Businesses come, businesses go but the message of God remains the same. Kodak once a huge player, the one to aim for, in the camera and film industry is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection. Its time is over, not because the digital age arrived but because it ignored its coming. Kodak produced the first digital camera in 1975 but didn’t pursue with gusto the revolution that was about to overtake the market. It didn’t like change, didn’t want change and believed because it was the market leader it could influence the market. But consumers did not listen, instead of insisting on staying loyal to the brand of Kodak, they went elsewhere and the market moved on. Kodak has had a couple of decades to right itself, to change but it remained arrogant and is now suffering because of its lack of fluidity, flexibility and vision remaining stagnant. What can we learn from this as God’s people?
Revolutions come, revolutions go but the message of God remains the same. The way it is delivered changes, early Christians met in homes, gathered in open spaces but had no building like the temple or like our churches today. They met after work, before work, they took fellowship over a meal. They shared and encouraged each other, they spent time together in praise, in prayer, in worship.
Change happens, I wonder what the first Christians to use a building as a church thought, were they concerned about the practicalities: was it big enough? Was it too big? How were people to be arranged? Was there to be an altar? A pulpit? A lectern? Would they have instruments? Would one person lead? Or were they concerned about getting the message out to as many people as possible.
The potential questions they had could go on forever. Their focus must have been on God because here we are all these years later using buildings for churches. We have followed on from their beginnings. When I was very small the church I was whisked away to closed down, a lot of Protestant churches closed down towards the end of the 60’s and all the way through the 70’s in England. Travelling through Lancashire I see them now, carpet warehouses, private homes, restaurants and re-opened churches under a different banner. No doubt it is the same all over, not just Lancashire, but that is where I know.
Conversely buildings that had other uses: cinemas and bingo halls are now being used as church buildings. The time for cinema and mass bingo halls is waning. A time for the Lord is increasing but under different constraints than the original buildings. One church I attended in an old cinema had the feel of a concert, there was live music, a dramatisation and only a few sentences of God’s message delivered not from a pulpit, not from a lectern but most obviously straight from the heart of the orator.
No, we don’t want to make changes where change is not to our advantage, but there are times when we do need to make changes. When it comes to communicating the gospel, while the message itself never changes, our way and means of communicating it have to change in order to communicate effectively to the particular group we are addressing. One size doesn’t fit all! Also, whether we approve or disapprove, many things around us change and if we don’t adapt, we get left behindRick Warren, The purpose driven church
That’s all well and good, churches need to change to communicate God’s message to an ever increasingly diverse congregation. Ten years ago I was on a field trip in Killarney National Park with a group of adults ranging in age from 21 to 60. All participants shared spliffs bar two, I was shocked at such widespread recreational soft drug use across social class and ages in rural Kerry. Times are changing, what is the norm is changing, it is changing now faster than ever before. Yesterday I watched a toddler in a stroller watching “Peppa Pig” on DVD whilst I was in the queue in the Credit Union. He was completely oblivious to his surroundings and totally focused on the cartoon, no eye contact with the other children, no looking around at the environment, focused only on his entertainment. How is that young child going to hear about God?
5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by travelling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighbourhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here.Matthew 10 (The Message)
How do we as individuals have to change in order to let God’s message be heard? Where do we need to go? A number of years ago I lived in a north-side corporation estate in a city in Ireland, it was the greyest place I have ever lived. The grass seemed to be grey, the sky, grey and most painfully the people were grey, the children were grey. Hope did not live on this estate, gangs ruled, drugs ruled, drink ruled. There was a different set of morals and societal rules, children were raised by children, the law of the street ruled. It was very hard to maintain colour in the stark light of such bleakness, the children I knew then are all on drugs, the girls on their second or third babies, one or two have jobs but their parents still don’t. Men in their 30’s believing they would never work again, haven’t, the Celtic Tiger made a U-turn on entering this estate. It is still grey, the people are still grey, the grandchildren and great grandchildren – grey, grey, grey. How can we hope to bring the light of Christ into such greyness? What new tools do we need to equip ourselves with to be able to engage with these people? How do we share the good news of our Lord in the face of such bleakness? One person at a time, a friend asked me this week to pray for them, that they were in need and needed to know someone was praying for them, this person does not have a personal relationship with God, yet but has seen the changes God has made in me and I pray will make the same changes in him. As people, individuals, we need to keep moving, growing and avoid the arrogance of stagnation, of staying still so that we can always be shining lights for Christ burning bright in the greyness.