(CEN) Remaining a prayer movement

Friday, 22 March, 2013

One of the great dangers for any of church movement, including Fresh Expressions, is that work which began in humble dependence on the Holy Spirit morphs into reliance on human competence.

We are inclined to pray when we are out of our depth, and not to pray when we think we know what we are doing. One of the hardest biblical texts to believe is Jesus' blunt statement, 'apart from me you can do nothing.' It is not surprising that he went on to say, 'If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.' (John 15.5-7)

I am convinced that the extraordinary development of fresh expressions in the church in recent years is an initiative of the Holy Spirit, in which we have been privileged to participate, and for which we owe great thanksgiving. I frequently say that we have caught a wave of the Spirit and that central to my job description are the words 'don't fall off'. There has been a renewal of missional imagination in much of the church, a willingness to risk new things for God and a discovery of new gifts and pioneering callings. All of this is evidence that the Spirit is at work. The core principles of prayerful discernment and incarnational mission have been learned by watching what the Spirit has been doing, often at the frontiers of mission. These principles are essential but only remain fruitful if they continue to be carried out in humble dependence on the Spirit.

That humble dependence is expressed in prayer. When the 24/7 Prayer movement joined Fresh Expressions it was both recognition of the centrality of prayer and listening to God in our practice - and a challenge to remain true to this original DNA. Prayer is the bedrock of all that we do; it is essential for a mixed economy church in practice and it sustains, informs and breathes life into any movement within the church.

We know more about planting fresh expressions than we did when we started. That is good, as there is no benefit in ignorance. But 'knowhow' does not win disciples or establish contextual churches. In that we are assistants only, totally reliant on the Holy Spirit. We are dependent on God for the things that only God can do. Prayer is not a device to get God's seal of approval on existing plans. It is not a preliminary stage until we know what to do. It is an expression of trusting dependence. We are to pray in faith as we seek God's initial and continuing direction, whether for local mission or for national priorities.

This week we pray particularly for Archbishop Justin, as he takes up his public leadership of the Church of England, as it engages in its mission to the nation. We pray that God will bless him with the vision, wisdom and discernment that he needs.

Our next Hour of prayer for fresh expressions of church takes place on the day after Pentecost (Monday 20th May 2013) from 12noon (fresh expressions have spread to various parts of the world and people are invited to pray from noon local time, wherever they are in the world). If your church has planted a fresh expression, make it the gift of this focused hour of prayer. If your church is asking how it could reach those it fails to reach through its current activities, make that the focus of prayer, and be open to the possibility of a fresh expression. If your church has little focus on mission beyond the current congregation, pray for the missionary Spirit to stir its heart and open its eyes.

On the original day of Pentecost, as the disciples were praying, the Spirit was poured out for innovative, boundary-crossing mission 'to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth'. But the chapters which follow show how hard it was for the church to cross cultural boundaries. They were wonderfully blessed at home in Jerusalem but Samaria and the ends of the earth were not originally in their sights. Pray that, locally, nationally and internationally, we will be open to hear the Spirit's call and to obey. Pray that we may not be blinded by all that has been achieved already, and so miss the further imaginative steps that God intends. Pray for continual wisdom and courage from the Spirit, locally, nationally and internationally.

Movements birthed in prayer are sustained in prayer. Fresh expressions of church are birthed in prayerful listening and they develop and mature through prayerful listening. Praying pioneers make praying disciples. The quality of our mission often provides the evidence of the quality of our prayer. We are all too busy not to pray.


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