This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two
‘Never waste a crisis’, a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, is something I’ve heard a few times in recent months. Listening for the voice of the Spirit amidst the myriad of voices clamouring for our attention in the midst of the pandemic, has not always been easy.
What has the virus revealed about who and where we are? Once into lockdown, ‘what is the virus revealing?’ became a key question, both for myself and in relationship with others.
However, we’re now in another phase. Restrictions are easing, mobility (hurry?) is returning … to ‘normal’/’new normal’/???? If we did not spot what the virus was revealing about ourselves and about God during lockdown, we shall return to whatever shape and model of new normal is determined by the pre-dominant cultural tides of our day.
A model from organisations involved with disaster relief provided a helpful understanding in those initial manic two weeks. It highlights what we now recognise, but were then unaware of; there are phases, periods of time, and we need to match our responses and actions appropriately. Response, recovery and reconstruction were the three phases highlighted and it’s a helpful framework to work with … provided our responses and actions are in relation to the right crisis.
Pre lockdown we had begun to talk about a crisis in leadership, discipleship and mission. This is something bigger and wider than Baptists in the UK, but we are far from immune as churches. The virus has revealed more acutely, the extent to which this is apparent. NB the virus has not created these elements of crisis, but merely revealed what was already there.
What this means for me, both as an individual follower of Jesus with personal responsibilities and as a Christian leader with wider responsibilities, is if I simply move into a phase of ‘recovery’ without having examined the foundations, I am increasing the risk of the whole building falling down. We must not invest in the future, without being clear what we’re building on today has sufficient foundations.
I want to highlight two elements of this, namely, the Church and the Bible.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope you are committed to the Church of Jesus Christ. There was a time it would not have been necessary to say that, but these uncertain times don’t solely relate to a global pandemic. Frankly, there’s been too much negative energy expended and too many negative words spoken against forms and experiences of church, which suggest we can by-pass and ignore not simply two thousand years of church history, but also the bride of Christ:
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Anyone who suggests the church is finished, when Jesus himself clearly still has plan A very much in focus, reveals the extent to which our biblical foundations have been shaken by the cultural tsunami of post-modernity. In practice, the small group of which I am a member has been much more significant for me than the Sunday worship gatherings (NB. plural – after all, we can think we are a part of practically any one local church, anywhere in the world). In my life, that’s nothing new, as I’ve lived for the last twenty years without being in the same place every Sunday, due to having an itinerant preaching ministry.
The question we should have been asking (pre-pandemic) is: how does belonging to this church empower everyone identifying with it, to grow as a disciple of Jesus?
Our problem has been highlighted. The virus has revealed too frequently this is far from the reality. Therefore, to ‘recover’ where we were in February 2020, is not my focus.
I’ve lost count of the number of conversations over recent years, about the extent of biblical illiteracy among Christians in the western world. However, the virus has revealed in three months what survey after survey, has merely indicated. What percentage of Christians don’t open their Bibles for themselves between Sunday gatherings? I’ve no idea, but it appears to be way too high from what I’ve seen and heard. It’s not surprising therefore, there is a new rising tide of what we used to call ‘liberalism’, but naively thought had disappeared.
As Seventy-two we’ve not been inactive during lockdown. Some of you are already finding the Discipleship Cycle a useful framework to help listen to God through scripture. In relation to the Bible we also believe Jesus is sticking to Plan A:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 16)
If we are committed to doing what we can (and we are) to nurture an environment for missional movement, then covenant faithfulness and biblical obedience remain non-negotiables.
Seventy-two is nudging towards releasing an App to enable more and more people who don’t habitually open the Bible for themselves, to not only do so, but to hear God speaking to them through scripture in the regular, everyday rhythms of life. If you would like to be involved in piloting the field-testing the App then please get in touch with us.