For all but seven years of my 40-year working life I’ve served in roles in the Uniting Church in Australia – as a lay person and as clergy, in four states and in denominational and congregational settings – and now a congregation/agency role at Wesley Mission. It’s been a wild ride, an adventure of faith with too many ‘only God’ moments to recall.
I’ve also attended too many church council, presbytery, synod and assembly meetings to count. I’ve run a few. As a white bloke, I’ve enjoyed a privileged life, filled with opportunities to exercise and grow in ministry. All this to say, I’ve never seen this movement, my much-loved church denominational family as depressed, adrift, tired, scared, angry and confused as we are right now.
Our congregations are in rapid retreat, falling before our eyes through closure and consolidation, as too much is left to too few, and any sense of vision beyond stubborn survival is lost, our confidence to proclaim a gospel that transforms individuals and communities lost to indifference and cultural accommodation. Our presbyteries and synods struggle to fill key roles with competent, church loving, Jesus centred leaders. Innovation and entrepreneurship are crushed by structures and processes designed for a church of decades ago, if it ever existed at all. All around I see firsthand, and hear second hand, of conflicts large and small – leaders with leaders, councils with other councils – as we fight over what equates to spiritual scraps – who has power or who exercises control over our disappearing movement.
It would be easy to give into despair. Easier still to give up – to quietly stick to your patch, keep your head down, see out your time. But I just can’t, and we should never. Too much is at stake, and I don’t mean for a moment the survival of our denomination. And so, I find myself often praying for revival – for our movement, for Wesley Mission – for me. But then, recently, something checked in my spirit. Was it a divine intervention whisper, a Holy Spirit correction? I don’t know….
Before revival comes repentance. So, instead of a spirit of revival, I’m praying God would pour out a spirit of repentance on the church and on me. I’m praying the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin – our arrogance and pride and fear especially – leading us to broken, contrite and humble confession. And I’m daring to pray that out of the fertile ground of our truly repentant hearts, God might do a new and surprising thing in and through us, or at the very least raise a new people through whom he can and will.
At root, the myriad challenges that overwhelm our church are spiritual. We can’t strategise or restructure our way through them. God knows such desperate, yet ultimately arrogant attempts never worked before. Only God can repair, renew, restore and revive our church – his church. And history, biblical and church history, tells us that it’s the broken and contrite – the repentant – that God revives.