Around a hundred people gathered for the joint Church of the Nazarene British Isles District Pastors and Leaders Conference at Swanwick this week. I know I am biased as I was one of the organisers but it was for me one of the best of these get togethers I can remember. There was plenty of time to chat, a leisurely pace which meant it actually felt like a “retreat,” some great discussions together formally and informally and lots of laughter. Without doubt Chick Yuill’s preaching each night from Isaiah 40 was a highly spiritually significant dimension of our time together. This is true particularly in relation to his final sermon on Wednesday night.
At this point I may have to back up a little bit to give those of you who weren’t there just a little background to help you understand what’s coming next. On Wednesday afternoon there was a panel discussion which included Chick on general leadership “stuff,” you know the sort of thing, how do you know when to leave a church, leadership styles etc etc. It was all very thoughtful and helpful for those of us who were there. However, the final question provoked a response on a different level. The question was, and I am working from memory here “In apostolic times “signs and wonders” accompanied the ministry of the church, is there a role for “signs and wonders” in the western 21st century church.” In previous years I think this question could have provoked a very polarised response but it didn’t. Dick Porter in a very moving response spoke of his spiritual hunger to see the Holy Spirit to be tangibly at work in and through our congregations and his heart break at seeing and experiencing so little evidence of the Spirit’s activity at present when we gather. (I hope I am being fair to Dick, but that’s my summary so Dick might want to put it another way) I think we can all sense a “God Moment” and Dick’s reply seemed very clearly to me to be such an encounter between the Holy Spirit and a group of people, I was clear in my mind that I felt Dick was expressing something from God to us.
That night Chick in his own indomitable and powerful style preached to us and at the end gave us a “challenge“, “a word of prophecy,” “a wee word from the Lord”, however you want to describe it, for us as a denomination to reflect on, weigh and respond to. To me at least there was a very powerful sense of God’s presence and that Chick was expressing something from God’s heart to us as a group of people. I asked Chick if he could summarise what he said so that we could have a record of it and reflect on it further. here is his summary in his words:
“My original thought was that at the end of my final session I would be challenging/encouraging the delegates to open themselves to personal renewal.
However, while that was still part of what I sensed my mandate from God to be, I also sensed very strongly, that, even more, I needed to encourage people to believe for and claim the renewal of the denomination. The words spoken, the repentance expressed, and the passion shown by others towards the end of the panel session in the afternoon, affirmed that for me.
I had a very clear sense that, as a smaller denomination, the Church of the Nazarene in the UK could fall into two temptations – either to become despondent about numbers or to see their main task to be the preservation of the denomination. What I sensed God saying was that the Arminian/Wesleyan tradition in which Nazarenes stand carries an incredibly generous message that the whole church needs, particularly at a time when there is evidence of a very hard-line Calvinism in some quarters.
The conclusion I was driven to, I believe under the promptings of the Holy Spirit, was that Nazarenes had a ministry of renewal to the wider church – an emphasis on the incredible generosity of a God who accepts all sinners and who does far more than just forgive sins, who gives women and men power to live truly holy lives.
I wanted to say that this wasn’t a quick fix for ‘church growth’ but a glorious calling to live and express this message. I think the Nazarene church and others in the holiness tradition, may have a very strategic role in what God wants to do in the church and through the church in the UK.
In conclusion, I’m aware that in trying to summarise and paraphrase it, I have lost something of the prophetic urgency of the moment. But I hope this is of some help. I hadn’t planned to say it, so I may not be remembering what I said. There may be things that you recall that I’ve forgotten.”
As Chick said those words on Wednesday evening I personally was deeply moved that what he was saying was right and from God. Something else happened for me, I had a very clear recollection of being in a meeting with Gordon Thomas at Nazarene Theological College back in the late 1990s when he said something very, very similar. I recall Gordon saying he believed that as a denomination we were being called through our Wesleyan Holiness message to be an agent of renewal in the wider church but that we couldn’t do that unless we were also open to renewal from the wider church and that we had in effect put a straight jacket on the Holy Spirit only being prepared for Him to act in ways we were “comfortable” with. Those of us who knew Gordon know that his desire for renewal in our church and for our church to be an agent of renewal for the wider church, was not just confined to his statements at formal meetings but was the essence of his whole ministry and the deepest desire of his heart. The loss of that voice to our church has been a hard blow. Back to Swanwick, it felt to me that the Spirit was saying to us, you ignored this message before and I am giving you a second chance to respond. That was why I felt I personally that night that I needed time to pray and reflect and I was encouraged that many others either remained in the hall to pray or joined me in the prayer room. Again I felt there was a sense from that time of prayer that we didn’t want this “moment” from the Lord to slip through our fingers, to be just about a very earnest time of prayer at a conference.
I think what Chick said to us raises three big questions for us “what” “So what?” and “now what?”
“WHAT?” … Chick as the wise pastor and theologian he is didn’t couch his words to us with “THUS SAITHETH THE LORD ….” Instead he asked us to weigh whether what he was saying was genuinely a word from God for us specifically as a church at this moment in our history. He was of course encouraging us to follow Paul’s advice, ” Do not quench the Spirit, do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good” 1 Thess 5:19-21 To be open to the Spirit and decide if it is indeed a prophetic word from God and if so to respond positively to it. So the first big question I see for us is, What was it that Chick said to us? Was it good advice? was it just the challenge at the end of a sermon? or was it a directly inspired word from God to us? How do we decide that? How do we as a church “weigh and test” what Chick said to us?
“SO WHAT?” & “NOW WHAT?” …. Ok let’s take it a stage further. Let’s for the moment work on the assumption that we decide what Chick said was a word of prophecy for us. How do we respond? and What specifically do we do to be obedient to what we believe God is saying to us?
I don’t have any answers and in fact I don’t think any individual should try to have any answers as this was a “word” given to us as church and so I think it as a church we must reflect on it and respond to it. That’s why I have written this blog post, to try and encourage some discussion. Could I ask you to pass this post on to as many other UK Nazarenes as you know and talk to them about what you think? Perhaps some house groups might discuss it ? I am sending Chick’s summary on to our two District Superintendents as ultimately it is for them to decide our response and I would encourage you to pray for them. I know from their prayers this is weighing heavily on their hearts. In fact, perhaps our first and main response should be to be deeply committed to praying about this and our response to it.
So what do you think?