Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 2

In my previous blog I talked about how our context in the UK is similar to that into which Peter wrote, how as Christians we feel like foreigners and exiles in our own country. This blog develops those thoughts.

When I applied for an Indian visa I was asked how I had become a British citizen. Apparently there are different ways. You can live in the UK for 5 years, be of good character, and pass a citizenship test. Or even easier, be born British. Which is how I became British many years ago.

We are foreigners and exiles because we have been born into a new homeland.

1 Peter 1 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

We did not earn new citizenship by being of good character or passing citizenship tests but by being born again. Heaven is our new home, where our inheritance awaits.

We become strangers because we are strange – our values, lifestyle, priorities are so different from the surrounding culture. Our faith makes us strangers in our own land.

Not only strangers, but we also experience hostility.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

It is difficult for others to understand us.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

Our unbelieving neighbours don’t understand why we believe and what we believe. What they believe is so visible – money, sex and power are so obvious!

We shouldn’t be surprised by the situation we find ourselves in; there is nothing new under the sun! However as individuals and as a church we do need to adjust to it.

We need to shift our focus from putting on attractional events to creating attractional communities.

From the margins we point to God’s coming world and offer an alternative lifestyle, alternative values and relationships – a community which proves incredibly attractive. 1 Peter equips us to go back into the world, into our classrooms, boardrooms, factories, playgrounds, changing rooms as men and women who, like our Saviour before us, can be marginal yet truly world-changing.

Let us not pretend what goes on during our meetings on Sunday mornings is what Christianity is all about. It is what happens out in the world that is important. Sunday mornings are about equipping us, shaping us, empowering us, and encouraging us to minister in the world. God’s presence with us as we worship together but also out in the world where the real action takes place!

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Our context of ministering into the UK: Part 1

We are living in rapidly changing times as far as the church in the UK is concerned. A generation or so ago most people would claim to be Christian, even if they hardly ever attended a service of worship. Even today 72% still claim to be Christian and 70% believe the UK is a Christian country but these numbers are rapidly declining.

However in 1851 1 in 4 were regular churchgoers, even more were linked with church activities. Now it is 1 in 10 but only half of these are in church on a given Sunday. It is expected to be 1 in 25 by 2020.

A well publicised report from Tearfund declared that 70% of the population had no intension of visiting a church or getting involved in a church activity even if invited.

The context we are ministering is changing, the church needs to adapt to these changes. Car ads usually fill the second half of local newspapers, but they are only read if you are buying a car. The things we do in our church services are irrelevant for 70% of the people, they are not interested. Guest services, Alpha courses are irrelevant for 70%.

Yet many churches are growing – declining number of Christians consolidating into growing churches. We can grow church by offering a better church experience, a more vibrant form of Christianity, great welcome, good children’s work, attractive worship and a warm welcome. As a church we are doing all this, and we are growing. However unless we fish in the pool of 70% it is just about reshuffling same 52 cards.

The situation is very different in America and some parts of Africa. Models from there will not help us as we seek to reach our nation. However America is becoming more like the UK, we will have things to help them with in the future.

There was a time when “everyone” was a Christian because they were born in a Christian country. That time is long gone – but some residue remains. Special church services are held at key points in national life, we still have bishops in House of Lords, but on the whole Christianity squeezed out of public life.

We need to acknowledge the context we are working in, but not be discouraged or despairing. We shouldn’t look nostalgically to the past or to other countries. The situation we are in is the situation into which the NT was written.

e.g. 1 Peter.

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

211 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles,

We are according to Peter like immigrants, foreigners, temporary residents, refugees. We do not belong. Yet because previous generations were not like that we can consider our situation to be wrong – it is not it is Biblical!

At the time that Peter wrote this letter Christians were on the margins of society. Today Christian people are on the margins of society too. In the next few blogs I will explore the lessons we can learn from Peter’s letter to help us in our current context.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.