Notes from another country part 1
I’ve been leading a small Cornhill missions team this last week. We’ve been abroad somewhere hot and somewhere increasingly difficult to be a Christian. It’s probably not appropriate for me to say where (or necessary, even) because I don’t want to put believers at risk. But, as ever, my heart has been stirred and my faith has been challenged by being with believers from a different culture. For sure, other cultures have their blind spots – and they are painfully obvious. But, more to the point, being with Christians in another culture allows us to see our own blind spots more clearly. And it’s this I want to write about this week.
The preaching of the word is the thing. I know we think we know this. But do we really? At best, I sometimes wonder whether it’s just the ministers of western churches who appreciate this truth. Church members perhaps go along with it, maybe even some sign up for it – but on the whole it’s an alien concept. What struck me about this last week is that most church planting in this place comes stripped down. There are not fancy arguments about strategies, buildings, locations, music, evangelistic courses, staff and so on. That’s a luxury that most church planters don’t have. It tends to me one man and his Bible. And his church planting work is to go and preach.
Now I know the situations are not identical. There needs to be some culturalisation, sure. But is it not possible we overdo things? And church life here is often simpler. The churches where things are more complex tend to be those which have been influenced by the west. It’s quite possible for services to be not hugely different from a service back home: same song, same order, same jobs (there is a welcome rota!). But get out of the western influenced city-centre and church feels more raw, more basic. And in its basic form, it’s the preaching of the word that is at its centre.
I wonder if we did a little exercise in our churches and we stripped out things one by one, taking a vote each time – a kind of Church edition of Big Brother. Would preaching be last in? I somehow doubt it. And we have to admit that some of the fault for that comes from the front. I recently participated in a service where there was no sermon, nor any thought that one might be needed. That’s extraordinary. But might some of our people feel the same. And how are we going to grip them again with the centrality of the preached word? It’s a thought that is weighing heavily on me.