This morning I found myself needing a break from the sacraments. Preparing a study guide on communion is still my main study aim, but Francis Turretin was too much for me yesterday. I needed a change of pace, of depth and of subject for today. So, I picked up David Platt’s Radical Together to read on my short journey into Birmingham on the Metro and started reading where I left off at chapter four “The Genius of Wrong: Building the right church depends on using all the wrong people.”
David Platt’s thesis in this chapter is that the church does not need a building or programmes to be church. It has made me ask questions about what we do at Holy Trinity without coming up with any answers.
The church at it’s simplest and best is gathered by God to hear God speak through his word; it prays for the forgiveness of sin and for the needs of the world; and the church is united to Christ, believer to believer, in communion; it is then scattered for a week to love and serve the Lord until the next time it gathers. That’s it!
This sort of church gathering happens in tiny, secret churches in nations hostile to Christ; it happens in the open air, in countries where buildings are too expensive; and Platt cites the example of a church in the southern United States, in the inner city, which had sent 25% of its 100 members on an overseas mission trip and when the group returned they decided to stop renting a building and began meeting, instead, every Sunday, in a multi-storey carpark.
When it comes to buildings, we have a problem in Britain. Our climate! It is still regularly cold and wet in midsummer, let alone for the rest of the year, so we need somewhere dry and warm for church to gather. But Platt’s point is this. Instead defining church as the place which runs centralised programmes and appoints the “right” people to run the programmes, with the rest of the week as their own time, the church is gathered to be built up in Christ and then sent out with a vision to work full time for him in his kingdom and to give their lives for his glory.
The timing of this chapter has been brilliant. Not only does it confirm what a close brother has been saying for a while, but it also confirms the weekly importance and centrality of the communion service, properly understood and practised.
When the youth and children’s work department at David Platt’s church asked the question “how can we reach as many children with the gospel as possible this summer?” they decided not to run a centralised holiday bible club but instead they equipped parents to run holiday clubs in their homes the same week. They did it and reached many, many more children that week than normal and parents grew in faith and obedience as they stepped up. Some parents even decided to continue the work every week, making a long term difference to their street.
In this model, pastoral staff are liberated from being an organisational bottle-neck and church members are free to use their knowledge, gifts and energy as they see fit. God does his work in His world through His word and His Spirit.
Chapter 4 of “Radical Together” challenges me to ask: “How can we as a church best teach the knowledge of Christ so as many people as possible give Him their all in their short lives?” Or, “how can we as a whole church best serve others in the name of Christ and so give our lives, time, money and energy to make disciples of all people?” The question and answers are always contextual, but they need to be asked.
One of the great blessings of being on sabbatical is the complete lack of deadlines and routines. I have deliberately set aside an hour or more each day to watch the city and engage with its people. I have spoken with Muslims and JWs about Jesus. I have met, fed and spent time with the homeless. I have observed people in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral as they go about their day. Today, I had lunch on a bench outside the Cathedral and ended up spending 45 minutes with a big group of the homeless. We spoke about their past, their needs and their hopes. I watched and listened as people came and went, looking for a mamba or a spliff, falling out with girlfriends and stirring trouble and I wondered where to start. Then I realised, God’s already made a start. Other people have been doing the same today. Other people have broken routines to deliberately do gospel ministry, or made new routines to do gospel work. The question which David Platt asks remains to be answered. How can the believers at Holy Trinity reach the most number of people, from all nations, with the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples who will make disciples? If the answer is not “start more programmes in the church buildings”, then what is the answer?