What’s the real issue?

We recently received a letter from some friends overseas. They asked us the question which we have wrestled with and indeed continue to wrestle with. Here is an excerpt from the letter I wrote back to them…

“You asked the question about how ‘responsive people are in the UK to the Gospel?’  Now there’s a good question! You will get a different answer depending on who you ask! If you ask believers who go to church every Sunday, do the same thing every week and who spend all their time maintaining their traditions, structures and buildings then they’ll probably say that people are very unresponsive. I hear the phrase, “The UK is hard ground” a lot. Many people look to other countries like India, China and Africa and conclude that God is simply at work in those places but not in our nation. I used to believe that too. But since we moved back from Australia to live in the UK God has begun to show us differently! What we (along with many others!) have noted is that the ‘pool of Christians’ is decreasing in the UK and a lot of our efforts are like re-arranging the chairs on the deck of the titanic. However enticing, modern or slick we might make our Church services and events there is such an increasing gap between “Church culture” and the world around us. We are not seeing people join existing Churches. There are a few exceptions – praise God. But on the whole what people are doing doesn’t seem to be working in that we are not seeing much discipleship. Another worrying trend is that in a lot of Churches there is a serious lack of discipleship. So even if numbers have grown there are huge issues with what is actually happening with these folk. So we’ve been personally very challenged. We love God’s Church and everyone who serves Him through obedience. But we saw that the 90% of people around us would never walk into an existing Church service or find any meaningful connection with them. I’d seen many different types of Churches who had tried to attract people, make their services more trendy and modern and who had tried the latest idea or model that had worked elsewhere. All these things really had come to nothing though and after the initial excitement the same nagging issue remained. No new growth through baptism and discipleship. So for me I had to ask the question why? We learnt that this is the most important question to ask = “WHY”? It’s severely humbled us and got also got us into a lot of trouble with others……”We need a bigger building….” – “WHY?”…..”We need better worship music…..” – “WHY?”…..”We need this great discipleship programme…….” – “WHY?”…….When you start to live like this you begin a very painful process! You have to unlearn a lot of habits and man made traditions. We have undergone a significant shift in our understanding to see that Church is the fruit of mission not the other way around……Paul said that the foundation and cornerstone is Jesus. We have spent many hours going through the scriptures and reading the teachings of Jesus Himself and asking ourselves why we do much of what we do as “Christians”? So that is a brief attempt to explain the journey we have been on with the Lord. And the clear conclusion we’ve come to is that the problem is not with the harvest or the hardness of the ground but with us – the laborers! 

The story of the woman at the well (John 4) haunts me! Here you have Jesus in a situation he shouldn’t have been in talking with a person he shouldn’t have been talking to. The disciples return and their focus is on earthly things – food! Jesus has an encounter with one woman which leads to the salvation of many people in that region. The disciples didn’t get it – neither do we in the UK! Jesus says to the disciples that the harvest is ready now. The attitude and ‘practice’ of the disciples meant that they didn’t know how to and couldn’t harvest souls. Jesus, walking in full surrender and obedience to His Father reaped the harvest. And to make His point even more Jesus says that His food – his source of nourishment, strength and satisfaction – comes not from food but from completing the will of His Father. If ever there was an indictment against the attitudes and practices of believers here in the UK then surely here it is!

So I don’t believe that the ground is too hard in the UK. I believe that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few because this is what Jesus says! The laborers here are few and we generally don’t know how to harvest souls! 

In places where souls are being harvested – people fast, pray, obey God fully and self sacrificially and preach the Gospel boldly. May the Lord have mercy on us – the Church in the UK who rarely do any of these things and who are reaping the fruits of a lukewarm faith! Through the scriptures, the Spirit’s leading and through relevant input/training we are learning to become laborers and are finding good soil. We recently baptised a young guy in a nearby town who is already sharing the Gospel with others and gathering a group. He plans to baptize one of them this week.  We are reading the scriptures with others who are open to Jesus and discipleship. However what we do is very different to “traditional church” and our focus is very much on making disciples rather than just increasing the numbers of people who come to a meeting. It is slow and hard work! But we believe in exponential results…

You asked the question, “How responsive are people in your area”. I felt you were wrestling with this and so wanted to share a little that has come out of our own wrestling with the Lord about this! The word of the Lord stands forever. A sower went out to sow and the seed fell on four types of ground. The seed of the Kingdom planted in good soil will result in 30/60/100 fold fruit. So many are simply happy to accept that the ground in the UK is too hard. We have come to believe that the issue is not the hardness of the ground but:

  • What are we planting and will this lead to discipleship?
  • Where are we planting and investing our time/energy  (Are we investing in fruitful people/good soil?)
We have much to learn but we are willing….”