The New Testament church was devoted to prayer. They learnt to welcome, recognise and wait on the tangible presence of God. Page after page tells the story of signs, wonders and miracles. The New Testament church seemed to preach a simple gospel with a clear demonstration of power. Simple church.
The challenge for the western church is that with so many different movements and ideologies and emphasis there is often a complicated gospel with little power.
As we considered birthing a new church last year we sat and thought about how we would love it to be incredibly loving and for that to happen our people would need to know that they are loved. Loved people love people. And we dreamed about how we might love to engage with the existing communities of our city and for our approach as a church to be servant-hearted.
But deep down we knew the only thing that would really mark us as different to any other community, from a pub to a club, would be the presence of God. And so we were clear we wanted the local church and the lives of our people to be known for the presence and power of God. The presence of God would define us.
The early church flourished against all odds because they simply followed the instructions Jesus had given them: Preach the gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, Love God, love one another etc. They had a huge impact on the world around them and we would be foolish to try to impact the world around us by other means.
A powerless gospel isn’t good news to anyone.
What does it look like to actively pursue the presence of God? I learnt a lesson about this 10 years previously, when leading another church. At that time the church was really growing and lots of good stuff was happening but deep down we began to long for something more for the people being drawn to the church. It was the tangible power of the gospel that we were seeking.
In other words, are people’s lives really changing and are they experiencing freedom and breakthrough?
A powerless gospel isn’t good news to anyone. So if the local church is not a power agent for the community around it –people are being short changed.
Nick and I are the kind of people who’ll always run off at 100 miles an hour, doing lots of stuff. But in that season God invited us to clear our diaries once a week (really clear them) and lie on the floor learning to wait on God. It was basically learning to enjoy God with no agenda, worship, rest in God, receive His love. It was a bit of shock to begin with, and our minds would wander all over the place!
We set up weekly corporate gatherings where there was no plan, no ‘running order’, no worship set. The only plan was to turn up and wait on God and see what happened. Often most people would end up lying on the floor, half as an act of surrender, half as in a posture to receive God’s affirmation and smile.
It was a pleasant surprise at the time – I guess I’ve learnt the connection now – that this waiting season was followed by a kingdom outbreak season, of seeing many people physically healed and a whole load of people saved and journey on to be disciples. The presence of God was falling and moving us. It was so strong that on a number of occasions people passed by the outside of our church building and suddenly felt compelled to come in, resulting in them becoming Christians.
Many people are spiritually hungry all around us and more spiritually aware than we actually realise.
We saw the power of God at work as we prayed for people out on the streets. And our next door neighbour turned up at our front door one night out of the blue and asked to experience or have “the spiritual sense that is coming from your house”! Much to our surprise this unchurched lady turned up at our church the next week and surrendered her life to Jesus, kneeling at the foot of the cross, and was baptised the following Sunday. It was beautiful.
Many people are spiritually hungry all around us and more spiritually aware than we actually realise. You will be meeting people all the time who are eager to experience a power beyond themselves. They need to be introduced to the person of Jesus. We need to expect that to be a real, radical, powerful encounter.
This year I’ve kept a diary, recording how people we have been drawn to God and His presence. Here’s a snapshot:
Saturday November 21st 2015 “This thing about just being drawn in seems to be increasing, it’s really odd. A middle aged nice couple came in today to the cafe and asked for a drink of water and the husband grabbed hold of my arm and said “What is going on?” I said “Excuse me..” and he interrupted and said “this place is a magnet”. “My wife and I were out shopping, we are from Birmingham and we came to visit our student daughter and we kept passing by and feeling drawn to the place. He kept shaking his head in disbelief continuing ”We passed to the left of the building and to the right. And we said to ourselves this is very strange, we have to go in. But we had no reason to come in and so we walked back up the hill to our car as the parking ticket was running out. But when we got to the car my wife said “buy another ticket, we have to go back!” – “What is going on?” the man continued, the place is a magnet, can you explain?”.
I can’t remember what I said about the presence of God but I asked the couple if we could bless them (we have now learnt to pray a simple prayer of blessing over lots of people who don’t know why they are there –it’s quite helpful because we are often in shock too!) and within 5 minutes the couple were standing up at the altar (they said they wanted to go there!) with some of our team prophesying over them – they seemed genuinely very blessed!. They asked if they could stay with us a while longer. When they were leaving they told me that they used to go to church but that they hadn’t been for over 20 years but that they would now go and look for a church community in Birmingham. Bless them!”
Here’s one more:
Sunday September 26th 2015 “I met another very well dressed young man at the café hatch, he also thought it was a bar and was trying to get a drink (in the end he got a different kind!). He had already been having a drink in the pub next door and come outside and met some of our street team. From day one we have always tried to have people out on the streets in branded t-shirts and often more exciting stories are happening outside the church than inside (I have to try and not get distracted watching it all through the glass as I preach!). He said he thought it was a club because of the house music (fair enough!), but he too also began asking questions about what was in the air.
We asked him if he would like to join us for the worship service and he agreed. The funny thing was he sat up beside Nick in the front row and joined in everything passionately (I guess he had no framework for church!) Some of the team thought he was a visiting church leader but our new friend had never been to church before! I think these people may knock the churchyness out of us!”