Monday, 22 June 2015

Church Growth strategies: 'Bring on the Holy Spirit'

The key quote to reflect on comes from Stanley Hauerwas:

'Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.'

We have considered, thus far,' the issues of worship' building  and the bus continues to move with us today considering the Holy Spirit. This is an area where I feel the need to be very honest and admit that I am what others describe as (so it must be true) an open evangelical, charismatic Christian (there, that's my problems aired and owned). I have, at some time in my Christian life, lived and worshipped in the pentecostal side of the Church.

The very first problem to be encountered is that those who think the  Holy Spirit is the general panacea to all the needs of the Church and totally correct and yet, as I will try to show, also very often wrong too! Let's do a quick bit of theology so we can clear this aspect out of the way with two quick points:

i. The Holy Spirit is not an 'it' but a 'He' (sorry if that offends anyone, but that the way the theology crumbles). 

That said, in John 14. 15-17 we do find the Holy Spirit described as an 'it' for one brief moment (this is done as I understand it to show that John knows his genders with regards to pneuma (spirit) being a neuter but having done this he then uses (the wrong) masculine to refer to the Holy Spirit. Generally our translators stick to 'he' to avoid confusion, but I think knowing this is helpful;

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (Advocate, guide), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him (it) nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

That the Holy Spirit is a person (as if 'He' wasn't enough) we also find reference made to 'grieving the Holy Spirit' (Ephesians 4.30) - you have to be a person to be grieved!

ii. The Holy Spirit, being one of the members of the Trinity is, by definition, God.  This means that He is one is who exactly the same of Jesus (homo ousios - 'One and the same substance) and He enables us to worship and to keep our walk (and talk) on the straight and narrow - and so much more, but I'm going to try and stay on track and return to the topic in hand for now). Suffice to say that whilst many seem to think prayer is about shopping lists ad telling God what to do, actually we serve Him because Jesus came and, serving us, reconciled us to God. 

Where the Gospel is preached then 'sign and wonders'  (this is the stuff those who go on about the 'Holy Spirit' are often looking to see manifested in their dying, failing or even dead church and experiences) - and the Holy Spirit doesn't 'leave churches' but can step back from the stones that make up the church: So if you are one of those who complains that, 'The Spirit has left this church,' then I have to caution you to examine yourself first and then repent and restore the relationship by remedying whatever it was (or is) that caused the breach. (or to put it simply: Get on your knees and sort yourself out!).

It seems that many Christians, in pursuit of the blessing, engage in the singing of naff 'worship' songs and take up the 'calling down fire' path to church growth. Now whilst this does indeed have the potential to be very entertaining I have to say that, when it comes to building Church, that we need to check back in our Bibles and remind ourselves of the fact that 'signs and wonders' follow the preaching of the Word. If you've forgotten this then take a quick look at Mark 16.20:

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

How I wish others would realise this and put off the methodologies and Sadly though, many of those who want to promenade along the charismaniac route often appear to give the most cursory, and often trite, attention to the word. That said it doesn't mean that if we give the monkey a peanut it will send down fire either: methodology and structure (or tongues and endless musical dross) are not the answer! 

We don't need to manufacture or fake it - there's more than enough on offer if you just put out your hands!

The answer is:

holiness (not a popular option for some it seems)

prayer (another apparently not too popular option)

preaching of the word (with integrity and belief perhaps?)

being lost in the love of God (now that can't be hard can it?)

worship (see the previous entry)

The Holy Spirit is not some amazing additive to Church but a vibrant and influential everyday member of it.  When we 'welcome Him' we are not bringing Him in but offering ourselves to be influenced by Him as He moves in and on us and sponsors us to lose the things that condemn Church to a mere ritual as being truly living stones. Mind you, I am certain that I'll encounter someone this week who will tell me that their church is dying and needs the Holy Spirit to reignite it :-)

Postscript: Just a quick niggle I need to leave somewhere before I bring my gift to the altar.

I really struggle with the attitude of some who make such a big deal about Pentecost! Each and every year they run around and spout about fire falling and gifts and tongues and other such stuff; the speak expectantly as if they expect it to happen because it is Pentecost. The reality is that Jesus having ascended (remember that?) meant that the Holy Spirit descended (again can I remind you of the 'If I don't go, I can't come passage?' and the 'I will not leave you as orphans, comfortless and alone,' bit?)

All those who are living today were born in the 'age of the Spirit' and the Spirit dwells in us and enables us giving gifts and manifestations of God's love so why do we act as if on that one day (Pentecost) we expect fire to fall and the dying embers before to burst into fire? The Spirit is in us and we are called upon to kindle the gift of faith that we have each and every day. We are called upon to pray and read and worship and be expectant and pray (yes, we pray a lot) every day - Pentecost is a marker of a new phase (the one after Jesus physically walked the earth and the one before His return) not the one day Black Friday-like affair some make it. We should be living in the reality of Pentecost every day and keep Pentecost as a celebration and a time for cake (although there's always time for cake isn't there?). Live in the power of the Spirit every day and people will be reconciled to the Father through Jesus, the Christ, and communities will be changed and Church will grow because of the manifestations of God's grace and love.

How hard can that be for goodness sakes?


JonG said...

I thought for a minute that I had entered the crazy church of Arthur Brown:

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

No, Church wherever I am is much, much crazier.

Mind you we both have 'Fire'