23 December 2016
In the world of fragmentation, God is bringing His people together
As I sat in the great Jacob K. Javits convention centre in the heart of New York, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to God. I realised afresh that what God was doing with us in the UK was part of something much bigger - we had been caught up in a global, Holy Spirit-inspired initiative, which was working to see transformation – physical, social and spiritual – in towns and cities across the world.
I have to confess, I’m not usually one for the big international conferences, but Movement Day seemed different somehow, with more than 3,000 delegates from 95 countries. There were more than 200 from India alone, along with 90 delegates from the UK. I sat in awe as I heard the stories of what God is doing for His Church in cities across the world. Here was the body of Christ in all of its diversity - age, gender, ethnicity, but also in ecclesiastical and theological persuasions - together and committed to learning from each other. Leaders from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, Europe and Australasia were exchanging stories of good practice and biblical insights.
As I look back on the event, which took place just a few weeks ago, I’m struck by the contrast of the CNN news reports that I watched on my hotel TV. Has there ever been a time of such global fragmentation? Wherever I look, local, national and regional conflicts and separation seemed to be the order of the day - the US election, the UK referendum, destabilised relations with Russia and conflict across the Middle East and so many parts of Africa, and growing instability in Asia. The post-Cold War period of relative stability is increasingly under threat. It seems that as I contrast what was happening at Movement Day with the news reports on the TV, in a world of growing fragmentation, God is bringing His people together, united by a common cause.
I have often reflected on my conversation with Roger Sutton, then a former minister of Altrincham Baptist and director of Reaching the Unchurched Network. He was half way through a sabbatical and I suggested he make contact with me when he was finished. I wondered whether there was something we should be doing together – I don’t remember having such a conversation with anyone before or since. And so it was that Roger came and joined us at the Alliance and we began to explore what we both sensed God was doing in towns and cities across the UK. What Roger discovered was amazing. We began calling them unity movements. While the practical outworking varied from place to place, there were some common factors. These unity movements involved Christian leaders, not just church leaders, but leaders in business, charities, social concern, politics, education and healthcare. Here were leaders building relationships, and out of this, a passion for their towns and cities was emerging - a desire for transformation and prophetic insights as to God’s agenda for their communities. It was out of these relationships that so many citywide initiatives have emerged. Currently, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities, but it’s expected to be 66 per cent by 2050. The Church of the city is engaging in joint enterprise to see change in the lives of individuals, and indeed whole communities. It was in response to what God was already doing that we launched Gather to encourage and support these unity movements where they already existed and looked to encourage new ones into existence where they didn’t. In the last four years, Gather has connected with more than 120 unity movements and new ones are emerging on a regular basis.
What I realised, as I sat in that convention centre, is that what Gather is supporting and encouraging in the UK was part of something bigger and we have the privilege of being included in it. God was calling us to encourage and celebrate unity in His family and to see that unity expressed - to quote the great John 17 prayer of Jesus “that the world might believe”. So, let’s pray for and encourage these unity movements. But let’s also recognise that the call to unity challenges us in our own relationships at home, among family and friends and indeed in our local churches.
Next year, Movement Day comes to London and we’d love for you to be there, so do put the date in your diary: 6 – 7 October 2017.
P.s from Steve...
I’m sure you’ll agree that we’re in a time of extraordinary fragmentation and division in our nations. Yet with these challenges come significant opportunities for the gospel. As the Church, we are called to wade into this mess, get our hands dirty, and offer unity and hope. We are commissioned to share the good news of the Prince of Peace that we celebrate at Christmas. So for our Christmas appeal this year, I hope you won’t mind me asking if you could prayerfully consider a gift to help the Church bring unity and hope to discord and disillusionment, to help the Church share the true Christmas story of God become man to bring peace to all? You can read the full Christmas appeal letter and give a gift at eauk.org/christmasappeal