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Simply spell out the Word

28 February 2014

The C of E's health depends on explaining the plain and straightforward meaning of the Bible, says Susie Leafe

I AM convinced of one thing: it is the Word that does the work.

If we are to ensure that, in 20 years' time, the Church of England has a strong and credible witness in every community in our nation, we need to stop believing that growth depends on particular programmes or traditions, on brilliant leadership, or community projects, and instead depend on the Word made flesh, and the Word written to do the work.

More than 20 years ago, many of those who founded Reform were challenged to look again at the way they taught God's Word. They learned to preach in a way that laid bare the meaning of the text rather than impose meaning on it. They learned to preach the meta-narrative of the Bible, and not just individual verses or doctrines.

Perhaps they learned something of what Luke describes Jesus as doing on the Emmaus road: "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself."

The results are interesting. Our analysis shows that the 350 or so churches represented by Reform have bucked many of the trends of the past 20 years. One third of their average congregation is under the age of 30. One third of churches have experienced sufficient growth to require them to start a new congregation in the past ten years.

Their average weekly attendance is three times that of the average C of E church. They produce three times the average number of ordinands.

I WAS surprised to find that the location of churches represented by Reform reflects, almost exactly, the socio-economic profile of the nation. It is not resources or youth that has grown these churches: on the contrary, they have resources and young people because that is what they have grown to be.

The job is not complete. Our churches are gatherings of sinful human beings. We get things wrong. But - dependent on the forgiveness offered by Jesus's death and resurrection - we seek to live lives transformed and shaped by his Word.

Teaching and preaching is not the "end game", but it is the means by which we are pointed back to the Word that equips us for every good work. Consequently, we pray for bishops who uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and we con-tinue to train all those who teach - male or female, lay or ordained - to "properly handle the word of truth".

The Church Times has laid out a bleak picture of the future of the Church of England. It is true that we face many challenges. But, surely, Reform's experience is great news.

Any church or diocese that wishes to see growth could make systematic, relevant, expository preaching its priority. Why don't we just let the Word do the work?

Susie Leafe is the director of Reform.

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