I was encouraging The Belfrey’s staff team this morning to continue to use their imaginations to think about regional revival. What might the North of England look like, transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ? And in particular what might it look like in terms of social action? How might society be strengthened in a transformed North?
We get a picture of that in Romans 12:9-21, where Paul paints a fantastic picture of community life that is compelling and attractive. Where people are kind. Where they’re looking out for others. Working hard at relationships. Being hospitable. Feeding the hungry and overcoming evil with good.
One of the main signs that major social transformation is taking place will be seeing a reversal of many social trends. Over my lifetime, I’ve observed the yearly publication of increasingly depressing social statistics. And I’ve subconsciously believed the lie that ‘that’s just how it is’, and that trends will continue in that direction. But I have been challenged recently to think differently. To think God wants to bring change. Social change. A social change that comes from a spiritual change.
We see that time and again in the bible as revival came in days of old. So men who used to choose their marriage partners in a particular way (Neh 13) stopped doing that and did things differently . People who used to educate their children in certain ways and even sacrifice them in fire (Jer 19:5) stopped and did things differently. People who used to perform unhelpful sexual practices (Jer 3&5) stopped and did things differently. Social trends changed.
If that kind of thing happened in the past, could it not happen today? And if so, what might it look like in terms of reversing some of our contemporary social trends?
Work is crucial in seeing poverty reduced and society changed. So in a revived North we will see unemployment fall and employment rise.
We’ll see new businesses begin. We’ll see sharp business people starting businesses not just to make money but also to make a difference in their community. Adding value. Improving the quality of life. Like Joseph Rowntree did with Rowntrees here in York in the 1880s, and like Blake Mycoskie is doing now with TOMS Shoes, where with every product sold, TOMS donates a pair to a person in need.
Wealth doesn’t make us happy. Nor is it a good master. But it is a good servant. And in a revived North people will take more care with their money. Living responsibly with it. So in a revived North we will see crime fall and charitable giving rise.
We’ll see new charities beginning. Maybe we as a church, as well as training pioneer ministers (to plant new churches & renew old ones) can also train social action pioneers in best practice in starting fantastic charities. Wouldn’t that be great?
In a revived North people will work hard at human relationships, following the wise teaching of the bible. So in a revived North we will see divorce rates fall and marriage numbers rise, and abortion numbers fall and the number of wanted and loved children rise.
That’s not because there’s a moral police force wagging the finger at people who get divorced or have abortions. It’ll be because people begin to return to the values that come from the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’ll be because the church loves and cares and models another way. It’ll be because people genuinely will choose another way. They’ll be working harder at their marriages. And asking the Spirit of God for help. They’ll be less promiscuous, having less drunken sex and making wiser choices about their relationships and their sexual habits.
In a revived North people will look out for each other more. Not just in families, but caring for people on their streets. So in a revived North we will see loneliness fall and neighbourliness rise.
I expect we’ll see more street parties. More community events. More talking over garden fences. And more people looking out for the vulnerable on their road.
In a revived North people will rely less on stimulants, drugs and alcoholic highs. So in a revived North we will see drug-related incidents fall and sobriety rise.
I suspect we’ll see not all, but some pubs closing, not just because people are drinking alcohol at home but because people will be drinking less alcohol. They won’t need so much. They now have God, who gives them peace so they don’t need the weekend high any more. If there is a high to be had, it will come from the Holy Spirit who pours his love into open hearts.
Do you see? Can you imagine it? Many social trends will begin to reverse. As we pray and work and love and care for our communities. As we, the people of the North of England are awakened by the Lord and begin to see God calling us to a better life. A kingdom-of-God life. With Jesus Christ ruling as King.
This will require radically different kinds of churches to the ones we now know. It will require courage. And faith. And much prayer. It will require Spirit-inspired action. And mature, wise teaching in these matters that effect the wider society. We mustn’t be afraid to teach, because we all need to be guided.
When my dad was leading an Iranian congregation in Doncaster, a newly converted man and wife came up to him one day and said, ‘Richard, will you show us how to live?’ My father asked them what they meant, to which they replied: ‘We want to know how to live. We’re now following Jesus. We want to know how to live life. In our family. With our friends. At work.’ My dad was taken aback. He thought that this revival amongst the Iranians was just about leading them to Christ but now he realised that it was more than that. It was about transformation of life and transformation of society. Starting with them. One by one. One family at a time.
If we are praying and working for the transformation of the North it will affect every area of life. And it should mean, over time, a reversal of many social trends. What a great legacy to leave the future children of the North.