A Church for 'extraordinary times'
Church leaders from across the UK gathered at Westminster Chapel last Wednesday for this year's Ekklesia Conference.
Now in its fifth year, the two-day leaders gathering, hosted by Share Jesus International, provided churches the opportunity to explore together the "raw and the real of church life".
Mark Waterfield, Lead Pastor at Hope Church, Newham, opened up the conference with the keynote message titled 'Understanding the times and knowing what to do' which was taken from the anchor scripture, 1 Chronicles 12:32.
In his address, he said these were "extraordinary times" as he reflected on some of the events that have impacted the globe over the last three years, including Brexit, the global pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the war in Ukraine.
Waterfield went on to speak on the importance of discernment as a church leader stating how times are getting tougher for Christians.
"Christianity is now seen as judgemental and toxic. Christians are actively discriminated against for their beliefs," he said.
He continued: "The times are tough but the opportunities have never been greater. We have a society out there that is the loneliest it has ever been, lacking in community and friendships."
Chief Executive of Jubilee Plus, Natalie Williams, led a discussion on class divides within churches and the challenges these create.
Reflecting on her own working class background growing up in Hastings, she said that after first coming to know Jesus, joining a "majority middle class church" was a "massive culture shock".
"The majority of churches in the UK are very middle class, and the working classes are woefully absent from our churches," she said.
As a model of the social diversity needed in churches, Williams highlighted the example Jesus set in choosing people from all walks of life to be his disciples.
"Jesus brought together fishermen and tax collectors to be his disciples. They would have hated each other," she said.
"He was demonstrating how the gospel demolishes the things that divide us. Jesus destroys division but he does not destroy diversity."
Williams said she once "wrestled with God and church" but has made peace with the fact she does not "fit in".
"Now it's something I embrace. I have a sense of joy that God chooses people that don't fit in," she said.
She continued: "One of the things I think should set apart the church and followers of Jesus from every other people group on the planet is our unity in diversity. Unity in diversity shows the hand and the power of God at work in us."
Becky Ingamells, Head of Church Partnerships at Tearfund, led a talk on the role the local church can play in meeting the challenges of present times. She stressed the importance of listening to people's stories.
On a visit to Rwanda last year, Ingamells witnessed this approach in action with facilitators of church and community transformation.
"They would just listen and talk to people, build relationships and hear their stories. Out of that came something really beautiful in terms of people finding faith and community and finding restoration in the church," she said.
The Bible Society's Director of Domestic Mission, Nigel Langford, gave a textual analysis of the book of Ruth in which he explained why it is a prophetic challenge for today.
"I think of the pain, loss, grief and devastation of our communities that are embodied in the stories of Naomi and Ruth. They live in a world that does not favour them," he said.
Langford highlighted that despite Ruth's predicament, God still used her powerfully and that His "hiddenness is not His absence".
"The story gives clear anecdotal evidence of how redemption impacts vulnerable people and restores them into the safety of family," he said.
He continued: "There should be a focus placed on the importance of engaging and listening across our villages, towns and cities. We need a developed understanding of hospitality to those living in poverty and isolation."