I’ve been reflecting recently on ministry in churches that are smaller in attendance numbers and the negative connotations that come with being a “declining congregation”. There’s a golden figure that churches are seen to be able to run with and anything under puts them in danger zone.
What does it mean to a congregation when they are placed in that zone? Well there can be different reactions. One view is that the identification of the danger zone creates a shock that moves them into pulling their socks up……..another is that an already worried and tired group of people become overshadowed by the enormity of the task in hand.
I’ve shed many tears over the decline of the church. I live next to a church which is in the process of closing, I went inside for their weekly morning prayer and stood in front of the altar and was overcome by sorrow. A sorrow for the people who need to hear the good news of Jesus, a sorrow for missed opportunities, a sorrow for a place of worship that is near to being silenced in an endless sleep.
I began to think about the silence of Jesus praying in the garden before He was taken away. He returns to His disciples and he finds them sleeping,
“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’ Luke 22:45-46
The disciples were exhausted from sorrow.
Is this what is happening to the church? Are congregations so battered and bruised by well meaning Diocesan mission plans, that they are falling asleep with sadness?
Is prayer beginning to be pushed out of the way because congregations in the danger zone are so exhausted that they have forgotten the deep rooted hope inside them that is Christ?
I heard a seminar from Bishop Atwell at my theological college residential. He spoke about Christians being an oak tree flourishing in winter. That this certain type of oak can sustain itself through the winter and still be leafy because of its deep roots. Those deep roots that are grown through regular prayer and spiritual sustenance provided from the Christian communities we live in. The Bishop said that Clergy are exhausted and burdened with the pressure of being seen as entertainers. That people have lost the confidence in the joy of worship. That worship has become a commodity not the precious time of meeting and dwelling with God.
I feel that we are slowly falling asleep with sorrow whilst our Lord Jesus prays for us.
We are slowly falling asleep as He is dragged, beaten, flogged, and pierced on the cross.
But, the thing about sleeping is that we can always be woken up and Jesus says to us:
“Why are you sleeping?”
“Get up and pray!”
So that is what we can and need to do, let us awaken from our sorrow and hear our saviour’s voice.
Get up and pray.
Get up and pray for a renewal of the spirit to fall a afresh on our churches.
Get up and pray for God’s will to be done.
Get up and pray for the fresh feeling of hope and possibility inside us, Christ in us is the hope of glory.
Get up and pray, it is time to wake up and worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!