The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.
So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.
It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.
Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.
It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes
‘Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’
What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.
A great short video designed to show that how we say things often matters as much as what we say.
‘Train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity’ – JC Ryle’s 17 duties of Parents
‘Train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heaven; train them for God, train them for Christ, and train them for eternity. Amen.’ So concludes JC Ryle’s sermon Duties of Parents based on Proverbs 22:6 ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’
The sermon is a must read for all who are parents or god-parents and for all who train or teach children at church and for all who wish to pray for parents in their responsibilities. But if you want the headings for all 17 points of this sermon then here is how JC Ryle urges you to train your children rightly:
1.train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would
2. train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience
3. train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you
4. train with this thought continually before your eyes that the sould of your child is the first thing to be considered
5. train your child to a knowledge of the Bible
6. train them to a habit of prayer
7. train them to a habits of diligence, and regularity about public means of grace
8. train them to a habit of faith
9. train them to a habit of obedience
10. train them to a habit of always speaking the truth
11. train them to a habit of always redeeming the time
12. train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence
13. train them remembering continually how God trains his children
14. train them remembering continually the influence of your own example
15. train them remembering continually the power of sin
16. train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture
17. train them, lastly, with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do
Thanks to Richard Underhill who introduced me to this sermon at New Word Alive 2011.
Britons have become miserable because we are selfish, unfit and anti-social begins an article in yesterday’s Telegraph.
The article continues Experts say that unless we undergo a ‘radical cultural change’, the population will slide into unprecedented depths of despair and that rates of depression and suicide will rise.
We are according to the paper in a psychological decline.
So what is causing this bad state of mental health? According to experts the answer is that we do not give enough to others, have lost the art of connecting with those around us, and no longer possess a sense of belonging in society.’
Dr. Anthony Seldon comments;
“Young people now are being brought up grasping for what they don’t have rather than appreciating everything they already do.
“For everything we have gained in material wealth and sophistication in recent years, we have lost in happiness and the overall richness of the fabric of society.
“If we don’t act now, in the future we are likely to see increased levels of adolescent suicide and mental illness, and a culture in which taking anti-depressant drugs is the norm.”
What the research demonstrates is what happens when life turns in on itself. When we live for ourselves and are concerned only for ourselves it will have a profoundly negative
What about solutions?
So what answers does our society have to such a crisis? Well if the answers proposed by actionforhappiness.org are anything to go by, pretty much none! When you read down the list of suggestions they are nothing but a list of ideas on how to try and manufacture happiness in the absence of any meaning, purpose, value or direction to life.
How do you find happiness in a life devoid of hope!
Joseph Addison once said ‘the grand essential to happiness in this life are; something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for’
True and lasting happiness, the joy in life that we seek, are all rooted not in thinking positive thoughts about ourselves but through a knowledge that we are loved. Our joy is a joy derived from a relationship with the living God.
CS Lewis has so helpfully said:
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
You can’t make yourself happy! You can’t manufacture joy. It comes from a source outside of yourself. Our happiness is a gift borne out of a relationship with a God who is supremely happy in himself and so desires that we share our joy in him.
Lewis again: Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
The 10 suggestions for happiness put forward by a think-tank actionforhappiness.org show how desperate our desire for happiness has become and yet how even more desperate our search has become.
1. Giving. Do things for others – volunteer to work for a charity in your spare time.
2. Relating. Connect with people – get in touch with friends with whom you had lost contact.
3. Exercising. Take care of your body – go for a run.
4. Appreciating. Notice the world around – take time to appreciate wildlife in your area.
Worship. Notice the world around and thank God for his goodness
5. Trying out. Keep learning new things – learn a new language.
6. Direction. Have goals to look forward to – make resolutions and stick to them.
Hope. Realise that
7. Resilience. Find ways to bounce back – learn from defeats to do things better in the future.
8. Emotion. Take a positive approach – focus on the happy moments of your life rather than the sad.
9. Acceptance. Be comfortable with who you are – do not dwell on your flaws.
10.Meaning. Be part of something bigger – join a society or club.
Surely at no point in human history in the western world have we so manifestly demonstrated our need for God. We cannot make it alone. We need God more than ever for life now and for life eternal.
Final thought from CS Lewis. ‘Happiness is never in our power and pleasure rarely is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.’
A remarkable article in this week’s New Stateman magazine (thanks for the link, Lucy).
In which Brand attacks evangelical atheism, discusses his own faith and considers the design inherent in the universe. Well worth a look at the article in full but here’s a great quote.
There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.
A church works hard in making visitors welcome in their meetings, ensuring that the gospel is preached faithfully and engagingly and putting on events and programmes to give everyone an opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ.
And yet, despite the prayers of many and the faithful witness it is harder than ever to get people into our buildings. Maybe evangelism isn’t enough? Are we really being all things to all people if all we offer are our services in our buildings in our language on our terms?
A growing number of churches are looking for ways to reach outside the church. Whether we prefer the name ‘missional church’, ‘fresh expressions’, or anything else the goal is to take the gospel to those who don’t do church or at least wouldn’t get church doing it in the way we’ve always done it.
At New Word Alive 2011 I’m heading up a track called ‘Reaching outside the church’ and our aim is to think creatively about how we do exactly that – reach the majority of the British population who are asking no spiritual questions and see no relevance to the church and the message of the gospel to their lives.
So here are 8 questions and reflections to help us assess whether our church thinks evangelism is enough;
1. Are we about evangelism or mission in our church life? Evangelism is about bringing in. Mission is about going out.
2. Do we think we’ve done our job as a witnessing community if we have offered evangelism training and are putting on evangelistic programmes? If we run a mission week or leaflet drop the local houses?
3. Do we think it’s the fault of the unbeliever if he doesn’t come to our events or do we feel that the responsibility lies with us, at least in part, to think of new ways to get the gospel out.
4. Do we seek to identify individuals in our churches who are gifted evangelists & missionaries to our own communities? Are we willing to let this work be their main ministry. Do we seek to train them and to send them into our neighbourhoods and communities?
5. Are we ready to orientate ministries of the church around new ideas for outreach? For example meetings in different locations to reach different people?
6. Do we give people permission and positive encouragement to develop ministries and outreach strategies that reach outside the church.
7. Have we even identified those people in our communities who are as yet not reaching with hte gospel. Do we know what makes them tick, what they think of church, what might be the most effective way of reaching them?
8. Do we look to other churches for ideas, information, training in reaching outside the church. Are we ready to make time to think this through.
Perhaps its time to move from evangelistic programmes to missional communities
1. Know and interact with the three best arguments against the Christian position
2. Pray hard
1. Refer to the Bible, maybe use a passage from the Bible. Demonstrate that it is your authority. Show that you are not speaking on your own behalf but seeking to represent Christ.
2. Take people to the cross
3. Don’t try and say too much and introduce too many ideas. What you have to leave out have ready to introduce, in condensed form, in the question-time
4. Work hard on the introduction – engaging and demonstrating an ability to resonate with the ‘problem’ being addressed. Show them that you ‘feel’ the problem.
5. If there is an ‘authority’ on an issue try to cite him (as long as you understand him). e.g. Dawkins on atheism, Singer on ethics,
6. Don’t cite Christian authorities by name who would be unknown to a non-Christian audience e.g. Stott, Keller, Schaeffer…
7. Don’t be defensive about Biblical truth – our role is not to defend God but rather to show the truthfulness and reasonableness of what God says.
8. Never apologise for what the Bible says but do admit to personal struggle in accepting what the Bible says e.g. gay friends,….
9. Always admit what we do not know because the Bible does not tell us
10. Always admit what you don’t know because you haven’t thought about it.
11. Trust the Lord by speaking clearly of what we do know even if you think it will push people away from the gospel.
12. Expect to be misunderstood and be patient
13. Have in mind a variety of listener
1. Show why this is a necessary and important issue for them to resolve for themselves not just an issue to see Christians squirm over.
2. Make clear the limitations a 20-25 minute talk place on addressing the issue at hand. Tell them what you do hope to achieve in a single talk.
3. Watch out for the crunch of gears between ‘prosecution’ and ‘invitation’ – we don’t want an apologetic talk with 2 ways to live bolted on the end
4. Show them that you love them, however you can.
5. Help your hearer to see that they need the gospel to be true if they are to make sense of life. Show them from practical examples why that is so.
6. Don’t be aggressive, antagonistic or hostile to your audience even if they are all of those things to you.
7. Don’t attack the man eg insult Richard Dawkins but do show the folly of his thinking
8. Don’t give them reason to dislike you – only the gospel
9. Invitation needs to be clear – exactly what do you want them to do in response and why.
We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use laying down a priori what the ‘plain man’ does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience…You must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome…but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts are confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood your own meaning.
C.S. Lewis – God in the Dock
1. Listen well to the question: thank them for it (no matter how stupid)
2. Take your time in answering a question, if necessary ask for clarification
3. Be prepared to offer a challenge back to the questioner. E.g. Our answer may leave us with unanswered questions but what alternative explanation are they putting forward
4. Don’t enter into a to-and-fro with a single questioner but invite them to talk with you on your own afterwards.
5. Have a clear finish time and stick to it, but stay around as long as you can afterwards
6. Always have literature available and plenty of it. Explain which would be helpful for who, Try not to have too many different books that would overwhelm or confuse.
7. Don’t let the questions set an entirely new agenda – try and draw Q&A back to the topic under consideration as set out in the title.
8. Remind people of what you said, briefly, in the talk as you answer questions.
A few weeks ago I posted a copy of a letter I sent to the BBC regarding it’s decision to commission a three-part series entitled ‘The Bible’s buried secrets.’ Here is the BBC’s reply with my comments on their reply in italics.
Dear Mr Powell
Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ broadcast on BBC Two.
I understand that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity (No, I didn’t say that. I said that the BBC is biased against Christianity. My letter was a complaint that the BBC is very willing to broadcast programmes critical of the Bible and that the BBC seems willing to broadcast quite sensationalist claims about all sorts of errors in the Bible but would never broadcast programmes critical of the Qur’an), and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religions beliefs (that bit is right).
Whilst I appreciate your concerns, Christian programming is, and remains, the cornerstone of the BBC’s religious output (not sure how that actually addresses my concern). In addition to exploring and celebrating all the other major faiths in the UK, the BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christiaintiy across TV and radio.
It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam. (Oh dear. It really would help everyone concerned if you had read my letter and interacted with my arguments than answer points I’m not raising.) Since the events of 9/11 there have been numerous programmes about fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, extreme beliefs of some Muslims and issues about Sharia Law. (Again that’s not my point ).
On the subject of the Qur’an (at last!) Channel 4 did address academic studies that question the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an (Well not exactly. The documentary, entitled The Quran broadcast in July 2008 was a genuinely good piece of broadcasting, but a very different one from the BBC’s on the Bible. The channel 4 documentary didn’t address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an as you suggest it did. Rather its focus was the issue of diverse interpretations of the book. At no point did it criticise the Qur’an or suggest in any way that it might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s Bible’s Buried Secrets did for the Bible.)
This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present (You’ve got to be joking! In my original letter I gave examples of Islamic scholars questioning the origins of the Qur’an that have not been touched by any documentary maker, ever, in the UK. So why not make the programme that no broadcaster dare make ‘The Qur’an’s buried secrets’ on how a growing number of scholars are arguing that the origins of the text of the Qur’an was from pre-existing, pre-Islamic writings.)
So there we have it. The BBC is willing to broadcast programmes about Islamic extremism, channel 4 is willing to broadcast a programme on how the Qur’an is interpreted, but if this response is anything to go by the BBC still thinks it’s a good idea to give the Bible a good kicking but not the Qur’an. I wonder why?
How do churches grow? Great preaching, interesting programmes, good music? All of these are hugely important but what sort of conversations we take part in before, after and perhaps in services changes the culture of the church and makes a big difference as to whether they are likely to stick around, settle in and grow up in their Christian lives.
How can we as individuals and as churches ensure that our churches are places where the new-comer is made to feel welcome and community functions through our conversations.
A state of mind
1. Make it your business, a stated prayerful intent, to make a difference to someone else’s life at each church meeting, service or event. Pray that God will use you to speak words of life and hope into someone else’s life.
2. Adopt a deliberate mindset of looking out for others, thinking who’s new, who’s sitting on their own, who looks weary and be strategic in your conversations.
3. Plan to be there early. In your mind think of the church service as starting at least 5 minutes before the service start time rather than 5 minutes after the service start time.
Meeting someone for the first time
4. Look to meet someone you’ve not met before. Don’t leave it to others. You don’t need to be an extravert or have profound things to say you just need to care. If you’re the shy type then try and involve someone else in the conversation.
5. Greet people with a friendly smile and a ‘hello’ even if you can’t stop at that moment to speak with them.
6. Don’t assume someone you meet for the first time is a Christian or even a regular church-goer.
7. Do be discreet in how you ask someone what they believe. Maybe ‘do you have a faith?’ is better than ‘so are you a Christian?’
8. Once you’ve chatted for a few minutes with someone new why not introduce them to someone else and after a brief introduction leave them to it.
Meeting someone a second time
9. When you meet someone a first time try and jot down their name and one or two details. Use that to pray for them in the week.
10. A second conversation, maybe a week later, is often of greater value than a first. The fact that you’ve remembered a name and gone to speak to someone again communicates a great deal about the value you put on someone.
11. Maybe try and introduce them this time to someone who you think that they may have something in common with or appreciate meeting.
12. Promote a culture of deeper conversation by remembering a key point from the sermon and one thing that you learned from it. Rather than simply asking ‘what did you think of the sermon’ offer to them instead one way in which you were helped by the sermon and only then ask what they got out of it.
13. Don’t hide behind the fact that if you are in a larger church you may not know the individual
Making it last
14. If you’re hosting church people for lunch why not leave one or two places to be filled after the morning service. That way the newcomer gets an invite to lunch.
15. If you a part of a good social network in the church and there is space for others to join eg group cinema trip or Frisbee in the park why not look to include and involve someone who otherwise might face a quiet weekend.
16. Organise a bring and share church-lunch on a regular basis to extend hospitality and welcome. We have one once a month after the morning service and approximately 60% of the congregation stay including a surprising number of visitors.
17. It can be a bit awkward and may not be something you do every week but why not include an opportunity in the service to ‘talk to someone you don’t know’ along with an encouragement to carry on the conversation afterwards.
18. Whether or not you have anything as formal as a welcome desk or welcome team at least ensure that there is someone at the door to offer a friendly greeting as people arrive and a friendly goodbye as people leave.
1. Do we understand that our own church has a ‘culture’ including a set of often unspoken assumptions that shape the attitudes and opinions surrounding the question of whether women should return to work?
2. Does this culture create and enforce an expectation that there is only one godly thing a family can do in deciding if and when women return to work. Does that culture operate blindly ie without any regard for each family’s set of circumstances and situation?
3. To what extent is the culture of our church informed by biblical principles of child-rearing and to what extent by culture and tradition. Do we expect a uniform pattern of behaviour amongst women once children come along? Are women under an unfair pressure in terms of what is appropriate as a ‘Christian’ in the decision as to whether they return to work or not?
4. How do we provide practical advice and assistance for couples starting a family as they reach their decision? How do we appropriately help them assess where they stand on that spectrum between choosing to work – having to work – choosing to stay at home.
5. Do we prepare young couples before children come along eg in marriage preparation so that the decisions that they make on Continue reading »
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