There is seemingly a great debate/crisis in much of the church today about how we best engage, nurture and relate well to Children. Just as we must take great encouragement in fresh and emerging expressions of church, so we must also take a lot of encouragement about another pioneering form of church known as Messy Church.
Whilst I am not advocating the concept of Messy Church as being the complete saviour for how the church can or perhaps should be, I nonetheless love its name, its sense of creativity and seeking to offer a form of church that is meaningful, engaging and relevant. My wife and my children love it for so many reasons, which is just brilliant.
Its interesting then that Stephen Cherry argues that “The litmus test of a church is not the presence or even absence of children, but the kind of maturity that the adults show; If that maturity is based on status and importance, on power and position, prestige and privilege, then it is only a quasi maturity. For it is Adults with true, Christian, childlike maturity among whom young children feel relaxed, at home and welcome.” If we get this right then more naturally rather than by forcing things will be perhaps get to a stage of enabling children to feel a greater part of church and community life. However I do believe that in addition to this a good and engaging programme (like Messy Church) is also key.
The second half of the Chapter refers to the Sabbatical that Stephen Cherry took in South Africa. He tells the Story of Amos and Martha who opened their home to people (in addition to their nine children and eight grandchildren) and set up a ‘Shanty Church’ in the community where they lived. Cherry refers to the incredible generosity and hospitality that he is shown and how that extends to the community in terms of the meals they provide, the relationships they build, the sense of providing a safe place. Story after story emerges of prayer, humility, service and sacrifice, done with great integrity and humility. He also refers to the church service he was a part of at the ‘shanty church’. There was a sense of deep freedom, gratitude and hunger for God in the people that we so often rarely get to see. He called this ‘The sound of passionate humility’. Childlike, mature, passionate and humble. What a great combination! I want to be a person who seeks to be more like each of these four qualities. God, Give me the Grace and the patience to embrace this in life’s great adventure.
The story humbly reminded me of the privilege I have had of travelling with Tearfund. To be welcomed into people’s homes in Kenya, India, Russia and Malawi, to worship in churches in each of those countries and to each time be struck at the sheer quality and richness of their trust, openness, hospitality and humble, servant hearted actions that have and are leading to hope, transformation and deep impact in the midst of many challenges.
This leads me on very aptly to my next step in this challenging journey…… Giving up Grumbling! Its the title of the next chapter and a Lenten Challenge that Stephen Cherry gave himself. Earlier in Lent I took up Mark Powley’s challenge of only praying prayers of thanks for a week (I managed just one day!). So from tomorrow I am going to take up the challenge of doing life without complaining or grumbling for a week!
It will be a challenge but will be a good preparation also for my next journey which starts at the end of April on Generosity.