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Generosity, hospitality and joy



People can be easily convinced that God works in the big rather than the small, but that's a mistake: we mustn't lose faith in local churches trying to connect with people and embody the Gospel in their communities and cultures. By Michael Shaw
  

 


Local church


For the last few years a building on the edge of Plymouth has stood empty. A former cinema, the building was snapped up on a long term lease in 2014 by God TV with the idea that it would become the centre for a world-wide revival. Until very recently there were posters all around saying “Revival Centre Coming Soon”.

I remained sceptical about the viability, as some of the ideas (that God needed a building for one) were deeply unbiblical. And this week the news was finally confirmed that it would not be going ahead.

One regrettable aspect is how much money has been wasted. The building has cost £40k a month. “Revival alert” appeals went out regularly, particularly at first, to secure funding from the public. To put that into context, our annual church budget is around £40-50k. This building has remained untouched for several years, and the amount spent on it could have supported five or six churches in the area.
 
But the whole episode reveals something else.

I felt the building was always a folly, that it was always going to have problems, yet it shows how people can easily be convinced that God works in the big rather than in the small, ordinary and everyday life. We have lost faith in the local church, and it is a fundamental failure of our ecclesiology.
 
I want to emphasise here the word “local”. There are lots of big and growing churches that buck the trend. But often they are not local in the sense that they have big car parks (or good transport links). They are churches for people who can afford to travel. But they are not local churches.
 
We have lost the sense of what it means to dig into a community. The reason: it is hard work and it takes time. We do not cope with either, we want quick results, because that is how we are conditioned to live.
 
We have lost the concept of what it means to be community even to ourselves: we have a quick coffee and a chat with people after the service, a catch-up, wave goodbye and don’t see each other for a week or so.
 
Last year we as a church committed ourselves to be a generous, hospitable and joyful community, and we are going to do the same in 2019. One of the ways this was outworked was eating with each other, whenever and wherever possible. There is something powerful in sharing food with other people.
 
This is not a flashy vision of quick church growth! This is a vision for deepening relationships (discipleship) both with each other and outside the “walls” (we don’t own a church building) of our church. I believe this is what Jesus modelled when he called 12 disciples (plus hangers-on) to follow him for over three years. I believe that model is not outdated but relevant, and becoming more relevant in our often disconnected (and yet connected) world.
 
There will be churches that will grow through the big events, but I believe they often attract disgruntled believers rather than new converts. In the meantime, there are thousand of churches on a small budget trying to connect with people and embody the Gospel in their communities and cultures. 

 

Image | Annie Spratt | Freely 



The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth




 

 




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Baptist Times, 23/01/2019
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