Wanted: Gospel Partners
Every so often we travel to a region of Great Britain to host a Gospel Vision Evening. These are designed to gather Independent churches to reflect on the national picture and consider ways they can work together locally. Richard Underwood reflects on the latest one in Suffolk.
As someone who was born, raised and sent into gospel ministry in Suffolk, I have always nursed a soft-spot for this unsung corner of Great Britain. I remember it as a genial place with its gentle people and unhurried pace of life.
I also recall with great affection the chapel life in which I was immersed from my earliest days. Lively singing, warm-hearted preaching and anniversary services that packed the chapels to the rafters.
Sadly, those days are long gone. In too many villages, the pews are empty, the pulpits have fallen silent, the doors are shut and the witness to the glory of Jesus has been extinguished.
All of which filled our Gospel Vision Evening in the county with special significance for me. More than seventy church leaders came together to share our concerns for Suffolk – a place that has known so much of God’s grace in the past. The dining room of a local hotel was packed out, some guests turned up who hadn’t booked in and others had to be turned away.
From the start, an air of expectancy filled the room. This night was about refreshing and renewing our vision for the gospel.
Independent Churches, Working Together
FIEC National Director John Stevens treated us to a forensic analysis of the gospel need, not just in Suffolk but across the nation. With just 3% of the population being born again, a national crisis demands a national response and requires a national vision. No triumphalism here, yet a deep-seated conviction that the gospel remains the power of God to save everyone who trusts in his Son.
Every gathering is enriched by food, and over dinner four local pastors shared their experience of ministering in Suffolk. This ranged from those training for ministry through to church revitalisation – an urgent need among Suffolk’s many struggling chapels. After time for discussion, the evening ended on a high-point with seventy hearts lifted to the Lord of the Harvest in earnest prayer.
What’s the answer to Suffolk’s spiritual darkness? Local churches!
Churches filled with the Spirit, looking to Jesus, believing that the harvest is plentiful and confident in the gospel. Yes, but churches who recognise that they can’t do it alone; churches that are ready to see beyond their own immediate concerns to grasp a vision that far outstrips their own resources and demands that they work together to reach lost people.
Suffolk has been blessed by the power of churches working together in the past. May God be pleased to raise up leaders from this gathering who have the vision and the drive – and who command the confidence of their peers – to draw churches back into gospel partnership again.
Painting: A View in Suffolk by Frederick W. Watts (1800-1862)