The old recapture-the-congregants and fill-the-pews approach is at odds with the Gospels, says the Bishop of Sheffield, Stephen Croft. Photo: Rena Schild
As Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt. Rev Stephen Croft, former team leader of Fresh Expressions, U.K., has received a challenging missional mandate from the Archbishop of York.
That charge includes building a structured and creative approach to ministry and evangelism; encouraging a mixed-economy structure in churches; communicating the Christian faith through preaching and teaching with clarity and conviction; and developing a comprehensive regime to advance the will of God. “I think that’s a big enough job description. So please pray for my diocese,” he said in an address to the recent Vital Church Planting conference in Toronto.
He noted that many presentations on the church today gloomily display the declining attendance figures and project the date the church will cease to exist. “And the last person is asked to turn out the lights,” he said.
But what can motivate the shrinking church to institute sweeping changes away from complacency toward a dynamic and living entity? “The decline of the church is not sufficient motivation for introducing change,” Bishop Croft said. “It has to be much, much deeper.The motivation has to be a fresh vision of Jesus Christ. There has to be a new evangelization of the world. We have encounter afresh the person of Jesus Christ and be so captivated that we are able to hear his call to put out to deep water and let down the nets.”
Over the generations, he noted, the church and mainstream society became increasingly separate. But in recent years, people began to cross the church-society divide and go into the surrounding culture to draw people back to the existing church and reverse the decline. “But then these new missionaries discovered that they were not called to go and draw people back into churches but to stay and sit and pray and listen,” he said.
There was no specific strategy and few theoretical models. “They did not know how to do what they were doing and there was no one to tell them how to do it,” said Bishop Croft, who travels around the U.K. listening to the stories of those engaged in the new discipleship.
The old recapture-the-congregants and fill-the-pews approach is at odds with the Gospels. “It is impossible to reconcile this with the truth of the incarnation and the pattern of the ministry of Jesus,” he said. “It is at the heart of what believe. God does not wait for us to come to him but God sends his Son to us and the Son sends his disciples. Jesus targets his ministry to the lost and the least and the last.”