I’ve recently been reflecting again on Mike Breen’s teaching on spiritual terrain, and the different ways that God brings His presence into our lives and our world – eruption, erosion, earthquake and excavation.¹ There is no doubt what we are living through now is a major earthquake. In these past four months we’ve had the health earthquake called COVID-19, then the racial injustice earthquake of the past four weeks, and we are now at the beginnings of an economic earthquake that will last for years – and all this against the backdrop of the environmental earthquake of this century! God is breaking in in the most disruptive ways any of us have witnessed in our lifetimes. The tectonic plates are shifting, the landscape is forever changing, and God has got our attention. The question is will we listen and hear His voice?
For me, one key aspect of times of transition is voice recognition – it’s so important to make sure we don’t listen to the wrong voices and recognise and listen to the right ones. We need to listen especially carefully and learn to recognise the voice of God. It was Jesus Himself who, as the Good Shepherd, said ‘my sheep know my voice’ (John 10:3). In these past five days I have read a few things that are beginning to convince me that I am hearing God’s voice about His Church at this liminal, crisis moment.
Firstly, I read the following in a prophetic word that was shared with my wife Sue, who heads up our Prophetic Team and Culture here at HBC Chester. It came from a team of prophetic leaders based in UK churches and they sensed a number of ‘waves’ coming from God to wash over the Church – with this being only the first:
Sifting the church: God is refining us: sifting and heating the church to purify it. This is about shaping good leaders who will care for God’s people, and an end to false religion and idolatry in our culture. Will we identify so much of our cultural norms as what they truly are – idols? Things that replace and dull our dependence on God? There is a shift to leadership culture & praxis coming that will re-orientate the church towards Jesus afresh.
The second thing I read was a statement that came out of a conversation, facilitated by Matt Bird, between a number of church leaders in the UK. As they pressed into the prophetic, they highlighted the following things:
- We are facing an opportunity to re-culture and re-calibrate church life
- The Church is becoming less platform-centric and less Sunday-centric
- As we go into the future there are going to be more small gatherings than large gatherings, which will provide the opportunity to grow and release more leaders
I am becoming convinced that for those of us involved in any level of church leadership – senior leaders, lay leaders, missional leaders etc. – God is saying that He wants to reshape our understanding of church.
Here at HBC Chester, the church I lead, we have been on a seven-year journey that has seen us completely reshape our church around the phrase ‘living a Jesus shaped life’. It has put a discipleship culture right at the heart of who we are and is expressed like this: Be with Jesus – Become like Jesus – Do what Jesus did.
One aspect of the reshaping caused by the lockdown has been churches having to move their focus to every day ministry, not just Sunday ministry. Now, with the return to gathered Sunday services coming so gradually, together with the shift to online meetings, it is my hope that church leaders will realize their focus will have to shift more permanently from buildings to people’s homes.
In many ways, this is a solid theological move. The early church in the book of Acts clearly had a pattern of church that encompassed both – it gathered in the temple and it gathered in homes (Acts 2:46). In his first letter, Peter also tells us that we are a ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:5) and in Acts 2 that the coming of the Holy Spirit on ‘all people’ fulfils the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:16-17). All this lays a strong foundation for leaders to focus on the empowering of the priesthood of all believers, helping congregations take responsibility for their discipleship.
For years, it has been an unspoken assumption that to ‘grow’ you had to come to a facility and participate in a program or service. Looking to the future, church leaders could begin to see themselves more as equippers, helping people bring their faith more deeply into the homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces. When it comes to discipleship and mission, ‘every day’ is more important than ‘Sunday’.
At HBC Chester we have been focusing on how we can better release missional disciples. To do this, we have recognised that Jesus had three great loves, ‘relational priorities’ so to speak. Luke 6:12-19 illustrates this as He spends time with his Father (up), spends time with His disciples (in) and spends time with the lost (out). We then see the early church follow the same pattern in Acts 2:42-47: firstly, there is the apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread and prayer (up), then all the believers together with everything in common (in) and, thirdly, the Lord adding daily to their number those who were being saved (up)
This ‘up, in, out’ rhythm is a key discipleship tool and is represented as a triangle. We engage in the process and practices of spiritual formation that help us be like Jesus (up), we seek to become and live like Jesus (in) and we do what Jesus did (out). As we give ourselves to all three of these in our journey of discipleship across the different spheres of our everyday lives, we begin to help people love, trust and follow Jesus. To facilitate this as a church, we have shifted our focus from Sunday to every day, recognising that this is where people find faith and live it out.
Let me finish with a great quote I saw this week that reflects this off-balance and creative moment. It’s from Pete Scazzero, the founder of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship:
‘We must change the scorecard in our churches for success from great services and large gatherings, to a deep transformational discipleship for every single person in our church.’
¹ For more on these concepts, Launching Kingdom Movements, Mike Breen, 2015