Becoming Catalysts for Change
A summary report on the recent Scottish Network Churches Conference 2008
by Tony Walters
I once read a statement made by John Nuveen which stated, “You can usually judge your age by the amount of pain you feel, when you come into contact with a new idea, or are confronted by change”. That’s how I felt when I received an invitation to attend the Scottish Network Churches annual conference at Bishopbriggs which was entitled, ‘Becoming catalysts for change’. Oh no, not more ideas about change, was my first response. After all, most of us are looking for that ready made plan or model ‘to do church’ and bring us an experience as in Acts 2:41. Then I considered the networking opportunities to encourage one another and renew old friendships. After all God is the author of connections and perhaps it is He that is inviting me to go. So there we were, Freda and me awaiting the start of a two day conference about change.
The first challenge for delegates was to explore, how we can engage with community whilst living in an age of de-construction. Presented by Alistair McIndoe, Leader of the Rock Community Church, Dumbarton, Alistair considered the key issues facing Christians today, living in a post modern society brought with it drugs, independent thinking, lack of order and resistance to authority. The Governments answer is to pass more laws in an attempt to change behaviour, but the problem gets worse. Delegates were given examples of the messages being portrayed by the music of our day; I wanna know what love is? – by Foreigner. Amidst the confusion in our world is a heart felt cry to understand. If people can’t understand the issues, then how can they apply a solution? Where is the solution, what can church offer this confused world?
Using the books of Ezra and Jeremiah, Alistair gave examples of how to address the issues of today. Remembering Ezra was operating in a pagan world, Alistair explained change would only come, when human beings realise our primary calling is to be a people of God, focussed on love and peace. We do have a calling to change the world. The people of God are being called back to their primary function, with the worship of God being at the centre of all we do. Church growth is based on the gifting of the people working them out in the community. We should be looking to what the Father is doing today and Zechariah 4:6 is the key to our success.
Building Community in Post Christendom
Speaker – Stuart Murray-Williams, Director of Urban Expression
Stuart considered the position of the Church in what he describes as a ‘Post Christendom’ period. Leaving aside whether we agree that there is such a thing as ‘Post Christendom’, it appears we are not where we are supposed to be. We are in a period of transition. On this journey it is important for us to decide what we take with us, and what needs to be left behind. In this transition it is important to maintain the connection with tradition and the past. We need to know where we have come from to enable us to get where we are going. This is a time for fresh thinking, new ideas.
We were reminded that God is not obliged to send revival or change things; in fact we are told He is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Just as the Israelites, in exile, were called by Jeremiah to build community whilst in a foreign land, we also are being called to do the same in our own society, which can often appear to be foreign to our way of thinking. So what should we do? Some of us are grieving the loss of the church in our communities, others see this time as an opportunity to discover Jesus. In a time when the church is in decline in Europe, perhaps there is a need to move out into the margins where Christ is at work, this is where the big shift is taking place, after all it was from the margins that Christ came. Our fresh thinking should include ‘What will discipleship look like in the margins’ in our time? ‘How will we tell the story of Jesus in this period of transition? Our task is to be where the church is the weakest not where it is the strongest.
Faith in the community
The real challenge of the conference was to find ways of working out our faith in the community. Several guests were invited to tell the story of how they are being Jesus in their own communities. A selection of stories included buying a pub, turning it into a coffee shop and running this as a Christian centre to engage community. A group of ladies engage through their interest in quilt making now have the largest quilt exhibition in Scotland, with the displays in churches. Micro finance for the relief of personal debt, assisting small business start up, mentoring and support for Christian executives in business, inner city mission activity, a lady running Alpha in a block of flats and looking for other opportunities right where she is at, care of the environment, work in Rwanda were all examples of Christians out there, ’doing church’, in the community.
It was becoming clear to me that church in our day is not about inviting the community to come and visit us in our building, but taking what we have out in the community and meet people where they are.
Our new thinking needs to include ways of being a church that is sustaining. This is not a call to invent new programmes which when launched, fizzle out because they are unsustainable after the initial hype and glory. We need to find new ways of re-telling the story of God in our worship, prayers and preaching. Involvement is the key; there is a challenge for the monologue from the front, to be replaced by congregational interaction. The restoration of ‘Rich worship’, (that doesn’t particularly mean praise bands), is essential in the new order. It was music to my ears that the importance of food is high on the agenda in building friendships. Scripture shows how Jesus often revealed himself whilst breaking bread, and sharing food around the table. So often we talk of having fellowship, our goal should be to build friendships.
A selection of Snippets from the various speakers
• a church grows with people 10 years either side of the age of the leader.
• strife, discord, conflict and deadly opposition often occurs in families when one member decides to follow Christ. As disheartening as these divisions may be, a disciple must not let natural affections cause any weakening of their attachment to Christ.
• Christ does not bring mamby, pamby sentimentalism, peace at any price. The cross of Christ is the answer to the devils compromise.
• the movers and shakers of our time need to be moved and shaken.
• I challenge you to name 5 people who you know, who are classified as poor!
• how can we change the perception that church is for the middle class?
• the Fathers at work, are we there where He is?
• we need to encourage ourselves in what the Father is doing.
So as we came to the end of a busy two days with wonderful hospitality by the Bishopbriggs team, there were many challenges for us to take back with us to Fort William.
Did I find a new model for church or learn how to get droves of people into church next Sunday, no. What I did find was a group of enthusiastic Christian people who were just trying to work out their faith as Jesus called them to do, people who are not afraid to acknowledge the work is not easy, or that they have made mistakes.
The key factor is that they are doing something for the Lord right now, where they are! Whilst we continue to look at the bigger picture of church we need to remember that we as individuals are the catalysts for change in the place where we live, what we do now matters. It is easy to beat ourselves up and look at what we are not achieving.
This conference made me realise that what we do on a day to day really matters and we should be encouraged by that. Not only does it matter to those around us but also to God. If God decides to pour out His Spirit and bring revival to Scotland then OK, that will bring us new challenges. Bring them on Lord, bring them on.
Will I be back next year? Yes I think so. Thank you Bishopbriggs Team for stirring the passion of Christ resident within me.
Tony Walters is part of a cross denominational group of Christians known as, ‘Round the Loch Christian Fellowship’, trying to work out their faith in the community near Fort William. He has written a report for Christians Together about the various fellowship meetings 'around the Loch'.
Recordings of all the six inputs from the speakers are available on CDs at £12.50 from:
Scottish Network Churches, Bishopbriggs Community Church
Tel. 0141 762 1473 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tony Walters, 20/05/2008