Laurence Singlehurst helps us navigate tricky waters and adverse currents
One of my great privileges is to go around churches and observe as they go through the challenge of change. This challenge often represents itself as a new vision, a dream: a dream of mobilising church members; a dream of a greater depth and spirituality in connection with God; a dream of more effective mission; of church members connected to their friends and neighbours; of new projects and influence into our community. This new dream inspires and challenges.
And churches, as it were, boldly leave the harbour of where they have been, and set out on an exciting journey to a new land, to the new vision, to the dream. But perhaps (and maybe it is just as well) we don’t realise that actually this journey is more treacherous than we imagine, and we will be tempted many times to go back to where we came from.
As we set out on this journey we are not alone – we believe that the Holy Spirit is with us, that he is guiding us and empowering us on this journey – that’s the good news. However, the bad news is that our church history and certain aspects of modern culture work against us, and we have to face adverse currents, and difficult rocks that lie ahead. So as far as the cell journey is concerned, let me highlight some of those negative currents and potential rocks that lie out there.
People power versus consumerism
One of our dreams in the Cell movement is to break the tradition that says 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Our hope is to mobilise the whole of the body of Christ in effective discipleship and mission. When we began this journey 10-15 years ago we thought this would be relatively easy – a few good sermons, new cell groups, 10 meetings and we will be there – but sadly that has not been the case.
We have found all sorts of currents that we have had to contend with, such as the current of consumerism: in the 80s and 90s we at times preached a gospel that said ‘Come to Jesus and you will be saved and healed and blessed’, and perhaps we oversold the benefits of the gospel and we created what I call ‘consumer church’. This is when we come to church to be blessed and encouraged, to receive fab teaching and fellowship, and if we don’t experience these things in the way we imagine there is a temptation to leave and go to other places.
We have also created ‘consumer God’, which is an expectation that somehow as Christians we get a better ticket through life and hard times don’t knock on our door. But of course this is not true. We have the joy of Jesus being with us but that doesn’t mean that you and I don’t experience the difficulties of life, we are just not on our own. So in a sense people have an expectation of being a receiver, but the cell movement brings an expectation of us all being workers and that we are blessed to be a blessing. This goes against the strong current of consumerism.
‘Come’ versus ‘go’
Even stronger is another current – it is what I call the ‘come’ current. We have had a form of mission for the last 100 years or so which is about ‘come to church’. We have all dreamed of a revival where suddenly our churches will be filled with non Christians coming to our buildings and experiencing the wonder of God. The challenge, however, is that Jesus told us to ‘go’ and we are actually seeking to create a ‘go’ culture where every Christian is going out to their friends and neighbours, going to the workplace as salt and light. In order to do this we have to fight the powerful historical current that is seeking to push us back into where we came from. But we must persevere.
When it comes to rocks, some of those upon which we could founder include the following: the rock of not enough people being saved, the rock of not enough small group leaders, the rock of ‘this gets boring’, the rock of doing small groups takes more leadership and effort and why don’t we go back to leaders doing everything. These rocks are very real.
As we battle these currents and avoid the rocks that lie out there, sometimes we as leaders become so overwhelmed by the problem that we come to a halt, and yet the challenge of leadership is to think about the future, to be a custodian of the dream. So perhaps what we have to do is to take a bearing, find out where we are and if we are lost or have hit a rock, instead of being passive and a victim of our circumstances we need to troubleshoot, to problem solve, to keep on explaining the culture we live in – to keep preaching about what God really wants us to do, and to press on however difficult it might be.
Let us imagine that our church has overcome the currents mentioned above, that it has become missional and that we are in greater contact with people, so the love of our church now reaches hundreds of people in our community – well this is very exciting but in real terms how many people will come to faith?
Well, the answer is it depends a little bit on where you are. If in France, one of the hardest countries in the world to do mission, you might see 1% of those contacts come to faith, that is one in a hundred. However, in America you might see 30 to 40 people out of a hundred come to faith, and some African and South American countries might be the same.
Europe, however, is some of the hardest ground in the world, spiritually speaking. It is the only continent where the church is not growing. In the UK we are seeing between 5-10% come to faith, so if we are holding 100 hands (ie. the love of your church reaching 100 people in the locality) we might see 10 people come to faith; if we are holding 300 hands we might see 15-30 people, which in a sense is quite encouraging and could mean doubling your church size in 3 to 6 years. But that will only happen if we are holding that significant number of hands, even with the wonder of Alpha and other similar initiatives.
John Wesley experienced this, but he also experienced what he called ‘hot spots’, places where he saw the power of God breaking the percentages and more people came to faith than expected. So he saw a reward for his hard work and perseverance, and in fact these hot spots were small precursors to a great revival which took place after he died.
As I go round various churches I see that most of us are involved in breaking the hard ground but I also see hotspots – some churches that are beginning to see people respond to the Christian message and love of Jesus. This is exciting but we have to avoid the rocks, we have to keep on going. There are other rocks and adverse currents out there that I have not mentioned in this article, but I hope we are encouraged to keep moving forward to the dream that God has put in your heart, the dream that God has for us and this nation.
Laurence Singlehurst is Director of Cell UK