|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 12: A Light to the World
“ let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise
your Father in heaven. ”
"The use of the church was that it made one think of what one would not otherwise think of"
In this chapter we'll look at the whole question of our place in the world. In Book One we looked at the way we as individuals view this world. Now we move on to consider the potential of the church for impacting this world, and we'll try to allay some of the fears that arise in Christians about evangelism.
12.1 A Light to the Nations
The Example of Israel
A while ago I came to realise afresh the number of times Israel had been told they were to be a light to the nations, e.g. Num 14:15, Deut 2:25, 4:6, Isa 42:6, 49:6, 60:3 just for starters. What also struck me was Israel 's failure to actively be that in their relationship with the Lord. What becomes clear is that Israel stood out whenever their relationship with the Lord was strong. Whenever they were spiritually low, they had problems and were no different to any other nation.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of this is seen through Solomon:
1 Kings 10:23,24 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.
In other words, the world came to Solomon's door because of the wisdom God gave him. This wisdom brought him prosperity and that also attracted the attention of the world (see the Queen of Sheba – 1 Kings 10:4-7).
Centuries later when Israel were carried into exile, the word of God came through Jeremiah to them -
Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
That is an interesting command – look for the welfare of the heathen nation in which you live and that will come back on you and you will prosper. While in captivity, we find Daniel acting as God's mouthpiece to the pagan rulers. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream it was Daniel who interpreted it, including (Dan 2:37 ,38) the words –
The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.
What amazing words – Nebuchadnezzar you are great because God has made you so! And what was Nebuchadnezzar's response?
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honour and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery." (v.46,47)
The most powerful man in the world falls down before God's servant and declares the greatness of God. Yes, there is a lot more to come in the story of Nebuchadnezzar, but by the end of it we find him proclaiming (Dan 4:37 ):
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Again and again in the Old Testament, we get indications that God wants to bless the whole world and bring whoever will respond into relationship with Him!
In the New Testament we find the church is supposed to have the same effect as Israel were supposed to have. Note the following:
Mt 5:14-16 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
This was Jesus speaking to his disciples, the future church – be a light, is what he was saying, so that people will see what you are and what you do, and will realize who is the source of this – my Father in heaven.
Jn 17:23 May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This was Jesus praying, asking his Father to so work in the church that the rest of the world would see their oneness and realize that this was God's work.
Two of the three references above from Isaiah were Messianic references, referring to Jesus himself. How was Jesus a light? How did he attract people? How did he show people the way? Peter, in his preaching describes Jesus twice:
Acts 2:22 Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him
Acts 10:37,38 You know what has happened ….. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
In both cases Peter points out the things Jesus DID. In the second case he describes him “doing good” and the way he did it was to bring blessing to people's lives, largely through healing. Now of course we can only do that as the Lord gifts, for healing is HIS gift, not our ability.
As the church came into being we find that they were “enjoying the favour of all the people” (Acts 2:47 ) and “they were highly regarded by the people” (Acts 5:13 ) because of their lifestyle and what they were doing.
12.2 A Crisis of Confidence?
What often appears to be the case, in the life of the church, is that it is either so distinct and different from the world as to be irrelevant to the world even though it (the church) wishes to be otherwise, or it is so inward looking as to not care about the world.
For many there appears a crisis of confidence. The view of many is, we have been there, done it and to little avail, so what's the point. It may be, and only time will tell, that we are actually in a pre-revival season with the Lord. I've suggested this in the last chapter of Book One. Very often, as one looks at the history of the church, prior to a time when God did move in sovereign power, the state of the church and the state of the nation were at a low ebb.
Assurance of the Gospel
Now before I proceed any further here, I am aware that there will be some who out of a defensive stance will misunderstand what I am about to go on and say if I am not careful. I want therefore before I go any further to make several clear declarations:
Channels for Blessing?
In what follows my concern is how bring these truths to a world where Christians are in a minority and where, very obviously, the church has not been impacting the nation for good. In the United Kingdom at the beginning of the twenty first century the social fabric is unravelling, families are disintegrating, and we have a generation of young people who are suffering, I believe, more than any previous generation. We are a nation under the judgement of God without doubt.
We, as a local church, over the past fifteen years have done every sort of evangelism possible – with the exception of a tent crusade. The amount of fruit from that evangelism has been minimal and the quality of life of our community has continued to deteriorate. Is it for lack of wanting? No. Is it for lack of effort? No. Is it for lack of listening to God? I don't believe so.
In the U.K. in the last years of the 20th century and early years of the 21st century, one of the things that seem to have been taking place in an increasing number of churches, is a growing concern for the community and steps being taken to work into the community in more than proclamation evangelism.
We too have felt the same and as I have wondered about this, a simple picture has come to mind. In 2 Kings 3:16 we find a prophetic word from the Lord come through Elisha. It is “Make this valley full of ditches”. What then happened was that the Lord brought the water which flowed wherever a ditch had been dug.
I believe that the many ways what the Lord is opening up as He sends His church into the community, may well be the ditches in which His Spirit will flow in what we call revival. Time will tell. Watch this space!
I think, before I continue further, I need to put another rider in. In what follows, I'll simply be sharing what we believe God has told us to do and the only reason I record it, is so that it may stir faith in you for something that God might say to you.
Over the past twenty five years of my observing the Church, individual churches seem to be very good at jumping on the band wagon of someone else's leading – and there have been some great things that have been taught or modelled in that period, but very often we've fallen into the a+b=c trap, where we run church by a formula, mostly someone else's successful formula, and then wonder why it doesn't work for us.
The answer to that is that my church is unique, my area is unique and therefore God's plans for it are unique. It may be that they fit into a general pattern but how we do it must be how God tells us to do it. The Christian faith, to quote the obvious that has been said in these books more than once, is all about relationship, and that means letting God lead US.
Having said all that, may I share with you a path that we're only a short way down, a path we believe God has put on our hearts to match the need of today. This isn't rocket science, this is simple, basic Christian faith in operation. As many churches are finding themselves being led down this path, it may well be that you have many similar experiences to tell. These are simply ours.
If you live in a part of the world where the Holy Spirit is moving in power and you see large numbers turning to Christ, this chapter is not for you - move on. This is for those of us in areas where the church is the minority, and the world is hard against the church. Having said that, wherever we are in the world, the challenge has to be, "Are we the salt, as well as the light of the world, so that the life in our community is changing for the better because we are there?" and that applies to any area of the world.
12.3 Into the Community
Without going into great detail about our past church experience, we have had opportunities to go into sheltered accommodation homes on a monthly basis, we've had two of us on a five day health authority run course or training parents and since then we have run a number of successful parenting courses. We created a Saturday morning club for children between the ages of 6 and 8, which ran for an hour and three quarters every Saturday morning of school term time, starting with breakfast then having craft activities, games, stories etc. Once a month we opened the breakfast up to include whole families and we've had occasions when we have served over 40 breakfasts to parents and children. We also ran a lunchtime club, every Wednesday for adults, we've run a youth club catering for teenagers.
While this was happening we also had contact with a local health worker who worked on the drug scene and she trained up half a dozen of the church to be volunteer helpers in that area of work. Another of our ladies who had trained as a beautician moved into the area of baby massage and now trains local mothers.
We were only a small church of about seventy but the Lord, opened up opportunities to be salt and light into the local community in a very real way. The opportunities are there if we are willing to look for them.
12.4 Church without Walls
All I've shared so far is about the sense we had of needing to become light and salt into the community. At the same time that Lord has been changing our perception of ‘church'. Several years ago I was caught by the following verse:
Zech 2:4 Jerusalem will be a city without walls
As we were thinking how we could be a church that was open to the community, we held a “think tank” that looked at how difficult it is for unchurched people (the majority in the UK today) to come through the doors of a church building and then cope with the service.
Anglican churches are still seen as the church of the state and so there are still people who want to come and be married in the traditional building, or bring their children to be “christened”, and so there are still links in this way. We, as a free church, did not have those links, so as is common with other free churches, people came to us if they were Christians and had heard about us through friends, Internet or some other public link. If they were non-Christians they would mostly only come if they were invited by friends.
It is at this point that both our own people and they, have to feel comfortable about the sort of experience they will have. Increasingly we had been examining who we are and what we do and the comments in an earlier chapter about “being real” really apply here.
Increasingly unchurched people do not often sing, so worship hymns or songs will be entirely alien to them. The Bible is an unknown book and for the large numbers of either dyslexic or illiterate people in our society, reading is a problem (which also makes hymn singing difficult!). Because of multi-faith teaching in schools, the Bible is virtually unknown by a large majority of adult society. Smokers find going an hour and a half without a cigarette a strain.
These are the challenges that confront us in the twenty first century. Big thriving churches tend to be middle class, and churches catering for the lower or so-called working-class (a term which has largely lost its meaning) tend to be few and far between.
If you are a church person, look at your own church and check your age range (an older congregation suggests this church won't be there in fifteen years time – unless God and you bring change!), your social grouping (middle class is OK but what about the rest – the ones Jesus seemed to particularly go for?) and how easy is it for a completely non-church person to come in and be put at ease.
Pick 'n Mix
Over one period of time we experimented with different forms of ‘service', if you can call them that. At the beginning of this book you saw reference to “Pick 'n Mix” mornings which we had once a month. The idea was to run three different streams throughout the morning, one for the children and youth, and two for the adults.
The two streams for the adults might comprise three or four 20 to 30 minute sessions with breaks in between (and we did it differently from time to time). One of the breaks would specifically be 15-20 minutes for a coffee-fellowship time. We also sought to have a coffee area open throughout the morning so that people could choose which sessions to go to, or miss a session, sit out and drink coffee and fellowship – often a very important time.
In a three session morning, one session would be worship (one stream being traditional happy singing, the other a more reflective approach), another session a preaching/teaching time (one stream doing a from-the-front preach, the other doing interactive Bible Study where everyone can join in), and the third session will be a completely different time which could be, say, “How to handle debt” (a teaching), or “Releasing your creativity” (a practical hands on time), or “My hopes and dreams” (individuals sharing the hopes they have in God). The possibilities are endless.
The purpose of Pick 'n Mix was twofold: first to provide greater opportunity for choice so that people could sometimes choose things that were nearer to their needs, for example when we were teaching specific help subjects, and second, to give more people opportunity to lead. Each session was led by a different person, and so on a three-session morning, apart from the children's and youth workers, we needed at least six different people out front. Occasionally we have done eight shorter sessions for even greater choice, and so that has needed eight leaders. My objective was to give as many people as possible an opportunity to participate.
Of course with half hour or even twenty/twenty-five minute sessions, for non-Christians coming in from outside who are not used to sitting listening for half and hour, the shorter the session the easier they found it. One or two of our people had not been keen on Pick 'n Mix but the majority insisted we keep on doing it!
I never quite realised the potential that special meetings had until a couple of years ago when we were approaching Remembrance Sunday in November. If you come from another part of the world, in the UK we have a Sunday in early November designated Remembrance Sunday when we remember those who died in the Two World Wars of the twentieth century.
Most years we had simply paused the service at 11.00am and with many others in the nation stood silently for two minutes and then prayed for those gone in those wars. We then carried on with the service. On this particular year, I sensed that we should do something completely different and so, after praying about it, I produced three boards with collages on, one depicting things (pictures, poems, stories etc.) from the First World War, one for the Second World War and a third one reminding us of the twenty first century threat of terrorism. These we placed in three corners of the hall that we use, and then in a fourth corner had an upright cork board on a table with candles, pieces of paper, and pens.
For the first twenty minutes we worshipped and prayed as usual. Then we explained what we wanted to happen. We invited people in the next half hour to go round to the four displays and stand there, read what was there and pray silently as they wished. At the table with the cork board and candles we invited people to remember anyone who they had lost, by writing their name on a piece of paper, folding it and pinning it on the board, and then lighting a candle as a symbol of the light that person had brought into the world, and then stand there are give thanks for their memory.
For thirty minutes people quietly went from area to area (and yes, we did pause up corporately at 11.00am and pray) and while a keyboard gently played in the background, people met with their God and gave thanks. Some were weeping and as I stood watching at one point, at the front of the room, one of our men came up to me and whispered, “This is the most powerful thing we've ever done!” At the end of the half hour our dance team did a simple mime and then we shared Communion around the room. It was a powerful morning! .
Like many churches in the UK we tried to make something of Mothering Sunday or Mothers' Day, but one year we made it completely different and invited some of the families from the children's club and called it ‘Marvellous Mums Morning'. Rather than have a ‘service' we had our hall laid out completely differently with lots of different ‘areas' with different things going on in them. For the first ten minutes or so we had our musicians play and our singers sing and we prayed for families generally. Then we invited people to make as much use of the various areas as they wanted for the next three quarters of an hour. If one corner we had a photographer taking celebration pictures of each family, which we promised to deliver within the next week.
In another area there was a partitioned off ‘prayer zone' where people could go and pray if they wanted – and a good number did! We had a children's zone where children could do craft work or colouring, and even a table where people could go and do ‘Family' word searches. In another area, I did a “Telling your fortune” area – which did cause a little controversy on the advertising leaflets! Oh, yes, nothing spooky or occultish about this. There was simply a table with some simple questionnaires on that people filled in and …. well, no, I'll tell you later; it fits better then.
Later in the morning we invited people to join groups if they wanted – one on “How to bless my Mum”, one on “How to bless my wife”, one on “How to survive as a single mum”, and at the end we awarded certificates from the children to their mums. Many people said how meaningful it had been, and the non-Christians felt loved and accepted and able to join in.
Now this was venturing out on difficult ground! Our society is littered with broken families. There are literally hundreds of thousands of children who don't live with their natural father. Single mums are quite normal. In our children's club we'd learnt a new language, “My mum's boyfriend,” instead of “My dad”! When so many children are hurting at the absence of their fathers, how could we do something meaningful?
In the event, we did something similar to the Mothers' Day morning but had more worship, more reflection and lots of “Resource Cards” that were first of all questionnaires and then suggestion sheets for “How to” and we covered everything from “How to bless my dad at home” to “How to bless my dad who has left home”, a total of about twelve different cards that covered every possible person who could have been there, applying something to do with families and the need for fathers. At the end of the morning several single mums made a point of ringing me and thanking me for the sensitive and caring way we had reached out to their families.
Those were early days of learning, so yes we did special things for Christmas, Easter and Harvest, and any other special occasion we could think of, to help people in all walks of life meet God in a way that is appropriate to them – because we were trying to create a secure church, where people feel safe when they come.
12.5 Meeting a Hunger
Is the world out there anti-God? No, but many of them are anti-church, because they can't see what the relevance is for them of “services” in forms that are utterly alien to them. So does that mean they are utterly uninterested? No, definitely not, in fact, if anything we are discerning a spiritual hunger. Let me give you three examples of things that happened to me that really have shaken my thinking in recent years.
Praying over the Unsaved
The first one happened when I was in the States. I was, on this particular evening, with a youth group of about 20-25 young people between the ages of, I would think about 16 and 25. In talking with them and using an ice-breaking exercise, I came to realise that this was a very mixed group of mature Christian, young Christians and non-Christians. Nearing the end of my talk time, one of the leaders asked me, “Tony would you be prepared to pray over any that wanted you to?” In our language this meant pray and seek God for prophetic words for them, so I said yes and, having laid out the Gospel, I asked if there were any of them who knew they had a clear relationship with the Lord and who might like me to pray over them. About half the group stood up and for the next twenty (?) minutes or so I worked my way round those standing, praying and prophesying over them.
When I got round the group, I sighed inwardly and thanked the Lord for His provision, but then came an inner nudging; perhaps there were one or two who weren't quite so sure of themselves but who would nevertheless like me to pray over them. I thought I probably ought to give those two or three (as I thought) an opportunity to respond, so said, “I guess there may be one or two more of you who might like me to seek God on your behalf, so if that's you, would you like the stand up please.” The entire other half of the group stood instantly. It wasn't a case of following anyone's lead, they all responded instantly.
I gasped inwardly, “Lord, help! What do I do, these are mostly non-Christians?” “I love them, son, just pray.” So for the next three quarters of an hour (?) I prayed and prophesied over these young people. You have a problem with prophecy? You have a problem with prophesying over non-Christians? So you have a problem with God telling young people how much he loves them and eye balling them with stuff in their lives? I tell you that you wouldn't if you'd done it. It was one of the most precious times of ministry I've ever had!
Afterwards, two of the boys, very obviously non-Christians, came up to me. “So how did you know all that about us?” they demanded. We talked on and shared how I didn't but God did, how He loved them and wanted to sort out their lives. These kids didn't want church but they did want God, they did want to know someone knew about them, all about them, and still loved them. And yes, they were willing to go away and seriously think about the alternatives that could happen if they rejected what they had heard!
I enjoyed the worship
Our young people's band started doing a once a month evening worship time, a time given over purely to worship and nothing else – although other things normally happened! One of the mums who came along had only fairly recently become a Christian and so when she came, some of her family also tended to come and spectate. She had five boys. They had all been in trouble in some way of other. We baptised her and the whole family were there – it was great! I happened to be in her home a few days after this particular worship evening and some of the family were there. One of the mid-teens piped up, “I really enjoyed you worship evening on Sunday. When are you having another one?”
Excuse me? This is a non-Christian lad who, if I'd met him out late months previously, I might have preferred to avoid! And he's asking for more worship? Well, they were at the next worship evening a month later, two of the boys, and the girl friend of one, as well as mum. Some way into the worship, the Lord nudged me to see if there were any who would like us to pray for them. The younger brother and the girl friend went to the back. My wife went to the girl who is about 16. The Lord gave her a beautiful picture of the Lord wanting to wrap her in a warm cloak of his love. She was obviously moved by this.
I didn't know what was happening but while she was praying over this girl, one of our other men happened to arrive late to pick up his son who had been playing in the band. He stood by the door for a couple of minutes and then came over to me. “Tony,” he said, “that girl over there that Helen's praying for. I've got this tremendous feeling that God wants her to know how much He loves her.” “OK,” I said, “Go over there and tell her.” To cut a long story short, he arrived at the moment Helen had just finished sharing, and shared the identical picture with the girl. Suddenly she knew God was on her case – wonderfully.
These kids kept coming, because they found something, or someone, who they realised was more than religion. It's a new day!
Tell me my fortune
I told you earlier on how in the Mothers' Day morning I offered to tell people their fortune. All we did was provide simple questionnaires with questions where you scored yourself, such as “Do you worry a lot?”, “How easily do you forgive?”, “Do you ever pray?” etc. It was then easy to say, “On the basis of what you have scored yourself, if your assessment of yourself is accurate (do you think it is?), then this suggests that the sort of person you are is….. and if that is so, it is likely that in the future you will be good/bad at….”
With one non-Christian girl, I remember saying, “Well on the basis of what you have said, if this is really you, you are good at relationships and should make a good wife. All you have to do is ensure he has the same values as you. I see you quite often worry about things but have never prayed. If I told you that God loves you and is concerned for you, would that surprise you? Have you ever thought about talking to Him about your worries? Why not try an experiment. For the next month, talk to God about your worries and see what happens. Would you like to try that?” She said yes. What these people were looking for was reassurance about life and, maybe, the possibility that God was for them. Church, no! God, perhaps.
A young man who came to our Sunday morning club for young people, that we had set up to meet the needs of our young people more fully (Sunday school style for younger ones, games, activities and discussion for older ones), when asked why he came replied, “To find out about God.” When asked what would convince him, he replied straight away, “An experience of God.”
That is what so many of these people we met were saying: “Don't give me words, show me.” For some of them it was “Show me God who can really speak into my life”, for others it's “Show me this love thing you Christians are supposed to be famed for.”
In following days, that meant us being there with one mother as she struggled with her family (after her husband left her for a young girl), paying a fine for her, going to court with her to battle against a landlord who wanted her out, and attending child protection meetings to help her with her disruptive children. For another family it was buying a freezer full of food when the freezer broke down and they had no money to replace it all. Different people, different needs, but the same Jesus loving them through his people.
12.6 And So?
At the end of a chapter like this, remembering we are still talking about a secure church, questions we might ask are: