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There’s lots of reflecting to do, church!3 weeks ago
This week is the anniversary of the first national lockdown, and on Tuesday there is a National Day of Reflection. In this week's Blog our Director, Kevin Roberts, explores why the church will need an extended process of reflection as it ponders the implications of the impact of the pandemic, and explains some of the things the church will need as it moves into a different kind of future.
I don’t think any of us imagined when the first national lockdown was imposed that the pandemic would still be wreaking its havoc a year later. It has been a torrid year, and it’s only right that the country pauses to take stock on 23 March on a National Day of Reflection.
We need time to mourn what we have lost; to think ourselves into the situations of those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods and even hope itself; to face up to what we might have done better in managing the impact of covid-19 on the most vulnerable in our society and on the NHS; and to as least begin the process of reflecting on the kind of society we want to re-build when the storm cloud have finally passed over. There’s a lot of reflecting to do.
As there is for the church
This has been a year like no other in recent memory, and we shall need not only a day of reflection, but a process of reflection on how the church has been changed during this past year, and what is needed in the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
What we mustn’t do is rush to simply reconstruct the familiar ways of the past.
That would be the greatest folly
If God has been at work in the midst of the storm, as He surely has, we shall need to ask ourselves what He has been doing and what He is now asking us to do. That will take time. We will need to have the patience to sit for a while in a kind of liminal, in-between, place, not fully knowing what’s ahead, but sensing that it is more than a repetition of the past, and waiting for the kind of understanding that means that we re-build to God’s design and not just our own.
There’s a lot of reflecting, and praying, and listening, for the church to do.
Returning from exile
If God is moving the church into a new way of being and a new shape of life, then the language of being in exile and returning from exile may not be the best biblical metaphor for us.
Returning from exile suggests that we are going back to where we came from, and that the onus on us will be to reconstruct what we used to have. Maybe a better paradigm for us is the flight from Jerusalem after the death of Stephen, when a settled church became a church on the move, a People of The Way, and the gospel got to be preached where it had never been heard and seen in action before.
Maybe we have been living in exile from this way of being church for too long in the west, and just maybe God is beckoning us back to a truer way of living as church; as a People of the Way, a travelling people, a people taking risks, trusting God, following the promptings of the Spirit and preaching the gospel, like those fleeing from persecution in Jerusalem, wherever we are sent.
Just maybe we have settled for too long in an exile from our truest calling as the People of God, and “built houses and settled down” where we were never meant to stay. And God is calling us back to where we most truly belong as a people on the move, getting the gospel out, with signs and wonders, and joy in our hearts, in “Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”
If this is the case then the church and its leaders will need the courage to contemplate new ways of living and leading; the courage to pause the re-building of old ways of doing things when there will be an immense pressure to do just that; the courage to travel with God’s people into an unpredictable future, trusting that God will be with them on the journey and will show them where to go. More than ever before this is a time for collective courageousness.
And with that, a readiness to be creative in the ways that we imagine church and discipleship and mission. We will need creative leaders, who are willing to leave the tramlines of inherited ways of doing things, or easy-to-adopt franchised ways of doing things, and who will risk trying out new things in an entirely new cultural context. And we will need creative leaders who are able to release the creativity of their people, and don’t just ask them to fall into line.
And we will need to do all this collectively. If ever there was ever a time for working together across churches and denominations and even across our traditions then surely this is it. The fields are white over. The scale of the missional challenge has never been greater. The opportunities are there for all to see. And it has to be all hands to the harvest, we might say combined-harvesting, as we join hands in a shared task with all those who call Jesus Lord.
Keep Company with Jesus
But to go back to where I began, we will need to do all this in close company with Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. More than anything else we need to hear God’s voice, to get His instructions for the new-design, and to be catching the coat-tails of the Spirit and caught up in all that the Holy Spirit is doing in our church and community and country. It is the Holy Spirit who will give us the courage we need. The Holy Spirit who releases godly creativity. The Holy Spirit who binds God’s people together for collective action. And the Holy Spirit who keeps us close to Jesus.
In all our reflecting a year into the pandemic, and in the journey that’s ahead of us, we need above all else to listen to all that the Spirit is saying to the churches, and to reflect on that.