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All the gear, no idea?

My wife, Ruth, and I recently returned from a few days holiday in the Lake District. The weather was good to us, our accommodation was superb, and along with our always enthusiastic springer spaniel, we were able to get out on to the fells most days. It was so good to discover new walks and enjoy the stunning spring scenery.

One of the things I most enjoy on holiday after a long walk, is indulging in a nice latte or a pint of the local bitter, and simply watching the world go by. Most people in Keswick appear to be holiday makers, many of whom have decided to thoroughly embrace the outdoor lifestyle look. It’s all about the latest Gore-tex jackets, walking boots, base layers and who’s sporting the biggest North Face logo (other brands are available).

This is all well and good until we actually take to the fells. I always feel a tad inferior as I lace up my old boots and chuck my 20yr old rucksack on my back; that is until we actually hit the inclines and begin to climb. Now please don’t misunderstand me, my wife and I are no mountain goats, but before long we often find ourselves pulling well ahead of other walkers, who are often well clad in the best outdoor gear and sporting all the extras. Then further along when there’s a fork in the path you may well witness couples arguing over which way to go - nice trousers, but he’s forgotten the map! Now, I know this might sound a little harsh, but on these occasions I sometimes find myself inclined to glance back and think to myself… “all the gear, no idea!”

Whilst not on the fells this week, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on the Old Testament book of Amos, and I’ve been struck again by the forthright nature of his prophecy. Amos lived simply amongst a group of shepherds in Tekoa, a small rural town south of Jerusalem. He didn’t come from a family of prophets, and indeed he said of himself “I’m not a professional prophet, and was never trained to be one. I’m just a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore fig trees” (Amos 7:14).

I wonder, could Amos’ connection with a simpler life serve as a reminder to the church of today? Indeed, might we be guilty like some Lake District ramblers of having ‘all the gear and no idea?’ Maybe it’s just me (and forgive the rant), but I get a little frustrated with denominations launching endless new top-down initiatives, social media feeds full of adverts for the latest course, conference or off the shelf quick fix resources, or indeed churches spending what appears a disproportionate amount of money on tech kit. It appears so easy to busy ourselves simply shifting the deckchairs around on the deck of the Titanic so to speak, as we watch a church turning in on itself and entering survival mode, whilst becoming more and more distanced from the very people we’re called to love and minister amongst. Please understand me, I’m not at all against attending courses and conferences, neither do I decry investing in our church buildings, or indeed seeking to ensure that our AV kit is up to speed, but perhaps there’s another way.

Amos spoke simply and profoundly to this issue in his day as he prophesied “my people have forgotten how to do it right” (3:10), and again “I hate all your show and pretences” (5:21), indeed one commentator says of God’s people in Amos’ day that they were “Drunk on their own economic success and intent on strengthening their financial position, the people had lost the concept of caring for one another; Amos rebuked them because he saw in that lifestyle evidence that Israel had forgotten God.”

Now, just like Amos, I’m no prophet, but could God be calling us to a new, simpler way of being His people in the rural church? Might we have ‘forgotten how to do it right?’ (3:10). I’m not sure, I don’t have many answers, but I tend to think God would find it a lot easier to work with us, mould us and shape us, if we came to Him open handed; maybe ‘no gear and no idea’ is where we should be starting!

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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