The process of renewing the Church
The process of renewing the Church
There are times when the URC behaves like a Church desperately in search of a programme. “If only we can find the right programme, then our problems will be solved!” people seem to say. It’s as though there’s something – just one, key thing that we’re either doing and need to stop doing, or aren’t doing and need to start. But if we can just find that key thing, then everything will suddenly – and gloriously – be alright again. We’ll find our Junior Churches full. We’ll have young people and young families. We’ll have people queuing up to play the organ and do the flowers and hand out hymn books. We’ll have to have stewards on standby every Sunday to be ready to put extra chairs out. The notice sheet will be covered with so many different mid-week activities that we’ll have to make the font as small as possible to fit it all on the page. You recognise what I’m saying, don’t you? These are the hopes of virtually “Anychurch URC” – in fact, of most Christian Churches in the UK. And lo, along comes Vision4Life …
The problem is that people are pinning unrealistic hopes on Vision4Life because of a combination of habit and desperation: habit, because we look for “the right programme” in the same way we look for the right medicine to cure a health problem; desperation, because we’ve tried virtually everything and nothing seems to work! So let’s have something out on the table from the outset: Vision4Life is not going to be the programme to succeed where other programmes have failed, because Vision4Life is not a programme but a process.
Look at the language that is being used: “transforming the URC”. Transformation is a process. It’s about the work of God in our lives – individually and collectively. That is the work of the Spirit, whose coming we celebrated at Pentecost. The Spirit is the Spirit of creation and re-creation (resurrection). Transformation is all about God renewing us.
Vision4Life is about putting ourselves in the way of the Spirit – getting in touch with the sources of renewal. To say, “Isn’t it a good idea to devote time to the Bible, prayer and evangelism?” is, on one level, to ask people to vote for mother’s milk and apple pie. That’s not the question, however. In asking every Church in the URC about their engagement with the Bible, prayer and evangelism, the real question is, “To what extent are you prepared to allow the Spirit of God to renew and transform you?”
That is a question for us all both as individuals and as Church communities. We have chosen these three areas for focus because these are three fundamental areas of Christian discipleship. They are thoroughly “Reformed”, too. Think about it for a moment: we read the Bible not to find “rules for living” (or, in John Campbell’s words, as a “health & Safety Manual”), but because God has spoken in the past and is still speaking! To “discover God’s Word, revealed in the Bible” is to hear the fresh, living, Life-giving Word that God speaks to us today. God spoke – and creation came into being. God speaks – and dead Churches burst into new life!
We pray because God speaks to us and listens to us. Prayer is conversation – time spent with God. Relationships wither and stagnate if there is no communication – nothing new to say or hear. Prayer is about developing habits of intimacy with God: it is about the meetings in which we grow in relationship both to God and the world, and are renewed.
And evangelism? I don’t know what you want to mean by that word, but at its heart, it is simply telling our stories of God. It’s about gossiping the gospel – the Good News that God is intimately involved in our lives and in our world, saving and transforming them. If that sounds rather grandiose, it needn’t be! That boils down to the little ways (as well as the big ones!) in which we discover that to be true. We’re good at gossip; ironically, we need to learn to gossip the Good News! But when we do, we will find ourselves talking the language of transformation – and being transformed!
A process, not a programme. Ultimately, though, it’s exactly what it says on the box: it’s a vision – a hope, a dream, something we commit ourselves to because we believe that God is still speaking words of Life that transform us and enable us to make a difference – for Christ’s sake.
This article first appeared in Carver URC Magazine