When I saw this quote from the lovely Derek Prince recently, I was just going to re-post it on Facebook, but it carries a very powerful message for the church today, so in my own amateurish theological understanding, I felt I wanted to write a post here instead.
For me, the church should be a place of safety, love, care, protection – as well as a place for corporate worship, communion, prayer, and teaching. A place where – out of care and love, the desire and passion to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel’ comes. I grew up in a ‘hymn-prayer-preach sandwich sort of church, until going to a youth group at another church about 20 miles away in the late 1960’s. My friend Andy and I felt that God was leading us there, well, there were a large number of lovely-looking single girls our age (!!!), whereas where we lived (then – no name mentioned!) it was best described as ‘God’s Waiting room’ or ‘a cemetery with lights’. (I think it’s changed a bit in the last 50 years!).
The Youth Group, led by a wonderful couple – Brian & Penny Hill – opened their home to a large – and growing – number of young people a number of times in the week (think: teenagers/nice home/damage/stuff spilled!), and were almost always available if we needed to talk. I even played squash regularly with Brian. I owe so much of who I am and what I do to Brian and Penny, and people they brought in to teach us, help us, equip us, and send us ‘out’ – like Clive and Ruth Calver, Graham Kendrick, Ishmael, Gerald Coates. I went from being a churchian to a full-blown Holy Spirit filled Christian very quickly. The love, care, and commitment of Brian and Penny – I look back now – and see it was almost legendary, as so many churches are focused on size, reputation, The youth group ‘grew’ into a thriving church – not huge, but then I really prefer small churches, as you can get to know and love people, and get to be known and loved. It was a group in unity, diverse in the people in it but with a tremendous love from and for Brian & Penny which filtered down to us as individuals. If you were hurting, you’d get help: if you were sick, you’d get prayer (I was healed there of a spinal birth defect – a hole in my spine where there shouldn’t have been a hole, resulting in constant life-long (about 20 years at that stage) back-ache. Somehow managed to play rugby through my teens (from 11, actually, to about 21, to a reasonable standard). Through Clive Calver, a man named George Tarleton came to the fellowship, prayed for me, could see my back was out of line, and in seconds it was healed. A visit to the hospital for x-rays/scans showed no hole there. And this was before healing was ‘famous’! I’d already been healed of being celiac. This would have been about 1974, and the big nationwide charismatic renewal happened a couple of years later.
For me, I’d give a great deal and go a long way, to be in an Acts 2:42ff church like that was. For me, the priority of church is to love and be loved, care and be cared for, and to serve. Relationships have always been a major ‘must’ for me, and many of my friendships go back well over 30+ years, some many more years than that. Quite a few of my current friends on Facebook (and yes, we’re in touch, not just a number!) were in that church.
- John 17:21-23 – The Passion Translation, says this:
- I pray for them all to be joined together as one[a] even as you and I, Father, are joined together as one. I pray for them to become one with us so that the world will recognize that you sent me. For the very glory you have given to me I have given them so that they will be joined together as one and experience the same unity that we enjoy. You live fully in me and now I live fully in them so that they will experience perfect unity, and the world will be convinced that you have sent me, for they will see that you love each one of them with the same passionate love that you have for me.
God, I pray that Jesus’s prayer will be answered…. Church, in my non-academic understanding of theology, is a place that should first and foremost should be like Acts 2:42ff…. Where people go and are loved, cared for accepted, where ‘devotion to communion and prayer’ were the PRIORITY (if I remember, Jesus said at the last supper ‘do this EVERY time you meet, in memory of me’ so if we don’t do it we’re disobeying his request and relegating him to a place of less importance, right?) – because of the way they ‘did’ church, they saw signs and wonders and were filled with awe…. When anyone had a need it was met by the others, including selling property and possessions to do it – do our properties and possessions possess us rather than we possess them? Is our future security more important than someone else’s need NOW? Or do we trust the God who provides for ALL of our needs to help someone in need today? Because of the way church was then, they had favour with ALL the people and the kingdom grew because they loved each other as more were saved every day…
Jesus said in John 13:35: (NIV) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I’m so grateful that my whole life was coloured by Brian & Penny Hill, Clive and Ruth Calver, and Graham Kendrick, in those amazing years around the 70’s. Thank you, all of you – but especially to you, Brian (Penny went to enjoy the great Youth Group with Jesus a few years ago) – for loving us, despite all the frustrations you must have gone through – into a place where Jesus and each other were the central focus of our lives. I know, that 50 years on, Jesus still IS the central focus of my life, and for that, through you, I am eternally grateful.