Metrologically, this week saw the official start of Spring. One might be forgiven for doubting the veracity of this information given current temperatures, overnight frosts, and warnings in the media of a new ‘beast from the east’. Nevertheless, a recent Facebook post from Ruth Birkett (the better half of my colleague Ali) included some inspiring pictures of how Spring is breaking out in nature in the Northeast. As a keen gardener and smallholder, I need this hope – this promise of better things to come.
This led me to consider ‘the church’ at this moment. There can be a temptation to fixate on a ‘narrative of negativity’ so that we are blinded to the early shoots of hope, signs of encouragement and stories of God breaking out of the boxes we have confined Him to. An ongoing critique of the church has been both needed and necessary. Unfortunately, there are still things we get very wrong, and there are still many unhealed hurts caused by those leading and those we lead. Issues around power, control and defining metrics of measurement still plague us. There is even a compelling temptation to throw it all away and start again because it seems ‘dead’ – however, as every keen gardener will know, many of the plants that have appeared dead over the past few months are now beginning to show signs of life, of fruit, foliage, and flowers to come. So, let’s put down our highlighters to mark all the faults and instead look for the signs of optimism, possibility, and opportunity.
As we enter Spring in the church, stories such as the charism at Asbury University should not surprise us. I love how this outbreaking of the Holy Spirit didn’t come from the Seminary opposite the University where people train to become professional church leaders, but instead from the secular University students who were simply that – students. I love the simplicity and deep authenticity of the worship, of people getting right with God. I want to put aside any cynicism about where it is or any temptation to attempt to replicate and manage this in the churches I am linked with. I do, however, want to accept this as an invitation to hope, not in the revival, but in the reviver. It was Nelson Mandela who once said, ‘things are only impossible until they happen’; there are signs of the impossible becoming possible in places where we might least expect.
I hope not in denominational strategy, charismatic leadership, visually engaging messages, new programmes, the latest digital technology, and multi-talented musician-led worship. These are things that, ultimately, we control, and indeed not the basis for any confidence. My hope is in what God does best: breaking out in the marginal, amongst the unlikely, sometimes forgotten, often disorientated and invariably humble. Such breaking out is frequently marked by the authentic, the simple, the prayerful, and the expectant; those who are getting themselves right with God and are yearning for more of Jesus. Invariably, this will be more of an analogue and less of a digital response. It will be more ‘one-anothering’, in-person meetings, perhaps more intimate and less media-driven.
So, I encourage you to accept this invitation to hope, an invitation that seems to echo in nature all around us. Let us set aside our cynicism, let go of our hang-ups, and seek God like never before. I feel compelled to pray over you the great prayer of the Apostle Paul and urge you to similarly pray over one another:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
CEO, Rural Ministries