By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
Towards a Strategy Part Five
‘Establishing’ a local church on an evangelical, biblically faithful footing is not the end of the task however; unless such a church is secured for future generations of gospel ministry, then the work will apparently have been in vain.83
From the moment a new minister arrives, at the back of his mind he also needs to be preparing for his departure. During a vacancy a local church will draw up a parish profile which describes the kind of person they are looking for as their new incumbent and they will also appoint two parish reps who have the right of veto over a prospective candidate.
It is crucial that the parish profile makes it quite clear that this is a conservative evangelical parish that wants a conservative evangelical minister and it is also crucial that the two reps appointed by the church are theologically sharp and willing to stand firm and contend for the right person to be appointed.
This is another reason why it is important to be involved within the wider structures of the Church of England. Precisely because the Church of England is not a congregational church, particularly at times of appointment of new ministers, the wider church has a crucial role to play. Evangelicals need not only to work for the renewal and reform of the local church but of the denomination and its structures, one of the reasons being so that we can be more effective in securing evangelical succession.
Long Term Vision
Along with the need for church planting and church revitalisation, our strategy needs to rooted in a long term vision.
Effective and thorough revitalisation can take twenty years or so, certainly it often needs more than one evangelical incumbency because it takes a long time to change the culture of a church, to grow not just new converts but new leaders who are able and equipped to take up positions of influence and leadership within a local church.
The value of church history is that it can give us a long-term perspective that we often lack today in a world that values the instant and the pragmatic. Short-termism may afford us quick gains but the task of renewing and reforming the Church of England requires patience, a long-term perspective and a persevering wisdom that understands that we may lose some battles before the war is won, rather than throwing in the towel too early in resigned despair.
Numerous times in church history when all has appeared to be bleak and hopeless, God has revived his Church in remarkable ways. One of the great Reformation mottos was ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ now engraved on the Reformation wall in Geneva. It means ‘After the darkness, light’. The God of grace is so often at work when things appear to be most bleak or hopeless, thus revealing his power, his steadfast love and his glory. The Church of England in the early decades of the eighteenth century was similarly in disarray but then came the Evangelical Revival and a whole nation was impacted and changed by the power of the gospel through the ministry of Anglican ministers such as George Whitefield, Daniel Rowland and John Wesley.
This is THE most urgent need of all. ‘Earnest prayer’ to God for him to revive and renew the Church of England is the single most important strategy of all, and it may be that here is where we really get close to diagnosing the root cause of all our problems. We need to take the many rich promises of Scripture and plead them before God, asking him to be faithful to his Word.
Isaiah 62:6-7 “On your walls O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth”
Again, we do not claim that the Church of England today is the fulfilment of Old Testament Jerusalem, rather it is a part of the people of God, part of the church of God but that does give us warrant to note God’s love for and concern for his Church and the call upon his people to pray without ceasing until he restores and renews her.
Many do pray, and pray earnestly for the Church of England, but does prayer have the prominence it ought to have in our thinking, our conferences, our movements, our discussions and our strategies? Evangelicals rightly stress the importance of the ministry of the Word, but we may at times be guilty of undervaluing the importance of the ministry of intercessory prayer, not so much in what we teach but rather in what we do.
We know that ‘unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labour in vain” Psalm 127:1. The bedrock of any effective strategy for renewing the Church of England is an earnest, even extraordinary commitment to intercessory prayer.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism by Pickles, Mark, pages 118-120; 2017.