Does Church Have A Future? (2022)
DOES CHURCH HAVE A FUTURE?
- What can the Christians of the Baptist churches in our land do now in order to help to shape the Baptist churches of the future?
- How can the Christians in Baptist churches help to shape the future of Christianity in our land?
In writing about the Christians in Scottish Baptist churches I am not being parochial or exclusive, for I believe that the situation that Scottish Baptist churches are in is similar to that experienced by other churches and denominations across the land. Decline is almost an accepted part of church life, and it often seems that morale declines along with the numbers. But why is that?
- Do we place far too much emphasis on numbers attending services?
- Are issues of the institution such as money and membership given greater priority than spiritual maturity?
I want to make some practical suggestions for the way ahead; suggestions that I believe can help to lift church out of the depression that seems to pervade it so extensively at this time.
- Why does YHWH not appear to be at work in our land in these days?
He is quite clearly at work in other countries where Christianity is growing rapidly.
I will consider how our love for YHWH impacts every area of our lives, of which the visible church is but a small part. I will address the issue of loving YHWH with all that we are and all that we have, and I will highlight how I believe that the loss of this whole love has damaged the credibility of Christianity in our land today.
The compartmentalisation of life into specific and separate areas is an enemy of a whole love for YHWH, and it is an enemy of the church that is very common. Ministers and their sermons are often seen as irrelevant to modern life, and as belonging to a by-gone era that now exists only inside the churches that still appear to be living in a previous century, or two.
I will consider what I believe to be the urgent need to reshape discipleship and Christian education so that people engage their whole lives with their faith and together work through the difficult issues that they frequently face in today’s world. I will call for a holistic love for YHWH and for his church and world, which includes every area of life and all of the creation.
This is a love that begins from the point that everything and everyone is included, and that a big vision is needed to fully engage with YHWH and our world. Jesus is inclusive, not exclusive. The Christian faith calls to everyone to come and be a part of the church, and a holistic faith in Christ does not begin from the viewpoint of the excluded, but from the invitation to all who will come to receive from YHWH, and to receive YHWH himself.
I will also look at leadership – one of the key areas of church life – and consider how the kind of leadership that we have in our churches and denominations is critical, not only for the survival of church in the future but also for the church prospering in the future.
This discussion will also involve the question of what church actually is, and the relationship between essence and actions. I will consider the context and relevance of church growth, the Missio Dei, authority, and the central role of Godly character and integrity in the life of the leader.
In my conclusion I will make my closing remarks and state my hope for the church of today as it looks towards tomorrow; that it might have the kind of positive future that has been doubted and dismissed by many people who think that Christianity is in terminal decline in the United Kingdom. The epitaph may be written and the tombstone in position, but the body is still breathing! YHWH’s love cannot, and will not, die; and it is with the nature of loving YHWH that we begin.
Moses received from YHWH the instruction to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
What does it mean for us, the people of YHWH, to love YHWH with all that we are and all that we have and all that we do? What Jesus is commanding is a love that gives entirely of itself, holding nothing back; in the same way that YHWH gave of himself to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Such a love is holistic, for it considers everything as sacred because everything good comes from YHWH. The whole of life is to be Godf-centred and the life of the individual is a part of the life of the community of YHWH, in which there is fullness of expression. Such a holistic love is the love of the organised and integrated whole community that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Our love for YHWH is to flow from the very centre of our being, springing from our values, our commitments, and our treasure; flowing out from his people as they express the deliberate love for their YHWH and show that love in the way that they love and care for one another. This love is not only to be the love of the individual for Christ; it is to be the love of the whole believing community, the church, for Christ, who is the head of the church.
The church is people who together are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, YHWH’s own people; in order that they may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. Peter’s declaration set the church apart from being merely a collection of individuals and his declaration saw a big vision for the community of believers with big purposes in mind. Peter went on to address many areas of life as he enlarged on the significance of what it means to be YHWH’s people.
Likewise, the apostle Paul saw beyond a collection of individuals as he wrote to the churches for which he cared so deeply. For example, ‘to the church of YHWH that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.’ This is a holistic view of YHWH’s people, the church, and the vastness of Paul’s vision is breathtaking. The apostle did not write to the church at Corinth (for example) and say that certain areas were sacred while others were secular; rather he addressed every area that needed to be addressed and he excluded nothing from his attention.
Likewise, as closed his first letter to Corinth, he included many other individuals and churches in his final greetings, and in doing so he lifted the vision of the church at Corinth to see the big picture of which they were a part.
I believe that church in the twenty-first century has lost this holistic view of what life in YHWH means, we have lost this big vision and our spiritual eyes have clouded over. Life in Scotland (as elsewhere) has become greatly compartmentalised into areas such as work, play, family, and so on. One such area is church, and it is an area that has been isolated and reduced to being one compartment that is of no meaningful importance in the ‘real world’.
This compartmentalisation of life has deeply impacted the church, and it has also deeply impacted the way that we relate to YHWH through Jesus. Thus, we speak of YHWH being in control of some areas of our lives, but not of others. This has the effect of compartmentalizing our love for YHWH, and has us only seeking to express that love in areas that we consider to be sacred.
We think that YHWH is too big and too busy to bother with the little details of our lives, and especially so in secular areas where he has no interest. This kind of thinking is, I believe, widespread amongst YHWH’s people. The result is that the church’s love for YHWH is no longer holistic, it is no longer an organised and integrated whole, but it, too, has been broken up into areas and each area somehow treated as if it were a whole.
Thus, we speak of receiving Jesus as Saviour or receiving Jesus as Lord, as if Jesus himself were divided or compartmentalised. Therefore, we dress, speak, and behave, quite differently in church on a Sunday than we do on any other day of the week. We have lost the big vision of YHWH and of his church, and we no longer love YHWH with a holistic love that gives entirely of self, but our love is a fragmented and faded shadow of what it should be and perhaps once was.
The apostle Paul was well used to dealing with churches whose love and vision were in a state of disintegration, and his letter to the church at Galatia is a good example.
‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?’
If we as a believing community do not whole-heartedly love YHWH, then we can hardly be surprised when he appears distant and detached from us. This does not mean that we earn his presence by how much we love him, but it does mean that YHWH will be manifest in the midst of his people where they are close to his heart.
If the church in our land has lost its whole-hearted love for YHWH, we can hardly be surprised if the church is powerless, presence-less, and purposeless; and that, by and large, is what the church is like in our land. The church’s holistic love for YHWH lies shattered and broken, and the visible evidence of this is that we do not fulfil the mandate that YHWH has given to us. YHWH’s love for the nation cannot get out from the church, and so Jesus is not proclaimed as Lord by word and deed, and disciples are not being made.
No wonder, then, that the church in our land is declining numerically, and also in its influence upon the nation and upon the people of the nation. The solution to this situation does not lie in PowerPoint presentations, subtle lighting, or new hymn books. I do not in any way criticise these things, and nor do I imply that they are unimportant; by all means let the church be up to date and use up-to-date technology; but these are all methods, and the issue is not methodology, but our identity in Christ as the church and expressing that identity through deeds.
How we love YHWH and express that love to other people lies at the heart of our identity as (a part of) the church, and this involves the whole of our lives. To rediscover who and what we are in Christ and to rediscover a total love for YHWH will impact the land in which we live, and will cause the people in our land to once again know that there is something uniquely special about the church that is in their midst.
The issue here, then, is not at about activity but rather identity, and this involves all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do. We are called as YHWH’s people to love YHWH with all of our being first, and then with all our doing, and such a holistic love will certainly deeply impact the people around us.
The church has suffered deeply from the effects of compartmentalisation, and one way that this has been manifested is in the way that the majority of people in our churches have all but dispensed with the mind and no longer give it any importance in the life of faith. They have been conditioned to come to church and be spoon fed from the pulpit with propositional sermons that very often do not relate to their real lives outside church, and therefore the sermons neither challenge nor encourage them. People who have to think deeply on a daily basis in their business lives will soon be bored and perhaps insulted with the simple fare that they receive in church. Worse still, many of those who are doing the spoon feeding are only spoon feeding what they themselves have been spoon fed with.
All too often the sermons do not appear relevant or helpful to the day-to-day lives of the people who hear them, and frequently they centre around ‘being good’ in one form or another; but people need words of life such as the disciples heard from Jesus. What is said from the pulpit needs to be practical so that the people can see the application and then go and do it. In the Scriptures from which I have already made reference, Peter and Paul addressed very practical issues and made clear what their application was and how the hearer could implement what was being read to them.
I believe that we need to re-evaluate discipleship and Christian education and bring the preaching and teaching that we give to our people back into the realms of being relevant and helpful for them in their everyday lives. YHWH’s people need their faith to be constantly growing and they need their faith to be continually seeking fresh understanding.
They need to know what they believe and why they believe it, and they need always to be growing in their knowing of YHWH. Truthing in this context needs to be a real experience of discipleship as people learn day by day what it means to be in a love relationship with Jesus Christ, and how to live in the reality of that relationship.
Forums need to be created within church where Christians can explore issues, ask hard questions, have doubts, and test their own life foundations. The Psalms, for example, are full of hard questions, bitter complaints, and appeals for justice, and we need to re-evaluate our church services and meetings so that they reflect the width and depth of Christian experience, rather than making a church either an occasion that only a ‘happy, clappy Bappy’ can appreciate or that only the dead would feel comfortable in.
Small groups can give YHWH’s people a valuable opportunity to get to know a few people in depth and find those with whom they can share their lives. The theology and doctrines that we give to our people need to address their difficulties and struggles so that they can see them and respond to them in the context of a loving community and a loving YHWH.
One major difficulty is that today’s propositional preaching at spectator congregations leaves no room for people to ask questions or raise doubts; indeed, they are all-too-often considered as being sub-Christian if they dared to admit to having questions or doubts, let alone want to talk about them.
Yet, those people who come to church with their hurts, fears, doubts, struggles and sufferings are sometimes screaming inwardly as they desperately seek answers and the help that they need to cope with and come through their situation. But church does not allow them to be anything but ‘fine’ and demands that they act as if they were strong, and we constantly proposition them to this effect.
In the Scriptures already referred to, both Peter and Paul were addressing the real issues that were affecting people’s lives and giving their direction for resolving those issues. The people that they wrote to were not perfect, they were not strong, they did not have it all together.
Likewise people today urgently need to be able to think through their faith and work through their crises of life, but church often does not allow them to do so; church simply does not allow them to talk through issues or to work through tribulations. If church does not help them, who or what can?
Sometimes the message has been that people should come to church by all means, but leave the world behind them as they come. Therefore, we now have a generation of Christians who do not believe that thinking is a part of YHWH’s design for them and who believe that doubting is for weak Christians. The result of this is that many Christians feel great pressure to be ‘fine’ in and around church, and this causes a painful isolation at the very time that the help of the believing community is most needed. The outcome is that, in our relationships with YHWH and one another, we do not think, or have forgotten how to do so.
The divorced, the separated, the bereaved, the hurt, the broken; such people will not cope with a thoughtless church, and they will simply stay away. The pressure on people to be ‘fine’ in church is immense, and I contend that it is hypocrisy. Jesus never treated people that way in his days on earth, and he doesn’t do so today.
Jesus called things as he saw them, and he wanted honesty from anyone who wanted anything to do with him. It is clear to me that Jesus valued honesty far above politeness, and he treated needy people with great tenderness yet without compromising his words or deeds. We need to think about how we treat people, we need to think about the expectations and pressures that we put on them, we need to think about how we can best allow them to be human beings with dignity. We need to think.
The abandonment of thinking is not, of course, true of Christian scholars; just the opposite. Many scholars today are thinking around the kind of issues that most church members haven’t even thought of yet. It is equally true, though, that many important theological and doctrinal issues are debated by scholars but they are unknown and therefore untouched by the church at large. These discussions and debates never make it into the day to day lives of Christians, but rather they remain at the academic level.
It is sad that such scholars find themselves separated from church in many ways, precisely because many people regard the mind and intellect as superfluous for Christian living. Thus, there is a wedge driven between church and the scholar, between experience and thinking, as if those who experience YHWH and those who think about YHWH are different kinds of beings who do not belong together. The danger here is that the two sides begin to envision different ‘YHWHs’ who are merely the embodiment of their own theology, or lack of theology. The gulf between experience and thinking needs to be closed and a holistic Christianity resurrected that has to do with all that we are and say and do.
While the charismatic movement brought a new breath of life to the church it has also in some ways surely contributed to this gulf, and the lack of thinking Christians in church has merely seemed to confirm the rightness of the gulf. There is a tragic disconnectedness between thinking and experience, as if the mind and deeds were somehow not in harmony with each other. A criticism frequently levelled at ‘charismatics’ is that they all experience and no doctrine, while the ‘charismatics’ often regard ‘traditional’ Christians as having all doctrine and no experience.
The reality is that we all need to be Christians who think and experience, and our minds should inform, direct, and evaluate, our actions, for theology is relevant to everyday life and doctrine has a useful purpose. In this way, life consists in the outworking of relationships with our YHWH in and through other people. We need to be people who use all of our faculties and not discard any part of our being. Truth is to be lived out every day in and through our lives.
Tozer once said that truth is relational and that ‘no one can know the truth except those who obey truth.’ I wholeheartedly agree, and I would further say that you can obey a person without understanding the reasons for the instruction that they give to you. You may not understand the full implications of the instruction either, but your obedience rests in the integrity of the person giving the instruction, rather than in your understanding of the issues. The saving of lives can hinge on the immediate carrying out of an instruction, the reasons for which are not apparent until afterwards. The key here lies in the character of the one who gives the instruction.
Therefore, while I agree that it is important to comprehend the message of the Scriptures, I believe that it is much more important to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and obey everything that he commands. Jesus’ instruction was to ‘teach them to obey’, not merely to teach them. Life was itself the most important examination ever undertaken by Jesus’ disciples.
Faith seeks understanding, but faith does not begin with understanding. True understanding comes through experience, not merely education. The holistic nature of the Christian faith is seen in the fact that we need to follow and obey Jesus Christ because of his revelation to us of who he is, and we need to understand the truth of YHWH whether it is spoken or written; for obedience and understanding belong together.
Let faith seek understanding by all means, but do not let understanding try to reduce faith to understanding. Those who would truly know YHWH will know him in their intellect as well as they do so in their experience. For that is how we were created, as whole people who are to wholly know YHWH through a whole faith engaged by the whole person.
In the church we need to have people who model Christ to others, and who are both an example and a resource to those who are younger in the faith. Therefore, while it may be true that the minister is one theological resource for the church, it does not necessarily follow that the minister is the only theological resource available to the church.
People can be encouraged to read and thereby widen their understanding through, for example, church libraries and discussion groups; but more than anything there needs to be a systematic and practical approach to teaching the Scriptures so that a real foundation is built into people’s lives; one or two sermons on a Sunday simply will not do. The example and lifestyle of mature Christians is so important in church if those who are younger in the faith are to grow up into Christ, and these mature people need to be valued and used.
For example, I believe that the older people in our churches have a great deal to offer in respect of discipleship, and every church ought to seriously examine how their older people can best be used in ‘parenting’ and ‘grand-parenting’ the spiritually young and needy in our congregations. Just because someone has ‘retired’ does not mean that they cannot contribute to church life. Indeed, the retired are in a great position to contribute.
Indeed, foolish is the church that turns its back on the wealth of knowledge and experience that the older generation possess, and poorer is the church that does so. The diversity of the people in the church is a great part of the church’s strength as Petersen said, for ‘diversity allows YHWH’s people to cut a broader swath through the world with the gospel.’ Thus, YHWH’s love for the world will be seen and known in and through the lives of those people who love YHWH with their whole being.
I am convinced that YHWH wants us to love him with a passion, to have a love for him that is willing to pay a real cost in order to develop that holistic love relationship with him; a love that treasures the unlovely and will do whatever is required to know the one who is altogether lovely.
A holistic love for YHWH has a beating heart of love that courses with YHWH’s presence, and this heart should be seen in the midst of YHWH’s community of faith and should be flowing out to the wider community around. As Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
What saddens me is that, whatever accusations may rightfully be hurled at the church in our day (and doubtless there are many that we deserve), we really cannot be accused of loving YHWH with everything that we are and everything we have, and everything we do. Neither can we be said to be loving one another as Jesus loves us, and the world does not see that we are Christ’s disciples because of the lack of manifest love that we should have for one another.
As a consequence, theology and doctrine have been divorced from daily life and have become the property of the scholar; revelation and vision has become the property of the lunatic fringe and the cult; and passion has become the property of our favourite pop idol or a football team. If we want to be taken seriously and plausibly, we need to relate and be relevant.
The issue here is not one of truth and the holding or otherwise of that truth. The issue here is that the Christians of today are simply not plausible to people who see a church that does not care for them or about them. The world sees a church that cares far more about its ‘pure doctrine’ and ‘precious theology’ than it does about the people of the world among whom it lives. The world sees a church that constantly raises money to fix its roof, but that will not cross the street to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person. The world sees a church that is manifestly detached from the issues of real life, and is therefore manifestly detached from the people of real life.
We need to rediscover the holistic nature of our love for Jesus Christ, and, in doing so, we will rediscover the wholeness that is ours as the people of YHWH. We need to love Jesus Christ with all that we are, all that we have and all that we do, so that our love for him will be a whole love that is seen by all those around no matter in which sphere of life that they relate to us.
This love will make the people of YHWH one in such a way that the world will notice and wonder. Then what the church does will be driven and motivated by a holistic love for Jesus Christ and the participation in his holistic love for his world in which we live. Then we will be the church in the world and do the things that show us to be church; then we will know our purpose and fulfil our purpose in being.
The issue of the church’s identity is intimately linked to its purpose and function under YHWH, so that deeds and actions flow from its identity. A church that knows what it is and what it is for, will discover (or rediscover) its purpose without which it will either die, or simply become just a sacred social club.
The church needs to be holistic in the sense that it has a wholeness and an integration that is greater than the collection of individuals that it may appear to be. If the church is to have a future, then one of the most important keys to that future is its leadership, and it is to the subject of leadership that I now turn.
CALLED TO LEAD?
The whole area of leadership is crucial to every community, to every congregation, to every church, and to every denomination. To show the people of YHWH how to live a life of knowing Jesus and making him known in the midst of the world in which we live is our highest calling. We, like Peter, should feed the sheep and lambs and care for the sheep so that they grow strong and healthy.
Knowing YHWH and being like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit are at the heart of what YHWH wants to do in and through each of us who are called leaders. The issues of how we lead YHWH’s people and the kind of leadership model that we give to them is intimately linked to the kind of people that we are, as seen through our character and our integrity. To feed and care for YHWH’s people demands that we are sacrificial and daily give our lives for others; this is not about our own agendas or getting our own way.
The Scripture says that love does not insist on its own way, but, all too often, we who lead the people of YHWH do insist on our own way. And sometimes we say that we do it in the name of Jesus and for his sake, but the reality is that our churches are shot through with personality conflicts, power struggles, and the like. Hidden agendas are the order of the day, and the focus of church leadership is all-too-often not the glory of YHWH and the extension of Jesus’ kingdom, but rather the clinging to power, status, and position, of those in leadership roles, and that will always involve exploiting people.
Is it any wonder that the glory of the presence of YHWH is gone from us? If the church, and that means you and me, are going to love YHWH with all of our being, having and doing, then the church needs a radical shake-up; this can best be started through a radical shake-up of its leaders.
Now, I am considering leadership issues here precisely because I want to contend that, generally speaking, we have made a basic error by believing that leadership is all about what people do, when, in fact, it is much more about who and what people are. This is not to dismiss deeds and actions, neither is it to consider them as unimportant; rather it is to say that character and integrity form the starting point of considering a leader, not a person’s deeds.
Moses was the leader that he was precisely because he was Moses; the person of humility that he was being of greater importance than the things that he did. Jesus was the leader that he was precisely because he was Jesus, rather than because of the things that he did. Indeed, many of the things that Jesus did would attract criticism from us except for the fact that it was he who did them.
Stephen was chosen by the apostles to wait on tables because he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, not because he had the best waiter’s outfit. His character and integrity were clearly of greatest importance to the apostles in making this choice since his actions and deeds to this point are not mentioned.
The difficulty for leaders is that, as soon as someone begins to be recognised as being of leadership material, the church system crushes them back into place and forces them to operate within the semi-democratic context that is church. But YHWH’s anointed leaders cannot operate properly within that environment, and the church that then attributes failure to those leaders has itself actually caused the failure.
The trouble is that our worldview has us doing church, not being church. Our worldview has the people serving the systems instead of the systems serving the people. We simply don’t recognise, acknowledge, or even allow for, the existence of apostles and prophets (etc). Yes, we may stretch as far as pastors/teachers provided they are made in our preferred image and behave in our demanded ways; but, in doing so, we restrict those pastors and teachers to pleasing us and fulfilling our own agendas.
Our whole view of ministry and leadership needs to be completely renewed, and we need to be prepared to learn from anyone who can teach us what we need to learn. We need to be ready and willing for leadership teams to support others right across the denominations – from church to church and from denomination to denomination.
Ultimately, we should be ready and willing to support others outside the denomination and even beyond this country – can we have a vision that big? Yet, all too often as John Greenshields once observed, ‘we cling to independence when the Spirit is speaking to us of interdependence.’ If churches are to grow, a large part of the responsibility lies with the leaders. It is of critical importance that congregations enable leaders to lead, and support them in their Christ-centered leadership.
To know from YHWH what church is, and what church is for, is the foundation of Christian leadership. The church is a living organism, and as Aldrich observed, ‘it is the nature of a living organism to grow. If it is not growing, something is wrong.’ This issue of church health is very important and needs to be taken seriously, for it is certainly true as Malphurs said that ‘quality churches don’t stay small for very long.’ But does this mean that growth is the only indicator of a healthy church? Actually, I believe that it means exactly that, but I must first qualify my statement so that it can be fully understood.
When the phrase ‘church growth’ is used today, it is almost inevitable that people think in terms of numerical growth and only in terms of numerical growth, and this is a serious error. I contend that numerical growth is not the only indicator of a healthy and growing church. Indeed, I would go even further and say that numerical growth in and of itself is not necessarily any indicator at all of a healthy church.
Churches who gain numbers by transfer growth of the unhappy or because of another church’s split can take no comfort from their numerical growth, and they are actually storing up trouble for later. Church growth must be given a much wider definition if we are to fully grasp the significance of books such as ‘The Purpose Driven Church’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ and if we are to understand the importance of churches like Willow Creek.
Stephen Macchia, Christian A Swartz, Dann Spader and Gary Mayes have all suggested a number of indicators that show a healthy church looks like, and I have here compiled them into one list:
- YHWH-exalting worship that inspires
- YHWH’s empowering presence
- A YHWHward focus
- Servant-leadership development
- Commitment to loving/caring relationships and a relational ministry
- Learning and growing in community
- Personal disciplines and a passionate spirituality
- Stewardship and generosity
- Wise administration and accountability
- Networking with the regional church
- Empowering leadership
- Gift-oriented ministry
- Functional structure
- Holistic small groups
- Need-oriented evangelism
- An atmosphere of love
- Clear communication
- Healthy ministry image
- A mobilised prayer base
- Scriptures properly taught
Not once did they mention numerical growth there, and I believe that there is a very good reason for that: Numerical growth is not an indicator of a healthy church; rather it is one result of a healthy church. All the factors listed above speak about growth in terms of maturity, and it is that continual growth in maturity that is surely the clearest sign of a healthy church, although healthy churches will certainly grow numerically, too. If growth in maturity is what we want to see in our churches, then we need to have a clear vision focused into a specific purpose and expressed in function. The responsibility for that lies with the leaders.
Rick Warren is at the forefront of the ‘Purpose Driven’ ministry, and we can learn some helpful things from Saddleback Community Church, for Wright says that ‘true openness, combined with an eagerness to honour the Holy Spirit as Lord and YHWH with the Father and the Son, is a prelude to the coming of the Spirit in fresh grace and power.’ Let us not criticise people like Rick Warren, for he is part of the church and can and do make a good contribution to the life of the church. I have, unfortunately, heard it said by some ministers that they do not need ‘these Americans’ telling them what to do and how to run churches, but are wise leaders not open to learning from anyone who has something to teach us?
Power struggles, politics, personality clashes, issues of control; all these and the like need to be thoroughly repented of and cast behind us, and such repentance must begin with the leaders. It is sheer hypocrisy for leaders who will not repent to call church members to do so. I also dare to suggest that we need to repent of denominationalism, though I am not suggesting that we attempt to abandon denominations, rather that we simply carefully examine all of our prejudices.
Like Wright, I believe that, ‘in essence, the breaking down of denominational barriers must surely be welcomed as a good and enriching thing.’ He wrote Challenge to Change ‘out of the conviction that Baptist churches as they presently exist need to be transformed.’ I am certain that he is correct in this, but there is a price to be paid for transformation, and it is a difficult road that is fraught with many dangers. Surely it must be worth the journey if the alternative is for churches (and denominations) to slowly die.
In speaking of church growth, we need to acknowledge that, while a healthy church is the natural result of being properly purpose-driven, it is YHWH who gives the growth in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have turned a blind eye to this fact for a long time, and justified our position because of the excesses of the charismatic movement; but I state plainly that no-one except YHWH is able to change the heart of a person, and no-one except YHWH is able to change the heart of a nation. If the Holy Spirit is not working in power in our midst, then we are beating the air, chasing shadows and wasting our time.
Moltmann said ‘Because of its foundation in Christ and its existence for the future of the kingdom of YHWH, the church is what it truly is and what it can do, in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.’ Surely he is right in this, and this has been said again and again down through the centuries. We evangelise, hold campaigns, preach and pray in an attempt to get YHWH to work in our midst, and it is all futile if the Holy Spirit is not at work.
If we look around the church and our land and conclude that YHWH is not really at work in our midst it is usually because of the leaders and the kind of people that they are. It is the church that is the problem, not the world. We need to depend upon YHWH wholly, and be led by people who are seeking to know him with their whole lives. It is we who are entirely dependent upon the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Spirit who is dependent on us. Until we learn that lesson in reality in our daily lives both individually and together, we are quite literally hopeless and helpless. As Cymbala said, ‘The answer is not in any human methodology. The answer is in the power of the Holy Spirit.’ We must acknowledge this honestly, and seek YHWH for himself. Leaders shoulder a big responsibility in this, for it is they who are charged with caring for the sheep.
I can understand why J. B. Phillips said that ‘the chief cause of the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness is the worship of an inadequate YHWH.’ I not only understand it, but I also believe it to be true. YHWH will not change in order to be conformed to what we think he should be like. YHWH is YHWH, and we are not; the sooner that we learn this in the depths of our being, the better it will be for church.
As Tozer put it, ‘When the Holy Spirit ceases to be incidental and again becomes fundamental the power of the Spirit will be asserted once more among the people called Christians.’ The church is centred around Christ, who is the head of the church, and the church is YHWH’s creation, not man’s invention.
If the church has a mission in the world in which we live, then the church needs to realise that mission (and that word means so many things to so many people) begins and ends with YHWH himself. Newbigin spoke of mission as YHWH’s mission not ours; as the work of YHWH where the church is, not the work of the church where YHWH is. He says, ‘It is YHWH who acts in the power of his Spirit, doing mighty works, creating signs of a new age, working secretly in the hearts of men and women to draw them to Christ.’ A simple analysis of our present powerlessness and bankruptcy of the presence of YHWH should have us on our knees in repentance, and have us seek YHWH afresh that we might rightly care for and feed his sheep.
Murray declared that, ‘Mission is not the invention, responsibility or programme of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of YHWH.’ It truly is the Missio Dei, and not the Missio Ecclesia. Therefore, we need to very carefully re-evaluate what evangelism is, and consider the ways in which we have tried to do evangelism. Does YHWH pour his Spirit out on people because of evangelism, or is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the opportunity for evangelism? Is the church the means of salvation at work among human beings, or is the church the result of salvation at work among human beings? Or is it both?
I believe that it is YHWH’s Missio Dei alone to make converts, and that it is YHWH’s command to us to make disciples; but we have turned this completely around and tried to do YHWH’s work for him. Our evangelism ought to be the response to the work of the Holy Spirit, not an attempt to get her to work in the ways that we want. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince, convict and convert, and we need to let her do her work. Where we see the Spirit working in someone’s life, evangelism may well be the appropriate response. YHWH and his people working side by side, each doing what complements the other.
He who began a good work in you and me will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. That is YHWH’s Missio Dei, too, not mine, not yours. YHWH’s anointed leaders need to grasp this with their whole being so that they may work hand in hand with YHWH, and not try to work for YHWH. Our church leaders have the authority from YHWH to do this, and they will need our authority to do it, too; not to mention the courage and boldness to achieve it.
Therefore, I believe that it is critical that leadership is given the authority to lead alongside a willingness to follow that leadership – even if it is going a direction that we may not like or do not agree with. This is an issue that needs to be resolved and urgently, or many of our churches will simply cease to exist in the years that lie ahead.
Many of our churches operate by thinly concealed power struggles expressed through a semi-democratic veneer of respectability in which leaders struggle to lead congregations who think they are in charge, and in which churches remain the same from year to year, and decade to decade. There has to be a better way.
I believe that we must therefore consider carefully and prayerfully what leadership is and how it should be accountable, for what we have today is virtual paralysis by democratic consent. As Joyner expressed, “Democracy is not only the most inefficient form of government, it is also the slowest form of government.”
The more I reflect on this, the more I believe that the current system of elected leadership is a burden on any church and will cause indecision and paralysis, at least to some extent. I contend that the way that many Baptist churches are governed owes far more to the world of ‘Yes Prime Minister’ than it does to the world of the New Testament. Politics drive many decisions and personalities drive many conflicts. And we wonder why YHWH is not with us.
If leaders will put aside their own agendas and seek YHWH together, then they can quickly become a leadership team that gains the respect and love of the people in the church. If such leaders will be accountable to one another, it would reduce significantly the number of matters that have to be brought to a church meeting.
A leadership team that consists of people of character and integrity would gain the trust of the people, and would therefore be enabled to lead in a meaningful way and to a large extent. I do not believe that the actual structure of the leadership team is of great importance, but the character and integrity of the leaders in the team is of paramount importance. True leaders are YHWH-anointed because of who and what they are before him.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke spoke of the search for people who were filled with faith, with wisdom, and with the Holy Spirit. When Paul spoke in Ephesians about being filled with the Holy Spirit, he enlarged this thought by constantly using such words as ‘submit’ and ‘obey’, and he did so largely in the context of the home.
If leaders are to be filled with faith and wisdom, they will need to be people who live close to the heartbeat of YHWH and so experience an ongoing intimate relationship with him. Such people are sought by others for their wisdom and their faith, and they are sought by others because they ooze the Spirit of YHWH. YHWH uses such people to change and transform people’s lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, and brings the needy and broken to YHWH for care and healing. All of this, however, often takes place quietly and in the background.
A willing accountability to other leaders, both within the same church and outside, will help these people to remain close to the heart of YHWH and to submit themselves to the pastoral care and discipline of the leaders around and near them. A leadership team should be caring for, and responsible for, every member of its own team, and those who will not willingly submit themselves to other leaders should not be part of the leadership team. With great privilege comes great responsibility. There is a risk here, and it is a risk that we must take. The church today needs YHWH-anointed leaders in a way and to a degree that it has not done so before if the church, before YHWH, is to have a meaningful future.
This is not primarily about function, but it certainly involves the recognition of a person as being of leadership material by virtue of their Godly wisdom, integrity, and character. This recognition of YHWH-anointed leaders is vital if our churches are to tackle the issues that need to be faced head-on in the days that lie ahead. Of course, deeds and actions are important, but it is the character and integrity of the person from whom deeds and actions flow that is of greater importance.
People who respect their leaders will follow their leaders, though this is most certainly not about blind obedience. When Jesus was walking on the water, Peter said, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.’ YHWH-anointed leaders will lead secure in the knowledge that, when everything else is said and done, YHWH will back them up. It is YHWH who defends them, it is YHWH who justifies them, it is YHWH who rescues them. The church that trusts its YHWH-anointed leaders of character and integrity will move with confidence into the future that YHWH has for them and will be able to adapt and change as that future makes it necessary.
The church must rediscover true leadership if it is to get out of the cul-de-sac that it has been in for a long time and then forge a future for itself. I personally believe that YHWH is going to do a new thing in Scotland in the coming years, but many churches are in danger of being spectators of, rather than participators in, that new thing. Many churches will have ceased to exist by then if present trends continue and the serious issues of leadership are not tackled by our churches.
The quality of leaders is crucial for any church or organisation because, as White said, ‘people do not follow programs, but leaders who inspire them,’ and this means leaders staying envisioned and anointed for the ongoing task of leading YHWH’s people. With a willing and effective submission and accountability to other leaders, those who lead YHWH’s people can be protected from the serious danger of believing more in themselves than they do in Christ. Then their deeds and actions will flow from a Godly life and those deeds and actions will be reflection of the quality of the leader.
Deeds are important, of course they are, for deeds are the way that many people will see us at work in leadership. But I do contend that the church in our land has been infected by carnal wisdom and has taught that carnal wisdom as if it were Godly wisdom. We have believed and we taught as the world ddid, that what you do is what you are. Utter nonsense.
Advertising, business, television, and books, bombard us with this carnal wisdom, but it is ungodly wisdom that will lead us into serious error; indeed, it has already done so. Such wisdom begins from the starting point that activity determines what you are; that the things you do determine the person you are, that what you do is what you are. Utter nonsense. Any leader should realise that they are to be people of Christ-like character and integrity whose lives are made manifest through our deeds and actions. The left hand of character and integrity belong with the right hand of deeds and actions.
‘But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.’
Character and integrity will always find expression through deeds and actions. This warns leaders not to give advice without commitment, not to gain knowledge without involvement, not to practise correction without encouragement, and not to criticise without understanding. From the leader’s character and integrity flow the deeds and actions of love. However, I contend that much of church today has lost its identity in Christ because it has lost its identification with Christ. It has tried to compensate by multiplying activity upon activity in an effort to find itself again, but deeds and actions that are not rooted in character and integrity are of little or no value.
If we do not know Christ, we cannot follow him; but Jesus’ constitution for everyone is the very simple, ‘Follow me.’ Leaders of the church need to direct YHWH’s people back to this simple truth and demonstrate to YHWH’s people the reality of a holistic love relationship with YHWH through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not a sacred social club; we are the earthly representation of Jesus Christ; we are the body of Christ. Church is about the community of believers who are the people of YHWH wherever they are, and whoever they are. Church is much, much more than the people of YHWH gathered together, it is the people themselves that are the church, not the gathered meeting. This is about the life, presence and power of YHWH made manifest in the midst of community.
Our Father in heaven is in the business of changing and transforming people’s lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to be in our father’s business. This has a radical impact on how we see and practise ministry in the church, for ministry is for every believer and every believer is for ministry.
If every single one of us has an important role to play in the life and mission of the church, then we are recognising the necessity for team ministry – body ministry – and we are turning away from ‘one-man ministry’. I believe that it is crucial that all traces of a ‘one-man ministry’ are demolished, but also that everyone is recognised, enabled and released into creative ministry; for breaking the mould of the ‘one man ministry’ eases isolation and releases a synergy of creativity. (And it usually is one man ministry.) It is not enough only to do away with the old, the new must come.
The ‘Church Without Walls’ report of the Church of Scotland recommended that ‘congregations work towards breaking the isolation of the “one person ministry” by forming ministry teams according to their needs and resources.’ But, they pointed out, churches and denominations first needed to lift their eyes to recognise ‘the pioneering gifts of the apostle, the building and dismantling gifts of the prophets, and the frontier-friendly gifts of the evangelist.’ Perhaps some denominations and churches cannot, or will not, take that step because of fear. Furthermore, it is very difficult for many churches to get away from the idea that only the ordained ministers are leaders, that the leaders are all ministers, and that the rest of the people are second-class citizens; but get away from it they must. A radical response is needed if we are not to allow churches to suffocate and die.
If, as Bill Hybels believed, ‘the local church is the hope of the world and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders,’ then the local church must be led by leaders who are anointed and shaped as leaders by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, the local church will not be relevant in and to the world, and it will certainly be irreverent to YHWH. If ministry and ministers are to see healthy churches in the future, then our denomination and churches within our (or any other) denomination need true YHWH-anointed leaders now like they have never needed them before. This is a challenge to change that needs to be further explored and vision made real into purpose in the coming months, not years. Time is not on our side.
But let us not be too concerned with the state that we perceive church to be in today, but rather focus on the kind of leadership that will make the church into what it ought to be tomorrow. Leaders of the church need to have a vision and a purpose, and they will bring the church to sharpen its vision, to discover its purpose, and to make vision reality. Then the things that we do will be of lasting, eternal value.
True body ministry and the releasing of everyone in church into ministry is hopefully not just my dream, and I am certain that it can be done. It is about releasing people instead of holding onto them. It is about releasing the creativity of people and creating the right environment in which YHWH can exercise his re-creativity. If members are to be changed into those who minister, then change is inevitable, but many churches, deacons, elders, and pastors, often have a narrow, blinkered view of the way forward for the church at large. To try and adapt to the ever-changing world so that we are relevant to it without ourselves changing is to stumble blindly into a cul-de-sac and then wonder why YHWH does not guide us out. This is not about tinkering around the edges of church and making fine adjustments here and there, this is a radical challenge to change that goes far beyond anything that has been suggested so far.
The whole accreditation and training process of ministers needs to be radically widened in order to formally recognise many functions of service that are presently occasionally acknowledged, but not recognised. People need to be able to test a call of YHWH under the watchful eye of respected and Godly leaders, and the Scottish Baptist denomination needs to be able to train people in a much wider sphere than it has ever done. We must give urgent consideration to recognising home group leaders, worship leaders, pastoral support leaders, administrators, and many more. This would involve the denomination working hand-in-hand with the churches of the denomination, and the denomination using the church leaders to monitor and assess the development of those who are being trained for leadership. This would involve the denomination in placing a great deal of trust in church leaders, and using their assessments as a critical part of the accreditation process, for such church leaders are well placed to evaluate a person’s growth in character and integrity. Therefore, the formal training for any sphere of ministry needs to have a much greater degree of involvement from church leaders, though not necessarily the ministers. Medium-term placements could take place during the long summer breaks, and placements of one day a week could be a vital part of the training course right from the start.
It would also be of benefit that students had longer-term relationships with churches during the training, and this would greatly enhance their likelihood of settlement. Ministerial training would therefore be well known for the high quality of the character and integrity of its graduates as well as for their academic achievement. In this way, churches would see the value of the training course, and the value of the organisation that does the training.
Subsidising the cost of training would be an encouragement to mature students who simply could not otherwise afford to give up their jobs to train for ministry, even though it may be their hearts’ desire. It would still be a real sacrifice for them, but they would see their sacrifice being honoured by the support of the training organisations who are, in turn, being supported by the churches. Such subsidies would also allow churches to see real value for money in the contributions that they make to the training organisation and would also let them see a tangible result of that giving, as students of character, integrity, and academic achievement, are seen to be released into ministry within the denomination. Furthermore, the churches would also want to see such leaders working within their own churches, and not unnecessarily lost to the denomination. In this way, we would bring the training process and the students being trained much more into the public eye and make them known throughout the training period.
Such courses of action would, I believe, draw the training organisations and churches of the denomination much closer together. They would certainly allow the churches to see the value of the Baptist Union of Scotland and the Scottish Baptist College, and would, I think, encourage them to contribute to that value, both in terms of committing leaders to participate in the training of students and in the giving of money to the college and union. When people see added value with a purpose, they are willing to give.
The suggestions that I am making make it clear that the future for Baptist churches in Scotland is not exclusively in the hands of the church leaders, but that the wider leaders in the training organisations also have significant roles to play. Such a partnership would help many Scottish Baptist churches to rediscover their identity, and these are crucial areas in which we need to invest for the future.
A word of warning: if we turn our backs on this issue, the denomination will wither and shrink to a much larger degree than it has done so already, because the churches of the denomination will continue to decline and will eventually die. It is crucial to hold in our minds that leaders ought to be recognised for who and what they are as well as for the things that they do, and the training for ministry must reflect this wide view.
Therefore, recognition and accreditation has to be redesigned for it has historically been far too narrow, focusing as it did almost exclusively on academic achievement. Spiritual development should not merely be a module taught at the training organisation, it ought to be the beating heart of the life of those people who are called to lead our churches. Training needs first and foremost to produce people who are having a life-changing and ongoing experience of YHWH.
It is unfortunately true as Billheimer declared, that ‘the sands of time are strewn with the wrecks of the broken lives of many who were once mightily used of YHWH, but who suffered shipwreck upon the rocks of spiritual pride.’ Such people forgot that leadership was of YHWH and, under YHWH, to YHWH’s people, and they lost their true identities and pride took over.
But at least some of these people suffered greatly from a lack of accountability and from the lack of continual monitoring of integrity and Godly character. Willow Creek Community Church believed that ‘the quality of leadership in a church is likely to be more important as an issue than such questions as the precise details of the programme, the worship services and the building.’ Therefore, churches without true, Godly leadership simply will not survive; or, if they do, they will be irrelevant.
I believe that all training organisations need to address these issues together with local church leaders, and do so urgently; or else valuable, gifted leaders will be lost to the denominations and their churches because of immobility and inflexibility. Every leader lost is potentially another church closed. These issues, and the future that is at stake, are too important to let politics and power struggles win the day. In the days that lie ahead our churches need YHWH-anointed leaders of character and integrity who will address the issues and take whatever action is deemed to be appropriate, radical though it may be.
‘Follow me is a call to change’ as the Church of Scotland recognised. ‘That calling is relational rather than institutional.’ We would do well to hear these words from the Church of Scotland, for Christianity is first and foremost about a love relationship with YHWH through Jesus the Christ, and that relationship grows and develops as we follow him. We do not follow Christ in isolation, but alongside the people of YHWH in the church in which we are based.
If church is in decline, then we need to be radical in our thinking about church as we plot the way ahead. Tinkering around the edges and making fine adjustments to structures will simply not do at all. We need to reshape and re-present church in whatever ways are suitable for the land and the time in which we live. This is not about novelty, methodology or actions; it is about examining who and what we are as church and how we relate to our YHWH in heaven and to the world in which we live.
We must rediscover the love of YHWH that does not insist on its own way. Joyner said, ‘There are basically two kinds of leaders: those who sacrifice the people for themselves, and those who sacrifice themselves for the people.’ I think that there are basically two kinds of Christians: those who sacrifice themselves for YHWH, and those who sacrifice YHWH for themselves. Yet, YHWH sacrificed his own Son for you and me. Jesus sacrificed himself for you and me. All those who are in any kind of leadership in our churches need to be people who sacrifice themselves for their people.
We need to both teach and to demonstrate that our whole lives are Christian, and that our lives are not compartmentalized into secular and sacred. We need to teach about what it means to be a Christian in the workplace, and how our faith should impact the way that we do our jobs and handle our careers. We need to show that worship concerns our whole lives lived before YHWH, and live in such a way that makes clear that worship is not just about singing songs on a Sunday.
It will take time and effort to combat the compartmentalization that has invaded the church, but combat it we must. Our teaching and preaching are important ways in which we can connect with people in their real lives, and what we share with them should be relevant and helpful. The YHWH-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting and exciting ways to educate and mature the people in our churches and to teach them how to know their YHWH in the midst of their daily lives.
One big challenge is to make it possible for people to share honestly about what is going on inside them because of the issues that they are facing, and to hear and know that they are not alone in this. In this respect, it may be that small groups have a major role to play, but leaders have a major role to play in making sure that small groups fulfil their purpose. People need to be able to be themselves and not play at being ‘fine’, and the security and confidentiality of the small group has to be one of the major ways that this can be made possible. All of this is to reconnect mind and experience, to join together again that which we had separated to our great cost.
The YHWH-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting, and exciting, ways to touch the hearts of the people in our churches, so that the values and commitments that lie at the centre of who and what we are might find their fullest expression through a joy and excitement in YHWH. Leaders need to be people who wear their hearts on our sleeves, whose passion for Jesus and his people is both unmistakable and irrepressible. Leaders need to be a people who love as Jesus loved and who demonstrate that love in the way that Jesus did.
This is not about a passion for Christianity; it is about a passion for Christ. This is not about a passion for church; it is about a passion for the Head of the church. It is about a passion for Jesus that overflows to his people and seeks to love them in word and deed. The YHWH-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting and exciting ways to express what it means to be the people of YHWH, to be the church. We need to know exactly who and what we are in Christ, that we might do the things that Jesus did, the very things that he is still doing.
The YHWH-anointed leaders of our churches must acknowledge humbly before YHWH that if he will not, then we cannot. Except YHWH moves in us and in our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing will change. As Lloyd-Jones said, ‘The ultimate question facing us in these days is whether our faith is in men [sic] and their power to organize, or in the truth of YHWH in Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.’ YHWH does not need our help, but he does want our involvement; not primarily to get things done, but so that in this partnership we would grow and mature into the likeness of YHWH himself. We will be like YHWH, we will be with YHWH; but we will not be YHWH. We are partners with YHWH in his mission, and he is the one who leads and directs that mission.
Davis (quoted by Murray) said that ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones felt very strongly that a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit was the only answer to the moribund state of the church in his day.’ So do I. But YHWH does not want to work in a way that is detached from his people; on the contrary, he wants to work first in his people and then through his people.
We need to urgently address the critical issues of leadership and we need to dare to be a ‘Courageous Leadership’ who are not afraid to tackle and resolve the issues that are current to life and church. We need faith for the future and courage for the present. All of us in leadership positions hold people’s very lives in our hands, and that truth alone ought to drive us to YHWH to seek him in order that we might be the leaders that YHWH wants us to be.
I believe that the precise structure of a church leadership is not of critical importance, but it is of absolutely vital importance that the structures allow leaders to lead without being questioned or challenged at every step, yet while retaining a willing accountability to one another. Wisdom is proved right by her actions, and leaders need to be given the time and space to let their wisdom be seen. The problems surrounding leadership in our churches go much deeper than any leadership structure, they are the problems associated with hearts that have an agenda that is not YHWH’s agenda; they are the issues of control and of power. To deal with the problems facing church today is to deal with the problems of our own heart. Healing begins in my heart and your heart, one heart at a time.
I believe that the church of today will largely fashion its own future, that it in some senses that future will be what it makes it. The leaders of our churches today shape the church of tomorrow. That is a massive responsibility that we must not take lightly. In making some practical suggestions for the way ahead, I am aware that I have raised issues that might be controversial, and to which people’s first response might be that it is not possible.
Now more than ever our love for YHWH needs to be holistic. The whole of our whole being for YHWH and his people, and we who are leaders need to make ourselves vulnerable before our YHWH and our people. Love is vulnerable, and YHWH has made himself very vulnerable to us in Christ. I call us to regain not our first love, but the one who first loved us.
The damage that has been done to the church is not beyond repair; the people are not beyond renewal. Our love for one another and for the world in which we live needs to be a love that loves even as it is vulnerable. We are wounded healers who go on being healed by the wounded healer of heaven.
I have considered leaders and the responsibility that we carry in being open and vulnerable before YHWH as we lead our churches into the future. The days that lie ahead are exciting days, and we need to be leaders who are intimately close to YHWH and leaders who know his heart if we are to shape his church the way that YHWH wants it shaped.
Lord, draw me ever closer to you, so that I may draw your people ever closer to you. May I lead your people in whatever ways you choose to use me, knowing you more and more each day, and may I make a significant contribution to the life, health and strength of your church in the 21st century. Will the 21st-century church have a future and a hope? It can, and it will, and it does. That future and that hope is in Christ who is in his people.
IN THE COMING DAYS
[Words that I received during 2020 and 2021 and that were published on my website in December 2020.]
I sense that YHWH is doing a brand-new thing in Scotland, and that he is doing a wider work than just in Scotland, and so we need to be watching, listening, and learning, as we move into a very important season for the church of Jesus the Christ. I sense a real examination coming which will test everything that is done in Jesus’ name, and that will especially test those who are leaders in churches, denominations and Christian organizations. I sense a coming testing as by fire that will reveal what the leaders’ hearts are really like, that will reveal what the true kingdom value is (or is not) of the work that they are doing, and that will reveal whether they are truly kingdom building or just merely empire building.
I sense a coming revealing of how the church in Scotland really is as seen in the eyes of Christ, and how the nation of Scotland is seen as in the eyes of Christ. I sense a coming revealing of the ‘ordinary-ness’ of church and how the love relationship foundation of Christianity has been replaced by institutional religion. I sense a coming revealing of churches and organizations that are actually cults; cults that are led by one leader – usually a man – who exercises total authority, a man who is not open to question, and a man who does not submit to any accountability.
I believe that what is coming to Scotland is a new and fluid reformation. Indeed, I believe that we are already in the early stages of it. But I sense that the coming reformation that has begun will be a time of disturbing the comfortable, and a time of shaking up the institutional church. Church reformation is surely a continual process. It has been far too easy for Christians to think of ‘the’ reformation as a single event of history, rather than realizing that it is a process of change that never ends in this life. I sense a time coming that some people – perhaps many people – will find uncomfortable and difficult. I sense a time coming in which shallow Christian lives will be exposed – especially among leaders – and that the people of shallow lives will therefore hear the call to seek real depth in Christ. I sense that what I say could, at times, be regarded as judgemental, if it is not received and built upon the foundation of love and hope.
In the coming days, Jesus will be made manifest: IN HIS CHURCH IN SCOTLAND. That means his invisible body in Scotland that is part of the true church of Jesus the Christ, and that is not the merely human and religious institutions that we see with our eyes and call ‘church’. Human and religious institutions very easily forget whose church it really is.
In the coming days, Jesus will be made manifest: IN THE NATION OF SCOTLAND. That means that even the politicians who shape the country’s political landscape will know that there is a living God in heaven and that his Son Jesus the Christ is not merely alive and well, but they will know that the Son is active in the land and that he is active in the politics of the land.
In the coming days, Jesus will be made manifest: IN HIS CHURCH IN THE UK. That means his invisible body in the UK that is part of the true church of Jesus the Christ, and that is not the merely human and religious institution that we see with our eyes and that we call ‘church’. Human and religious institutions very easily forget whose church it really is.
In the coming days, Jesus will be made manifest: IN THE UK AS A WHOLE. That means that even the politicians who shape the UK’s political landscape will know that there is a living God in heaven and that his Son Jesus the Christ is not merely alive and well, but that he is active in the UK, and that he is active in its politics.
In the coming days, Jesus will be made manifest: IN THE NATIONS. When Scotland begins to wake from its slumber and see the Son of God made manifest within the nation, the rising Son will touch the nations in whom Scotland’s diaspora had long since settled.
When the Son of God is made manifest, there will be no mistaking him for anything else, and nor will there be any mistaking him for anyone else. This manifestation will not be a time of ‘religious experience’, but rather it will be a time of real encounters with the living God who is YHWH in three persons. This will not be a time of theological education, but it will be a time of genuine life transformations. This will not be a time of comfort, but it will be a time of a deep awe that approaches fear and that profoundly disturbs the comfortable. This will be a time of revelation – of a true revealing – and the shadows will no longer hide those who lurk beyond the light, and nothing will stop them from being seen for what they really are. This will be a time when the enemies of Christ will arise and be clearly seen for what they really are. This will be a time when the values of the kingdom of the Christ will begin to supersede and replace the values of the world order of things. This will be a time when the focus will be firmly fixed upon the Son of God, and there will be no mistaking his manifest presence. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In my past, I ‘blew it’ more times than I care to remember. In my past, I ‘quit’ on God more times than I care to remember. In my past, I ‘failed’ God more times than I care to remember. In my past, I repeatedly ‘screwed-up’ my life more times than I care to remember. In my past, I regularly hurt myself and hurt my friends to the point where I believed that God must surely have written me off as a hopeless case. Well, I really was a hopeless case. Actually, I still am a hopeless case. Fortunately, YHWH specializes in hopeless cases. He sets hopeless cases back on their feet, he gives hopeless cases a brand-new start, and he gives hopeless cases a true purpose in life that centers upon the Christ, and that does not center upon their own selves, and nor does it center upon their own lives.
In the coming days when Jesus is made manifest in both his church in Scotland and in the nation of Scotland as a whole, Christians who had thought that they had ‘blown it’ with YHWH and had therefore been abandoned by him will discover that they still figure in YHWH’s plans and that he had never abandoned them at all. Such Christians will discover that, in the years in which they thought that YHWH had abandoned them, YHWH the gardener was actually working quietly in the background to prepare them for their new growth in the coming new season. Now is the time for you to shake off the self-defeating burden of being a hopeless case. Now is the time for that oppressive heaviness that is upon you to lift and for it to be blown away by the wind of YHWH the Holy Spirit. Now is the time for you to realize that being a hopeless case is actually the perfect place to be in order for YHWH to build his life into you in new and exciting ways as the Godhead makes its home afresh in you and cleans you up and decorates their home, making it a fit dwelling for YHWH. Now is the time for you to know beyond doubt that your ‘blown it’ is itself being blown away by the wind of the Holy Spirit. Now is the time for you to rejoice in the Holy Spirit. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
TOO MUCH PAIN?
In the coming days when Jesus is made manifest, Christians whose inner pain had seemed to be too great for them to bear will discover that YHWH’s ongoing healing of their inner pain will actually enable them to help others to find their ongoing inner healing in Christ. Such Christians will also discover that, while YHWH does not inflict unnecessary inner pain upon his children, he does use their inner pain to help to make them into people that can be used in the inner healing of others, as they bring their experience of YHWH’s inner healing to other people in order to help them in their own situations.
In the past I had known so much inner pain that it felt like I was being utterly crushed. Of course, I acknowledge that some, perhaps even much, of my own inner pain was self-inflicted, but pain is pain is pain. Life just seemed to be one long and deep inner pain after another and, in suffering that pain myself, I often became a pain to other people who struggled to cope with me and my reaction to my inner pain. Then a revelation dawned on me that began to change my perception of my inner pain and what it does. I realized that, while inner pain can certainly be caused by fresh wounding and that I had known a lot of that for myself through the years, inner pain could also be the inner pain of healing as the master surgeon operated inside me to bring inner healing to those inner wounds. The wounds of inner healing were necessary for inner healing to take place, but pain was still pain was still pain. Knowing that the inner healing pain of the Holy Spirit would actually bring inner healing to my inner pain was a revelation to me, even if it could be difficult at times to discern which pain was which.
Now is the time for the relief of inner healing in YHWH to be greater than the inner pain of life. Now is the time for the inner healing that YHWH the Holy Spirit brings to give a new sense of inner wellbeing and to give a new experience of inner wholeness. Now is the time for the inner healing experienced to become the salve that helps other people to find their own inner healing in YHWH, even in the midst of their own inner pain. With inner healing comes a new purpose. With inner healing comes new ways of YHWH using you in the inner healing processes of others. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days when Jesus is made manifest, Christians who had thought that they were too far removed from the institutional church to belong to Christ will discover that they are very much a part of the invisible, but the very real, true church of Jesus the Christ. Such Christians will have their eyes opened to see that the true church of Jesus the Christ is not the visible institution that they could know with their physical senses, and therefore they will come to truly understand that Jesus is inclusive where the institution is so often exclusive.
If, in my early years of church, I was uncomfortable with church, then church was far more uncomfortable with me. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, church was all about respectability. Christian meetings required a shirt and tie with black trousers and nice shiny shoes, for that was part of that period’s respectability of Christianity. A young man who was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, and training shoes was surely part of the rebellious and heathen youth, so they thought, and such a young man was to be tolerated at best and, even then, only if necessary. Apparently, this young ‘rebel’ of the jeans, tee shirt and training shoes did not know how to speak the ‘right’ Christian language, it seemed that he did not know how to dress ‘right’, he certainly did not know how to do church ‘right’, and he ably demonstrated that he did not know how to ‘fit in’. Actually, I still don’t know how to ‘fit in’ and, to be honest, I really don’t care to speak ‘right’ nor to do church ‘right’ either.
In the coming days, Christians will realize that a love relationship with Jesus the Christ is not a matter of dressing up ‘right’, that it is not a matter of behaving ‘right’, and that it is not a matter of fitting in ‘right’. Christians’ eyes will be opened to see that a love relationship with Jesus the Christ is not a matter of that which is external at all. The purely institutional church will have its eyes opened and it will then realize with horror that much of it had actually been a church of exclusion, not a church of inclusion, and that its rules and regulations masked its total bankruptcy of the presence of YHWH. The institutional church will realize with deep shame that, despite its fancy dress, much of it is naked, pitiful and helpless. Christians who were rejected, ejected, or dejected by the purely institutional church will find new homes in fellowships where YHWH lives and where YHWH is manifestly present. There they will find encouragement, strength and love in fellowships of ordinary people who live in the presence of the extraordinary and unique God that is YHWH. They will experience total acceptance and welcome in those fellowships, and there they will grow in Christ to become the people that YHWH wants them to be. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days when Jesus is made manifest, those who were comfortable and set in their ways will know the shaking of YHWH that is designed to bring people to acknowledge YHWH, that is designed to bring people to worship YHWH, and that is designed to bring people to follow the Christ of YHWH. In the coming days when Jesus is made manifest, the established order of things will be disrupted, and the order of YHWH will be being established. Christians will realize with a fresh joy that they were always meant to be content in Christ, but that they were never meant to be comfortable in Christ. There is always more of YHWH to know and there is always more of YHWH to love. Our love relationship with YHWH never stands still.
Christians will realize with smiles on their faces that the shaking of YHWH was always designed to have them set their faces towards YHWH himself, and that the shaking of YHWH was intended to move them closer to YHWH. Christians will know in their experience the deepest contentment in Christ that has nothing whatever to do with mere comfort. The rise of the previously invisible church of Jesus the Christ will dramatically shake the foundations of the purely institutional church and that shaking will cause its walls to fall in such a way that it will come to be seen as truly being church without walls. This will not be an event, but rather it will be a process that takes place under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, some churches and organizations that bore the name of Jesus in one way or another will be revealed to have been cults, led by those who were empire building rather than building the kingdom of the Christ. Great will be the fall of those cult leaders, and it is better for them that they fall upon the rock now rather than have the rock fall on them in those coming days. The lordship of the Christ utterly excludes his people from lording it over others, and the coming days will reveal the true cost to individuals of their empire building. Some large churches and some big organizations will be shown to have been built on shifting sand by cult leaders who abused their authority and who built up their own empires while proudly wearing the name of Christian. Such large churches and big organizations will have their heads cut off and their people will suffer great loss because of their cult leaders who appeared to be kingdom building but who, in reality, were actually only building their own empires.
In the coming days, some church and organization leaders will discover that the empire that they had built for themselves was nothing but smoke in a wind, and that it was nothing but the building of nothing on that shifting sand. The rising Son will save those who were led astray by cult leaders, and he will bring them home. Christians who were deceived by the cult leaders will find homes in fellowships where YHWH lives and is manifestly present. There they will find encouragement, strength and love in fellowships of ordinary people who live in the presence of the extraordinary and unique God that is YHWH. They will experience total acceptance and welcome in those fellowships, and they will grow in Christ to become the people that YHWH wants them to be. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, YHWH will make manifest the truth that Jesus’ church is actually one church, not many churches. YHWH will make known the blood connection that binds every church together – whether they realize it or not. YHWH will begin to demolish the walls that keep different branches of the Christian church not only isolated from one another, but actually opposing one another. As the invisible church of the Christ rises and becomes visible, so the blood connection between them will begin to be seen and that blood connection will begin to be known. Churches and Christian organizations that are not part of that blood connection must then seek the face of YHWH and abandon their individualism that keeps them from being part of the body of the Christ.
In the coming days, some church leaders will discover that they have expended their energy in splitting up and separating that which YHWH had joined together, and they will discover that there is a real price to be paid for opposing YHWH in that way – whether they realized that they were opposing YHWH or not. In the coming days, the vibrant and living body of Christ will be seen and known to be inclusive – welcoming any and all who will come to follow Jesus the Christ. Alongside the recognition of the vibrant and living body of Christ will come the realization of the true state of those churches and Christian organizations that are not part of that vibrant and living body. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, there will be a reckoning for those people who have grumbled and moaned their way through church, there will be a reckoning for those people who have consistently opposed some leaders, and there will be a reckoning for those people who have allowed their personal prejudices to be manifested as dislikes of some leaders and even manifested as hatred towards some leaders. In the coming days, those who seem to be always opposed to some in leadership will find themselves to be much further out on the fringe of what YHWH is doing than they thought they were. In the coming days, those who were persistent grumblers and continual complainers will realize that, in grumbling and complaining their way through church, they have actually missed out on the growth that YHWH wanted to give them. Such people will realize that they have wallowed in the mire of remaining the same or even of decaying while others have grown up into Christ around them. Such people will realize that they are still babies in the spiritual creche when they should be adults in the church. Such people must cry out to YHWH for them to fully receive the forgiveness and grace that will set them up onto their feet and that will enable them to finally begin to properly grow in Christ.
The Son will truly shine in those coming days. The Son will reveal those who had never actually seen the Son, and his light will blind them for a season. The Son will expose those who had never actually met the Son, and his presence will terrify them for a season. The Son will reveal those who never actually knew the Son, and that revealing will greatly burden their hearts for a season. Such seasons will soon pass and the Spirit of the living YHWH will lead those who were blind, terrified and burdened into the worship of the awesome Son of God. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, there will be a new move against the Son of God that will make the previous persecutions of the Son of God appear to be minor. These will be days of reckoning. These will be days of exposure. These will be days of knowing. These will be days when there is no more hiding. These will be days when there is no more camouflage. These will be days when there will be no more putting off. These will be days of accountability. These will be days when those people and regimes that have persecuted Christians will realize that it was not the visible human institutional church that they were persecuting, but rather that they were actually persecuting the Son of God himself. These are the days when that realization will polarize those who had persecuted the Son of God. Some will recoil in horror at what they had done and they will worship at the feet of the Son of God, but many will intensify and increase that persecution as they reveal themselves to be true enemies of the Son of God. These are the days when people’s true hearts will be being made known. These are days when regimes, governments and rulers will have their true selves laid bare for all to see.
These are days when those who only pretended to be for Christ will be revealed as actually being anti-Christ. These are days when the hidden friends of YHWH will be revealed and they will be a sanctuary for the persecuted of YHWH. These are the days in which persecution will be redefined as people see the true state of regimes, rulers, and governments. These are days in which those who were not against the Son of God will be revealed to be for the Son of God. These are days when those who plotted in secret against the Son of God will openly act in opposition to the Son of God. These are days in which persecution will no longer be only a possibility for those who worship YHWH, but rather that the true cost of the worship of YHWH will be made clear to all of those who would worship YHWH.
These are days in which the enemies of the Son of God will be clearly revealed, and that will mean both his enemies within the visible human institutional church itself, and his enemies in the world order of things. Indeed, these are days in which the entire world order itself will be seen to be anti-Christ, and that those who worship YHWH are standing against that world order of things. These are days in which world rulers who paid lip service to the Son of God will be revealed to have been building their own empires rather than building the kingdom of the Christ of YHWH. These are days in which those world rulers will lash out against those who worship the Son of God, and they will take out their anger on the true worshipers of YHWH as they are themselves exposed as false worshipers of YHWH. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, the people of the Son of God will know great joy as the Son of God is progressively revealed as YHWH to the world and, in those days, the Son will begin to both challenge and to demolish the world order of things. Christians will be those who worship the Son of God and pay no heed to their own selves and their own lives, and they will be those who pay no heed to the cost that may have to be paid in order to worship the Son of God openly. In the coming days, Christians will count their earthly lives as nothing as long as they may know Christ and share in his sufferings. In the coming days, Christians will overcome not by violence, but by joy. In the coming days, the joy of those who worship the Son of God will confound and frustrate the enemies of the Son of God.
In the coming days, joy will be the currency that builds the kingdom of YHWH peaceably in the face of a world order that opposes YHWH violently. In the coming days, the world order of things will realize beyond doubt that YHWH loves the world that he created, but that YHWH hates the world order of things that has twisted his creation into something that it was never meant to be. In the coming days, the fall of the world order of things will begin in earnest as the Son of God is revealed as being in his rightful place to a world that looks on in awe. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, that which YHWH does in Scotland as he makes the Son of God manifest in his church will become an example to the UK as a whole, by showing the UK how YHWH will be at work in Scotland in those days. Furthermore, that example will be seen and known far beyond Scotland as YHWH progressively displaces the world order of things and makes the Son of God manifestly pre-eminent. In the coming days, people will come to Scotland in order to meet the Son of God and in order to worship at his feet, though just as many will flee from the presence of the Son of God lest his eye should fall on them. In the coming days, the truth will be made manifest that the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and that, in reality, there is nowhere that anyone can go to hide from the eye of the Son of God. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
NAKED OR CLOTHED?
In the coming days, YHWH will show the world the simplicity of a love relationship with him through the Son of God, and YHWH will confound those who had surrounded Christianity with rules and regulations of every kind. In the coming days, many who dressed themselves in their finery believing that it was what God required will discover that they are actually naked before YHWH. In the coming days, many who were stripped naked before the eyes of the world and before the eyes of people will realize that they are dressed by YHWH in the finest white robes.
In the coming days, all of the extras that people had added to the Son of God will be stripped away, and the world will see that a love relationship with YHWH through the Son of God is for everyone, and that absolutely no-one is excluded. In the coming days, YHWH will show to the world the example of fellowships of believers who worship the Son of God in simplicity, and people will long for that love relationship to be realized in their own lives. In the coming days, YHWH will point to his Son who is lifted high and he will be their example of the likeness of God. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
RELIGION NO MORE
In the coming days, YHWH will show as examples the ordinary people that he has used to make his Son known, and their simplicity of faith in YHWH will be the example that is set for all to follow. In the coming days, many religious leaders will realize that they had been peddling only religion, and that they had not been making the Son of God known. In the coming days, many religious leaders will become the lowest of followers, and they will give glory to the Son of God. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
HANDLING THE SCRIPTURES
In the coming days, there will ordinary people who will show the religious leaders how to correctly handle the Scriptures, and those ordinary people will be filled with the revelation of YHWH as they teach and direct the people of YHWH. In the coming days, YHWH will make known that the Son of God alone is the Word of God, and that there is no other Word of God. In the coming days, the Scriptures will be seen for what they really are – the signpost to the Son of God. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, many Christians will be ashamed and distressed to realize that their faith was not grounded in YHWH at all, but only in the things surrounding YHWH. In the coming days, many Christians will be ashamed and distressed to realize that their faith was not grounded in the Son of God at all, but only in the things surrounding the Son of God. In the coming days, that which has hidden YHWH from the eyes of the world will be stripped away and YHWH will be plainly seen as he makes the Son of God manifest on Earth. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, YHWH will strip away all prejudices and practices that had historically prevented YHWH from using whoever he wanted to use and that had prevented him from using them in whatever ways he wanted to use them. In the coming days, YHWH will use babes, infants, children, and kings to make the Son of God known and seen. In the coming days, YHWH will use creation itself as a means of making the Son of God known and seen. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In the coming days, YHWH will confound human words and human languages and show the Son of God in ways that cannot be expressed in merely human words. In the coming days, YHWH will release new tongues and he will establish new ways of expressing love for YHWH. In the coming days, YHWH will give to his people new ways of worshiping YHWH that are not language dependent. In the coming days, those who worship YHWH will do so in Sprit and in truth and, in doing so, will worship YHWH in new expressions of worship that are far beyond the ability of mere words to communicate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
YHWH is doing a new thing. YHWH is always doing a new thing. The people of YHWH must stop looking backwards and they must stop hoping – and praying – for restoration. YHWH never goes backwards. YHWH never returns to the previous things. YHWH always looks ahead. YHWH always works renewal in his people and in the nations. Hope looks forward; regret looks back. Faith looks forward; wishing looks back. YHWH looks forward. YHWH made people with eyes at the front of their heads; in order for people to look back they must stop looking forward. People who are looking back are not moving forward. People must learn from the past, but they can never relive the past. People must prepare for the future, for they can never return to the past. Time travel is not possible for human beings. Let those who have an ear heart what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
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