I’m hearing church leader after church leader at the moment express the same sense: that we’re about to enter a new season, as church as we remember it becomes possible again.
But those same leaders have identified the trap lurking there: simply because we can return to the way things were doesn’t mean that we should.
Many of us have the sense that we’re living in a kairos moment, which we need to seize. Here, we feel as though we’re relaunching Christ Church, and have been re-examining everything we used to do, especially on Sundays, in the light of two key questions: is it effective? Is it fruitful?
The following verses from Joshua 3 have been very significant to us:
‘Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.’ Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.’ Joshua said to the priests, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.’ So they took it up and went ahead of them.’ (Joshua 3: 1-6)
A few thoughts which emerge:
• The people camped. The Bible has a great deal to say about the fact that following God involves … well, following. Followers of Jesus are people on the move, a pilgrim people… how ready are we for God to call us to break camp, move out from our positions and follow?
• The people followed their priests for the single reason that they carried the ark of the covenant, which symbolised God’s presence among his people. Today, God’s presence is of course inside each believer… and yet, God still invites people to follow leaders who pursue and honour his presence.
• The phrase ‘you have never been this way before’ has become very significant for us: that’s how it feels to be leading church at the moment, as we emerge (God willing) from the pandemic and set out in pursuit of where the Lord is asking us to go.
• Finally, the people are asked to consecrate themselves: what does that mean for us today?
The promise is that the LORD will do amazing things among you; isn’t that what we all long for? That the Lord will once again shake the earth, work wonders and save the lost. We can look at the world in which we live and despair. But the world at its worst needs a church at its best … and the only way to realise that is through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So I pray for you, as you enter this new season, that the Lord will fill you with the boldness of his Spirit to pursue his presence and so see lives and communities transformed.
Paul Langham is Vicar of Christ Church Clifton, Bristol and is New Wine’s Regional Director for the South West.