In many countries, the head of state gives an annual address reflecting on the wellbeing of the country, highlighting concerns and outlining solutions. In this special 10th anniversary issue of VOX, we asked senior church leaders from a range of different denominations and church backgrounds to reflect back on the last 10 years. We also asked the leaders from Christian organisations and ministries to do the same. Each leader considered what have been the highlights and concerns of the last decade and we asked each one, “What do you feel God is saying to the His Church?” Here, we share responses from senior church leaders.
(From the January - March 2019 issue of VOX)
Rev. Trevor Morrow, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and Minister Emeritus of Lucan Presbyterian Church considers the current trajectory of Ireland and gives this challenge to the Church:
We are living at a time of great opportunity. Unlike 10 years ago, when people were obsessed with money and pleasure, in recent times four words have become vitally important and sum up the prevailing mood. These four words are rights, justice, freedom and love. And these four words are at the heart of the Gospel!
Rights – people have a passion for human rights and they think that those rights have been given to them by the UN, the EU or even by Leinster House. But they do not understand that human rights are rooted in creation – in the inherent dignity and worth given by God Himself to every human being.
Justice – there is a passion to pursue injustice. This has led to endless tribunals and commissions dealing with the abuses of the past, and of more recent history. For Christians, the “fall of humanity” leads us to a cry for justice, so we have a great opportunity to engage with people who are hungry for justice!
Freedom – people want the freedom to be whoever they want to be in terms of their gender, their sexual orientation and their life choices. There is a longing for freedom, but as Christians we know that redemption means real freedom.
Love – there is a desperate loneliness. People are searching for love by any means, whether through social media or in the wider society. And yet the Gospel is about setting people free to love and to be loved.
I’m concerned about the inability of the church, and especially in my context in the Presbyterian church, to respond to this prevailing mood. Most Christians live in a bubble. They see all these things going on around them as bad and threatening and alien. They believe that we are all under threat from the ‘baddies’ in society. And yet we have such a privileged position. If you lived in Syria, you would be under threat but here we are faced with the greatest opportunity that any Christian community can face. And our church doesn’t know how to respond. We’ve lost our sense of call and our understanding of how we are to minister to hurting people who need Jesus.
Rather than what I’d describe as a ‘Trumpite’ mentality of entrenchment and confrontation, this is a time to engage with the prevailing narrative, in language people can understand. It is a time to help people see that the Kingdom of God provides exactly what they have been searching for!
Pastor Tunde Adedebayo-Oke, Regional Pastor and Country Co-ordinator for the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Ireland (currently the third largest Christian denomination in ROI) took time out from a major denominational conference in Nigeria to reflect on the last decade. He summed up his thoughts with two words – ‘Faithful God!’
The highlight [for us] has been the growth that God has allowed us; many souls that have been saved, many testimonies and God showing us mercy.
We appreciate that everything is spiritual and there is so much more to be done in the nation, while the society is becoming increasingly secular. We are concerned that this is happening in our own time and we are believing God to show us strategies to bring this nation back to Jesus.
Job 14:7-9 say, “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant.”
The above Scripture assures that there is great hope for this nation as long as we are praying God will show us mercy and bring us, as a nation, back to where He wants us to be. This nation has done so much through the missionary efforts in taking the Gospel to most parts of the world, building schools, hospitals and making Christianity real through the show of the love of Christ.
I believe we can draw hope and inspiration from the words of the great woman of God, Aimee Semple McPherson, who said, “O Hope! Dazzling, radiant Hope! What a change thou bringest to the hopeless; brightening the darkened paths and cheering the lonely way.”
Sean Mullarkey is Senior Pastor of St. Mark’s Church in Dublin and National Director of Christian Churches Ireland (CCI). He took time out to consider carefully what he sees as the highlights and concerns of the last 10 years.
On behalf of the St. Mark’s family network of churches and CCI (Christian Churches Ireland), may I offer my sincere congratulations to VOX on your 10th birthday. You do an impeccable job of keeping the Church in Ireland informed about latest trends, nationwide updates and signs of new life throughout the island. You have been a tremendous highlight over the last decade. So, thank you and keep up the excellent work!
I have been so encouraged by the GROWTH we have witnessed in the churches we relate to. God has been so good and to Him be all the Glory. We have seen three new church plants come out of St. Marks and start in Bluebell, Tallaght and Ballybrack. We have also seen new church plants spring forth from within our CCI family, in partnership with ARC (Association of Related Churches) - Lighthouse Church Dublin, Open Arms Dublin and Gateway Church, Tullow, County Carlow.
I have been so delighted to see our youth and young adult ministries expanding. If you were to depend on our nation’s news outlets, you would believe that faith in God is dead or at least… dying! But the opposite is true. Our most healthy and fastest growing age groups are our youth and young adults. They bring so much that is fresh and life giving; fresh zeal, fresh passion, fresh vision and fresh methods for the age-old message to go forth throughout the land. The future is in great hands!
Another highlight, has been the influx of new nationalities into our country and our churches. These incredible people have brought their best to our shores and our gatherings. We are all the richer in our fellowships and in the expressions of our faith, because of their arrival and integration into our faith families. They have also carried their faith around the nation and it blesses me, as I travel this great land of ours, to see many of their churches proclaiming Christ in our country towns and villages! The Lord is on the move!
I have been concerned with a lack of Bible knowledge among all age groups. While I love the academic approach to good Bible study, I am not talking about this here. I am talking about simple familiarity with the Good Book and the words of Jesus. We have so much access to Bible translations, commentaries and studies, yet we are in danger of taking it all for granted. I saw a meme the other day that arrested my heart. It said, ‘Everyone is a Christian, until it gets Biblical!’ I hope this is not the case and that my concern is ill founded, but I do wonder. Whatever we put in the storehouse now will be of great worth and value when the hard season comes.
We have had tremendous people of prayer with us through the years in our churches across the land who have consistently prayed for revival and for the up and coming generations to follow and love the Lord. The Lord has been faithful, has kept His word and answered prayer with the resurgence in faith among our young people. Unfortunately, some (and certainly not all) have responded negatively to the ‘prayed for’ arrivals. It seems that some sincere-hearted generations from yesteryear wanted God to move among the next generation, which is so commendable, but they didn’t want anything to change… and this concerns me.
As I write, I find myself as an older, hopefully more mature Christian, praying for my children and in time, their children. I hope to be someone who gives them a step up and makes way for them to run with the baton! The up and coming generations need our support, help and encouragement. Let’s be their cheerleaders rather than a thorn in their flesh. My fellow Pastor, Des Curtis, and I have a deal that if, in time, we hear the other complaining or being grumpy about the new ‘styles, songs or systems’ which the new generation will understandably employ to reach out in their times, we have permission to give the other a good, loving kick in the… armchair!
Having said this, my generation and the people coming after me need to find ways to honour, bless and include the heroes that have gone before us. We stand on the shoulders of these giants. And while there is tension in this, we need God’s wisdom and guidance to navigate a course that loves, appreciates and honours the past but also purposefully progresses and changes to make sure we have the right voice for the right times! A voice that is Biblical, relevant, compassionate and brave.
Another concern is the way that some Christians use social media. In a time when we need all ‘hands on deck’ and all hearts focused on the harvest and united against the enemy of our souls, we have self-appointed social ‘commentators’ tearing down and bad-mouthing fellow believers. Jesus said that people would know us by the love we have one for the other. I pray we remember this before we go on line to offer a piece of our minds! Wouldn’t it be of more value to give the peace from His mind?
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We are closer to the Lord’s return than ever before, and whether its hundreds of days or hundreds of years away, let us keep encouraging each other. We have one enemy and one church of Jesus Christ. Let us be clear about which one we are against. Let’s spur one another on and encourage each other with our words, in our prayers, in our celebration of each other’s victories. Let’s speak well of each other and use our words and social media posts to build up and not tear down. Let’s be blessed with the good news stories and testimonies we read in VOX and on various social media outlets. Let’s bless the Lord for the various ‘flavours’ and the diverse array of Christian churches working to bring in the harvest for the Lord. And as the day gets closer, let us encourage each other all the more!
Happy birthday VOX magazine and well done!
Pastor Trevor Hill leads the Plumbline Network of Churches and pastors River of Life Church in Athlone.
It is wonderful to see the growth of new churches throughout Ireland and the mix of nationalities within a lot of these churches. I believe God has allowed different nationalities to come to our nation, which has increased the Christian population - by Christian, I mean people who have genuinely experienced the love of God in a personal way that has and continues to change their lives as they become more like Jesus. It is also exciting to see some of the new churches move from first generation to second generation with young Irish leaders.
I’m concerned about the deliberate secularisation of our nation and sadly even within the church. We are being led along a dangerous slippery road by what is called the ‘New Modern Ireland,’ which for the majority does not include God, His Word or His values and standards. (What is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular).
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
I believe it is time for the many different expressions of the Church to stand up and be counted in these days - we have the greatest message of hope, purpose and love the world is looking for. I also believe there needs to be a new level of unity within the Church in Ireland, not just to stand up individually, which is great, but also to stand up together to be a real witness to a watching world of how we truly love one another.
I’ll sum up with the words of the Apostle Paul and one of my favourite descriptions of the Church from Ephesians 4:16, “From Him the whole Body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up as each part does its work.”
Together with God and one another we can make a difference!
From 2017 to 2018, Rev. Laurence Graham was the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. He reflects back on what he observed and learnt during that time.
HIGHLIGHTS AND CONCERNS
It has been a joy to welcome people from around the world who have often brought new life and strength to our churches. There have been new opportunities especially in the Republic of Ireland as the atmosphere/culture has become more open.
I’ve been concerned by the growing secularism, and also that some congregations have failed to realise that Christendom is over and that we need to engage with society in different ways and reach out incarnationally.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
In January, I visited an Agroforestry plantation in the Bolivian Amazon. It led to a sort of parable forming in my mind for the Methodist Church in Ireland as I finished my year as President, but I think it also resonates with the wider church.
In the plantation, I saw old mature trees rising far above the other plants, giving shade and whose roots give structure to the soil. Then there were slightly smaller fruit trees, such as mango or coconut which have been there for a long time and produce gorgeous fruit every year. Interspersed are medium-term plants such as banana. They take a couple of years to get established but then keep producing. Finally, at ground level there are short-term plants such as beans, maize and sweet pepper. It may not look tidy but the whole point of an agroforestry plantation is that old mature trees, medium-term plants and short-term annual crops are all growing together and each one relies on the other.
But what’s all this got to do with the Church? During this year, I have visited congregations where the numbers attending on a Sunday are much less than they were a few decades ago because people no longer go to church. Also, in my travels, I have seen plenty of new growth but it’s definitely not monoculture. It’s agroforestry. Sometimes there’s growth in a place or a particular context that is really fruitful but only lasts a short time. There are other more medium-term projects. Also, of course, there are new plants that will grow for a long time and will become mature trees. But the point is that there is huge variety around our church and each type of church needs different kinds of care.
Like in the agroforestry plot, I have also seen some signs of death. There are some churches that are probably not going to live for very much longer. However, again we can ensure that nothing is wasted and that even the death of a church, whose life has come to an end for whatever reason, can nourish and nurture the future life of another church. But then there are also lots of mature older churches that continue to live on and play their part in the whole living mixture of our church today. Just like in the agroforestry plantation there are lots of opportunities for mature, long-standing churches to play a part in sheltering, supporting and nurturing tender shoots in their vicinity.
Just like agroforestry the Church in Ireland of today and tomorrow may look untidy and maybe we would prefer to see neat rows of ‘plants’ but the variety is in fact life-giving.
So, let’s not get depressed, rather let’s recommit ourselves to tending this ‘agroforestry plantation’ called the Church which God has placed in our care. Let’s harvest from the mature plants in such a way that we tend the new shoots and, where there is death, let us ensure that when life ends, it is re-cycled into new life.