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The Gospel-Driven Church

By Ian Stackhouse.

Pastoral Leader of Guildford Baptist Church

and a member of the Board of Management of Ministry Today

The following is a 'discussion starter' given by the author at a seminar during the Christian Resources Exhibition in London during 2004. As such, it is not intended to provide answers, but the beginnings of a diagnosis of the church's ills. For those interested in following up on what Ian says here, you are invited to purchase his book, The Gospel-Driven Church: Retrieving Classical Ministry for Contemporary Revivalism, published by Paternoster Press at £12.99. If you have a view on Ian's diagnosis, please write to us at the address on the back cover of this journal and we will try to publish your contributions in a future edition.

It's not often one starts an article with one's testimony, but it might interest you to know that I became a Christian in 1981. In many ways the early eighties registered as the height of the charismatic movement, a time when you really did have to queue to get a seat, when people really did hug each other, and when people really did speak in tongues. The general feeling around was that it would only be a matter of time before Britain would be transformed. Indeed, I was at the famous meeting at Harrogate when apostle Bryn Jones threw down the gauntlet to the devil, serving notice upon him that his time was up. Had the wonderful Welsh preacher told us then and there to march upon London and take the capital for Jesus, I think we would have done it, such was the mood of triumph.

Heady days, indeed we had a tremendous confidence - even if it was overdone at times - in the gospel, and a firm conviction that full scale revival was just around the corner. From my very earliest days as a Christian I was aware that there was something just around the corner that was going to change the face of British society.

I mention all that, not by way of nostalgia, but because I think it explains to some degree the profound sense of disappointment that is around in the church in Britain these days. And nervousness. Instead of increasing in numbers exponentially, it seems the church is losing numbers. Rather than occupying places of influence in the land, we are becoming more and more a minority. That is not an instinct, but a fact, as Peter Brierley reminds us year after year. And even after you have tinkered with the stats and put a different slant on them, the stark truth remains that the numerical growth we anticipated twenty years ago has not come about, leading to a sickness, for hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. But rather than prompting a full-scale revision of whether the concept of 'revival' is a good one in the first place, my contention (or observation) is that what has happened in the meantime, by way of a response to that situation, is a growing preoccupation with programmes and strategies - or fads - as a way of arresting the decline. From Wimber's Power Evangelism to Territorial Spirits, From Willow Creek to Alpha, there have been waves upon waves, or whatever you want to call them, of initiatives that have appeared on the scene, all promising growth.

I have first hand evidence for this because I have been a pastor for a good deal of that time, and my recollection is that just about every year some new initiative arrived on my church doorstep, promising me spectacular growth if I attended the conference and learnt the steps. And while I have gained many things, and would not want to suggest for one minute that God hasn't used many of these things, such a fascination with programmes and initiatives seems to betray an underlying lack of confidence in the gospel's own power to accomplish God's purposes. This lack of confidence is evident both among those who can't see how the gospel can possibly make an impact until the ground has been cleared of various spirits, and at the other end of the spectrum, among those who seem to be falling over backward to make the gospel so relevant that in the end it loses its teeth.

I appreciate that this is a fairly negative assessment of the situation, but it is based on a number of convictions. First, you cannot imitate growth from elsewhere. Second, these programmes are often, in their own setting, the effect of growth and not the cause, and to use them to promote religious enthusiasm is a severe case of putting the cart before the horse. But third, the reason one needs to be suspicious of every latest scheme is because the centre of renewal is not constant innovation, but reconnection to the central resources of the church, namely the gospel itself, in worship, word, sacrament and creed. The thing that drives the church's mission and life is not the latest 'cure all' from around the world, but the gospel itself worked out and lived out in a community. The gospel creates its own institutions, prescribed to some degree by the culture but faithful to the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.

Ian Stackhouse

Ian is the Senior Pastor of Guildford Baptist Church.

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You are reading The Gospel-Driven Church by Ian Stackhouse, part of Issue 32 of Ministry Today, published in October 2004.

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