The coronavirus exposes the gold on the Broads
A different kind of church, more spontaneous and bottom-up, has been emerging from the struggle with the virus. John Hindley, pastor of Broadgrace Church, shares his surprise at what he is seeing.
Back in March I was standing on the doorstep of a friend from church. I needed to drop something in, and I was glad that I had caught her – although, frankly, it would have been a surprise if she had been out.
I was concerned that she might be a bit isolated and lonely. As we talked, she popped in to get cards that children from church had posted her. She told me about the phone calls she had received over the past week or so from others in the church family. I went home joyfully repenting, by which I mean laughing along with Christ at my folly.
My folly is that I crave control over my life. I govern my life by my diary, my near-empty inbox, my to-do list and my notebook. The systems I have set up are good servants of gospel work, but they make a cruel master. As I seek to be the lord of my life, I am prone to anxiety and depression, and to becoming grumpy and mean with my family and friends. In my desire for control I am silly, but I am also nasty. This is why I laughed as I drove home.
The other elders in the church and I share a desire for the family life of the church to be prioritised over the meetings, courses, programmes and plans. We consider our weekly gathering as a family get-together around our Father. Our conviction is that Christ is the head of the church, not us, and so he is in control, not us. It is freeing and wonderful, but it is hard to believe. Nevertheless, Christ has continually impressed this on us as a church family, leading us into love for one another that overflows to our neighbours, family, friends and colleagues.
Since Broadgrace Church was planted ten years ago, we have worked on the basis that the most important ministry is that done relationally. It is as we love one another, teach one another, share our lives and share the gospel that we burn brightly as a light for Christ. We need one another, not only on a Sunday but in and out of our lives and homes.
If our villages are going to hear the good news of Jesus, then it will be all of us that tell it. We might be able to work together to put on an interesting evening with a gospel message or a useful course that will unpack the glories of Jesus and his mercy. But we can also work together to pray, love and support one another in ongoing lives of good news lived and shared.
The fear of coronavirus, the loneliness of lockdown, the unsatisfying online meetings, the tiredness of changing rules and more decisions have exposed that the Lord is working among us as the saints, the church family, are doing the work of ministry. There have been meals cooked, shopping done, prescriptions collected, doorsteps stood on, firepits lit, picnics carefully planned, phones picked up. And none of it has been organised by the elders. It has been prompted by the Spirit and by love.
My happy repentance has been to realise again, maybe more deeply, that the work of the pastors, the elders of the church, is simply to hold Christ before our eyes, it is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This verse has become important to us during the last few months. It is a view of God that frees all the church family to use their gifts, personalities, weaknesses and love to serve one another and our neighbours.
I can laugh despite the sorrows because our church, like many others, has seen deepening love throughout this year. We have known the Lord’s care through one another. The elders are free to simply pray and teach, for it is through prayer and the ministry of the word that the Spirit equips the saints for this service.
So often we forget the deeper truths. It is easy for a church to become busy. It is easy for us Christians to become inward-looking and selfish. It is easy for elders to micro-manage and fret. So the Lord sends us seasons like this to draw our gaze back to him. Jesus will be working strange good and glorious wonder in many ways through the evil of coronavirus.
One way we have seen is this recalling to simple ministry where the elders pray and teach and love and the church family prays and teaches and loves. It is hard – there is deep and real suffering among us; we all long for hugs and cake at church and freely coming and going again. But in this we long together, we look out for one another and we remind each other that Jesus is coming back and we will feast together on that day of days.
Pictured above is Broadgrace Church meeting in a field over the summer