I’ve spent the past couple of days reading through Isaiah chapter 1 as part of my second year of training on the Associate Scheme at St Helen’s.
It’s a brilliant chapter, made more brilliant for me by the memory I have of Mark Ashton, my vicar at university, preaching it five years ago. So I managed to dig out the recording of the sermon from the St Andrew the Great archives, and listened to it again this evening.
It really is a gem of a sermon, and I encourage everyone to listen to it. If you want to hear a modern British preacher at the top of his game, this is a great place to start. And more than that, as Mark says, this is a message for “all men, and all women, through all ages.”
I don’t know how many times over the past five years I’ve remembered Mark’s voice reading those well-known words of God – “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD”. But when I think about where I was as a Christian at that time, I’m sure that under God these 30 minutes of evangelistic, heart-felt, majestic proclamation of God’s Word have been instrumental in me still being a Christian today.
So I praise God for this message, and encourage you, with all my heart, to listen to it.
One of the biggest trends in evangelical circles at the moment is the idea of missional church plants. Instead of one large church, create lots of small churches that each individually grow quicker than a larger church because they have a more welcoming culture, a more dynamic culture of evangelism, and innovate more quickly. Examples from the US of tiny church plants to megachurches like Mars Hill have gotten a lot of people very excited by the idea.
I have to say it’s an idea that appeals to me personally. I like the idea of finding things out for myself without too many established structures, and coming from the background of working for an internet start-up in London, I’m interested in how lessons from entreprenurial start-up culture could be applied to the church.
However, it is important to consider how central the ‘missional church plant’ model should be in our tactics for church growth here in the UK. How strong is the evidence that it works? If it worked there, will it work here?
Tony Payne of Matthias Media has some interesting thoughts on how the missional church planting model may be a better solution for church growth in America than in Australia:
I am grossly simplifying, but in most parts of the US, it is far easier to put up your shingle and gather a reasonable crowd than it is in most parts of Australia. The society is just more ‘churched’, with a vastly greater number of vaguely or culturally Christianized people who are willing to come to church if presented with the right package. In this context, starting a new church can be an excellent way to evangelize because you are drawing in unconverted people who are nevertheless quite willing to come to church.
In a more pagan, unchurched country like Australia, there may be many contexts in which ‘getting people to church’ is not the wisest way to evangelize them. Evangelism will happen in the workplace, at the pub, through personal relationships, in the neighbourhood, at school, in the marketplace. In this context, planting a new congregation may well provide a good home-base for reaching out to new people, but how we reach those people will almost certainly require a willingness to think outside our traditional structures and methodologies of ‘getting people to church’.
The question is, what about the UK?