Revd Martin Keenan
It’s hard to believe that this is my 10th letter since this all began. It will end soon, hopefully, and, in fact, if you go out and about you will get the impression that it’s all over. I drove to Poole Crematorium last Friday and the roads were back to ‘normal’. I was on Marine Drive in Barton yesterday and there was no room to park because there were so many cars – and an Ice Cream Van selling ice cream to queues of people.
A few weeks ago people were saying they hope things won’t go back to ‘normal’; I have had people say that to me. Yet as soon as we were allowed out it seems the first thing we wanted to do was go back to ‘normal’.
What was so good about ‘normal’? We had pollution, which is not so bad now. We had people rushing around, which we don’t have now. And we had a declining church. And we did nothing about that. We talked about the old days when … (how many?) people were in the congregation and we had a Sunday school and a youth group. And we forget that between then and now there were days, weeks and months. We look back to … (how long ago?) and say, this is how it was. But we never question why it changed. Why did we not produce more converts, make more disciples, plant more churches? Why were we relying on people moving into the area and hoping they would come to our church so that we could keep going?
When did we forget the primary purpose of the church is not to sit in buildings, but to make disciples? I don’t want to go back to that kind of ‘normal’ because it is not ‘normal’ as I remember it. I want to see evangelism at the top of our church council agendas (and circuit meeting agendas). I want to see discipleship as more important than all those things the government is telling us to prioritise. I want to see the church run in a more church-like way, instead of in a business-like way (we are a church, not a business). I want us to look outwards instead of inwards. I don’t want rotas of people doing things, I want to see a releasing of the spiritual gifts so that the right people are in the right places. I don’t want volunteers, I want people ‘compelled by the love of Christ’ (that’s in 2 Corinthians 5: 14). Let’s get away from doing it because we’ve always done it – it didn’t work!
Let’s spend this time in the Bible listening to God, asking him what He would have us do. All those things that were interrupted by this lockdown were interrupted and we can’t just pick them up again and carry on. Things have changed, and for once let us, as the church, not be lagging behind. Let us be the church of Jesus Christ, not stuck in the past wishing it was 1950 again, but looking to the future, learning from those who still have young people in their churches, who are growing new disciples and planting new churches.
And let us create a new ‘normal’ where we see the Spirit of God at work in his people. This is the ‘normal’ of the book of Acts. Let’s go back to the beginning as we head into the future and normalise Spirit-filled Christian churches. That will be worth going out for.