A Vision of a Church for the 21st Century
Born to medical missionary parents, John Jenkins is a writer, with training
and experience in the fields of counselling, computer multi-media, and worship leading.
Preface - Background Information
Born to medical missionary parents, John Jenkins is a writer, with training
and experience in the fields of counselling, computer multi-media, and worship leading.
Preface - Background Information
During the 1950s and 60s Derek and Mary Jenkins, worked as medical missionaries in Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, South India. They ran a hospital complex under the auspices of the London Missionary Society, and were inspired by two famous former LMS missionaries, Dr David Livingstone (of Africa fame) and Dr Howard Somerville. Somerville took part in the very first expedition to climb Mount Everest. He then moved South to work as a doctor, running the Neyyoor Hospital in Tamil Nadu. Derek Jenkins father took over the running of the Neyoor Hospital from him in 1951.
Because of extreme poverty the local people chew a mixture of tobacco, betel leaf and areca nut. Together these form a psycho-stimulant, which helps to keep hunger pangs at bay. Unfortunately this behaviour frequently results in mouth cancer. The Neyyoor Hospital was one of the early pioneers of radium treatment for this dreadful cancer. Dr Derek took the treatment forward by opening the International Cancer Centre in the grounds of the hospital, to treat it with cobalt radiation. As a child I would occasionally see patients with huge tumours growing out of their jaw. (Beware - the pictures are graphic!) This, more than anything else, put me off any idea of taking up smoking!
Later, when the Neyyoor Hospital was taken over by the Church of South India (CSI), Derek Jenkins started the Kanyakumari Health Trust -- a primary health care project in Nagercoil, the nearest large town.
See the brief bio at the end of this page for a little more information about myself.
Background to the Vision
Prior to writing this article two prophesies were spoken over me, several months apart and totally independent of each other. Both were completely unexpected. They came out of left field—out the blue—and took me unawares. What was remarkable was that they both said almost exactly the same thing. Several years later I also received a 'word of knowledge' about the vision through a prominent worship leader who performs on the world stage.
One of the prophesies took place at a revival meeting led by the charismatic speaker Gerald Coates, founder of the Pioneer group of churches. This piqued my interest in Rev Coates' writing, and one day I read an article by him called 'Future Shock' (in Compass, the Pioneer Church's magazine - vol 2. no 4). I do believe that we are headed for a 'future shock' as we see signs from book of Revelation being fulfilled in our day. But that's not the theme of this website.
In the article Gerald made the following pertinent comment:
"Tribes must be empowered to reach people of their own kind."As I thought about that comment this church vision started to form in my mind. It grew in complexity, and intensity of emotion and spiritual weightiness, until I could no longer ignore it and had to write it down. To use the words of Jeremiah, it was like fire in my bones!
I'm a slow writer, making multiple edits, and the process of putting this vision to 'paper' (computer disk) took nearly two years, as God continued to speak to me with more and more clarity and intensity. I offer it to you now as food for your thoughts, and I offer it to Jesus Christ—my life long friend, saviour and master—to do with as He sees fit, in His way and in His time.
Introduction — Time for a Change
In the article by Gerald Coates' mentioned above, he states:
"Tribes must be empowered to reach people of their own kind."
What does Gerald mean by 'tribes' in the context of our society? I suggest he is talking about you and I. We may not live in remote deserts, or on rugged mountains, or in hot jungles, but we are, nevertheless, members of 'tribes' of our own kind.
What might your tribe be? Perhaps you're a member of the 'Middle-Class White Collar Worker Tribe'. If you do a job of any kind, including housework, you're a member of the tribe of your fellow workers. Or maybe you come from a minority ethnic group, or some other sub-culture within your society.
The truth is that we're all members of several tribes by dint of our age, race, sex, marital status, education, work, health, interests etc. Anything that we have in common with others makes us part of a tribe and, if we're Christians, God has given us the responsibility to reach into that tribe with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, this is not an article about evangelism. This is a vision for a church—or a church concept—which if implemented, would I believe, radically change the world. If the Church of Jesus Christ were to empower ordinary Christians to reach out effectively into their own particular 'tribes' with the supernatural love and power of God, then I believe the world would be transformed — quickly!
(Note: I use the word 'Church', with a capital 'C', to denote the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ. When 'church' is used with a small 'c' it's referring to an individual church, or a branch of the Church situated in a particular locality.)
Why not pause, right now and take a moment to write down those tribes which you are a member of. Here's my own partial list:
I wish I had the time and money to pursue all of my interests fully, but unfortunately there is only one of me! However, if I can reach out with the gospel into just a few of these tribes in my lifetime I'll feel that I've achieved something for the Kingdom of God.Male sex tribe
White Caucasian tribe
50s age group tribe
Single person tribe (at the time of writing)
University graduate tribe
Computer geek tribe
Sail boating tribe
Motorbike and speed lover tribe
Music lover tribe
Internet appreciator tribe
Multi-media fan tribe
... and so on and so forth.
The Church — Relevant or Outdated
In talking about tribes I'm actually referring to making the gospel relevant to the many cultures, sub-cultures, and interest groups which constitute our world. Much of this is a task for individual Christians, as we mix with society and take the salt and light of Jesus Christ into it.
However, in my 40+ years of experience as a Christian I've found that most of my attempts at evangelism have been uphill struggles against the commonly held view of the Church as boring, old fashioned and irrelevant. As hard as I might try to share my faith, if my hearer cannot see beyond the negative mental image he/she has of the Church then I'm frequently wasting my time.
Imagine a scenario, though, where the popular concept of the Body of Christ is of a vibrant, up-to-date and exciting group of people who are infused with supernatural enthusiasm, energy and fresh ideas which they put into action in their local communities. Now when I share the gospel, instead of being hindered by the Church my message is enhanced by it.
Let me ask you a few questions:
Is Jesus Christ the one through whom all things were created? If so, then why isn't the Church—the bulk of it—bringing His supernatural creative energy to bear in His world?
Is the worship of God which is going on 24/7 in the heavenly places boring, old fashioned and irrelevant? If not, why is much of what we call worship often rightly labelled as such?
Admitedly many churches today use worship groups with modern instruments and choruses, but the basic church service format remains the same as it has done for centuries.
As a member of a 'tribe' which is largely un-represented in the Church in this country, I would like to ask you to pray for, and about, a vision for a major national—and possibly international—project which God has placed on my heart.
In 1998, as a biker and member of the Christian Motorcyclist's Association (CMA), a vision began to emerge in my mind of a new kind of church which would appeal to the sub-cultures one might call 'biker', 'New Age', and 'clubber'.
Having had friends who were into night-clubs, and having a desire to reach out with the gospel to members of the New Age community, I felt that I would dearly love to see a church which would appeal to, rather than repel, these alternative life-style sub-groups. As this vision has developed it has expanded, and I now believe that it would appeal to most young people today, and also to a great many in the more mature generations as well.
This church vision was prompted, and enhanced, by two experiences of worship which stand out in my memory. The first was a Sunday service led by a Christian heavy rock band at a CMA national rally, and the other was an Iona concert (the Christian Gaelic rock band), in a North London pub. The latter particularly inspired me. I love Iona's music, and at this gig I was not disappointed. I was moved by the beauty, deep spirituality and reverence of their music, and my heart was touched and raised onto another plain in a way that I have rarely experienced in a church service, new or traditional, charismatic or not.
Afterwards I asked myself why I had been so deeply touched and I was led to the inevitable conclusion that, apart from the music itself, it was because of the lack of 'churchianity' in the experience. The environment was a tightly packed music pub. In front of me was a rock band, clad in black leathers, playing a mixture of ancient and modern instruments, and beside me were young people dressed in folk, hippie and rock gear dancing and worshiping their hearts out to the Lord!
It struck me that perhaps this was a brief glimpse into what heaven will be like. Why does God want representatives of every race, tribe and tongue in His heavenly Kingdom, if not because He delights in our variety and uniqueness. Will we be clad in white robes playing harps? I think not. Is it not more likely that we'll be arrayed in our national cultural and sub-cultural styles, and that each individual will be unique within his/her cultural group?
Will there be electric guitars in heaven? I hope so—or perhaps the heavenly equivalent with 60 strings, not six! And will there be motorbikes? Who knows, but if there are I bet they'll really fly—literally!
Creativity — Finding the Right Formula
In the first week of July 1997, Liam Gallagher of the popular rock band Oasis, declared himself to be bigger than God. I doubt if he really believed himself to be omnipotent! What I expect he was saying was that more young people in this country were following him than were following Jesus, or Mohamed, or any other world religious leader—and he was probably right.
One day I happened to switch on London's Premier Christian Radio and heard a young man on a phone-in programme explaining how he'd been a Christian as a teenager, but had moved away from the church and into drugs because, as he put it, "the church had nothing to offer him." Eventually, through particular circumstances, God brought him back to himself, but the drugs, he said, had left him permanently scarred.
That is so sad. It grieves my heart, and must grieve God's as well. What does the church have to offer young people today? Where can they experience weekly worship which inspires them as much as a pop concert? Where can they go to see that Jesus is, indeed, bigger than Liam Gallagher, or Take That, or any earthly 'star' you care to mention? You might be tempted to say "my church", but in your heart of hearts do you really believe that to be true?
The average young person today considers church to be boring, and compared to popular music venues, or weekends at the night club, it usually is. In this age of multi-media, multi-variety entertainment, oughtn't we to be asking ourselves, "Why isn't the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ—the Great Musician, Engineer and Creator—showing the world that He is as dynamic—no, so much MORE dynamic—than it is?"
William Booth used music to lead the way to revival in his day. Can God not do the same again today? I believe the time is ripe for a new, creative and outward looking move of the Holy Spirit in the Church, to open the flood gates for revival in our day.
A few years ago a church experiment was performed which unfortunately went badly wrong. I'm talking about the notorious 'Nine O'clock Service' in Sheffield, England. Serious mistakes were made and it was probably a good thing that the experiment ended.
But why was the experiment made in the first place? Are not experiments part of a process to find the right formula—to create the right device—to produce something the world has never seen before and which has the potential to change it radically? The scientist Thomas Edison experimented with hundreds of metals and alloys before he found the right one to create the first working light bulb filament. Now we all see—indeed see by—the results of his hard work every day of our lives.
How much more should we, as children of the Light, be striving to find the right combination of skills and technology to bring the Light of the World to His world? The Sheffield experiment was moving in the right direction but got the formula wrong. What's needed now is a revised formula.
I have on my heart a vision for a new church—or rather a new type of church—for this new millennium. Could it be from God? Has he shown me His mind? I offer this vision to you, and I ask God to speak to you as you read about it.
In 1997 Wembley Stadium, London, was packed with thousands of worshipers at the large Champion of the World concert, which was led by various Christian rock groups and dance ensembles. It was an inspiring event and seemed to me to be very much a step in the right direction. As disciples of Jesus Christ, let's take the required steps and bring the Champion of the world to His world, and particularly to the younger people in it.
As I write I'm listening to the CD produced for the concert, and a song is playing which says, "The day of streams is over, the time of the river is here". Streams can only form a river when they combine their resources and flow together. Let's ask the Lord of the river to begin to combine the many streams of the Church into a unified river—like the one Ezekiel saw (chapter 47)—which will irrigate the world with the life giving water of the Holy Spirit.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Any advertising professional will tell you that in order to successfully sell a product, advertise a service, or propagate a message, the idea must be presented in a way which is relevant to its target audience. Now, if this is true of advertising in the secular realm, is it not also true with regard to 'advertising' the most important message there is—indeed, the most important Person there is?
After all, the preaching of the gospel is a form of advertising, is it not? Advertising is all about persuasion, and our desire is to persuade people to enter into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before being able to take the gospel to foreign cultures, missionaries throughout the ages have had to learn the languages and customs of that culture. If we are to reach out with the gospel to the younger generations of today we must learn their language and present the gospel to them in a form they can identify with.
This principle was illustrated in May 1998 after the landslide victory of the New Labour Party in the UK, during their post-election celebration party at the Festival Hall, London. On that occasion they put over an up-to-date message by incorporating a rock band, and disco dancing, in their festivities. "Listen to us", they were saying, "we're relevant!"
Part of the Tories' massive defeat was surely due to the fact that, for a long time, they had been out of touch with the man in the street. If political parties need to modernise themselves in order to be elected to power, how much more must the Church if it wants to remain culturally relevant, and if it wants to win the world for Christ.
For many years the Church in the UK has been predominantly middle-class. The result is that huge chunks of our society are being left untouched by its styles of worship and church life. Even the more 'working-class' churches are tainted with the middle-class brush.
Not only is it middle-class, it's also largely white. Those from ethnic minorities who do not live in ethnic majority areas, can have a very hard time finding a church that suits them. The youth sub-culture, however, spans all races and classes. A church geared towards this sub-culture would, I believe, attract young people from across the whole spectrum of British society.
Though I come from a middle-class background myself, my early formative years were spent in South India where my parents ran a mission hospital. The international aspects of my upbringing, and my later inclination towards alternative sub-cultures have, as a result, made it very difficult for me to find a church where I feel I belong. This has been true for all of the 40+ years of my walk with God. If its true for me—and I'm not so special in this regard—how many more is it true for?
As I talk to Christians in the various church denominations I attend, I frequently meet people who feel the same way. The complaint, "I can't find a church which meets my needs", is a recurring theme. I, therefore, have a personal quest to see a church come into being which will meet my needs, and those of my contemporaries. This vision for a truly 'young' church would, I believe, do that as it opens a path to God for the younger generations, and for the young in heart like myself.
Judy Garland treked a bright yellow road in her pilgrimage to find the way home. Three friends travelled with her looking for heart, mind and courage. We live in a generation which also longs to find its way home, and at the same time longs to find the courage of true convictions—alove which can't be found in sex alone—and a new way of thinking which reveals the truth about our world, and exposes the lies continually being fed to it by the popular media.
As Christians we know that all these things—love, courage, truth and belonging—are to be found in Jesus Christ. But—and this is so insane—we've painted the road a dull muddy brown! We've taken the Bright Morning Star and package Him up—no, tied Him down—in the tedious brown paper of our dull traditions. No wonder no-one's interested in checking out our churches!
Dear brothers and sisters, let's co-operate with God, the Omnipotent 'Wizard'. Let's allow Him to use the power hose of the Holy Spirit to wash away the drab colours of our old worn-out ways. Let's allow God's Son to show the world that the path to the Father can be multi-coloured, multi-faceted, bejeweled with delights, and exciting!
Over the last one hundred years the British Church, and the society in which it exists, have been growing steadily apart. Not only do we in the Church have a problem of class incompatibility, we also have a problem of cultural incompatibility. Society has kept up with, and been radically changed by, the phenomenal developments in information, communication, and entertainment technology. By and large, however, the Church has not followed suit.
Most young people today have been conditioned to receive information via the audio-visual formats of computer, mobile phone (iPod) and TV technology. Sitting and listening to lectures, or sermons, is fast becoming a foreign experience for them.
As a computer professional and multi-media fanatic I'm also finding that the average church sermon, which is largely an auditory format, is having increasingly less impact on me. If this is true for me—one who's into his fifth decade and who was brought up in the Church—how much more is it true for the teens/twenties of today, many of whom have never darkened the doors of a church building.
Not only are sermons a foreign concept for today's young people, so also is standing and singing in a group. Where else apart from church does that take place? Ah, I'll tell you where—karaoke gigs and football matches! Perhaps human beings have a psychological need to sing together—who knows? However, it's plain to see that given the choice, most young people would rather go to a pub karaoke night, or a football match, than a "boring church".
In my vision, therefore, both the preaching and musical aspects of the church's worship would be radically different to the styles we're currently familiar with. We live in an increasingly multi-media dominated society (putting TV and cinema into that category) and we're all aware of the power of these media to influence our minds and emotions. The church of my vision would make full use of the latest multi-media technology to lift the spirits of its worshipers to God, and to present Christ powerfully to a spiritually hungry world.
I do believe that if we, the Church national and international, can co-operate together with a common vision, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we will be able to create a new type of church which will bring fresh life and vitality into both British Christianity, and the worldwide Church—and once again we'll turn the world upside down for Jesus.
Worship — Not Enough on it's Own
Finally, before describing the church of my vision, I want to emphasise that worship on it's own, no matter how dynamic and up-to-date, does not constitute a church. A church is a body of believers who not only worship together but who live and work together to grow into the likeness of Christ, and to transform their local community by His loving creative touch.
It seems clear to me that a church which can exist for years in a locality, without significantly impacting that locality, is spiritually dormant or dead. Similarly, a church which doesn't see its own members growing in spiritual stature, by leaps and bounds, is also dead, or dying. Those might seem like harsh statements, but I believe that Scripture bears me out.
Apart from worship there are three main areas of church life that need to be addressed if we're to truly impact the world for our Lord. They are, in order of importance:
* the practical and physical needs of the believers;Some may be surprised that I put the meeting of believers' needs before meeting the needs of the world around them. However, it's doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that a Christian who's struggling to keep his/her own head above water—practically, emotionally and/or spiritually—is not going to be able to save other drowning people. So often, though, that's exactly what the church expects of its members!
* the spiritual and emotional growth of the believers;
* the empowerment of those believers to share their love and faith in creative ways.
You may know this famous poem by Stevie Smith:
Not waving but drowning
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
The poem speaks volumes to me about the trauma experienced week after week by some church folk who sit in their pews, and maybe raise their hands in worship, while inside they're dying. For them the poem could be re-titled, "Worshipping While Drowning".
Perhaps they have emotional problems, or spiritual problems, or both. Perhaps they're struggling with mental illness and are too afraid to tell anyone about it. Perhaps they're struggling with addictions, or a desperate need for physical intimacy, or emotional intimacy. Perhaps they need to feel heard and understood, for the first time in their lives. Perhaps they're struggling with practical problems like financial hardship, or health issues, or isolation from family and friends.
Again and again my heart aches when I see hurting Christians being ignored by their churches, while those churches busy themselves rearranging the deckchairs. To my mind, any church which does not pull together and combine all of its resources to meet the needs of its members, is a trivial church not worthy of the name. Down the line I see that church's leadership finding itself on a collision course with a large iceberg, and powerless to avoid it—either in this life or the next.
So far in this article I've not quoted any Scriptures. But on this, the most important of subjects, the Bible speaks volumes:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34,35 - NIV)And finally, and most significantly:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, NIV)
If I speak [or sing, or worship, etc.] in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1 - my addition in square brackets)It doesn't matter how up-to-date and progressive our church worship is, if we're failing to love the worshippers, and also to love the world around us, then we're simply manufacturing a lot of hot air!
In the mid 2000s I was an active member of a 'multi-media church' which used various forms of technology to create fresh new worship forms. It was part of the growing 'alt-church' movement in the UK. Based in an upper-middle class area, it was attended mainly by middle and upper-middle class people, many of whom, like myself, had become disenchanted with traditional church. Although it was some 40 miles from my home its alternative worship style made it particularly attractive to me, and worth travelling the distance to reach.
After more than 2 1/2 years of active involvement with this church a unique set of circumstances developed which made it financially difficult, and logistically impractical, for me to continue attending without help. This was a major blow for me, spiritually and emotionally, so I asked for help from both the leadership and the membership, but was met with a mixture of indifference and scorn. I understood that the church was not in a position to help me attend by financial means, but I did feel that a simple pastoral visit from the leader, or her husband—or even a few phone calls—would have helped to make the transition less traumatic for me. Nothing was forthcoming, however.
Eventually, in the midst of some heated discussion on the church's blog website, I felt moved to quote 1 Corinthians 13:1 and said that if this multi-media church failed to show spiritual and/or practical love to its members then it could rightly be described as a multi-media circus. That stung the leadership, who were proud of their 'alt-church' reputation—and so it should!
To the angel of the church in Sardis write:It really doesn't matter how progressive any particular Christian group is, if they're not being a body of love then in God's eyes they're no better than the most boring of traditional churches, and possibly worse. If the leadership of a traditional church has genuine practical love for their members, then they are streets ahead of the progressive church. Indeed, any Christian group that fails to show the love of Christ in practical ways risks being cut off from the Body of Christ altogether.
"These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." (Rev 3:1-3, NIV)
The church of my vision, therefore, would have as its number one priority—above its worship and above everything else—the practical love and care of its members.
Later on in this article I describe how that love would be expressed, but before that let me describe in some detail the clearest outward expression of the church's life—it's worship.
Part 1 — 21st Century Worship
The worship in the church of my vision would use the latest entertainment and multi-media technology, and use it to its fullest possible extent. This isn't simply in order to get onto the technology bandwagon. It's because that technology has been created to meet a demand— a demand for excellence. In most secular situations it's used purely for entertainment. In this church it would be used to glorify God—the God who is the ultimate creator of all science, engineering, and technology.
It's hard for me to describe how I see the worship taking place because, to my knowledge, there's nothing quite like it in either the secular or religious world today. Indeed, if this vision came into being, and the worship really was as I envisage it, then the church would become a world leader in pioneering this form of multi-media, multi-platform, multi-sensory experience. So, I ask you to bear with me as I do my best to open my mind to you on this.
Instead of the traditional 'hymn sandwich' type of service, where the congregation sits or stands and is led by speakers and worship leaders performing from the front, the church members would participate in a multi-platform, multi-media experience, which would be carefully planned well in advance, and would take place in 360 degrees all around them.
Ideally I envisage a large circular venue which would be hired, bought or purpose built. he Albert Hall in London would be perfectly ideal! When the Millennium Dome was created in the London Docklands area I couldn't help thinking that it would make a perfect setting also. However, to be more realistic (to start with at least!) the venue could be a large adapted hall or warehouse, such as some new churches use. It might also even be feasible to hire a large night club for the venue.
The auditorium would have several raised stages, and video/cine screens, situated in 360 degrees around the outside wall. In the centre would be an open floor on which the younger members of the congregation would sit, stand and dance—rather as happens on the Last Night of the Proms. Around the outside, behind or above the stages, would be auditorium seating. In the centre on a suspended platform, high above the worshippers, would be remotely controlled audiovisual equipment, projection equipment etc.
The service would include live and recorded music, drama and dance performances, video, cine and audio-visual presentations, and various kinds of spoken elements, including interviews, testimonies and short messages. The worshipers would be encouraged to dance to the music, which would generally be of a fairly up-beat kind. (King David, of course, set a precedent for that many centuries ago.)
The effect of all this would be to engage the worshipers spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically in ways that are not possible in the current standard church format. Music, of a great variety, would play a far more important part than it does, even in today's more modern progressive churches—and individual preachers, though having an important role, would not dominate the spoken parts of the service nearly as much as they do today.
By saying that I'm not trying to denigrating the traditional role of preachers and church leaders. However, I do feel that the day of the long sermon has passed it's sell-by-date, and that the Church needs to wake up to new ways of teaching and preaching the Word of God.
The auditorium would be darkened most of the time, with spot lighting giving a pop-concert type of atmosphere, particularly when live bands are performing. The stages would be used for music, dance, drama, and spoken presentations. The auditorium would also have one or more balconies with seating for older participants and those who wanted to sit.
As to the format of the service, the usual worship/sermon/worship sandwich would be replaced by a continuously alternating presentation of Christian music, drama, dance and message 'sound-bites' of a wide variety of types. The music would vary from Christian rock, to light folk, and from country, to black gospel, with everything else in-between, including worship choruses and occasional hymns.
The message portions would be relatively short and would include testimonies, short messages, poignant dramatic presentations, and audio-visual material. Bible readings would generally be either audio-visual or dramatic in nature.
All of the elements in a service would be designed to fit into a particular spiritual theme, building a jig-saw-like picture in the minds of the worshippers. The elements would flow continuously one to the other with minimal interruption, facilitating the work of the Holy Spirit in the worshippers' hearts.
The average length of a service would be two to three hours - the length of a pop-concert - and people would come for all or part of it. Time would also be set aside for team ministry and 'body ministry' in which the development of individual's gifts would be encouraged.
The overall effect of this would, I believe, be spiritually and emotionally stunning. Church worship currently appeals mainly to the intellects of church goers. The emotions often have to be left behind at the door. That would not be the case in this church. All of the human emotions would be involved, and every aspect of the human psyche would be opened to the touch of God. I believe this kind of service would have the potential to speak to the hearts of people, and change lives, more radically and more quickly than we've ever known.
Indeed, as I described later, not only in its worship but also in every other aspect of its life, the church would have a 'holistic' approach aiming to bring the love and power of God in practical ways into every aspect of an individual's life, ministering the grace of God into a broken and hurting world.
Now let me describe some of the practical aspects of the vision in more detail.
Music, Message and Ministry
The music elements of the service would be of two forms - live and recorded:
1) Live music. This would be provided by:
a) Talented groups attached to the church, using both electric instruments, and traditional instruments;2) Recorded music. This would include:
b) Guest artists from this country, and visiting/touring from abroad.
a) Videos/DVDs of well known Christian bands, singers and worship groups projected onto large screens;As far as is possible the lyrics of all the music elements would be displayed on screens, in order to encourage and aid participative worship from the congregation.
b) Multi-media presentations using words, music, pictures and video to put over a message in keeping with the main service theme.
An interesting by-product of all of this would be that such a church would provide an excellent spring board for new Christian groups and singers seeking to make their mark.
The message elements of the service would, again, be both live and recorded.
1) Live message elements would include:
a) Drama, involving all the usual varieties such as sketches, short plays, and mime. It would be performed by one or more resident drama groups and also visiting drama companies. Again the church would provide a springboard for new dramatic talent;2) Recorded message elements would include:
b) Dance, of differing cultures, by resident and visiting dance groups;
c) Testimonies of what God has done, and is doing, in people's lives;
d) Interviews with interesting people, including those working with missions and charities;
e) Speakers, both guest and resident, including those in training. Each speaker would take a number of short spots talking around a main theme, and the main speaker would gel everything together at the end, possibly with an invitation for people to give their lives to Christ.
a) Video portions of relevant addresses by well known speakers;A balance of serious and more light hearted material would ensure sustained interest.
b) Video recordings of church services and Christian events - both from this country and abroad;
c) Live satellite links to Christian events... I was very impressed to see the live link, from Kensington Temple in London to the March for Jesus in Sao Paulo, Brazil, some years ago;
d) Video material produced by charities and missions describing their work;
e) Portions of Christian films and existing Christian audio visual material;
f) Portions of well known main-stream films, copyrights allowing;
g) Custom produced video and audio-visual material.
As mentioned above, time would be set aside for group prayer, and team ministry, and the developing and exercising of individual's spiritual gifts would be encouraged. This would also be a major goal of mid-week activities, which would include special courses for the discovering of spiritual gifts and natural talents—more about that later.
Obviously such a service would take a great deal of preparation, and creation, and would need a sizeable full-time creative team to organise it. Indeed, the church might require more than one team, each working towards a service some weeks in advance.
To maximise efficiency and economy, and allow for differing work routines of church members, the service would probably be held on both Saturday and Sunday — possibly twice each day — and possibly with shorter versions mid-week. Of course, such a scheme would be very expensive to run, and hence, along with normal church giving, I would see a small admission charge being levied to help offset the costs. That might sound controversial, but since people are prepared to spend significant sums on entertainment these days, it would seem only right to ask them to contribute to such a project.
The church would also look for funding from other sources, such as wealthy patrons and Christian businesses.
A National Resource
An important part of this vision would be to see new worship resources diseminated and made available for the wider Church. The service would therefore be recorded — in whole and in parts — onto DVD etc. and sold for use by private individual, other churches, and Christian events worldwide. This would not only provide further income for the project but would also promote new emerging Christian talents. Furthermore, the creative teams would produce other multi-media worship and teaching material for sale world-wide.
As well as producing recorded material, the church would offer its technical expertise to the worldwide body of Christ, encouraging the growth of locally produced multi-media worship. This exporting of skills could be as important as anything else the church does.
At the end of the 1990s those living in greater London saw a radical move of God in the establishment of the Christian radio station, Premier Radio. How I praise God for that wonderful station which often lifted me up when I was down, gave me a friend when I was alone, taught me from Scripture, and even put me back on track when I was tempted to go my own way.
Once established, the church of my vision would 'move heaven and earth' to persuade the authorities to let it start a Christian radio station along the lines of Radio One or Virgin Radio - i.e. geared to younger audiences. Such a station might be called 'Gospel FM' and would be very much in keeping with the ethos of the church I'm describing.
I'm continually impressed by the immense range and quality of the gospel music which abounds today, much of which goes unheard in Britain. The church of my vision, therefore, would aim to promote Christian popular music, by way of radio and other means, to redress the balance and give Christian artists their fair share of the air waves, enabling them to reach an even wider public for Christ.
Part 2 - Equipping the Saints
In Part One I described the vision I have for the worship side of the church's life. Now let me move on to two equally important aspects of that life—pastoral care, and training. Both of these areas come under the general heading of "equipping and empowering God's children"—that is, equipping and empowering them to be, and to become, all that God intends them to be.
As important as corporate worship is, if individual Christians are left floundering with spiritual, emotional and practical problems that they can't find solutions to on their own, then worship, for those individuals, can quickly become meaningless. If a church leaves people floundering, and does not have the structures to help them in genuine and practical ways, then that church's worship is hypocritical.
I speak with some authority as one who has, in the past, been left stranded in vulnerable emotional positions by a number of churches—and it hasn't been for want of seeking help on my part.
The individuals concerned may not have major life-obstructing problems. They may simply not know how they themselves fit into the life of the Church in their local context. Again, I speak as someone who has been in this position for much of the 40+ years of my Christian life.
This one factor—the lack of a sense of church 'identity' and of a part to play in the body—has frequently left me feeling frustrated and disappointed to the point of wanting to give up church involvement altogether. Again and again, when I've at last thought that I've found my 'niche', something has happened to put paid to it. It's true that we have an Enemy who opposes us at every step, but, more often than I care to remember, he's used people in the Church to do his work.
During my occasional attempts at evangelism I have often heard people say, "I'm a Christian but I just don't go to church." Rather than automatically dismiss such people as uncommitted, and half-hearted, I can frequently hear exactly where they're coming from.
In the light of 1 Corinthians 13, if the Church fails in the area of its love for the brethren, then everything else it does is a failure also. If the church I'm envisaging isn't known as a place of effective spiritual and practical care, and of genuine healing love—as well as a place of great worship—then, according to Scripture all of its progressive worship would be hollow ... so many clanging gongs and clashing cymbals ... i.e. a lot of hot air!
Let me put it another way. I've made it clear that I am not interested in building a church which is simply a carbon copy of what we have around at present. No, I am interested in a church which would present Christ in a new and fresh way to a thirsty world. However, neither am I interested in creating something which would highlight the problems in people's lives without also doing something about those problems.
If it were possible for someone to come into the church, to be moved by the worship, to be confronted with their spiritual, emotional and/or practical problems, but then have nowhere to turn to find effective and ongoing solutions to those problems, the church would have failed.
Unfortunately, speaking from my own past experience, what many churches and Christian leaders do to hurting people is to tell them to go to this, that, or the other ministry, or to 'get involved in a local church', regardless of whether a loving, Bible believing, Spirit led church exists in their locality. By doing this not only are they passing the buck, they're also giving the following unspoken message to the ones who have sought their help:
"You're not important to us. We have far more important things to do than concern ourselves with your problems! Go away. Go somewhere else. See if someone else can help you. We're really not interested!"
This reminds me of the apostle James' words when he said:
"If one of you says [to a brother in need], "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is that?" (James 2:16 NIV)No wonder people are left feeling that the Church, and hence God, is not there for them.
As a trained counsellor I know that what hurting people need, 99% of the time, is a sympathetic / empathetic ear, and then spiritual and practical help to enable them to confront their problems and find solutions to them. How often people are fobbed off with pat inadequate answers! How often I have been!
"But", someone might say, "what about the individual's responsibility for their own healing? Jesus told the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. He didn't help him get there!"
Well, that's true. But before saying that He touched the man's eyes with mud, getting His hands dirty in the process. He involved himself, in love, in the man's problems, even though the final solution was only to be found after the man had obediently undertaken a journey, of some time and distance, still in his blind state.
In the same way, a person's problems may only be resolved after months or years of painful 'journeying'. (I wonder how often the blind man was tempted to give up before he got to the pool.) However, the suffering person may not even be able to start that journey until godly people 'spit in the mud' (give of themselves), dirty their fingers in the dust and grime of wayward life, apply the salve of love, and then point them in the direction of the healing water—the water of repentant tears, of Baptism, and of the Holy Spirit's power.
Unfortunately many churches, and individuals, merely spit at hurting people. Such churches, and individuals, risk being spat out of God's mouth!
Now, of course, I would be foolish to suggest that every church should try to supply the whole solution. That would be impractical in most cases, and certainly wasteful of resources. The wider Church can, and should, however, put an arm around the individual, show God's love and care to them, and then help them to take whatever steps are necessary to find the solutions they need.
In my vision, therefore, the church would seek to address the problems of individuals, not as side-lines to it's worship, but as foundational to it. The church would aim to offer effective and practical love—love which would create 'victorious peals of victory' out of what could, otherwise, be nothing more than clanging gongs and clashing cymbals.
Pillars of Love
I see this love—this central element of the church's life—as being like the structural pillars of a temple. Those pillars support the whole structure giving it strength and integrity. Clearly those pillars must be strong and safe. This requires three things:
a) They need to be well designed, sufficient emphasis having been given to them;
b) They need to be made of the right high quality materials;
c) They need to be guarded from attack, both from the inside as well as from out.
If these three principals are followed, then the church will stand firm. If they're not followed then the Enemy of God's people—the metaphorical Sampson—would soon enough come along and bring the whole edifice crashing down about its organisers' ears.
In my vision the love-pillars for the church would be as follows:
a) A professional church counselling, and counselling referral, service;
b) An effective personal care, hospitality, and 'home building' service, incorporating loving respite care;
c) A cell group structure with proper training for group leaders;
d) A comprehensive natural gift and spiritual gift, training and discovery ministry.
TLC and Training - Keys to Successful Growth
As a Christian of long standing it has pained my heart, time and time again, to see Christians with major practical, emotional, psychological and spiritual problems, being neglected by the Church as it 'goes it's merry way' organising church outings, prayer meetings, conferences, and spiritual 'knees-ups'.
Not that there's anything wrong with 'spiritual knees-ups', but in the midst of the dancing, people are dying! Indeed, I have often been one of those with major problems myself, left to drown in the waves while the church has looked on admiring the view, not seen me, or simply not caring!
Of what use are prayer meetings and conferences if those attending them are left struggling to survive day by day? This is surely a great hypocrisy and must stink in the nostrils of God!
Furthermore, what are we to think about all those honest people in the church who have talents, gifts and abilities just waiting to be harnessed, but which are somehow never given the opportunity to rise to the surface. Will all those frustrated individuals be cast off as 'fruitless branches', or does the failure lie with their church leaders and organisations for neglecting to tend the branches in their care?
Is it that the Church doesn't have the resources to look after it's own? Most emphatically, no! The Church is surely the biggest single organisation in the World!
Is it that it doesn't have the know-how? That may well be the case, but what excuse can there be for that when the world around it abounds with training courses designed to equip carers and trainers with skills and knowledge. (How sad it must be for God to see that the World now leads the Church in it's ability to care.)
Or maybe it is simply that the church doesn't 'give a dam'? Sad as it is to say it, unfortunately that is sometimes the case. But surely it is not the prime reason for it's failure to love it's own.
No, I believe the Church's failures in this area lie principally in it's lack of vision for 'healing and equipping the saints', and in it's lack of effective structures to bring this about.
In this vision, therefore, after the worship life of the church, it's life of tender loving care for it's own is of paramount importance. Indeed, I would rather see the worship life of the church fail, than to see it's 'love-life' fail! After all, people can always acquire a cassette of praise music and worship God on their own!
Those looking on at the early church didn't stand in amazement and say, "See how these Christians 'get down' in worship!" Nor did they say, "See how well they organise religious conferences!" No, they said... "See how these Christians love one another!"
And Jesus didn't say, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you preach well at one another." No he said... "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)
John took up the subject when he wrote: Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us....God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:11,12,16).
When engaging in evangelism I am frequently told "The Church is just a bunch of hypocrites!" Brothers and sisters, let's do something serious to make that charge an unfounded one!
Having said that, it's easy for me to sit at my desk and exhort the church to "love one another", but unless that exhortation is fleshed out in practical ways and means I'm wasting my time.
For this reason the church of my vision seeks to love the brethren by helping them to have their needs met at whatever level those needs lie, be they practical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual.
As I see it, in order to do this the church needs to provide the following:
a) A professional counselling, counselling referral, and spiritual deliverance and healing ministry;
b) Serious practical help in fields such as accommodation and job hunting;
c) What one might call a spiritual career training and advice service.
The Church Counselling Service
The role of the counselling service, as I currently envisage it, would be two fold. Neither parts would be more important than the other but both would be vital for the ongoing emotional, mental and spiritual health of its clients. These two roles could be defined as spiritual help, and practical / emotional / mental help.
In the first case the service would offer a short-term Biblical prayer, deliverance and healing ministry, possibly along the lines of Neil Anderson's 'steps to Freedom' (see footnote 2). This service would be open to all comers, whether experiencing major problems or not. Church members would be encouraged to go through these steps for their own spiritual and emotional health, either with a counsellor, or on their own. In some cases this would be sufficient to provide the solutions an individual needs.
The second role, in the initial stages at least, would be to act as a counselling referral agency (a spiritual version of the C.A.B.). This means that rather than offering long term counselling or psychotherapy, the service would aim to discover and define the problems an individual had, and then guide and support them while referring them to the relevant professional help, whether practical or psychological, secular or Christian.
Having referred a client, the service would follow them up with weekly or bi-weekly meetings, and would also be prepared to re-refer them should they feel that their client was not receiving the help they really needed.
To begin with there might well be others in the local area better equipped, and better trained, to offer long term therapy - though these individuals and organisations would have to be carefully selected and vetted. However, in time, as the service grew in numbers and expertise, it might take over this role, becoming a major player in the local Christian counselling scene.
I personally know people who have become very disillusioned having been shunted from pillar to post while seeking counselling help. The service would aim, therefore, to provide continuity of care to those seeking its help. It would also recognise that only the Holy Spirit can bring true healing and ongoing health, and would, therefore, seek to have a very personal, caring and Christ centred approach - to be a channel for the supernatural touch of God into people's lives.
In time I see the possibility of this kind of counselling referral and follow-up agency, becoming more wide spread, possibly taking on a national existence of it's own.
Cell Group 'Safety-Nets'
Now, it doesn't take much for someone with potentially major emotional and social problems to lose their footing in life and become a problem to society as well as to themselves. If such people coming into the church, however, were 'caught', and enabled to find their place in the church family before those problems became serious, then by experiencing the grace of God in their lives, and by becoming a channel of it to others, both they and society would be saved a great deal of trouble.
The church in my vision, therefore, would not only make it abundantly clear, to all visitors, that the channels for healing help were available within it, but would also put safety-net structures in place that would catch those who might be reluctant to acknowledge their need for help, or to ask for it. (We've all heard 'excuses' for not seeking help, such as, "I don't want to be a burden to anybody"... "There are other people with far greater problems than mine"... "I don't want charity"... etc.)
The main structure would involve organising members into cell-groups. There's nothing new about that. However, in my considerable experience of church cell groups, it has rarely been the case that serious problems in my life have been detected, let alone tackled. A pre-requisite, therefore, for becoming a group leader, would be to take part in a basic counselling course run by the church. Hopefully, this would weed out those who are more interested in status than in caring for others, and would help those who become leaders to spot potential problems in the lives of their group members. (Indeed, to my mind, all the church leaders would do some basic counselling training). It would also equip them to tackle simple problems (I emphasise 'simple') on their own, giving them valuable experience which could possibly lead them to becoming fully fledged counsellors themselves.
The goal of this would be that no-one could take part in a cell-group and yet have major problems remaining undetected. To this end the group leaders would have the following responsibilities:
a) to talk to any struggling members of their group to see if they can help them sort out their problems at that level;Indeed, I see a prayer rota system being a set part of every cell-group's life. My vision would be for every member of the group to be allocated a certain time each week to pray for the other members of the group. In this way every group member would be prayed for several times each week, and those with urgent needs more frequently still.
b) to refer those with deeper problems to the church counselling service;
c) to organise a continuous prayer rota system within the group to pray, particularly for struggling members, but also for the group as a whole.
Accommodation Service - A Home Where God Dwells
Just as physical healing requires a clean caring environment, free of disease and germs (i.e. a hospital) so emotional and spiritual healing often requires a prayer covered environment, filled with the presence of God and free from demonic activity. It is usually a waste of time to pray for people and then send them back into home situations where Satan has a free reign. Again, I am speaking from my own painful experience!
In my outreach to New-Agers I have frequently come under considerable spiritual attack, and this has been exasperated at times by finding myself unwittingly living next door to, or even sharing a house with, people into occult activities.
I can't over emphasise the painful nature of these attacks. At times they have brought me to my knees pleading with God to 'take it away from me', or even 'to take me home'. Furthermore, these difficult times have often been worsened by my having to live in sub-standard accommodation.
Hence - and this is dear to my heart - in conjunction with the counselling service the church would also run a comprehensive accommodation service operating at three levels:
(A) The first level would be emergency short stay accommodation in a centre designed to be as homely as possible and provide continuous prayer cover. This would be for people with more serious spiritual and emotional problems requiring much prayer (e.g. for those coming out of the occult, cults, drugs etc).
It would also be available for those with serious family/accommodation problems, who needed some 'space' while receiving initial help. Ideally, this would be purpose built with as harmonious an environment as is possible to create.
I could envisage it having prayer chapels, rose gardens with running fountains, and even indoor fountains to give a sense of the all pervading presence of the Holy Spirit. I could also envisage members of an Anglican, or other, 'monastic' order being involved in its prayer ministry.
(B) At the second level, members of the church would be encouraged to offer longer stay accommodation in their homes, for one to six months say. This would be for:
a) Those who have been through the first level, and need to find Christian accommodation where they would receive continuing prayer support;In the first case the counselling service would be involved in the process of finding and vetting home owners who they recognise as having a God given ministry to care for the spiritually and emotionally vulnerable. These individuals might also be required to undertake basic counselling training.
b) Those who simply need time to find long term accommodation.
The second category of accommodation providers would not need to be so critically vetted.
(C) The third stage would involve helping people to find good quality long term accommodation. In this case the church would operate a caring and prayerful accommodation bureau which would aim to match up accommodation providers with those needing a home. This would be available for all church members, as well as for those who had been through the first two stages.
I myself lived in London for 15 years in the 80s and 90s, and during that time I was forced, for various reasons, to move home on average once every six months! (That includes all short term temporary lodging.) As you can see, this aspect of the church's ministry would be very dear to my heart!
In my discussion so far about the church's ministry of 'Tender Loving Care', I have covered some of the most basic of human needs - including adequate shelter, loving relationships, and help with practical, financial, emotional and spiritual problems. The Christian community is not alone in recognising these as basic to human survival.
The psychologist, Charles Maslow, devised a 'triangle of human needs' which has become pivotal in the world of psychology and social care.
(See also Footnote 3)
The needs are split into three groups, represented by the three levels in the diagram. The size of the group/level indicates the relative proportion of the world's population which is predominantly engaged in working to meet their needs at that level.
At the base level are the fundamental requirements for human bodily life - food, shelter and clothing. In the natural course of things (i.e. outside of God's supernatural intervention) until these needs are met the individual will spend most of his/her time and energy working to procure them, and to ensure their steady supply. The largest proportion of the world's population is struggling at this level.
This next level represents the human emotional life - the desires for companionship, for physical intimacy and love, and for a secure family life. As important as these are to most of us, for someone who doesn't know where his/her next meal is going to come from, or where they are going to sleep tonight, they will probably seem relatively trivial. (This partly explains the independence and hostility of many 'down-&-outs'.) It is not until the bodily needs are being more or less met that the individual can seriously start seeking to satisfy his/her emotional needs.
At this point it should be noted that the diagram ought to differ as it is applied to first and third world countries. In the latter, family ties are generally stronger, and emotional needs are often more well met than they are in the materially affluent, but emotionally impoverished, West. Indeed, a poor family living in a Brazilian 'favela' (shanty town) may, quite possibly, experience greater emotional love and warmth than a rich Western family with all its external materialistic accoutrements! Nevertheless, the triangular shape of the diagram is indicative of the fact that the vast majority of humanity is struggling along at the first two levels - the third world (the largest group) predominantly at the bottom, and we in the West at the second.
The third and final level of the diagram represents the human intellectual and spiritual needs and desires - Mankind's drive to strive for and achieve his 'dreams' - to achieve his highest intellectual aspirations and goals. That small portion of humanity which manages to achieve these finds, what Maslow called, 'self-actualisation' or self-fulfilment.
Once a person is content with the basics of their life - with their physical and emotional fulfilment - the need to find spiritual and intellectual fulfilment can become very strong. We all need to grow, and if that growth process is hindered in any way, it can be very painful. Indeed, halting a person's growth at this level can affect his/her ability to keep hold of the advances made at the lower levels. Sad to say, most people in the world never fulfil their full potentials. They never fully enter the top level of the triangle, because most of the time they aren't having their basic human needs met.
The Church in a Mess
From a Christian perspective, in an ideal world, and in an ideal Church, the very act of entering the Church, and entering into it's fellowship, should be the answer to meeting a person's needs at all three of Maslow's levels.
We see a glimpse of this happening in the first few chapters of the book of Acts. Unfortunately, so often this doesn't happen. In many cases the church is so full of self-centredness, selfish ambition, and pride, that the struggling individual coming into it soon finds that they are worse off than they were before and leaves!
Either that or they struggle on, becoming disillusioned and depressed. I know because I've been there again and again. How sad this is and what a travesty of God's ideal plan for His Church - His family.
After the prime task of preaching the gospel, the Church has the God given responsibility to help it's members meet their basic physical and emotional needs. Throughout Scripture God commands us to do this. The Scriptural injunctions to help the poor, and to "love one another" with genuine sacrificial love, are clear. How many churches are genuinely doing this though?
As I write I have just started a part-time job, having been unemployed for ten months, and am having difficulty paying my bills this month. I've been in this situation many time in the past and I know that God will see me through it. However, how might the story go if I was a new Christian and naively approached my church leadership asking if they could help me? I wonder if I would remain a practicing Christian for very long?
A few years ago I approached two charismatic/Pentecostal church leaders in London asking for help for a desperately poor and depressed Christian student friend of mine who was having to resort to scrabbling in bins for unopened cans of food. In both cases I was brushed off with lame excuses.
Thankfully, after prayer, God intervened supernaturally by pouring out his grace on her, in the height of the Toronto Blessing manifestations, and within a few months she was married, becoming secure emotionally and financially! (Excuse me if I shout, "Alleluia!")
As to those church leaders I expect they will have red faces on the Last Day. (Indeed, one of the churches closed a few months later.) Clearly any church which isn't being obedient to Scripture in these regards is failing at a fundamental level and risks having the charge of falsehood and hypocrisy laid at its door.
The problem is that church leaders are generally reasonably well off - comparatively speaking - and so can't see the problems. After all who would put an unemployed person in charge of a church? (Oh, yes, God did. His name was Jesus!)
Of course, Maslow's Triangle is an incomplete model. In reality, each one of us is operating at all three levels most of the time in our lives. Even the poor Brazilian can strive for the intellectual fulfilment of learning to read and write!
Furthermore, Christ tells us not to fret about meeting our needs at the first level, but to seek His Kingdom first and let God take care of those. (It's easy for us, though, with our welfare state, to nod our acceptance of that teaching!)
The Bible also tells us not to make the satisfying of our emotional and intellectual desires our top priority, except where they are part of our overall drive to know God, emotionally, intellectually and in every other way. Ultimately, the highest goal anyone can possibly aspire to is that of knowing God, and the only way to come close to being fully satisfied in this world is by seeking to satisfy Him.
Furthermore, we need to be discerning as to which goals we should be 'going for' and which not. Ultimately, it's only those goals and aspirations which spring out of our relationship with Christ which we should be seeking to fulfil. As the Christian rock singer Larry Norman put it, "This world (with its false desires, goals and aspirations) is not my home, I'm just passing through". The highest human aspiration is to know God. Second to this, and considerably lower down on the scale, is the desire to build and advance God's Kingdom in this world. I say this is lower down on the scale because it is too easy to think that we are building God's kingdom, when in reality we may be building our own!
"Lord, Lord...", we may say to Him on the final day, "Did we not prophesy, drive out demons, and perform miracles in your name?" I think most us would seriously think that we have 'got it made' in the spiritual success stakes if we were able to say that we had done ANY of these things. This makes it all the more frightening, therefore, when we read what Christ's reply will be to those who have made the Kingdom their god, rather than God Himself:
"I never knew you!"
These words will be addressed to those who seek to elevate their own position in the Kingdom of God, rather than Christ's position - and to those who give Christian activities (even the performance of 'signs and wonders') a higher place in their hearts than Christ Himself.
For the Christian, therefore, seeking to know God, to know His will for our lives, and to do it in obedience to Him, constitutes entering into the top level of Maslow's Triangle.
Knowing God's Will
However, though most Western Christians only rarely experience serious life-obstructing problems, many frequently feel insecure and inadequate in their knowledge of God's ideal will for their lives, and of their place in the Church. I'm sure a great many Western believers find it hard to say that they are 100% sure that they are in the centre of God's will for themselves. This is a sad state of affairs, and yet is one which the church in this country seems to be doing little to address. Why should this be so?
Sad to say, on more than one occasion it has been my experience that when I have tried to move forward in some area of personal or church life I have found myself actively put down and snubbed by the very church leader(s) who should have been helping me to move on. In each case it became clear to me that they - the leaders - were more concerned about their own affairs than those of their sheep.
Unfortunately, though most Christian leaders want to get people into their own pocket of the Church family, they are frequently reluctant to help them become fully functional within that 'pocket' in case they should become a threat to, or undermine, their own position of authority. After all, if lay-men can do much of the work of the 'priest' what need is there of the priest?
Jesus spoke some strong words concerning such people: "But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers." (Luke 12:45, 46)
The responsibilities of Christian leadership are very great and certainly not to be taken lightly. However, if that leadership plays it's full part in the awesome task of inspiring and equipping the saints (i.e. being a servant to the Church) then the rewards will be equally wonderful - one might say, 'out of this world'!
I grew up as a Christian (in the '60s and '70s) in an era which taught that the responsibility for Christian discipleship lay fully at the feet of the disciple alone, and being a natural loner myself I absorbed that philosophy lock stock and barrel. Yet, some 32 years after becoming a Christian, and 24 years after leaving my home and early church family, I am still struggling to find my own 'niche' in the Church.
Could it be that I got it wrong? Could it be that I have been looking for a 'role' in the Church, worldwide, before finding a local church that I could really belong to, and put some roots down into? That maybe, but as I have indicated, every time I have thought I have found a local church family that I could become an active part of, something has happened to put paid to that sense of belonging - and it's not been for want of trying on my part.
If this is my story - one brought up in the church, and from a missionary family to boot - then how many other Christians are wandering around aimlessly looking for their niche in a so called 'Church family' that frequently seems more ethereal than real?
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that "here we have no abiding city" (13:14). In physical terms that may well be true - for some of us at least - but the sad thing is that for many Christians it also applies to our relationship with the Church...."Here we have no abiding church family".
For so many Western Christians today the words echo painfully true: "Here we have no roots in a church family who knows us, cares for us, seeks our best - spiritually and in other ways - and is prepared to gather it's resources to defend and help us when the dark forces come to attack."
Beyond anything else, the Church of my vision would seek to remedy this sad situation. Instead of saving 'lost souls' and then dropping them into 'lost churches' where they are left to sink or swim as best they might, the church of my vision would be a place where it would be almost impossible to remain isolated and alone, spiritually or in any other way.
Christian salvation is not only eternal salvation into the 'great cloud of witnesses' who we will meet in the great hereafter (Hebrews 12:1)... it is salvation here and now into the family of God, here on earth, which really does exist... if only it would get it's act together and start behaving like a genuine family instead of like some kind of short-term, fly-by-night, happy knees-up Butlins holiday camp! (No disrespect meant to Butlins or any of it's employees!)
The Church of Jesus Christ on earth is a Kingdom Family, and each genuine member of it is a Kingdom Child, destined to reign on thrones with Jesus Christ himself.
"Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?... Do you not know that we will judge angels? (1 Cor.6:2,3).
Brothers and sisters, we in the Christian Church have been set apart by God, and are being prepared by Him, even now, to occupy position of power when Jesus returns to reign in glory. If we are being prepared to bring order and justice into God's world during Christ's millennial rule (I admit that this is not the place to get into the theology of eschatology) then is it not about time that we start trying to bring Christ's order, peace, justice and love into His family the Church?
Beyond anything else - beyond it's words and beyond it's worship - the 'prime directive' of the church of my vision is to ensure that every Christian that comes into it's fold finds his or her God given place of practical and spiritual empowerment and fulfilment... be that waiting on tables or be that becoming a martyr for Christ (Acts 6 & 7).
Without doubt, being sure of our niche in the Kingdom Family, in both the local and wider contexts, is the key to feeling secure in that family and to playing our full part in it. The job of the church is to put round pegs into round holes, and dodecahedral pegs into dodecahedral holes.
That's all very well in theory but how can it work out in practice? How does all this apply to the church in my vision?
Meeting Fundamental Needs
As explained in the above discussion of Maslow's triangle, every believer needs to have his fundamental needs met before he can fulfil his full potential and become a significant tool in the hand of God. The church's first task, therefore, is to help him/her to overcome any blockages and obstacles there may be to reaching a place of successful Christian living.
Those obstacles may be spiritual, they may be emotional, they may be 'intellectual' (i.e. requiring specific education) and they may be practical and financial. In many cases they will be a mixture of all four. Whatever those obstacles are it would be the responsibility of the combined resources of the cell-group, the cell-group leaders, and the church prayer and counselling service, to smoke out and annihilate them. (I deliberately use warfare terminology because so often that is the key to what we are up against.) When, and only when, the Christian is experiencing victory in their daily life are they ready for the next step.
By the way, in order to facilitate resolution of problems at the emotional level, particularly in the areas of singleness and marriage, I envisage the church running seminars and weekend conferences on the subjects of marriage and the single life, preferably led by professionals in relevant fields.
Being a single person myself (just!) I also see the church running a variety of types of singles activities (dinners, outings etc.) to enhance the social life of the contented single, and to help the unhappily unmarried find partners! That's certainly as area open to lateral and innovative thinking.
Equipping and Training - Climbing to the Peak
This leads me on to the main reason for discussing Maslow's Triangle, and to the third major area of the church's life and activity - that of helping people achieve their full potentials.
The church in my vision would consider it a high priority to create the necessary structures to enable people to discover their gifts, and to develop their talents. Most importantly, it would help them to find God's will for their lives - both in the short and long term - and to take the whatever steps are necessary to achieve that will.
As I see it, once this starts to happen in a big way across the world, the final and complete evangelism of the world will be in sight!
The two main pillars of this aspect of the church's ministry would be, a) spiritual-gifts counselling and training, and what could loosely be called 'spiritual direction' counselling, and b) elementary training in any and every area of Church life, leading to more advanced training for many.
A number of the church counsellors would concentrate on helping those who were unsure in this area to find out where their gifts and abilities lay, and would work with them in discovering what it is that God wants them to do with their lives - in the short and longer terms.
Having spent as many sessions as necessary investigating this, people would then move on to the main hub of this ministry which would be a series of inexpensive mid-week courses, run by the church, designed to bring out and enhance individuals particular gifts - practical, creative and spiritual.
The courses would be at beginner level (initially at least), so as to be non-intimidating to novices, and would include such things as drama, dance, music, creative worship, writing, public speaking, preaching, evangelism (of various types), exercising spiritual gifts (the full range), prayer ministry, counselling (at various levels), various types of care work, church administration, IT & communication, children's work, catering, etc. Again, rather than re-invent the wheel and run a major training school, these courses would simply be intended to point people in the right direction. Some would mainly be theoretical and others would be more practical. Having completed one or more of them, those who wanted to continue in any particular field would then be given references for more advanced Christian and secular courses, and also help with finding the necessary finances. If no advanced course existed locally in a particular field, the church might consider starting one.
As with the counselling service, those who moved on from the basic training, to more advanced, would be closely followed-up so as to ensure that they were getting all the support they needed. This might include help to find suitable full-time employment, and/or ministry opportunities, once their advanced training was complete. As mentioned above, trainees and graduates in the creative and preaching/teaching ministries would be given opportunities to take part in the church services, both as part of their training and as a step towards developing and promoting their ministries in the wider national and international contexts.
In some cases talented individuals would be invited to become directly involved in the church's life and ministry, in a voluntary or paid capacity, as a form of on-the-job training. They might also be sponsored for further college training. Once trained they could join the church staff full-time. Not only would this allow for expansion of the original project, but it would also provide experienced personnel well suited to be involved in setting up similar churches/projects in other cities and countries, as and when the opportunities arose.
Once a church like this had become established, the possibilities for innovative evangelistic and social care projects in the local communities would be enormous. Once believers were being radically set free to become the creative children of God He designed and saved them to be, then the local communities wouldn't know what had hit them!
Kingdom Awareness - Activating the Church
(Evangelism and Social Action)
(Evangelism and Social Action)
I believe that the most effective weapons in Satan's armoury, for dampening the fire in the church, are lethargy, indifference, and lack of vision regarding what can be done. The Church only has itself to blame for this. Frequently it neither encourages it's members to develop and use their gifts and spiritual inventiveness, nor provides the opportunities and channels for those gifts and visions to be turned into reality.
However, turn lethargy into energy by enlivening gifts and potentials; turn indifference into enthusiasm by giving people a vision of what they can genuinely do in the power of God (who loves to empower His children), and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and turn lack of vision into far-sighted awareness of the reign of the Coming King, and of Heaven itself - something which the imaginative creative worship would aim to do) - and the sky's the limit!
I believe the Holy Spirit is continually being quenched in our churches because most Christians haven't learned to recognise His voice, fully at least, and also because they are fearful that if they try to broach the ideas which they think He might be giving them, they will be squashed by the church leadership. Unfortunately, in many cases that is exactly what would and does happen!
The church I am envisaging, therefore, would continually encourage it'd members to be open to what God might be saying to them. They would be encouraged to consider how they might use their talents and abilities to spread the love of Christ in their local areas. The words "no", and "can't", would become 'taboo' words in the church's vocabulary! Anyone with a vision would be encouraged to share it with the leadership, and, unless it was plainly 'potty', it would then be shared with the church to see if there were others who might catch the vision also.
Once three or four had joined together, prayed and talked at some length, and produced a viable plan, the church would then consider throwing its resources behind it, fully or in part, to help make the project happen. The church might even produce a 'project pack' to aid those wanting to start new evangelistic and social care projects.
Thinking off the top of my head, these projects might include such things as street evangelism groups, Christian play groups, school assembly groups (helping local schools perform this difficult task - which opens up possibilities for a great deal of creative youth work), Christian run cafes with light evangelistic entertainment, mobile bus health projects reaching out to down and outs, homelessness projects, etc. etc.
Nothing that the Holy Spirit wanted to do in, and with, individuals and groups would be considered impossible and foolish. Once a few 'harebrained' schemes had taken shape and succeeded - and been filmed and displayed in church services - I suspect the fire would spread and the "I can't", mentality would be turned into a, "I can", mentality. Then, only God would know where the possibilities would end!
Leadership, Expansion and Revival
I believe that in the church I have described the overall leadership would be more free to be open to innovative ideas from the Holy Spirit than normally tends to be the case - judging by the current state of creativity in the Church! This is partly because they would have less sermon preparation to do, and partly because the style of worship would mean that they would have a less prominent profile than in most churches today. This would leave them more emotionally free, and with more time, to concentrate on prayer and seeking God's will for future directions. The lack of a high profile would also prevent the type of 'personality cult' problem from developing as happened in Sheffield. (The ultimate aim of the worship organisers would be to glorify the Lord Jesus FAR above anyone else, and the kind of multi-media presentation that I have described would lend itself well to that.)
It seems to me that the appeal and attraction of such a church would be phenomenal and if, indeed, this proved to be the case, I could see the idea spreading to other cities in the U.K., and possibly abroad. If so I could see the leadership becoming heavily involved in sharing their knowledge and expertise and in passing the vision on to others. As I see it each new centre as it developed would remain autonomous (along the lines of HTB's daughter churches) but would maintain the essential goals of innovative creative worship, well trained pastoral and practical care, supportive training and equipping of the saints, and innovative evangelistic and social care projects in the local community.
Another by-product of the type of worship that I have described is that it would lend itself well to the kind of satellite local transmission technology that Kensington Temple has recently started using. If this was used it would mean that smaller groups meeting in suburbs and in towns in the immediate regions of the churches (or further afield depending on the size of the satellite footprint), could take part in the multi-media worship, watching it on large screens as part of their own worship.
Furthermore, I could see video recordings of the worship being used by other churches in various ways. The recordings would also be a blessing to individuals and small groups watching on home videos, and these might also include members of underground churches in countries in which the church is persecuted, especially if translations were dubbed over the sound tracks.
To widen the vision and put it into the context of God's overall plan for these 'last days', I could see these innovative churches becoming centres for revival throughout the world. As people are drawn into a vibrant, loving, caring, socially relevant, works of God, so lives would be changed and the Fire of God spread from individual to individual, and community to community.
'New Life' Centres
Unfortunately I'm more of a visionary than a 'doer', and apart from prayer wouldn't know where to start with an idea like this. I'm taking the opportunity, therefore, to present this vision to you, in the hope that, if it's of God, He will lead you to pray about it, and possibly join me and others in acting on it. If not I would ask you to consider putting me in touch with others who might be interested in taking the ideas further.
In fact, what I've told you so far isn't the full extent of the vision. I also have a vision for Christian run and staffed sports, health, entertainment, education and worship centres (possibly called 'New Life Centres') an idea that hit me when I was with Operation Mobilisation on the MV Doulos in South Wales in 1984. These would have to be purpose built of course (could the first one be on the Docklands Millennium site?!!), and it would be wonderful if they were combined with the church I am envisaging.... and with 'Gospel FM'! However, we are talking mega- mega-bucks now, so unless God does some major miracles....!
May God bless you as you ponder what I have written, and speak to your heart and mind - as indeed I feel He has been speaking to me. I look forward to hearing from you.
Although I do not hold to the Pantheistic ethos of the New Age movement, with it's roots in the Eastern religions, I do believe that God is using it, in our materialistic / atheistic society, to awaken a new interest in spirituality. I also believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is ripe for a new and powerful awakening from God, and a deepening of its spirituality and openness to Him. We could call this a 'new age' of surrender to Christ.
Books by Dr. Neil T Anderson:
Spiritual Protection for your Children
Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ
Living Free in Christ
Victory over the Darkness
Breaking Through to Spiritual Maturity
The Bondage Breaker
Freedom from Addiction