My wife is a qualified midwife and when she was training I spent many hours listening to her descriptions of the birthing process. She always used to remind me that pregnancy was not an illness but a beautiful experience. I have to say that much of it sounded like an illness to my inexperienced mind. Some years later, at the birth of our first child, I saw the beauty for myself. Amazed to see this human being who previously ‘wasn’t’ now taking her first breaths. Now, four amazing daughters later, I am still completely in awe at the birth of baby.
We know, of course, that the birthing process can be problematic and every health care professional watches for the tell tale signs of danger.
The birth of a church should be watched in a similar way. Yet ultimately it is not the possibility of danger that should occupy our minds. This is a wonderful and awesome event as God breathes new life into the lungs of an infant church family. Its birth has to be inspired and managed by the Holy Spirit who blows wherever he wills. If a church begins for any other reason than the will of the Spirit then the results can be quite horrendous. A group of people might start to meet together after separating from another church. There may have been hurt and disappointment during the birthing process. Although this is not always the case the group can end up congregating around their disaffection for the previous group. Many of these people might have very little else in common: they may not have received prophetic input into their new situation. They are simply together because they no longer want to be with the previous church. This cannot be an acceptable birth and quite often groups like this either fold or they have to revisit the issues raised by the events of their beginnings. It must be an act of God that births a church. Schillebeeckx highlights the importance of the work of the Spirit even above an actually confrontation with the historical Jesus. His point is valid because only the very first churches were directly influenced by those who had seen Jesus in his physicality. One would expect that seeing Jesus would be the ideal beginning for any new group, but the plan of God did not contain this component.
In a similar way some of the things that we value most within our church communities can seem to be non-negotiable when it comes to forming churches. There is a heavy sense of value given to a particular style of corporate worship within the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. No doubt most Pentecostal worshippers would include this in what they consider to be an effective church. However a church that is conceived of by the Holy Spirit can be birthed and established even if there is a paucity of skilled musicians. On the other hand a church with the highest standard of musical expertise can flounder because it is not built on the right foundation.
I am committed to finding ways of raising the standard of the functions of the church but that in itself will not determine its success.