During the first lockdown last summer, I was in my garden reading. I was thoughtful and looking back a little apprehensively about what the future of the Church would look like. I was concerned that this pandemic may affect our momentum as an organisation as well as people’s well-being. My reading that day was from the book of Isaiah 43: 18-20.
‘Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.’
This passage came alive for me as I read it, and it has shaped most of what I have done over the last few months. It has been a constant source of revelation to me. Here are some of my reflections:
The prophet Isaiah prophesied at a time when Israel was far from its golden era. The Kingdom was in turmoil, leadership was divided, and people had lost their way. This did not really seem the right time for a prophet to bring further instability. However, times of confusion and fear are perfect for us to focus not just on the situation in which we find ourselves, but on what is coming ahead, allowing us to can prepare and be ready. I think that this is the time for the Church to lean into God’s work and through this season. Note that Isaiah states that God is doing a ‘new thing,’ then asks if we can perceive it. Understanding and perceiving are different things. Many Christians, particularly leaders, want to understand what God is doing before getting on board and acting. However, my observations of over 30 years in the ministry are that you rarely understand what God is doing when you start moving forward. Language, processes, and understanding are often only formulated years after obedience to the ‘new thing.’ Perceiving is far more a gut conviction that this is the new direction for the next season of the Church. So, ask yourself this question: In spite of all that is happening around you, what do you perceive God wants to do through you? This will probably seem a bit vague and you will not immediately have the proper words. You may find it difficult to adequately articulate your answer to those who do not yet understand what you are perceiving.
Why is it that we find new things so hard to embrace, and even harder to implement in the Church? I think we often see it as a betrayal of the past or a judgment call that was wrong or substandard. I also think Isaiah knew this would be a major stumbling block as he precedes the announcement of God doing a new thing with this declaration:
‘Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past.’
What if the new thing that God wants to do requires an uncoupling from the ‘former things’? Christians seem to find this difficult. It often seems that God’s new plan gets lost in the inability or resistance to move on from the ways and methods God used into the things God wants to do today.
Post-COVID-19 the world will look different, as will the Church. I am not certain what it will look like, but my guts tell me we will need to see it for the Church to thrive. It may not look the same as pre-COVID-19 church. I’d like to suggest a few things that the ‘new thing’ may demand:
• A refocus on building real communities that bring transformation to all areas of life;
• A distinct return to biblical preaching that will frame this transformation;
• Discipleship focused on shared lives and experiences rather than completion of courses;
• A re-understanding of Church as ‘ecclesia,’ as persecution by media is coming.
Alongside these challenges I also think there will be:
• Unprecedented opportunities for the Church to take leadership in community regeneration;
• New forums for the Church to have a voice in the nation;
• The Church being involved in issues and agenda that it has generally not engaged with in the past.
These are just some of my thoughts. It is what I am perceiving from these times. These thoughts are not well formulated yet, as I am still working them through and thinking of how will I respond. What are you perceiving? What do you need to give yourself to in this next phase of your life and ministry? What do you need to leave behind and ‘forget’?
Let’s do more than pray for the future. Let’s build it!
Derek Smith is the Senior Leader of Kings Church, a multi-sited Church with its central location in Bolton. Derek is also part of the AoG GB Leadership Development Team. For many years, he was a key leader at Bolton Pentecostal Church (now the Bridge, Bolton), where he played a part in realeasing Barry as a travelling speaker.