Something stirring in the heart of Europe
This last week I spent a couple of days near Brno in the Czech Republic, observing a training process for teams of church planters from the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. There were also some observers from Spain, Germany and Sweden together with a large group of coaches (mostly young people) from Norway. An amazing mix!
Something important was going on here. It might not be too easy to capture what I was witnessing in cold print but here is an attempt.
First, it has been a very long time since that kind of energy around church planting has been seen in that land. More than just joy over something positive happening, this was church planting related to genuine mission and not just to sectarian expansion. The teams came from many denominations, they were working together, encouraging each other and they were focussed on winning those with no religious/ Christian conviction, not on proselytizing people from other churches. Wonderful!
Some had stories of encouraging breakthroughs – a school in one town where around half of the students in some classes are now Christians. These kinds of things normally don’t happen in the avowedly secular Czech Republic.
Something of the same energy was flowing in the groups from other nations too. To a certain extent the enthusiasm was engendered by the fervour coming from the young Norwegian coaches. There is a remarkable change beginning to take place in Norway – not unfamiliar to those of us in the UK.
The polite secular humanism tinged with God which has passed for Christianity over many years, is giving way to a new mainstream – creedal Christianity – that has the capacity to convert others. The Norwegian church is beginning to engage in mission and so are winning people of all ages to active, dynamic faith. New churches are being planted in growing numbers as an overflow of this activity. There will be a church planting conference in March 2014 in Norway with a likely attendance of 1,000 people. (Adjusting for population differences the UK equivalent would be close to 10,000 people).
In one way these are small beginnings but in another way they are revolutionary in their impact. Its worth remembering that until very recently (last year?) no one imagined that the church had a real future, that it could grow, that young people could be converted or that new churches could be planted, let alone grow fast. So the advent of such activity is remarkable.
At a deeper level, this activity points us to something that is stirring more widely in the culture of central Europe – the heart of Europe. It’s worth noting who responds to the gospel and who doesn’t. In very broad terms, those who became adults during the communist era are mostly sympathetic to the church – in part because the communists opposed the church – but their imagination is still unconsciously shaped by the world-view produced by communist regimes. In other words God is not something that is part of everyday conversation. God is a private (even a secret) matter. You might think about God but you don’t talk about him to anyone. The idea of God never moves from private longing to public action or expression.
By contrast, those who became adults after communism fell have a different imagination. God is a real possibility and there is no reason why one should not talk about God just as you might talk about any other subject. Nothing is really off limits for public discourse. So there is an openness and even a curiosity about religion, Christianity, Jesus and the possibility of an encounter with God.
But, even though there is a culture shift – and we might say a culture shift produced by the God of mission – nothing changes unless those who are open to spiritual conversation meet those who can testify to the God who came to live amongst us, to the one who was killed by evil men for evil reasons, and yet who overcame death so that we might have communion with God.
That is why these church planting teams are so important and why they need to be replicated many thousands of times over. Church plants tend to be the places that produce church planters so even these small beginnings are hopeful. To echo Luke 10, the harvest is read, the workers are still few in number. We pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up the workers.