Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ethnically distinct worship- why the church must encourage it.

I have just checked the agenda for the Methodist Conference taking place from 30th June to 7th July 2011 at Southport. One thing that caught my attention was the Statistics for Mission 2008-2010. Of particular interest is the statistics for the ethnically distinct worship or congregation.

The ethnically distinct congregation or fellowships are groups which uses other languages instead of English or Welsh. Nearly a third of ethnically distinct congregation (EDC) are located in the London District. Of the three main groups reported by churches, the one reported most frequently was Ghanaian (33%), followed by Zimbabwean (27%), and then Nigerian (22%).

Using the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship as an example, the group which has been in existence for nine years meets every second Sunday from 2.00pm to 4.00pm at Westminster Central Hall. The congregation are generally members from various local Methodist churches who wish to express themselves in the Ghanaian Methodist traditional style of worship. In as much as they try to learn and adapt the British Methodism, there is some belief that worship is much appreciated when done in one’s own language. The language used in conducting the Ghanaian Fellowship worship is Akan/ Twi. The singing, drumming and dancing are very important ingredients of the Ghanaian worship. These are not common to find in most British local churches.

Apart from the style of worship, there are other important functions ethnically distinct congregations’ offers. For instance evangelism is much easier with people of the same ethnic background. Various groups within the Fellowship such as Men’s Fellowship, Women’s Fellowship, and Choir are all tools for evangelism.

Ethnically distinct congregations are helping to reduce the "missing generation"- the 18years to 30somethings. There’s a very strong desire on the part of some immigrants to introduce their culture to the children born in the Western world. One way of doing that is to take their children to ethnic distinct worship. As they get the exposure many tend to stay in the church. By way of exposure the Ghanaian Fellowship for example have in the past years been organizing exchange programme between the youths of UK and Ghana. This has had positive effect on some youth from UK especially their attitude to church.

Ethnically distinct congregations offer some spiritual needs which aren’t common or popular in the British local churches. Activities such as prayer meetings, retreat, breakfast meetings are very popular amongst African immigrants. A recent breakfast meeting organized by the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship was attended by over 150 members. I don’t think my 7 churches circuit could have managed that number if the circuit organized one.

Had it not been the existence of such ethnically distinct congregations many immigrants would have left the Methodist church to join the Pentecostal churches. It is therefore important that every necessary support is given to such groups to thrive. Ministers who have some immigrants in their churches should encourage them to start ethnic worship or join the already existing ones.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Has the Holy Spirit left the church?

A week ago on Pentecost Sunday so much was preached or written about the Holy Spirit. We say without the Holy Spirit there would have been no Christianity. Christ would have said good bye at Easter for good. The Holy Spirit as promised by Christ did come on the Pentecost. In fact, Christ knew the impact the Holy Spirit would make in their lives hence He told them to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Holy Spirit which made the apostles and the early church who they were.

The fellowship of the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer. Many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Some people believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were exclusively for an apostolic age, not for today. John Wesley clearly believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were relevant for the church in any age. In his sermons and journals; He defined them. He described them. He experienced them. He defended them.

To what extent does the gift of the Holy Spirit influence the church today as they were in the days of the first apostles? Is the gift of the Holy Spirit still relevant in the church today?

If they are then how does the gift of the Holy Spirit impact in our church today? The statistics of church today is indicative of the evident of the Holy Spirit in our church. Many have described the Western world as post Christianity, like a product which has passed it sell- by date. Where is the eagerness to preach the gospel? Where is the prophesy? Where are the visions? John Wesley was commuting from Bristol to Brixton to preach the gospel. He used every opportunity and location he got to preach the gospel. That is how the Holy Spirit enabled him.

Just how does the Holy Spirit influence the church today? Is it in administration? The church is no more driven by the Holy Spirit. It is rather driven by knowledge and power. Try putting your self up for a responsibility in the church today. The first thing people will be interested in is your qualification and experience. Its appears the power of the Holy Spirit has been deactivated.

What role does the Holy Spirit play in our church discourse? Try defending an idea or a project in a church council meeting or a circuit meeting by saying you’ve been convinced by the Holy Spirit. You’ll be looked at as if you’ve just landed on the planet earth.

Have we grieved the Holy Spirit? Is that why it has left the church in this state?

My Minister has said we shall use the next four weeks bible study to learn about the Holy Spirit. Good luck to him and all those who will be attending.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Local or a Circuit Minister?

One thing I admire about Methodism is its itinerant ministry. All Ministers are appointed by the Conference to preach and exercise pastoral charge in the Circuits on behalf of the Conference as set out in the Standing Order 700 (7). In so doing they shall exercise their particular responsibilities in conjunction with those of the appropriate courts and lay officers in the Circuit to which they are appointed and in the constituent Local Churches of that Circuit. In simple terms, Ministers are first and foremost appointed to the circuit.

I am in a Circuit of 7 churches. It became 7 churches after the Conference decided few years ago that we should join with other nearby circuits. After lots of protest we agreed to this enlarged circuit. Prior to the enlargement, 2 of the 7 churches were one church circuit. It was quite obvious that we will have some difficulty along the way but we were prepared to take the bull by the horn.

I knew there were some tension but I was shocked by what I witnessed at one Circuit Meeting last year. We had met to discuss the recommendation for the extension of one of the Ministers. This was the first of its kind in the new enlarged circuit. The support from the Minister’s local church was great and so was the opposition from some other churches. Most of the objections were put down to the Minister not known by the other churches. They complained that the Minister had always been in his local church, and not preached in the other churches. To them they have not had first hand experience of his ministry and therefore they can’t vouch for him and vote for his extension. This was happening after the second birthday of the new circuit. In presence were two new Ministers who have joined the circuit. In the end the Meeting voted for the second motion which was reduced years of extension.

When calm was restored, many people including myself suggested and in fact well recorded that to prevent this agitation happening again, Ministers should be planned widely across the circuit for every local church to get to know them. In effect, they should not become one local church Minister.

Sadly, it appears those laudable ideas haven’t been put into action. Any time a question is asked about it, the answer has always been “some churches prefer to have their Ministers around”. That is why by the end of this quarterly plan, i.e. August 2011, we would have some Ministers in the circuit who have never preached in some churches at all for a whole year. I bet the Methodist Conference would never vote for individual churches to decide on who becomes their Minister or their length of stay. It will still be the business of the Circuit Meeting.

Are we sitting on a time bomb ready to be exploded in 2-3 years time when these Ministers extension times are due?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Joy of Pentecost

Many of us have had to wait for something. It could be waiting to pick up a friend from the airport; a baby to be delivered, exam result or a home appliance to be delivered.
Recently I had to wait for a refrigerator to be delivered. You know they can only give you a time slot say between 8.00am -13.00pm. Your item can be delivered either too early or later than you expected. It is that wait which can drive you crazy. While waiting for the refrigerator to be delivered, I decided to pop into the shop to buy something quickly and come back. Just when I opened the door I saw two men coming with my refrigerator. They had come 1 hr and 45 minutes before the deadline time. Imagine if I had stepped out 5 or 10 minutes earlier. I would have missed them. There’s some excitement when what you’re expecting arrives.

There’s other aspect of waiting when you begin to have doubts. What if it doesn’t come; if it comes and is not what I expected; or some part is missing. What if there’s a fault? That is exactly what I went through when I had to wait for an engineer to come and fix the phone line so that I could have an internet service in my new home. Waiting can cause your body temperature to rise.

Jesus once told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem and until they receive the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine what the disciples went through? They weren’t supposed to do anything. Just wait!

Try saying good-bye to your partner, or a child at the airport and see how it feels. The likelihood is that both of you will go away sad having left the other. Despite promises from both of you to keep in touch, you will have several negative thoughts. What if something bad happens on the journey? What if I never hear from him or her again? No wonder the disciples were sad and confused.

Contrast this with the feeling you will get when you hear the person who had said good-bye to you on the other side of the phone or he/she suddenly comes back to say hello. Excitement galore! That is what happened on Pentecost. Christ had said good-bye at Easter with the promise to send the Holy Spirit. We thought Easter was satisfactory because Christ had risen, but He said that isn't enough. Wait for more to come. It was all joy when this promise was fulfilled.

Without the Holy Spirit there would be no Christianity. The disciples had feared for their lives and locked themselves up. Some had contemplated going back to their professions. It was after they had received the Holy Spirit that the real work begun. Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus would have said good-bye at Easter for good. There would have been no Christianity. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20 :19-22)
Wow! I love hellos. Thank you Lord Jesus for the Holy Spirit.