August 2019

There’s a fine line between a long, drawn-out sermon and a hostage situation.  At least that’s what I’m told.  It’s rather worrying one might feel held to ransom if you go to church.  I’ve always believed those who attend church should leave feeling uplifted, lighter and happier.  Sadly, this is not always the reality of life.  Why is it that?  Why do some people leave church feeling deflated or cheated in some way.  Many people I know express disappointment with christianity, because they see a Church ignoring vast swathes of people who really are inquisitive, but who feel excluded from ‘the club’ for various reasons, not least working on a Sunday, or simply needing time to be with their family in a warm, welcoming, environment.


As churches we have to face up to the reality of life.  The Sabbath is no longer a Sunday for many.  Continuing to do something ‘because we’ve always done it that way’ doesn’t engender sympathy either.  Neither does tutting, glaring, and hiding the ‘good’ biscuits encourage people to join a church family.  Nor for that matter, do pews, or multi-media screens, or creating a multi-purpose space within church.  At least, not on their own.  But meeting people where they experience Jesus does.  Particularly if that experience isn’t clouded by rituals and singing to unfathomable tunes, at least for the uninitiated.  What we need to learn is to use accessible language, music and hymns/songs that are relevant today, rather than exclude those who come inquiring.  After all, there’s nothing worse than feeling excluded.


If ‘Church’ is a christian community, then we need to identify how to build new christian communities which recognise the changing face of society, yet remain true to our beliefs.  Jesus came to turn everything on its head, while remaining true to the Father.  He was a radical preacher, teacher and leader.  Through disciples he built a church from nothing, despite all the discrimination, suppression and efforts to exterminate christianity.  The Church grew because he taught his disciples well.  He taught that in order to embrace tradition, one must also embrace change.  He taught them to recognise the reality of their society, to fight for social justice and equality.  He also taught them to remain true to their faith and traditions.  Which is why we have an Old and New Testament, reflecting the need to understand where we have come from, and where we are going to. 


Yet despite all Jesus’ teachings the Church has managed to lose its way.  Just like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we’re stuck in traditions and laws that have become straight-jackets restricting our ability to adapt to societies needs.  Our church buildings are akin to mill-stones around our necks.  Single purpose buildings as slow to adapt as the Church which owns them.  All this against a back drop of a society where change is happening at an ever increasing rate.  The Church needs to adapt, to think outside the box, to value a precious ancient heritage whilst looking to engage with the world.   Do we really need 12 churches within 15 miles of each other, all offering similar styles of service?  Church needs to identify who it is here for.  Is it a self-serving monument to the past?  Or a living, breathing and life giving force for those who wish to know Jesus in a very real and personal way? 


If it’s the former, then I’d suggest the Church is doing very well, thank you very much.  If it’s the latter, well I leave that judgement up to you…Rev Paul