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Watching and waiting for fruit

For the first time, I walk into one of our small rural churches to take a service. There are two servant hearted people already setting up the Church and a handful of people slowly start to trickle in. Everyone was happy to be there, mucking in and spending time with the people they cared about. It felt so warm and friendly, like a family - I was starting to get a glimpse of God.

As the service went on God’s presence was tangible, and when we gave a moment of silence in our prayers the Spirit spoke words of encouragement. I came away from that service so excited to have spent some quality time with God and the Church family, excited and envisioned for that community. Just as God is in the big and expected places, and God is in the small and the unexpected places too.

The death of the celebration style church?’ is an article from the Baptist Times. In it Michael Shaw wrote about how he’d noticed that "more and more people are moving from bigger, celebration style churches and finding their way to small community focused churches, like [his]" Shaw has noticed something different that God is doing, he’s calling people to the local, to the small and to community. This is not new, I know many charismatic Christians who, over the past 10-15 years, have been called from large ‘celebration churches’ as Shaw puts it, to serve in smaller communities, often rural. I’m sure many of you reading this can resonate with God’s call to send his Church into the forgotten places, to love and serve the local community.

God has been making a shift for a while now, but I’m not sure it’s just from big to small, it seems to be from impersonal to personal, from hero worship to community, and from Sunday centric to whole life discipleship. Shaw points to some of these in his article. It’s just that these are more easily achieved in a smaller environment.

This isn’t just happening in the Church though, it’s a cultural change in our society. People see through gloss and glamour and have been hungry for authenticity, integrity and community for a long time now. I see it every day when my children who, rather than perfectly watching edited films and TV, click on YouTube, when families choose to spend time at home and with friends rather than head out to Church on a Sunday, when people choose to buy locally produced food and to support their local pubs, and when people are sceptical of hot-shot politicians. Our country has shifted, and the church has too, hopefully not because we follow culture, but because we’ve learnt, sometimes painfully, what we care about and what we want to put our energy into.

Is this God? There’s a lot to say in reply to that question, so for now I’ll say this. Through my research I’ve discovered that a large part of discernment is the fruit of our prayers, decisions and actions - just as Matthew writes in Chapter 7 of his gospel. I’m not sure we will know what fruit is occurring for a while now, that’s part of being in the middle of change, we have to watch and wait. But there are markers in rural church communities across our country like local Christians regularly praying, the elderly finding a community and a home, two divided communities having a space to be together, the hungry being fed, and Holy Spirit meeting with people in unexpected places. I believe these are signs that God is at work in our rural communities, so let’s be encouraged and keep joining in with the Spirit at work, whilst watching and waiting for his fruit that is gently beginning to appear.

Jo Allen Director: South-West


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