I’ve just been thinking about a few conversations I’ve had, over the last two weeks, which have stirred my heart and made me wonder: can the trickle become a flood? 

Four church leaders, four conversations, four times the repeated words: ‘and the great thing is, we’ve done nothing to make it happen’. Each one was telling a story, or more accurately stories, of people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ and are now asking to be baptised.

I’ve been thanking God for what he’s been doing in the lives of these people and praying they will be truly built ‘as living stones’ into God’s spiritual house, or as The Message translates this reference in 1 Peter 2:5 – as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God.

I’ve been hearing about Simon, a young guy in his late twenties, who’d previously describe himself as an atheist who began to read the bible (only found a King James version). Lisa who’d approached a Christian, whilst away at a festival (not the family-friendly kind) to pray with her because of a disturbing dream. Umar who felt attracted to a Christian woman, so googled a local church to ask more.  Julie a yoga teacher who’d been on a spiritual search. Jim who’d been down all the New Age avenues he knew of and then turned to Jesus. Sarah who been a practising psychic and then encountered Jesus. Jason a tattoo artist and wearing those you wouldn’t expect to see in church. [1]

None of the above as far as I, or those who shared their stories, are aware had either previously attended, been in contact with a church, or with one exception had a conversation with a Christian known to them.

God is up to something. Of course, God is always up to ‘something’ and these stories reflect the habit of God Jesus talks about when he says such as things as: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them (John 6:44). But I’ve hunch there’s something more to this. Here’s some of what I think I’m seeing and hearing, or just simply being reminded of:

The Gospel depends on a God who does not depend on me.

‘When someone comes to me to talk of needing to sort out their life, to ask if they can be forgiven for their sin, without having come to church to learn our language, I recognise I must decrease and He must increase’.

The Gospel depends on a God who does not depend on my church.

There’s two ways of looking at this one:

  1. There’s no point in us trying because there’s nothing we can do: = we do nothing.
  2. God is at work far more than we’ve realised and in real people’s lives, in our community, including those we’ve not even considered being interested in Christianity: = we pray, we listen, we look, we share.

God loves people as much as he has ever done.

We are living through a period of expressive individualism and whilst there are signs of some growing pushback in the media, I suspect we’re not yet at the peak. However, one thing which strikes me is if you talk to people who have come to know God in and through the person of Jesus Christ, without the influence of either existing Christians, or the church, none of them need to be told they are sinners.

God answers those who cry out to him.

We are living in turbulent times, which is consciously recognised across society. I wonder if the anxiety rates, the depth of confusion, the recognition post-modernity is not meeting people’s deepest needs, are simply reaching a point where many people are starting to call out to God from the depths of their hearts? When they do, they discover Jesus.

God longs for his church to believe him.

We know from the Talking Jesus research the number one concern people have is ‘will it be alright’? Those who are coming to know Jesus without any initiative by the church, don’t know ‘how’ it will be alright, but they do appear to have a confidence in God, which translates into them being able to face whatever their future holds.

God longs for his church to nurture all those who come to know him.  

Of course, another question is one many have been asking for some years: why church? People new to faith seem to instinctively know they can trust the Holy Spirit of God and they can trust the word of God. It reminds me God has not left himself without testimony (Acts 14:17). The church is God’s idea and it remains a great one, despite the atrocious mess we seem to be making of it! The church consists of real people, with all the faults of failings of everyone else, what better way of identifying with those yet to discover God loves them and wants to embrace them into his family?

As you’ll read elsewhere September marks the beginning of a year of mission, as Seventy-two is promoting through Hope 23-24. Now is the time to prepare. My hope and intention with this article is to encourage you to start with your own heart:

Ask yourself: 

  1. Do I believe God is still in the business of transforming lives for the good? 
  1. Do I recognise Jesus can meet whoever I meet, whatever their past experiences, or present circumstances?

Ask God:

  1. Give me the faith to believe you can transform any life and give me the desire to thirst for your righteousness in mine.
  2. Give me a fresh expectation you have gone before me this day, the eyes to see who is searching for you to meet their need and the ears to hear how I can help them.

[1] All names have been changed for the purposes of this article, although the circumstances are accurate. 

Nigel Coles

Nigel is Regional Team Leader of the West of England Baptist Network. He facilitates the life of the webnet team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations and Baptists Together. Nigel believes that when Jesus sent out seventy-two others, he meant everyone who was there, and this passion to help everyone find their way in the mission of God is what inspired the development of Seventy-two.