Too early for a new Year’s resolution? I suggest not!
God is a God of ‘New Things’. A mining of scripture tells us so-
For “behold . . . new things I now declare”, “behold I am doing a new thing”, “the new heavens and the new earth which I will make”, “I will make a new covenant”, “ a new heart I will give you”, “the new life in the Spirit”, “a new commandment I give to you”, “in Christ he is a new creation”, “behold I make all things new”, that “we too might walk in newness of life”.
God is a God who cascades ‘newness’ into the world. However not it appears in the church where there is a deep drought of ‘newness’, clearly revealed by a survey of the advertised offerings by churches for this coming Christmas and the lead up to it. This is particularly true of those alleged to have an ‘Out Reach’ component.
Indeed, rather than the Festival of Christmas this season might be renamed the Festival of the Square Wheel! These are the Outreach Strategies that we have used before but for a long time have worked as well as a bicycle with square wheels. Such usually involve some attractional, often resource-heavy, event such as Gingerbread house making gatherings, Community Christmas Carols, special ‘kids’ services etc. Mostly there is a speaker, often a Christian ‘Celebrity’, who will give a short gospel message.
Large numbers of attendees and a well-run event can leave the ‘Christians’ with the ‘illusion’ of missional success. However, critical analysis usually reveals little or no gospel fruit (as measured by how many of those attending were not members of another church and became an ongoing member of any Christian fellowship).
It is often argued that ‘Events’ create ‘Connections’ with the community. This was once often true, however it is rarely so anymore. Rather, at best they create ‘Brief Encounters’ which very rarely continue to any missional fruit.
As Christians we should be growing in our reflection of God’s nature (Colossians 3:10) and part of that nature is that He is God ‘New Things’. Thus, we should want to join with God in His ‘New Things’, and not be paralysed in our thinking about ways we do ministry and mission. Rather the need is to be developing Spirit-guided new things. Not least of all in the ways we seek to reach the increasing number of those who stumbling in the darkness of a Christ-less present and a Godless eternity.
Thinking about this, I am reminded again of a story about an Aboriginal tribe that lived on the banks of a mighty river.
“For many generations the river gave life to the community, but over a period of time the river slowly began to cease to flow, eventually becoming no more than a series of stagnant billabongs. Along the banks of the disappearing source of life the people watched with dismay; asking ‘what was going on here?’ While most continued to sit by the dried up river, waiting for the river to flow once more, a few began to look further afield and discovered that the river was not actually gone, it had simply changed course upstream and was flowing elsewhere.”
I am not aware of the origin of this story, but it functions well as a parable about the state of many declining churches which are like those sitting by the dried-up river bed waiting for the river of the ‘Old Days’ to return. The church, as we learn in Acts (2:1-4), owes its very existence to God doing a radical ‘New Thing’, through the coming, flowing, blessing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. So we should expect CHANGE, a characteristic of the God who does ‘New Things’.
It seems however that today the river of the Spirit is not flowing and giving life to traditional model Australian (western) churches. This begs the question as to how much this is due to a stubborn refusal to engage in God’s ‘New Things’, and the prevalent paralysis of thinking in regard to mission.
As we approach Christmas, the time we celebrate God doing the greatest ‘New Thing’ in history, the evidence is that in most churches there is a clinging to the river bank, a tired re-treading of the old, failed and failing missional strategies of yesteryear, while still expecting the Spirit to flow again with more missional fruit. This despite the overwhelming evidence that the River is flowing elsewhere, producing new fruit in new forms of church, the Missional Community Networks producing large numbers of new members of God’s Kingdom.
With some glorious exceptions driven by those with a truly missionary heart, whom we affirm and for whom we thank God, His “I will tell you of new things” (Isaiah 48:6) founders on the rocks of what could be called an idolatry of the ‘Old Ways’. This is manifested by a deafness that freezes the gospel in yesteryear’s forms and consigns increasing numbers of the lost to the deepest, terrible and eternal darkness.
So, what’s the New Years resolution? It should be to divest ourselves of the square wheel ‘Old ways’ of thinking about mission, and vow to prayerfully seek where the ‘River’ is now flowing. This to produce far more missional fruit in the increased salvation of souls. Indeed to follow Paul’s example-
“I have become ALL things to ALL people so that
by ALL possible means I might save some.”
(1 Corinthians 9:22)