our measure of success is deeply flawed. At what point in his three years of ministry with us did Jesus say, it’s about how many people you can get sat in church on Sunday morning? It might be argued that Jesus didn’t go out of his way to add to his followers. People were leaving him all the time. The cost of being a Jesus disciple was far too high for many.
But let me present a different narrative, Luke 10 is the account of Jesus sending out the 72. Let’s not go much further. He didn’t call in 72. He didn’t try and add 72 to the membership list. He sent them out! That lovely word hidden there “sent out ones” is the Greek word “apostolos”. It’s where we get the word Apostle from. It’s a Roman military word. It maybe best explained like this; when Rome wanted to conquer a region they sent Roman soldiers led by centurions. With military efficiency their kingdom spread, establishing peace by killing their enemies. But then they would send a Roman Apostle. His job was to make the conquered province into a Roman colony. A mini Rome. Roman taxation, Roman trading patterns, Roman government. And the Apostle was seen to be the one who carried the power and authority of Caesar himself. Except it is even more subtle than that, the Apostle is deemed to be Caesar. What the Apostle says, Caesar has said. With the power and authority of his King the Apostle has established another part of the Roman Kingdom. The parallel doesn’t need a lot of spelling out. Jesus sends out 72 to be Jesus to the surrounding villages to heal the sick and proclaim that God’s kingdom has arrived.
You see the goal was never about filling seats in a building, the task is the transformation of all human life under God. So if your numbers are dropping on Sunday morning, but thousand of children listen to you in school assemblies, or in Open the Book projects, or those without food are fed, and the homeless are given shelter and we run our activities for young people, and in all of the above we proclaim loudly and clearly that the Kingdom of God has come, and we pray for the sick…. Then in all honestly, I don’t care what Sunday morning figures look like, you are doing the job. Being Jesus.
But there’s more, and we’ll be fast because I know you don’t want to read too much. Jesus gives a set of instructions on what they should and shouldn’t take with them. We’ve touched on this in an earlier blog (https://bit.ly/2zttz4N),but let’s say it again, Jesus is interested in what we’re carrying. We’re supposed to travel light, free of baggage and keeping our spirit sweet, no matter how much rubbish people throw at us. And I know it’s hard. But it is important. But I want to suggest something else. Jesus doesn’t want us travelling with a bag full of tricks or a set of props. It’s not about how great our PowerPoint is. Sometimes it is enough for us to turn up with the right heart and be who Jesus called us to be. That’s why I try and communicate without notes. It’s good to speak from the heart.
And then let’s dash to the end. That final phrase. The Bible says, “They came back with great joy and said even the demons are subject to us (Luke 10:17).” And I suspect we’d all be a lot more joyful if we recognise that this really is about the transformation of all human life under God, and we recognise that even the demons are subject to us when we walk with the authority Jesus gave us.
It seems to me that Luke 10 is suggesting that the Christian Church has a glorious future. As long as it can remember why it exists.
Of course we should gather on Sundays, or Saturdays or whenever, the day is not important, gathering together is. And on that day we celebrate together what God has been doing on those other days, and how communities are being transformed and we’ll celebrate with great joy because even the demons are afraid of us.