GOD IS DOING A NEW THING
No I am not saying ‘He sent a plague.’ It’s not that kind of a post and I don’t think he’s that kind of God because Jesus said he came to save the world not condemn it.
But what if God has brought us into the missional moment we have been saying might happen and could happen and should happen for years? My friend Alan Hirsch has written so much to try to prepare us for the next reformation – not of our soteriology (how we are saved) but of our ecclesiology (how we are church).
Are you ready? Or were you?
I’ve only heard the audible voice of the Lord a couple of times, but last year in a hotel in Scotland he woke me up in the middle of the night to say over and over ‘See! I am doing a New Thing! Do you not perceive it?’
I looked into the word perceive, because that was the word he repeated as it resounded over and over in my spirit. I found at root it means ‘take hold of, grasp.’ Like he can do a new thing and we miss it if were not alert to it.
I talked about this that last November when we did the Launch conference under the title (ready?) GO VIRAL.
We looked at Acts and how it was only pressure and pain that pushed the church out of Jerusalem to go viral in the nations. How we’re called to be super spreaders. How that was unstoppable for three centuries but also how the movement was contained.
Again that’s not to say God is behind this virus. But he was certainly ahead of it, and wants to help us to be too. I am very clear on the tragedy and personal pain unfolding in these times and have spoken and written on that elsewhere – so please give me a pass on starting with some kind of theodicy here and instead hear that I know the days are evil, so we must now redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:16)
What do you perceive as an opportunity right now? I know this could change for generations how we do business, education, transport and leisure. I am intensely interested in all such shifts but as a church movement leader I’m welcoming, learning from and cheering on so many pioneering and radical approaches to being the Body of Christ in our streets, cities, regions and nations. I am thrilled by those I see giving their best to love and serve and grasping the missional initiative by creating collaborative networks to be a blessing where we are called.
I am grateful to see a shift away from being corporate church CEO to becoming chaplain/pastors and caring in Christ’s name in the face of tragedy for everyone wrestling with all kinds of grief, rather than taking a one dimensional approach that says only Sunday matter to God.
At the same time I relish the way so many are creatively engaging and reshaping who we are as church. As well as engaging with friends who lead in poorer nations without access to technology I take for granted, I am also learning how to better go online and connect with the multitudes there; especially from those who realise we must do so with the ‘anonymous/ invisible crowd/fringe/ disengaged from church as it was’ people the Lord loves in mind.
Too many can only think about how soon we can go back to normal, but could it be that God is drawing us out to a place he never really wants us to come back from?
I don’t want to go back to normal. Normal church was rubbish. It was underperforming at best and unbiblical at worst. I still believe the best days for the church are ahead of us, but only for those who seize the day and see the supernatural creativity released by the Spirit hovering over the chaos to birth exciting, innovative, externally focused ministry to help people who are lost and alone find their way back to God.
How will we help isolated people not only with the shopping today but to find the Lord who will never leave or forsake them? How do we hold out hope right where people can grab it? How do we learn and teach how to pray (will we let that space be taken by yoga/meditation apps?). How do we create art?
What about worship? How do we make the God experience we profess to make available participatory in the church that meet in homes, rather than recreate the passive approach that gathering in buildings tends to lead to as default? These are huge subjects and I am brimming with thoughts on it but try to focus on one for now:
WORSHIP AND COMMUNICATION ONLINE
Many things have changed, but many still stay the same. What used to be irrelevant and boring is not suddenly interesting because its on a screen. In fact we have to work a lot harder to maintain interest. People rarely walk out the building in the middle of a sermon, but people can easily and anonymously vote with their finger (index finger, on a mouse, okay stop digging a hole…)
The job of a communicator is not to just get a message out – hoping it lands.
We must always be aware of;
- WHO we are talking with (notice – not to!)
- WHY is it so important, and why is this the best way to communicate this now and in this manner/ medium (if not, find another way)
- WHAT – out of all the messages out there – are we vitally focused on and intent on communicating clearly, now?
- HOW do we forge and grow connection leading to community. What’s the best next step? I want to press in on that for the rest of this post.
Communicating and Connecting For Community.
This is not a technology issue per se, the tech has to serve the community, not the other way round. It’s not about who has the best kit or puts on the best show, because it’s not about information, but incarnation.
I love the way the Message brings John 1:1, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Well isn’t that interesting? Is that happening now? It happens when we make the shift (and many have not got this at all even though they can’t meet in a building) from inviting people to church to meet Jesus, to Jesus moving into your neighbourhood and those of us who serve him as church leaders moving in with him.
This only happens by invitation. The first Sunday we could not meet in Ivy buildings, I gave a call online to become a disciple of Christ and said on line that I was willing to ‘ordain’ all who follow him to be the leader of ‘the church that meets in your house’ (Romans 16:5, Col 4:15) and if you will invite us into that church we would like to help equip you to grow and lead that church. I invited people to anoint each other and their doorposts with oil as they were commissioned. I said get in touch and tell us the name of your church. We planted so many new churches that day we quickly lost count!
Now our posture is not, ‘we’re putting on church for you to come to.’ Rather it’s, “Will you invite us into the church that meets in your house?”
The mindset shift makes a huge difference when we break bread, pray and worship. But I know it raises questions too.
ISN’T IT IMPERSONAL?
Well it can be, if you are.
The fact is a Zoom call can feel more intimate than being part of a crowd in a room. They see us up close and face to face. They see our eyes and smile (or lack of it). They feel our energy, hear our love as we speak from our hearts not just as talking heads. People are used to screens and before long can forget they are watching one and become absorbed if we tell stories rather than just state facts – that’s how TV works.
We must create engagement; encouraging comments/ saying Hi to each other and being warmly welcomed, suggesting next steps, offering space for questions (or anticipating them as we speak) or pauses or connections with others in ‘the room.’ The revitalised engagement in Grow Groups has also been interesting to note as socially distant people are vulnerable enough to show a yearning for relationship that we are hard wired for because ‘it’s not good for us to be alone.’ Gen 2:18
But how do you go Deep?
Great question! How can we help people go from the shallows of checking us out online via Facebook as they discover us through a watch party toward a deeper relationship with Christ? This seems to be the pressing question I am hearing over and over.
Some disparaging negative voices have immediately been saying, ‘Once this is over the people who are clicking in now won’t be back in our churches on Sunday.’ Those people are right. I wouldn’t want to go to yours either.
Others are saying “They’re not ‘real’ disciples” – the implication being ‘like us.’
Well how far back do you have to be, to be a disciple? The disciples followed Jesus for years and its arguable when any of them actually ‘became Christians.’ At Pentecost? Maybe.
Who is a Disciple?
Who’s closer to Jesus – someone pondering the questions of life thrown up by this present world crisis, looking online for whether Christianity might afford the begins of an answer, or someone who has been ‘in church’ for twenty years but now spends their time waiting for ‘it all to be over’ or writing cranky blogs about the efforts of others while not caring tuppence how to begin to love their neighbour in Jesus name?
Isn’t the way people primarily deepen in relationship with Jesus now, primarily by deepening relationship with those who say he now inhabits? That’s how it has worked for me. Christ in you is the hope of glory! So how can we who say we love the Lord, now show it in ways that help people who are like sheep without a shepherd find him too?
Our ‘us’ just got a whole lot bigger, if we will notice, love, welcome, communicate, empathise with, be kind to, serve and include ‘them.’
ONE VERSE DISCIPLESHIP PLAN
There is a simple pattern of discipleship formation laid out in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
Take a closer look at that.
This goes beyond a giving great talk or making small talk. It may start with someone pressing hearts on a Facebook stream, but will only change hearts when and if we can say and show that…
WE cared for you (personal, corporate and one to one). Why?
We LOVED you (not a program, a passion for people)
We SHARED with you (giving, receiving, mentoring, mutuality)
Not only the GOSPEL (life changing content) but
Our lives as well (a life changed by that message. What that looks like for real with all the messiness and miracles).
That is what people need, they have always needed it but perhaps now we are more willing than ever to voice it. Friendships. Perhaps this crisis won’t make us that different, it will just make clearer to everyone what we are really like. We are not just called servants but friends, and every friend of Jesus can and must be mobilised to BEfriend. You don’t need to have be a Bible expert to be a friend. Just because right now we can’t meet in person doesn’t mean we stop being God’s people.
One practical idea because I don’t ever just want to be a theorist. While writing this a local pub chain sent me an email invitation. The pubs can’t meet as they did, so I’m invited to ‘The Lock In’. They say, “While our pubs are closed, we’ve decided to open a virtual pub. We know many of our customers are feeling cut-off from their friends and for some a visit to the pub is the only social contact they will have in a day. The Lock Inn aims to help tackle loneliness and isolation by offering activities and entertainment to encourage interaction.”
They’ll be playing bingo, having pub quizzes etc.
That confirmed for me something I want us to get on right away: THE IVY COFFEE SHOP. Coffee shops have closed down too. I for one miss them! We can open an online one and I can make my favourite coffe. Can we begin to build some regulars who drop into the Zoom site for a chat with their coffee? We can chat there and pray, we can point from the Ivy Coffee Shop to various other groups and get help, we can do some music nights – get creative people doing some open mic? You’d be welcome to come once we open! How do you like your coffee?