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Chasing the Rabbit

 

A thought for General Assembly Week…..

There once was an elderly Christian gentleman who had a reputation for godliness, devotion, and faithfulness.

Once a newly ordained Elder visited him with his Communion Card, and, during their conversation, got round to discuss the decline in membership of the Church.

“Why is it” asked the younger man, “that so many people when they join the Kirk are so full of enthusiasm, then, after a few years, they effectively give up. They don’t have that initial zeal anymore.

The old fellow smiled. He said, “One day, a wee while ago, I was sitting in my garden on a lovely summer evening – my faithful dog by my side.

“Suddenly a large rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after it. He chased the rabbit across the lawn, through the hedge, down the lane. – and with unbridled passion.

“Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking along the road, up stony embankments and through thickets and thorns!

“Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the chase, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the pursuit. Only my dog continued to hotly chase after that rabbit.”

“In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.”

He sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand. What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?”

The old chap answered,

“you failed to ask the obvious question.

“Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase?

“And the answer to that question is that they had not Seen the rabbit.

“Unless you see the prey, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”

And perhaps that’s why so many – not all – are dropping out. They no longer keep their eye on the prize.

Not the prize of heaven, but the prize of the one who will get us there :Jesus Christ.

He is and always will be the only focus.

As St Paul wrote:

“I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me……I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

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“Change and Decay in All I See”

The Courier

 

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‘Time for someone to say it’ — Minister warns lack of interest is killing the church

By RICHARD BURDGE, 27 February 2015 3.25pm. Updated: 28 February 2015 10:10am.

Rev Scott Burton decided it was time to speak out after facing more and more empty pews in his church.Shaun Ward
Churches face an “intolerable and utterly unsustainable” lack of interest from their congregations, according to a minister.

An outspoken and wide-ranging attack has been made on members who fail to attend for worship or offer financial support to their churches.

The Rev Scott Burton, minister at St Matthew’s Kirk in Perth, said: “I have no reason to believe anything other than the fact that it’s only going to get worse in the next decade.

“It’s time for someone to say it as it is I’m afraid — and I’m either brave enough or stupid enough to be the one who’s choosing to say it.

“I see the bank balance (deficits), I lead worship in the more than half-empty buildings, I feel the never-ending pressures, I counsel the office-bearers who are tearing their hair out to make ends meet. So I assure you, I’m not exaggerating.”

He hit out after studying the number of people attending churches in Perth but his comments resonated with congregation leaders across Tayside and Fife.

The Rev Michael Goss, Angus Presbytery Clerk, said: “The general perception is that attendance at services runs at about a third or a quarter of the congregational roll.

“The picture is a continuing downward trend, which has been the situation for a long time.”

The Rev James Wilson, the clerk of Dundee’s Presbytery, said:“Our membership is gradually getting fewer and older. We are slowly but surely struggling to find people to do additional tasks and take up positions of responsibility.

P“It is a problem for us in the Church of Scotland in Dundee certainly — a major problem — but it is not one that only the church is facing.”

Ministers in Fife confirmed numbers were dropping, with the Rev Jan Steyn, minister of Cupar St Johns and Dairsie United Parish Church, saying “generational change” was required to keep churches relevant.

 

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Change and Decay

from Huff Post

(RNS) For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Though some have said the 15.7 million-member denomination needs to be more racially and ethnically inclusive, Luter, its first African-American president, thinks the main reason for decline is that all congregations need to take a role in evangelism.

“We have just not been very active in doing what we can to reach the lost and the unchurched in our nation,” said the 57-year-old New Orleans pastor.

Weeks before the denomination’s annual meeting, a task force charged with helping Southern Baptists “own the problem” released a report that noted these recent signs of trouble:

one-quarter of Southern Baptist churches reported “0 baptisms”
60 percent said they had baptized no youth (ages 12-17)
80 percent reported one or fewer young adult baptisms (ages 18-29)
Task force member Dennis Kim is one of the three men who hope to succeed Luter as president.

“When about 1,000 churches close their doors every year, I believe that the need of the hour is an evangelistic tool that is simple enough to train all church members, effective enough to ignite believers’ passion for evangelism, and engaging enough to captivate the hearts of the present generation,” said Kim, 64, pastor of a predominantly Korean-American megachurch in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md.

The Rev. Jared Moore, pastor of a small church in Hustonville, Ky., is not convinced that a special method or a new way of training is the answer.

“It’s not something that any president or any individual can reverse,” he said of the trends that show seven straight years of declining membership. “It’s something that God must bring about.”

He added that “it takes a lot more time, a lot more conversations than it did 50 years ago” to succeed in evangelism when some people don’t consider themselves sinners.

“I think we’ve got to stay the course, continue preaching the gospel, even when the ears of our community is closed,” said Moore.

The Rev. Ronnie Floyd, a former SBC Executive Committee chairman who is considered to be a front-runner for the presidency, said there’s a need for “extraordinary prayer” for another “major spiritual awakening” in America. He said Baptists have determined that the Great Commission — a phrase about the biblical command to convert believers across the world — is the path they are committed to follow.

“Our problem is the pace,” said Floyd, 58, pastor of a multisite megachurch in northwest Arkansas. “We need to return to a commitment of personal evangelism.”

David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said Southern Baptists are facing challenges, both theological — some people don’t see themselves in need of a conversion — and sociological — waning agreement with traditional conservative worldviews.

“It’s a tough world out there at this particular time and there’s not a lot of easy answers,” said Roozen, who said the Southern Baptists are joining mainline Protestants in the hand-wringing about declines. “There’s little fixes but they probably don’t address the root challenges.”

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Lord Carey’s vision for the Church might kill it off (from the Telegraph) – By A N Wilson, 19 Nov 2013

The Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, could be presiding over a Church sliding toward extinction

The ‘vibrant’ services favoured by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, will not bring back the crowds

 

The Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, could be presiding over a Church sliding toward extinction Photo: AP
I go to a well-attended church   in London, but I have made frequent travels throughout England in the past   year (literary festivals, television work, visiting friends). On Sunday   mornings, I have gone to church. When staying with friends near Canterbury,   I have enjoyed splendid liturgy, intelligent sermons and been part of a huge   congregation.

So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying   that the Church is only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped   by a “feeling of defeat” and its congregations worn down with “heaviness”?    Is he just suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?

Alas, Lord Carey is right. Come away from Canterbury with me into the parishes   I have visited – in the West Country, in East Anglia, in the Midlands and   the North. I have attended at least 10 churches in the past year – all very   different in their history, but in each case I have had the same experience.   At the age of 63, I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The   congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund   institution kept going by and for old people. They are ministered to   (perhaps I was just unlucky) by an ill-educated clergy with nil   public-speaking ability.

Lord Carey, as an evangelical, thinks that the cure for all this is to reach   out to young people with such initiatives as the Alpha Course (a basic   grounding in the faith, which began at Holy Trinity Brompton). He wants the   sort of services that such Christians consider “vibrant”.

Evangelicals like him have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes,   where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places,   which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands   of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its   outreach, Toddlers’ Praise and speaking in tongues.

There are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say   that will make these reasons go away.

The first is sex. Traditional Christianity taught that there is no permitted   sexual act outside marriage. All but no one now – even Christians – really   believes this. What used to be called “living in sin” is absolutely normal.   Nearly all young people, gay or straight, when they reach a certain moment   in their relationship, try living together. The Churches can either back   down and say that for 2,000 years they have been talking nonsense about sex;   or they can dig in their heels. Either way, the Church is diminished.

The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief   itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No   number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of   a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can’t swallow it. They see no   reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and   then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.

When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief.   When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his   faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: “It doesn’t matter – it   doesn’t matter.” You can’t imagine Lord Carey saying that.

Unbelief, and the change in sexual mores, affects not only the decline in   Anglican congregations, but the entire history of the Western Church. The    “Francis effect” is said to be drawing back mass attendance in Italy. But   the Pope’s focus groups, asking what the faithful believe, will yield   similar results as they would in the Church of England – people don’t think   it is sinful to live together, they don’t think it is sinful to be gay, and   they no longer really believe in the Incarnation.

This is dire news for institutional Christianity. Yes, pockets of prayer still   exist – of course they do, in the surviving religious orders in both   Churches, in individuals and in parishes. Some people like me will always   feel their hearts restless until they rest in God. And we feast on the   riches that the Church provides. Go to church and you are not alone.   Stretching back into Platonic and Jewish pre‑Christian times, the wise of   old are there to speak to you, through liturgy, Scripture, architecture and   music.

But such habits of Common Prayer (as we still call it, some of us) are a   knack, like the enjoyment of classical music (which is also, we are told,   something that is catastrophically on the wane in Britain). Lose the knack   and it is very difficult to reclaim it.

Most decent, intelligent, middle-aged or young people I know have no sense at   all of what churches are for. The trouble is, so many of those who run the   institutions share this deficiency. Those of us whose minds are filled   (whatever we believe) with the words and patterns of the old liturgy feel   like the old man in Nineteen Eighty‑Four, O’Brien, who is one of the last   left alive who can remember the words of Oranges and Lemons.

Maybe, in “reviving” a Church along Lord Carey’s lines, we would actually   finish it off altogether. Maybe for Churches, as for people, there really   are fates worse than death.

O’Brien asked Winston (the hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four) to propose a toast –    perhaps to drink to the future. Winston instead proposes “To the past!” “    ‘The past is more important,’ agreed O’Brien gravely.” I’d drink to that.

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