Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It takes a whole church......

Below is an open comment I wrote on Krish Kandiah's blog in response to a post he wrote. Read all the responses others have made. Great points raised from other people's experiences. What are your thoughts?

Hi all

I am probably too late to add a comment in but I had a special reason for waiting…..this post really wound me up Krish. Not in a bad way, as I hope I will explain but because it made me weep tears of pain and frustration. I have taught, practised, written, trained, preached and prayed on and through what I am about to say. I'm not posting it to wind people up or being deliberately (naughtily) provocative back, I’m just sticking my head above the parapet to share a little of my heart for our church.
I didn’t choose to do what I do now, I would have been very happy (and better off!) in my previous career and like the commenter who has been asked when he’s going to become a real pastor, not a youth pastor, I have felt the pull of God to do what I do because of the reformation I believe he wants to bring to the Church.

What we have always done just isn’t working. In the year 2000 the church-going population of Great Britain was 4.4 million and 19% of this figure were children aged 15 or under, i.e. 836,000 children. By 2025 the churchgoing population is estimated to be 2.3 million with 5% aged 15 or under i.e. 115,000 . That’s a huge decrease in 15 years or so, if current projections continue. We will have lost 721,000 children in a 25 year period that we are almost halfway through.
If we were to go back to 1990’s figures and compare this with the 2025 estimate, we will have lost contact with 1.1 million children .

Now Peter Brierley (from whom I have these stats) and Mark Griffiths ("One Generation From Extinction") have written extensively on this. I don't want to remain at the point of doom and gloom. I write now as from my experience as a children and family pastor.

I found your post provocative Krish because unless the way we do church is up for root and branch reformation, we simply talk. We know how bad the statistics are and we know we have to do something. I don’t believe we have to have the attitude of getting our kids to last through church but instead, have more of an attitude that is up for a return to the Old and New Testament pattern of (as Gordon Wenham says) – “we’re part of a team”. We’re in this together and we don’t live for our own preferences or style of church; how can we together learn more about our amazing God and let as many people as possible know about because of the way we live our lives as individuals, families and communities?

I’ve been able to think recently, (and huge thanks to Joel Green’s writing on children and families in the book of Acts) at what it must have looked like to see such radical reformation of household life in the First Century. For women and children in particular something so utterly revolutionary was happening to their treatment and status that those outside Christianity looked and wanted to be part; in a context of hardship and even waves of persecution, people wanted to see the same kind of radical reorientation and transformation in their family lives. Pliny wrote that even children were at risk from the menace of Christianity! Chuckle. This thing was spreading like wildfire through the Roman Empire and men, women and children were loving Jesus and each other as part of the embryonic church.

You see, straight away what I represent is more than just children, although I love them dearly, I love the church. I love what we look like when we are together. I love that on a Sunday morning I look out a gathering like no other on the face of the earth. No shopping mall, football stadium, concert or school composes such a rich mix of ages, backgrounds, interests and ethnicities.
Partitioning and compartmentalising for convenience sake only has really got to stop in all of our major denominations in order that we might operate as I believe an extended family (the clan and tribe of the people of God).

Now I do not write this post as an intergenerational guru.Yes, I have set up and advocated intergenerational small groups. I’ve also done age-specific groups. I teach or oversee in all-age settings, but also separate settings. I am not saying that we must be together ALL of the time What I am saying is that we have deferred to be apart MOST of the time. I could write or propose a structure for an individual church as I have been able to put into practice in my own ministry but you know what, that’s not going to kick it either.

What I have found to be most effective is not a structure or de-programming exercise but a massive culture shift in how we see the young: their current potential, their innate ability to have proven insight into things of the kingdom, their natural connection with the supernatural, their place of incredible acceptance and humility. THESE THINGS we are to nurture, provide space for and…..learn from…..

Negativity and decline is NOT the picture across the whole world. There are lessons to learn from churches in nations (Indonesia is a great example) who are experiencing tremendous growth due to what I would summarise as this: children contribute to and partake in kingdom practices – they are being discipled as naturally as drawing breath through the input of the whole church which means they learn to pray with expectant faith, worship chasing the presence of God and engage naturally in mission which is marked by signs and wonders.

I just feel its time for us to take our hands off controlling church shape and structure a little more which, at times, favours the oldest/wealthiest/gobbiest/(insert your own adjective!!). Children occupy a unique place in the gospels, one which with all my heart I long for the church in the UK to return to.

Jesus, children and the kingdom, all three are in relationship. Through their lack of desire for power and prestige or glory they possess something that I believe we are desperate for in the UK – a church with integrity, authenticity and humility marked with God’s heart to love freely and with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

Bless you Krish for taking the time to stir this up – you have been much on my mind since you wrote this.