by Carolyn Lawrence.
The opening hymn at the annual Methodist Conference begins with the words, ‘And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?’ This hymn held extra poignancy at this year’s conference as most members were meeting via Zoom and we didn’t see each other’s faces very much at all!
The question in this verse is a good one to ask ourselves as individuals and as churches. ‘And are we yet alive?’ These words got me thinking about what it means to be alive. The theme for the Presidential year 2020-2021 is about growth, personally and corporately, and in order to grow, something, or someone needs to actually be alive!
According to the BBC Bitesize website there are seven characteristics of living organisms and I think they can help us reflect on whether or not we and our churches are alive.
Living organisms have the following characteristics in common:
The name, the Methodist Movement suggests something that is not standing still. John Wesley didn’t intend to leave the Anglican Church but Methodism gradually evolved into a distinct denomination. This pattern has been repeated throughout the history of the Church as groups beginning as a living, moving entity, soon settle and become as set in their ways as the group from which they tried to escape. Wesley is quoted as saying:
‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.’
Within our churches and as individuals, I wonder if we have the form of religion without the power of the Holy Spirit to help us move and pulse with life?
A few years ago the Methodist Council recognized that the greatest risk to the church was its inability to reproduce by new making disciples and that the church would cease to exist.
My heart is very much that of an evangelist and I love to encourage people to share their own faith with others. I believe it’s possible for ordinary Christians to share the love of Jesus in ways that are not cringy, embarrassing, weird or dogmatic and that we need to learn to be natural in the way we share our faith.
As churches and individuals, do we feel able to naturally share Jesus with others? When was the last time someone became a new Christian in our churches?
Living things have the sensitivity to detect stimuli and respond to them. Often as Christians and as churches we can lack sensitivity to the needs of others and can become so focussed on our own lives and the practical issues around running churches that we can miss the needs of those around us.
I wonder if as individuals and churches we are inward looking or are we sensitive to those we meet and prepared to listen to their stories and show God’s love to them.
Before the lockdown I had the great privilege of visiting the Methodist Church in Brazil where the church is growing at an amazing rate – from 167,000 members in 2010 to a current membership of 275,000 and still growing. The key principles of growth in Brazil are lessons that I believe we need to learn in the church in the UK and I hope to share some of these in the coming months.
Living things naturally grow, so I believe that if our churches are alive and thriving we will see spiritual and numerical growth.
As Christians and churches, are we open to the breath of the Holy Spirit to cleanse, energise, empower and enable us to live in a way that brings honour to God and extends his Kingdom on the earth?
Often in our churches and our own lives, there are unwanted, waste products that we need to get rid of in order to be healthy. We need to regularly come before God and allow the light of the Holy Spirit to show us where we need to repent and ask for forgiveness so that we don’t carry these harmful thoughts, words and deeds and through them cause damage to ourselves, others and the cause of the Gospel.
I’m often astounded by the lack of Bible knowledge within our churches and even amongst some of our leaders and amazed at how few people have actually read the whole Bible during their lives. In Brazil and in churches in other nations I have witnessed a real hunger for the feeding from God’s word and I pray for this appetite within our own nation. My prayer is that we will hunger and thirst after righteousness and allow Jesus to have the throne within our own lives and within the lives of our churches.
So these are the seven characteristics of living things and I close with the question with which I began, for your reflection and meditation: ‘And are we yet alive?’