Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Back to the Real Gospel 1: The Dirty Pond

I'm at a Day Conference for leaders. I'm looking forward to the two main sessions. :-) The titles of the talks are something like:
- The decline in church attendance in the last 30 years
- What we can do to reverse it
The first talk was lengthy and predictably bleak. Ageing congregations, surplus buildings, alienated youth, church closures, graphs pointing south.  It made the next session all the more eagerly awaited.
Well Mr Speaker. What is the solution? Here is the gist of Session 2.

- Get involved in the community
- Mix with the locals
- Participate in the neighbourhood.

I was disheartened. Why?  I had been part of churches for years that took this approach at the cost of much money, labour, sweat, tears and toil but with little real fruit. Never mind. Listen on. Perhaps he'll say something about the gospel.
He went on to tell the story of a Church of England parish in a large city which encompassed both a prosperous area and a poor area, a Council Estate. The congregation all came from the 'well off' side. They decided to make a serious attempt to reach the people from the Estate. They employed a young couple from Australia to live there for a year. They were very friendly and soon became liked by the local folks. Then they set up a few projects to bless the people. One of the most enjoyable was cleaning out the pond. There was a dirty, neglected pool of water, full of beer cans, bags and shopping trolleys near the shops in the middle of the estate. So a group of local parishioners decided to spend a few days with the nearby residents cleaning it up and getting rid of all the rubbish.
Inspiring stuff! Some of the neighbours even came along to church once or twice! The church is being relevant at last – showing that they care!
Our Aussie friends left.
The seminar was near it's end. The question was burning within me! I'd have liked to have had the guts to ask. I didn't need to. Someone else did. “What was the lasting fruit? How many were saved? How many joined the church from the local estate?”
The answer? The speaker had to admit that there was none. Not one. Zilch.
So there we have it! Three hours sitting through seminars on – what should have been - winning people to Christ, but all we got was what I had been seeing for some years now. Evangelical Christians losing confidence in the power of the Gospel preached in the power of the Spirit and going for social action instead in the hope that it will make people like us. But no results!
The harvest is past, the Summer is ended and we are not saved. Jeremiah 8:20.
Conclusion. The 'social gospel' on its own, without the preaching of the Gospel, does not work.

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