Category: Infusing Culture

Live, Work and Worship

Michael Shaw,

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

In his book on American Politics, Jim Wallis says when he asks about Poverty, the key verse Christians quote is John 12:8 “The poor you will always have with you.”, he says that the church has accepted poverty as inevitable and unchangeable. But Wallis goes on to talk about how the verse is not about acceptance of poverty by proximity of the church, and Christians to people who are poor. A better translation is “you shall always be among the poor”.

We often make excuses for not doing anything about Poverty, so we will quote Blessed are the poor in Sprit from Matthew’s Gospel, ignoring the fact that Luke’s Gospel does not say that. And while we have made a whole theology of conversion of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 4, making it universal for us to be “born again”, we say the conversation with Jesus and the Rich Young Man in the Synoptic Gospels, where the man is told to sell everything, give it away and receive from God in order to follow Jesus, is specific to that individual.

While many in the church are involved in alleviating the causes of poverty through food banks, soup runs or debt relief counselling, the reality is that these are often niche groups within the church, and more and more staffed by volunteers not from churches.

Sadly, the church in our inner cities, in sink estates and especially in “traditional” post-industrial white working-class areas is either dying or dead. More and more churches are focusing on big “centres”, either in student, suburban areas of cities or in market towns. This has left poorer urban and rural areas devoid of churches, and where there are churches, they are often small and elderly, with very little ability to reach out to the people around.

The current Covid crisis is going to make this worse.

Christians who were called to be among the poor are now among the middles class, often doing disembodied outreach programmes or giving financially, but not doing anything to be among the poor on a day to day basis.

If you look at many of the great Revivals, they often begin in the margins, among the poor. It is where John Wesley preached, it is where the Welsh and Azusa street revivals began. If we want to see God truly move in our nation, we need to inspire Christians to live, work and worship among the poor. This may mean giving up our comforts, not living in our “dream” home, or taking that “dream” job or going to the latest “cool” church, and it might mean living in a Downwardly Mobile way, living counter to our culture (Romans 12:1-2).

Jesus was often found among the crowd (ochlos), the rabble, the unwashed. He had no home or possessions, relying on the charity of others. He died the death of a thief and was buried in a borrowed tomb. He became one of the poor. Paul writes in Philippians 2 that he became a slave. If we want to truly follow Jesus, then why do we think that we are allowed to live differently from him?

 

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‘Normal’?

Ross Maynard,

This post by Ross Maynard was originally published at Seventy Two

‘I can’t wait to get back to normal’, is a sentence I’ve heard so much lately. It fills me with two very strong emotions. The first emotion is a deep sense of longing. This emotion agrees whole heartedly with this statement. I long to be back to normal. I long to have more freedom. I long to meet and hug friends and family. I long to go to pubs and restaurants. I long to walk to work. I long for my old daily routines.

This longing, this desire to go back to normal is quickly followed by a deep feeling of unease. My longing for normal is a longing for comfort and a romanticised view of the past because of some of the challenges of the present.

  • Our ‘normal’ utterly ruins the environment and the beauty of our natural world.
  • Our ‘normal’ destroys family and community, with a work obsessed individualism.
  • Our ‘normal’ fosters an economy centred on consumerism, rather than fairness and the collective needs of all.
  • Our ‘normal’ is violent. Violence in the home and violence between nations, communities and neighbours.
  • Our ‘normal’ is creating an environment in which mental illness is thrives.
  • Our ‘normal’ sees the Western church lost in the whirlpool of a quickly changing world.

Our ‘normal’ is not good enough. I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’! We have been gifted an incredible opportunity to imagine, question and act.

We can IMAGINE a new normal: God’s normal. Imagine if we could honour those who lost their lives during this horrific pandemic by creating a better world? A world more like the kingdom of God.

Imagine if our world now, in the present, was more like the future, like heaven. NT Wright puts it better than me:

‘[Jesus’ kingdom vision] … is a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.’

Can we imagine our present ‘normal’ as if it were the future ‘normal’: God’s normal? Can we imagine our present ‘normal’ incorporating the great visions of the Kingdom of God painted beautifully in Isaiah and Revelation?

‘He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.’

(Isaiah 2:4)

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

(Revelation 21:3-4)

Until our normal looks like the Kingdom of God, as embodied in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we’ve got work to do. Until heaven and earth become one and the brokenness of our world is fully restored to God’s original intention, we’ve got work to do.

As we imagine what God’s normal would look like on our earth, we can begin to QUESTION our own. We can ask the ‘why’s’, the ‘what’s’ and the ‘how’s’.

  • Why are we investing so much time in Sunday services? Is church become all about Sunday’s? What could church look like when we can meet again?
  • How are we going to continue to use technology and social media positively? Could we keep doing some meetings on Zoom? Could we continue to invest in our social media presence to influence change?
  • Why do people believe the Christian faith is irrelevant? Why is this normal? How can we change this?
  • How do we respond to racial inequality and discrimination, once again highlighted by the murder of George Floyd?
  • How do we make sure that all the homeless who were given accommodation during the pandemic, have shelter after this is all over?
  • How do we make sure that the cleaner air and water that we’re seeing across our damaged earth, because of lockdown, continues after this is all over?

None of this imagining and questioning is anything if done alone and if it doesn’t lead us all to ACT.

  • Could we gather groups of people to ask these questions in regard to our churches, but also in regard to the broader issues facing us as a country?
  • Could we join Tearfund in their Reboot campaign. They have loads of resources available to help with the very things we’ve been exploring.

Finally, of course, all of this imagining, questioning and action will come to nothing if not absolutely saturated in prayer.

Father forgive us for accepting what is considered ‘normal’
Guide us
Enliven us
Be with us
May we be your tools to carve out a new normal

‘I can’t wait to get back to normal’, but not the normal we have now. I want a new normal. Our God calls us to his normal. ‘It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.’

 

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Holy Spirit, come like a rushing wind

Rachael Warnock,

This post by Rachael Warnock was originally published at Seventy Two

Today the world looks different to pre COVID-19. We are emerging from a global pause and stepping into something new, with all the possibility and opportunity this brings. Economic systems and paths which lead to societal and environmental destruction need not continue. There is a chance to pursue something better together.

At Pentecost Jesus’ followers were filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered, and released on the streets to be flames of light in the world. This would mean going out into communities and declaring and participating in God’s good news. They would restore, renew, cast visions, and reimagine a different way to be as the spirit journeyed with them.

At this tentative time, I worry our leaders are not heeding warnings regarding our societal and environmental brokenness. I am concerned they are not now taking the opportunity to action on climate change and to focus on a more sustainable economy for all.

I believe God desires for us to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit’s energy and power. Jesus summoned his disciples to go beyond their comfort zones, into deeper water, though he never left them alone. Now Jesus gives us his spirit, so we too are not alone. The Spirit moves with us, offers courage, strength, energy, and direction if we ask for it. With the spirit we too are empowered to join in with God’s restoration project in our local communities, we too can move for justice and act on hope. As we move out into unknown waters, we can engage with a new normal, but even better- we can create it.

Through Jesus and his spirit, a new world was born. At Pentecost Jesus’ followers were sent out in energy and spirit, to help build a world full of God’s truth, love, justice, and hope. Well here is a fresh opportunity to jump into the new thing that God is doing in our communities, as we seek direction, energy and the Spirits equipping.

After being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus’ followers proceeded to share their possessions, to eat together and share life together. They proclaimed and lifted up God. They exercised gifts of the spirit like miracles and healings. No one was without. Our lives are not meant to reflect exactly the stories of Acts- we live in a different time and place. Though they offer us a helpful prompt.

Organisations like Tearfund are inviting us to consider our future, to enter the conversation and action shaping a better future together. With the Holy Spirit we can engage in togetherness and we can dream dreams. God with us means so much is possible.

I refuse to believe because systems have existed long term along with ways of doing things, that just because deeper change seems beyond me personally, that these are reasons for the status quo to remain.

In the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we are now invited anew to walk forwards boldly and hopefully together to make a difference in this world. Holy Spirit come like a rushing wind.

 

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Church Generosity

Michael Shaw,

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

We are in a world that has stopped growing! Up until the last few weeks, our world has been based on Growth, exponential growth. But a small virus has prevented us from growing, over the next few months the world economy is likely to contract to a level unseen in almost a century.

Sadly many of our church models have followed the world, in believing that growth is the most important thing. But we have forgotten that growth without reproduction is fairly pointless. Even church planting models – like HTB “resource” churches are not based on new growth but breathing life into dead things.

Most church growth models intend to reach new people, by making their services attractional. This often include a focus on professionalised worship, simple teaching, wide use of social media, high quality children’s work, and emphasis on Millennials and young families. And while this does indeed attract people from outside church, the unintended consequence is high levels of transfer growth.

What this means is that often there is a drain from small inner city or rural churches to city centre and town centre, so while the churches in the centre do grow, the cost is paid by smaller churches that cannot match the “quality” of these highly resourced churches.

So while church growth models are commendable, they also come at a time when the church as whole is in decline. We need something better!

So I believe we need not church growth but church generosity, churches need to give away rather than hoard, and while many churches do give circa 10% of their income away, I wonder if we could think about Tithing (a tenth) in a different way. What about it every year, churches looked to give away a 10% of their people. So how could that look like?

  • Churches between 100-200 people could give 10% of their membership to a smaller, struggling church (including their giving) to help enable that church to engage in strategic mission in their area
  • Churches over 200 could give 10% of their people to plant a new church, 20 members could be a sustainable small church in an under churched are
  • Churches of 500+ churches could plant several churches in their local area, or a mix of church planting and assisting a small church locally

I wonder if we saw Church Generosity as the aim, the result would be a Kingdom of God focused Church Growth strategy, seeing the whole Church grow!

 

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Sabbath, Gleaning and Jubilee

Michael Shaw,

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

Like most people the words Corona Virus seems to be the only words on my mind, I have already heard of people dying, family members who have symptoms and even a couple of people in my church have been self-isolating with a suspected case. But there are three words that have been circulating in my head and they are Sabbath, Gleaning and Jubilee. I believe these ancient words, which go deep into the old testament law, speak into our current time.

Sabbath

We have been living in a 24/7 world which is built on a model of continuous growth, but suddenly we are told to stop doing what we have been doing. To slow down and stop. Our world is going through a global sabbath, and it comes at a great cost to human life. But in the process pollution is being lifted, birds song is being heard, canals are getting cleaner, policemen are serenading people in the street, we are learning to appreciate shop workers, cleaners and doctors. We are connecting with people who we wouldn’t normally speak to. I know we will go back to the way life was, but maybe we can learn a lesson that we don’t need 24/7 as much as we thought we did. It is good to pause and stop, to appreciate the small connections we make each day.

Gleaning

While stock-piling has been headline news, many others are buying extra, but not for themselves, there are stories of generosity of people as well. Foodbanks who were struggling are now full, other smaller local food banks have sprung up for those who require emergency food. People are taking take aways to their elderly neighbours.  The pictures of empty shelves do tell us that there are many people out there who are living selfish lives, but there are hundreds of stories that we will never see, of people stock piling food to give away.

Jubilee

Too many people have bought into the lie that Capitalism and Democracy are Christian values, they are part of our Western Christian culture, but the fact is that the Bible references neither of them. But, even for many well-read Biblical Christians , Capitalism and Christianity go hand in hand together. Many will politically argue for a small state, low tax economy, as if that is what the Bible states. The Bible writers would have no concept of Capitalism or Socialism as economic systems. But we have somehow missed that. We often do not think it is for Governments to balance out wealth, hoping Multi-millionaires and Billionaires will voluntarily give away their excess, and while this does indeed happen, the financial impact of this global problem will mean that the redistribution of wealth, the release of debts and the balancing out of our society will have to happen. If the Bible offers one economic model, it is that of Jubilee. I believe that we will have no other option in the next year than to see a Jubilee happen.

Three words: Sabbath, Gleaning and Jubilee

 

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