Ministers of the East Midlands Synod gathered at Sherwood URC on the last Tuesday of September 2017 for in-service training led by Lawrence Moore, currently working for the North West Synod. Here is a brief summary.
He began by asking us What makes the church church?
(Before you read on you might like to write your answer down on the back of an envelope)
We then reflected on that as he went through his presentation which was based on some of the research he did while on his recent Sabbatical.
The big question is why is the church failing to attract new people? It is not that there is a lack of spiritual awareness among modern day people, nor a lack of interest in Jesus. Indeed a recent survey placed Jesus as the most influential person to have lived - followed by Shakespeare, Napoleon and Hitler! Other research shows that people are immensely positive about Jesus! But when it comes to the church, it seems that there is a massive gap between Jesus and the institution that bears his name - people today see the church as bad news, they view it with deep suspicion, and feel betrayed by it. They ask how can you be a Christian and belong to an institution that supported the inquisition, slavery, the holocaust, apartheid, and still today apparently discriminates against women, gay people, black people and seems to protect paedophiles within their ranks.
When you look at the church it does not look at all like Jesus.
It all went wrong in 313 when Emperor Constantine changed the church in an arm of the state, and the church rebuilt the Temple wrapping God up in new courts consisting of a hierarchy of priesthood, a tangle of doctrines and creeds, a moneychangers court of superstition (aka tradition) and indulgences. The church became what Jesus was against. Instead of being incarnational, making plain and accessible the presence of God in the world, it became a barrier between God and people. And, despite the reformation, we are not that much different - even in the United Reformed Church.
The good news is that God has invaded the world, and seeks to transform it. But the Good News is not good news to everyone - at least it does not sound like it because they benefit from the way things are (and that includes us!) It is a big step to accept that when the world is turned upside down, then salvation is possible for all!
Being a Christian is not about believing a set of doctrines, or subscribing to a creed or set of beliefs.
It is about
- how you live your life, and how the church as an institution lives it's life.
- looking out for people whose voice is not being heard, and helping them;
- exposing bad or broken systems;
- unconditional generosity;
- it is about accepting that it is not their ( the minister's, the elder's, someone in another pew ) responsibility but yours.
- it is about doing to others what you would want them to do to you, regardless.
It means we have to:
- renew the covenant with God (we love because God loves first, no limitations, no strings attached);
- learn to trust in a society which starts with suspicion
- invest in change and let go of the past ( you are not alive if you do not change; you are not on a journey if you do not move).
- be God's people; be the body of Jesus in thw world today; become Jesus shaped.
Lawrence is a great speaker, both profound and entertaining. If being a Jesus shaped person, in a Jesus Shaped Church, making a Jesus shaped difference to lives and communities sounds interesting, then come along to the URC Holiday Forum in August 2018. Lawrence is the theme speaker, and there are some good worship leaders too!