Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reviving the near-dead

I've just started reading Kester Brewin's book "Signs of Emergence". I'm only 30 pages in but already convinced it's brilliant, it has to be, it agrees with many of my own preferences...

I wish I could write half as eloquently as he does, he explores so beautifully the situation of the contemporary UK church. One passage I wanted to share with you comes in the middle of the introductory chapter. Brewin has challenged the opinion that the route to the revitalisation of church is the personal holiness of members, arguing that it is because what churches offer is "boring, unchanging, irellevant, says nothing to them (church leavers) about their life, and was completely unconnected to their experience" that church attendances have declined so sharply. (by the way, is there any kind of matrix developed that could chart the pace of change in western society? I have a hunch that if we could compare the stats on church decline with the rate of change in society we'd see a pattern - the church shrinking at the rate it refuses to adapt to societal change)

It's not individual holiness levels that need to change, he argues, but our corporate actions. He goes so far as to suggest it is outrageous to continue taking people's resources and pouring them into "ruptured wineskins". Strong stuff.

And then..

People love to talk of revival, but fail to grasp that things that need reviving are by definition close to death. Yes, I believe the church needs to pray for revival, but I would like to reclaim the word from the ribbon dancers and charismatic sensationalists. When we talk of revival we should not think of some joyous time with thronging masses of people spontaneously coming to our doors. Rather we should wince at the prospect of the rib-cracking pain of emergency resuscitation as this dying body is shaken back to life. Put the discipleship books back on the shelves for a while and get down to the drawing board, for this is not going to happen through a an upsurge of personal holiness but by a radical transformation in our corporate practice.

Is emerging church a kind of near-death experience? Is it only when we come face to face with the near extinction (I struggle to believe that the church can fully die, as Jesus proclaimed to be continually building it) of the body that we are ready to deal with the pain of reviving it? I wonder how many of our fellowships will indeed die instead of changing before the wider church gets a clue and takes the leaps of imagination and faith necessarly to replant the church in contemporary Britain.

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