If there’s any “Church life” in twenty years’ time… what will it look like?

The Church will not be the same in 2035. What will it be like?

Stained_Glass_Windows_at_Gwanack_Catholic_ChurchI have great confidence that the Church will be healthy and strong in 2035, because Jesus will still be Lord. I am under no illusion, however, that it will be the same as it is today. In fact, the way church life works today is visibly dying. On current trends it virtually won’t exist in twenty years.

So what does “healthy and strong” look like?


The Challenge of Vision

The only thing standing in the way of the Church right now is a coherent vision of what the future might look like. To date, the most radical thing I’ve seen offered is the home church movement, and that unfortunately has sometimes become an anti-traditional-church movement, or para-church service providers who struggle to “bring the gospel message” into the midst of their busy activities. I don’t think the style of church service is really the question, and I don’t think charitable activities should dictate the expression of worship.

I think the essence of the life of the church is something different. I call it “Community”, but by that I don’t mean “Bible study groups and gardening clubs” (although they would be included). I mean the life of the church intersects meaningfully and intelligently with the life of the wider community.

What does that mean? I offer my vision in the form of a little story, inspired and informed by things that I already experience, to give a glimpse into what church life might feel like:

On Monday I had arranged to officiate at a funeral, and that took me away from my usual activities. The deceased had few friends, and even fewer family members. His sister was upset at the prospect of a funeral with only a handful of mourners, so I put the word out, and two dozen of The Faithful attended.

We’re all one community. We just have different roles.

That doesn’t sound so bad, but most of those have no transport, so I needed to shuttle people around for over an hour beforehand, and afterwards bring them home again! It turned a one-hour funeral into an all-day affair. Anyway, we honoured the deceased, and that’s what matters.

Unfortunately it meant that I missed the regular family picnic which is run by The Faithful on a Monday, and so did most of those who normally run it, because they came to the funeral too. We knew beforehand that this would be the case, however, and having prayed we simply allowed the Lord to take what action he deemed appropriate. As I’ve come to expect from the Him, the results were dramatic. Two people who have only recently (two weeks…) become involved with the Life of The Faithful took it upon themselves to go to the spot where the picnic is usually held on our behalf. Instead of bringing food, however, they sang! This drew something of a crowd, and as they sang songs about God’s care for the hungry and the poor, people in the crowd were spontaneously sharing their food with one another.

Brother, I’m going to Baptise you

On Tuesday morning The Faithful gathered as usual on the Post Office steps for a briefing before heading out in twos. Their mission for the day was to identify people who could be encouraged in their life, and to provide that encouragement. Often it’s simple things, like, “I just wanted to let you know I really admire you. I can see that you’re a great mum. You’re doing a great job”, or “We need more people like you around!”, or “I see that you’re a very caring person”.

These simple encouragements are free of any explanation. They just make the city a better place to live (Oh, and it also develops character in The Faithful, and helps them to discern God better).

In the afternoon, as I was preparing for the Men’s Group (an evening meeting in a park in town), a local fellow reported to me that a group of people had shown up at the picnic spot expecting a repeat performance of the singing on Monday, and had gone away disappointed. Immediately I gestured to The Faithful around me and we prayed. In the process we all became convinced that this was going to work out for the best, and that the situation was under divine control.

Tuesday night came and I couldn’t attend the meeting. I had a call from someone who often relies on us for emotional support, and I could not interrupt the conversation. It was a mixture of suicide prevention, relationship counselling, and prayer. When the call finally finished I had a text from one of the boys at the Men’s Group meeting letting me know that six people, all related to one another, had suddenly shown up that evening. They were the ones who had been looking for us at lunchtime.

You have ears to hear

Apparently these people had been determined enough to ask around the community to find out how to connect with us. They didn’t have to look too far before someone was able to tell them about our regular Tuesday evening meeting. They showed up and were welcomed, got to share stories and pray with the boys, sing some of the songs they had heard on Monday, and were told where to find us at other times of the week.

Wednesday is when our crews focus on businesses. We develop relationships with local business owners. It took a while to build up these relationships, dropping in and making ourselves known, running errands where possible, but it’s gaining traction now. They have started to understand that we are a useful link to the community.

The businesses can talk to us about crimes they have experienced – from shoplifting to break-and-enter. Often, if we put the word out that we are looking for the perpetrator of a certain crime, the locals find the person and bring them to us. This happens because of the respect we enjoy in the community. We work to achieve reconciliation between the perpetrator and the business owner, and so far nobody has gone on to press charges because they see the redemptive value in our method. In fact the business owners are usually so encouraged by the experience that they take a personal interest in the perpetrator’s progress afterwards. In one case they hired the girl who had stolen from them! Next month we have a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce to talk about our role, which should be interesting…

People in the crowd were spontaneously sharing their food with one another

In the afternoon the eldest man of the family group from the previous night tracked me down. He had spent half the day looking for me. I greeted him warmly. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like you people. I’ve never seen anyone pray like that before. It’s like I can feel God. I want to join. How do I join?”

I laughed, and said, “Didn’t they tell you last night? You already belong. Right now! Welcome, brother!”

He leaned closer, “Nah, cuz. I mean join. You know… How can I say it. I don’t want to just be friends. I want to be… you know… youse. You guys. I want to be with God like that. Bah, I don’t even know how to tell ya.” He was close to tears.

I looked him in the eye and said, “Brother, I’m going to Baptise you”.

He said, “What’s that?”

I explained briefly that Baptism is a participation in Jesus’ death, and therefore a new birth “of God”, which is from, and oriented to, God. I explained that it cleanses away the old and makes a clean space for the new. I told him about Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go, Baptise, teach”. There were now tears on down cheeks. “I want that, brother, yes”.

So I Baptised him. We were in the centre of town. We hopped into the water-fountain in the Mall and, attended by about a dozen of The Faithful, I Baptised him there. His name is James.

 I’ve never seen anyone pray like that before. It’s like I can feel God.

Anyway, the rest of the week was a similar barely-organised chaos, in which the best-laid plans were frequently eclipsed by God’s agenda. You get the picture.

On Sunday morning I attended church as normal. It wasn’t my turn to officiate the service, and I wasn’t preaching this week, either. That worked out ok because James turned up with his whole extended family, and it was a great opportunity to share the church experience with them. They were surprised to find at church only a few of The Faithful they had met earlier in the week. I explained that many of The Faithful they had met were connected to other churches, or no church at all. Some were part of the Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday congregations which meet in the same building, but are run by different groups (to save on real estate costs).

“Who are all these people, then?” James asked.

“Well, most of them have jobs, so we don’t see them much during the week”, I explained. “That’s where the money comes from for me to be in the community all week. We’re all one community. We just have different roles.”

He nodded, starting to understand. I said, “You know what? They’d be really encouraged to hear your story, and your thoughts on your Baptism…”

He agreed to share.

I gestured to the service leader and she invited me to the microphone. I introduced James and handed him the microphone.

We simply allowed the Lord to take what action he deemed appropriate

He proceeded to talk about his life experiences with surprising aplomb, culminating in the story of his Baptism in the fountain during the week. The church applauded him enthusiastically, and he was startled at their warmth and enthusiasm. Half a dozen people spontaneously jumped up and surrounded him, and started praying for him. Then he came back and sat down shaking his head and wiping away tears. He was visibly moved, and confounded in a sweet way – a way that is all too familiar to me, as I see person after person being confronted by a revelation of genuine fellowship and fraternal love. I never tire of it. I gave him a pat on the back and a smile.

We then heard two other stories from other activities that The Faithful had been conducting in the community during the week. One sister was the CEO of a medium-sized company. She had provided the software, facilities, and funding for a system that allowed charitable organisations to start up and shut down nimbly on a project-basis as the needs arose and changed. She was preparing for a crowd-funding launch of the service. She gave us an update on her progress, and led us in prayer.

Then a brother spoke. He had been busy setting up discussion/support groups in the boarding houses in the local area. He was asking for help with some logistics. I made a mental note to connect him with two of the guys in my Tuesday group who would gladly help him do that.

Then an open-prayer time went for a full 25 minutes, and we all enjoyed the singing so much that we went an hour over time. Nobody was surprised. It happens often.

After church, James was a little sheepish. I asked what was on his mind. He looked awkward, but finally said, “It’s just… I think God wants me to baptise my whole family, not just myself. That’s how my culture works: I’m the man, so if I’m a Christian, my family should be Christian. Is that wrong? I don’t know if that’s how it works.”

Yes James, if that’s your culture, that’s precisely how it works, just as it was in the beginning. God bless you. You have ears to hear.

 

See below for some of the experiences that have informed this vision:

… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 1

Posted on May 5th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street INJECTION MISHAP: So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 2

Posted on May 12th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street LADIES BOXING MATCH So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 3

Posted on May 19th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street JUST GOT OUT So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends with…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 4

Posted on May 26th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street Never seen anything like this before So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 5

Posted on Jun 2nd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street The God of the Christians only? Or of the whole world? What about the Drug Dealer? So many amazing and fascinating things…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 6

Posted on Jun 9th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street I'm a Dealer So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends with…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 7

Posted on Jun 16th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street A dealer of life So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 8

Posted on Jun 23rd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street Services for the Street Community - is funding flowing again? So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 9

Posted on Jul 7th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street Texting the Gospel So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 10

Posted on Jul 14th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street No, getting punched in the face is not your fault So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 11

Posted on Jul 21st, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 The Word on the Street Princess Mary of Christchurch So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 12

Posted on Sep 9th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 The Word on the Street Clothed with Christ So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 13

Posted on Oct 21st, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 The Word on the Street The Leaven in the Dough So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 14

Posted on Dec 15th, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

 The Word on the Street Love is the Answer So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 15

Posted on Dec 22nd, 2014 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street Angel of Ipswich So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends…

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To God, There are no Dead Men – Luke 20:38

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Words of Life I met a mentally unstable, completely homeless, suicidal man. He had planned to commit suicide by drug overdose in just a few…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 16

Posted on May 11th, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street Freedom So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets making friends with…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 17

Posted on May 22nd, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 18

Posted on Jun 19th, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street THE PARABLE OF THE ONE WAY STREET So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on the streets…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 19

Posted on Jun 23rd, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I move around on…

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… and this just in: News from the Streets of Ipswich. Issue 20

Posted on Jun 30th, 2015 - By Kevin Bennett - 0 Comments

The Word on the Street FROM HIS FULLNESS WE HAVE ALL RECEIVED, GRACE UPON GRACE So many amazing and fascinating things go on in Ipswich, as I…

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