FOCUS ARTICLE: YE ALL ARE GOING TO DIE (SABBATH RECORDER, MARCH 2018)
Maybe not this week or next, but if Jesus’ return does not preempt your time here, then your body in this broken world will fail and you will stop being counted among the living. We often try to pretend otherwise despite the regular reminders and evidence around us. Almost no one in the billions of people that have come before us made it out of this world without dying. It is the normal progression of things when sin infects the equation.
People are not the only ones subject to temporal impermanence. Plants and animals are born and return to the earth, seasons pass, lakes dry up, nations rise and fall, monuments of stone wear and crumble into dust. It seems it is also common among congregations.
Even long-lived local churches will see cycles of growth, maturity, stagnation, and death. It might span decades or even centuries, but typically a change of state is the only constant.
I was reminded of this visiting the Seventh Day Baptist congregations in the UK in November 2017. Boasting the title of oldest SDB congregations in the world, they remain the same mostly only in name. The original congregations of hundreds of years ago are really only the same in fundamental beliefs and unity in the Spirit. The congregations of today are almost entirely of AfroCaribbean heritage and culture. I am quite certain that you would have a challenge convincing a founding member of the early church in England that this was actually their church. What they would recognize as their church died a long time ago. Those of old British ancestry and culture diminished in numbers and participation over the decades and were replaced by their spiritual grandchildren from across the seas that came for educational and economic opportunities. Mostly Jamaicans that had carried their own styles of worship and favorite hymns and choruses came to dominate the congregations and now have transformed the church into something different. While no one may be able to put a date on it, the old church died and a new one came into being.
Now with aging congregations, and church facilities in communities that do not reflect their culture, the churches in England are facing a fate similar to their predecessors. However, they have yet to acquire suitable heirs to carry on the ministry. They are realizing the fact that their current trajectory is death. Each of the three has facilities in communities that are neither Caribbean nor Anglo-British in majority make-up. Far Asian, MiddleEastern, and Eastern European cultures dominate their neighborhoods so they face significant challenges to make their local bodies accessible to those around them. It will not be easy, but if it is God’s will then it is certainly possible.
When I was visiting them, we talked about how their services would have to look quite different to be accessible to the community in which they were planted. Modifying the way they did things would undoubtedly bring some discomfort. They needed to make the deliberate decision to either become a congregation that was engaging, accommodating, and answering the needs of their community – or they needed to begin to make arrangements for their assets to be used for other ministry purposes. When I left they were talking to me about the exciting possibilities of the distinctly different and beautiful ways God might be worshiped in their congregations in five or ten years if God was allowed to work His will among them.
Please, pray with me that they can have the courage and wisdom to be the church members that God would have them be. Pray with me that we all can.
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19
By Clint Brown – Executive Director
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