Friday, 1 January 2016


I guess across the country and across the world, church leaders will be evaluating the year that has gone by, thinking about the way ahead, and perhaps preparing for the first sermon of the New Year with a view to laying down some direction for the congregation.

We are at a crucial period for the church in the West. We find ourselves suddenly on the losing side of so many arguments, on the back foot, threatened by what is now a very foreign culture instead of feeling at least some measure of ownership of our own context. It isn't hard to see Christians beginning to enter into ´panic mode.

Within that setting, the Salvation Army has some very particular challenges: our economic links with government and public, our tradition of pragmatism, our generally low level of biblical and doctrinal training, and our openness to embrace "mainstream" theologies, at least in our colleges, which have little in common with the evangelical "blood and fire" of our past.

How should we face 2016 and onwards? What should we say to the people? How should the church be led forward?

  • Don't panic and do take the big, long-term, global view. God is on the throne; Christ is building his church and the gates of hell will not win; the Spirit has been poured out and is still here. In 2000 years, all kinds of intellectual movements and isms have come and gone and the church is still here, and growing. Countries where, for instance, Communism attempted to eradicate the church now have thriving congregations. People groups, like the Kurds, who had practically no believers at all within my lifetime have now seen large-scale turning to Christ. The tide may seem to be flowing strong against us now - but that is not the whole or final story.

  • Do be sanguine and realistic about the threat. The fact that Christ is building his church does not guarantee the survival of individual local congregations or even multinational movements. The Salvation Army in the UK is not at present growing across the country, (though individual corps may be) and the future is very bleak.

  • Look to our great God at this time of threat. The answers are in him, not in new leadership strategies, business-driven methodologies, reorganisations and restructurings. So much of that is just rearranging the deck-chairs on the already-sinking Titanic. The solution to the world's pressure on the church is not found in adopting the world's methodology.

  • Preach Jesus. Let 2016 be a year of talking about Jesus - who he is, what he said, what he did. Go back to the gospels. Look at the Psalms Messianically. Look at the big story of Scripture. Unpack the gospel as it is found in the great letters. In all of that, talk about Jesus!

  • Focus on grace. Bad times make us want to redouble efforts, to put the screws on, to get harder and more brittle in our urgency. But the best redoubling of efforts comes from a fresh awakening to how greatly God has loved us.

  • Love people, not structures, ministries or gifts. If you find yourself looking at the members of the church in terms of contribution - potential or realised - then look again. The professionalization of church life, the running of the "machine" of meetings and activities can well nigh kill us at times - and often we end up half killing others too.  It's all about Jesus and people - is that what comes across in your life and ministry? I think with shame of how it didn't in mine.

  • Hope and pray and keep talking to others who see things the same way. You are NOT alone. Not only is the Lord with you, but there are friends out there who are also trying to talk about Jesus. You are not alone - so don't be alone!

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