I recently asked members of my church what they would include if they were to take on the task of starting a new church. Granted I asked at a time that included children but the answers became increasingly eclectic, but included…
The thing that struck me most about this list wasn’t the request for a swimming pool but how it revolves around the need for a building and, on the whole, the building being suitably equipped for a particular style of event or church service. Admittedly I said not to worry about the barriers to achieving this new church, not to worry about the money or the practicalities, but the ideas were quite limited in scope.
I was relieved that someone said God and people. I did wonder if we might have created this wonderful new church (albeit in our imaginations) without God or any people. I have spent years teaching, preaching and talking about how the church is not the building but the people, and when asked directly I am sure I would get this answer, but when it comes to imagining and considering the church as we would like it without prompting we revert to a Sunday morning worship service in a building.
There is of course nothing inherently wrong with a Sunday morning worship service or with having a building or with that building being comfortable or the service being of a high quality. However, if our mindset is fixed on these elements the church is broken.
The church in the UK, Europe and throughout the Global North has been in decline for the past few decades. There have been repeated strategies for stemming the flow, for reducing the exodus from the church, and although there are a few examples where this has worked to a certain extent the exodus continues. The church is broken because we still have broken mindset about the church. We have a broken mindset about humanity. We have a broken mindset about God.
I have an evolving vision for the church. A vision that comes from having been worshipping in churches (mostly of the evangelical persuasion) my whole life. A visions that comes from involvement with Christian missions, worship, teaching, preaching, Bible study and prayer. A vision that stems from engagement with people, those with faith and those without. A vision that comes from being with those who have been hurt by the church, by life, by strangers, neighbours and loved ones. A vision that comes from my desire to seek God, to know God and my realisation that I mostly meet God in my own brokenness and when with those who are themselves feeling broken. My vision for church comes from a place of wanting people to feel welcome, to be open about their doubts, uncertainties and questions. For their to be conversation, debate and disagreement without the fear or falling out or making accusations of losing faith, but a community that grows in faith because of the freedom to doubt.
I hope to unpack some of my vision for the church, for the hope I have that church can be at it’s best when it accepts its faults, cracks and brokenness and allows God to bring wholeness.