How Vision Changes the Life of a Church
B e r l i n – The President of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), John Upton (Richmond, Virginia) spoke out against a superficial and trivial Christian lifestyle. As he said at the Council of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), September 26-29, in Elstal near Berlin, such a lifestyle leaves a vacuum in society, which other powers can fill to their ends. If Christians do not establish hospitals or help people to help themselves in underdeveloped countries, extremists will step in. “It is too little for us to revolve solely around ourselves in our churches,” said Upton. What is needed is a vision, which God gives “when we give him our heart”. Upton spoke on the topic “A Vision for Baptists in the 21st Century”.
Those who study the Bible can receive such vision, advised Upton. For example, he had wondered what, according to the Biblical reports, Jesus had held most often in his hands. “It was bread,” he said. Using the example of the text on the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, Upton explained that Jesus had taken the bread, blessed it, broken it, and passed it out to the people. This is still how Jesus Christ works today, when people make themselves available to him. He can make great things out of small things.
He illustrated this by the development of a Christian church in China. After the takeover by the communists in 1949, only four older women were left in one of the churches. Although it was forbidden, they met each week to sing and to pray. Finally they decided to finance the education of a young man from their village. “That was their mission,” explained Upton. After the young man had finished his education, he asked the women whether there was anything he could do for them. They asked him to get them a Bible, since the regime had confiscated all Bibles. It was true that Bibles were forbidden; nonetheless the man fulfilled the request of the ladies. And since they could not read, they had asked him to read something from the Bible to them once a week. The Bible reading completely changed the man. In the end, he became the pastor of a small church. When Upton met him recently during a visit to China, the church had 21,000 worshipers each weekend. Upton: “We usually expect too little from God.”
How church life can change for the better when people step up to challenges was also addressed by the representative of the Irish Baptist Network, Stephen Adams (Belfast), in a further example that he had heard of. Numerous pubs had sprung up in the neighborhood of an ageing Baptist church in Great Britain. Especially on weekends, pub visitors often relieved themselves on the property of the church. This had greatly irritated the church. In the church meeting the elders finally proposed to protect the property and to build a wall. Only one older church member opposed this and proposed that, instead of that, they build a restroom facility. When asked who would take care of this facility, the man said that he would, since he could not sleep well at night anyway. Indeed, the restroom facility was built, with the result that the church now holds a well-visited worship service on Saturday nights and has made many new connections.