We asked Tom Davenport to report back on our recent Gospel Vision Evening in Bournemouth. He says some historic perceptions about FIEC are increasingly out of date.
Why bother with FIEC? It’s a question I’ve faced in recent months more than I expected.
Lansdowne has a healthy range of people from a range of church backgrounds, many ‘in the pews’ don’t know the ins and outs of FIEC. So in the busyness of church life, with stretched people, budgets and time, why do we bother with it?
Well, some of the Directors’ team travelled down to help answer that question for church leaders from across Dorset in January. At FIEC’s latest Gospel Vision Evening, local churches came together in Bournemouth to enjoy time together and to hear more about the vision and work of FIEC across the country.
While it was a helpful time to get together with other like-minded leaders in the area and enjoy a good curry, there was much fuel to answer the “why bother?” question!
A bigger vision
Many Independent churches have a strong vision for reaching their immediate community; their town or city. They also have a faithful commitment to global mission. While both of these are to be commended, National Director John Stevens pointed out to us that our vision for mission often misses out an essential target – Great Britain.
We can be so focused on our town and the missionaries we support abroad, that we forget about the towns and cities around our country which are as much in need of the good news of Jesus as both the town we live in and the rest of the world.
In serving Britain, FIEC helps to fill this void in our vision for mission. As a church by the beach in Bournemouth, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to plant a church in Oldham, in London, or in Sunderland. But with the FIEC’s coherent help, the vision for making Christ known in the forgotten places of our own country seems much more possible and plausible.
FIEC means we are able to hear about, pray for and support work that we would never have been connected to otherwise. We need this bigger vision for Britain.
As part of a larger church in what has been referred to as ‘the Bible belt of the UK’, here at Lansdowne we could probably plod on in our work of gospel ministry alone if we wanted to. We are seeing God work in exciting ways through the life of our church, we have structures to support training of people into ministry and have big plans for the future.
But sitting around the table with other church leaders at the Gospel Vision Evening it was very clear that not every church is in the same boat. It was also very clear that it is not healthy for the advance of the gospel (or the churches themselves) when churches that can manage alone try to plod on by themselves!
Daniel Grimwade who is pastor at Dewsbury Evangelical Church spoke about the work of Gospel Yorkshire. He explained the significant impact on their county the churches were having by working together to plant and revitalise churches in areas that need it.
In the conurbation of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch there are loads of churches, but many are struggling. There are also areas without a gospel-centred church. The prayer around my table at the end of the evening showed a unity around the purpose of the gospel in our neck of the woods.
We need to work together to plant and revitalise more churches if people in our towns are to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus.
It’s no secret that FIEC has suffered with an identity problem.
One of the reasons I hear for the “why bother with FIEC?” question is the perceived stuffiness that FIEC churches have. Our conservative theology and commitment to expository preaching can make us look like the boring older brother in wider evangelical circles. I hope this wasn’t a secret, the cat is out of the bag now!
But during the vision evening we heard from John MacDiarmid, from Poole Christian Fellowship. John’s brutal honesty about his perception of the FIEC before he joined was equally brilliant, funny and concerning all at the same time. His humble testimony combined with the big vision of FIEC showed me that we don’t need to be afraid to be who we are.
Smoke machines, electric guitars and skinny jeans don’t advance the gospel. A commitment to making Christ known advances the gospel. So we need to be confident in who we are and the task we are committed to.
As John Stevens said during the FIEC AGM at last year’s Leaders’ Conference: “we need to get over feeling sorry for ourselves and get over being disappointed.”
So, let’s look at the reality of our nation and get on with the task we’ve been given!