As 2016 draws to a close and we look to a new year, what is the Spirit of Jesus saying to the church in the UK?
There is much that the Lord wants to say to UK society through the church, but he also wants to speak to the church in order to strengthen, encourage and comfort us. As I pray, listen and observe, four words stand out: poor, promotion, purity and planting. These represent four prophetic priorities, crucial for the future wellbeing of the church in our nation.
Looking Back & Looking Forward
In recent years the Lord has been speaking to the UK church, amongst other things, about finance, leadership, worship and mission. On finance: he’s been challenging each disciple to look again at what it means to generously give. On leadership: he’s been releasing women to lead at every level of church life. On worship: he’s been calling us to renewed intimacy as we draw close. And on mission: he’s been pulling mission away from the margins and back to the heart of church life.
But what is the Spirit saying to the church now with regard to these same four areas? On finance: there’s a fresh call to care for the poor; on leadership: to raise up and promote new young leaders; on worship: we’re being challenged to sexual purity, and on mission: to prioritise church planting.
(‘I was a stranger and you invited me in’ – Matthew 25:35)
Caring for the poor and disadvantaged is an issue close to God’s heart. It’s always been so. It’s good that many in the church are waking up to generous financial giving but we need to go further so we don’t think our giving is finished once we’ve set up a standing order; in addition we must genuinely get our hands dirty and care for the poor. In our contemporary materialistic culture the church must continue to demonstrate care for those on the margins, and none more than refugees. Whilst there are issues of security and capacity that governments must rightly address, the church has a prophetic role in showing care and practical love to the large numbers of displaced refugees presently looking for a resting place. We must open our hearts, our churches and our homes. The compassionate call to care for the stranger is echoing across our globe and our nation.
(‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, but set an example’ – 1 Timothy 4:12)
In an ageing UK church, this is a time to particularly promote the young. It’s excellent that there are more and more women in leadership. It’s also great to see the church breaking free from only selecting pastor-teacher types for ordained ministry – although we still need them too! It’s right that more indigenous leaders are being released to take on greater leadership in their locality. But now is the time for many more young leaders to emerge. It’s time for the wider church to particularly promote them and provide for them so that they can take the church on into the future. In an ageing church, the cultural gap between these young leaders and the older generation of congregations will sometimes feel awkward and at times will be difficult. We’ll need to be brave and bold, and be prepared for a church with a new feel, new language and new cultural expressions to emerge as we promote more young leaders. This is crucial for effective mission and ministry of the church as we look to the future.
(‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ – Romans 12:1)
More than ever before, there are strong voices in society and in the church, urging the mainstream church to so value inclusivity that we affirm and sanctify sexual relationships that have always been outside Christian orthodoxy. Given the church’s poor record of treating members of the LGBTQIA community with care or dignity, many Christians have understandably felt some sympathy with this message. Nevertheless such revisionism is not the answer. Rather, the Lord is calling his church to a renewed purity in our day, and to a kind and clear reaffirmation that the God who loves all, invites all to express sex in a life-long marriage between a man and a woman as part of our sacrificial worship. This has always been the historic teaching of the church, based on the consistent message of Scripture. Anything outside of that is heterodox and cannot be affirmed as pure.
(‘So the churches were strengthened in faith and grew daily in numbers’ – Acts 16:5)
Whilst we must value the heritage of our many fine cathedrals and parish churches, some buildings no longer effectively serve God’s mission and so need to close. But as we look to the future, we need an expectation that God’s missional community – the church – will grow, resulting in many tired churches being revitalised and new churches being opened. This need for church planting is stronger now than ever, with increasing pockets of our nation having no vibrant worshipping community for many miles. We need all sorts of churches, worshipping in all sorts of styles, led by all sorts of leaders. This kind of church planting will only take place as existing church communities strengthen and new communities form. In particular there’s a need for more resource/ resourcing churches, with a particular call to planting, to be regularly establishing other churches that will do the same. Release more churches like that, led by young missional leaders and over a few generations this nation will be significantly transformed. Bishops and senior leaders need to be brave in encouraging such churches to emerge, even if not everyone initially grasps the vision.
I believe this call to care for the poor, to promote more young leaders, to embrace biblical purity and to plant new churches is significant and strong. May the King of kings give us faith to respond to this noble call with prayer, much grace and practical action.