**This is a personal website and reflects my thoughts and convictions. It does not represent any official position held by Youth With A Mission.**
I write this as we are in the second day of lock-down in the UK; this is very hard on many people. For Marti and me, though we are praying for many and empathise with their suffering, we welcome some aspects of it.
REASONS WHY WE ARE GRATEFUL:
This lock-down has coincided with the first sunny, spring days. Though it is still rather cold, with highs of no more than 10C (50F), our large back garden is a sun trap, one that needs attention, so mowing, weeding, planting has taken up a lot of our time. I was concerned that our garden and house were not getting the care and repairs needed, but now we are getting on with those jobs and enjoying it a lot!
We live in this wonderful, God-provided community property, so we have room to get outside for walks to enjoy the birds and their songs, watch the development of the first spring flowers and enjoy the fresh air. My heart goes out to those who are locked down in urban settings, especially in flats (apartments) with no outside space to go to in safety. We are deeply grateful.
With a less pressurised schedule, we have more time to think and reflect, read the scriptures and pray, talk to one another, pray together, read books and articles and more time to sleep! Although we are both awakening at about the usual early hour, it just feels different when we know we are not on a compressed schedule to get to the first meetings of the day.
Which brings me to one of the subjects I think God is saying to us during this time. (Perhaps you are like me and have received numerous messages from other Christians with their thoughts or “prophetic words” about this pandemic. Out of the many, here there are two that especially resonate with me.) When Israel went into captivity, it was because of their many sins, but one of them was the factor that determined how long they would be in exile. They had ignored God’s commands about the sabbath, so God said He would give the land the rest that they had not given it and they remained in exile for 70 years.
I can readily recall the time when shops were not open on Sunday, so very few people had to work on that day. It was a day of rest and worship and fellowship with others. In my family, even sports and recreation were not allowed at first. By the time I was a teenager, we were allowed to go to the park and kick a ball around or play catch. That seems so unrealistic today! But our addiction to 24/7 shopping, thus requiring more and more people to work on Sunday has grown to such an extent that very few people have a sabbath of any sort. Now most of us are exiled from our work and from our social activities. We are forced to rest –and for many, time to spend with family! Some of us just don’t know how to do that, but it’s time we learned.
So, “rest” is one word that makes sense of this imposed set of restrictions. The other one is “reset”.
When we get time to rest and reflect, we can think about the patterns of our life and make changes and that is a wonderful opportunity to reset our priorities and patterns. But there is more to it than that. We will see some important, painful resets of what it means to be Church. The Lord commanded Israel to observe a Jubilee every 49/50 years. It was a rather drastic interruption of business as usual. I believe it was designed to stop the growing momentum of economic necessity. Maybe if I use YWAM as an example, that statement will be more easily conveyed.
Interestingly, our first training courses were begun 50 years ago. 50 years ago, today, I was in the lecture phase of a School of Evangelism with 22 others. Now we have over 650 training locations with more than 1000 students for every one of my fellow students in 1969/70. In financial terms, there was no way the income from student fees would cover the costs of our school. In fact, when Loren and Darlene Cunningham first sent out word that YWAM was starting short-term training (it was a 14-month school then, which was a lot shorter than the usual 7-year path to the mission field) they had no place to convene the school, so they couldn’t anticipate the cost. They trusted God to make ends meet—and He did.
After developing mission training for 50 years, it naturally has led to a more predictable financial model. Figuring out budgets, “marketing” our courses, paying our mortgages—all necessities — but dragging us toward running like any good educational business.
BUT THE CHURCH DOES NOT RUN LIKE A BUSINESS!
Hundreds of YWAM bases will have to continue to pay the bills that come with their properties, but without student income. Can we still trust God? For us here at Harpenden, we had clear commitments that would have led to us being full of students for the remainder of the year and we were expecting hundreds of young people to camp here for summer events. All that represented the fruit we are meant to bear, but it also meant income. We commissioned extensive building and improvement projects and the builders are working even today. How will we pay them now? God will provide, just like he did back in 1969/70. We are being forced back to a position of high-risk faith again, and I believe that is a good thing.
The Church in China also presents us with a picture of the reset. When they were heavily persecuted, they grew at the fastest rate of Christian growth ever known in the 2000 years of Christianity. When government pressure was relaxed, they began to build church buildings and were quickly transforming into the Western, more business-like model of Church. But their growth of Chinese people coming to faith declined.
A MESSAGE FROM THE EPICENTRE
One of our friends in China is a dynamic woman from Wuhan, where the Covid-19 virus was first identified. She almost died of it herself but grew strong in faith even as she fought for life. Now, a couple of months later, she has reported that people from all beliefs are seeking out Christians to find out more about Jesus, and that the number and manner of conversions is more like the high-growth period than they have seen in a long time. This is happening at a time when they cannot meet as congregations.
What’s going to become of the many churches that have never known of anything other than the business model? What will become of the many Christians that don’t know anything other than “going to Church” in a large building? It’s time to reset. The Church has often been at its best when it has been persecuted and limited to small gatherings. Even over recent years, Marti and I have probably valued our home Bible study with a few neighbours more than our various large-group expressions of Church. Those congregational and celebrational events can also be inspiring and deeply beneficial, of course, but the essence of Church is people sharing their lives together, day in and day out. It is living like Jesus together and that must be done, by definition, in small numbers.
Now that I have got started on this subject, there is a lot more that I would like to write, but this is long enough. Thanks for reading this far. By the way, according to current government restrictions, we can’t meet outside our household; however, our only scheduled meeting this week is our Bible study with our neighbours, which we are doing by video conference.
Let’s pray that the Lord will reset the Church, as surely as He designed Jubilee to reset Israel!