This generation of people currently in City Harvest Church is the most crucial cohort in the church’s existence, says preacher Paul Scanlon.
“God sent you as advance supply for this church. He’s got the right people for this time. You are—and these leaders are—the most important generation of this church.”
It was a wakeup call of a message that Paul Scanlon, founder of Life Church in Bradford, UK, delivered to CHC last weekend (Jan 3-4, 2015).
“God doesn’t operate in demand and supply,” he told the room. “He creates supply way before anyone thinks there’s a demand for it. That’s why He brought you into this place years ago. Just like Joseph—he was in Egypt so many years before he was needed [to save Egypt from the famine]. And Esther—she was there in Persia way in advance, before she was needed to save the Jews.”
Esther was God’s first choice to save the Jews, Scanlon reminded the congregation. She could have said no. Her uncle Mordecai reminded her that if she remained silent, God would raise up another deliverer. Esther fulfilled her calling and the Jews were spared their lives. “Like Esther, you must realize, ‘This is my shift; I was called for such a time as this for this church’,” said Scanlon. “You have a high calling. You’re supposed to be here right now.”
Scanlon’s words struck home for many. The investigation and trial involving CHC’s key leaders have been going on for four and a half years. In that time, a number of people have left the church. The ongoing court case puts the church under constant media scrutiny.
“We are in the fifth season—the season of transition,” said Scanlon, drawing from Ecclesiastes 3. “Most people are lost during this season—it’s neither winter nor summer. At least in winter we know how to dress. We can navigate winter. People are lost because there is no definition for this season: we don’t know what to wear, what to think. Many of us don’t survive it. Its ingredients are negative: fear, insecurity, panic.”
Scanlon likened CHC’s situation to the three parties involved in the birth of a baby: the mother (the leadership) is in pain, the baby (the congregation) is in confusion. The midwife (God) is in control—He knows that soon the pain and confusion will be over. The point of transition in childbirth is that point where a baby can only go forward, there is no going back. It is also the most dangerous part of the birthing process, he noted.
In the sorrow of this transition, “there is something you are supposed to pick up: the seed. You will need it where you are going,” he says. This seed could be a way of thinking, a skill, a good habit—something necessary for the existence and running of CHC 2.0.
The preacher sought to realign the congregation’s view of their current situation. “It’s as if there are two CHCs: the one before the trial, and the church after the trial. It’s like 9/11—the world was different after,” was his analogy. “You have become the most important generation CHC has ever had. No previous generation has had to navigate the last four years.
“God wants you to own it, and to feel privileged that you are in this season; not to be in fear or to think you are suffering. You are a bridge, you are the people alive during the transition, the generation that will bridge the before and after. You continue the narrative, the story of CHC.”
A change of mindset is imperative. “Transition is not geographical or external,” said Scanlon. “If you start the year anew, but keep the old you, then you’ve just changed dates; mentally, you don’t grow.”
A frightening example of this failure is the children of Israel, who were delivered from slavery in Egypt but wound up dying before they reached the Promised Land because they could not beat their slave mentality. “They were the generation that got free, but died in the wilderness,” said Scanlon.
Having an understanding of eternality and how God works is key. Reading from Acts 17:26, Scanlon explained to the congregation that God planned our lives from completion—He already knows how we end. “He brought you from the end of your existence,” he said.
“This church may have been founded 25 years ago, but it was started much earlier. God looked from the end of time, into the country, knowing what it would need, the kind of people it would need, the kind of people it would need this past five years. He knew he needed certain kinds of people to be the transition kind of people, to be the bridge.
“Move from feeling victimized and say you are privileged to be born at this time!” exhorted Scanlon. “In Israel, none of the 17 generations before that one were born to be the transition generation. But the children of Israel didn’t recognize that. They whined and complained. They died in the wilderness.”
After the first step of overcoming one’s own poor thinking, the transition generation person must be ready for the enemy’s attacks. Intimidation from the devil is to be expected, said Scanlon.
In war, he said, the enemy always bombs the bridge first: “Bridges are vital to move forward, to progress.”
The devil will try to make the people “make bricks without straw” just as Pharaoh commanded the children of Israel to do so. “The devil will try to take away your ‘straw’, the stuff that binds you together: your hope, your confidence and conviction, your faith, your joy,” said Scanlon. “He will try to intimidate you, attack your faith and accuse you. Don’t let what is happening [with the trial] deplete you of faith.”
The devil will also try to distract, in the same way that Pharaoh allowed the men but not the women and children to leave. “The devil cannot stop you moving on in 2015: you are too strong, you have too much momentum. But he will settle for you going into your future with distractions that dilute your power and focus,” Scanlon pointed out. “Don’t let anyone control your straw.”
“Plunder the past!” instructed Scanlon. “Take out of this whole four, five year period the things you need for the future. Purpose-driven things, things that are good for where you are going. Grab hold of the most precious stuff.”
Scanlon also noted that the children of Israel put the fine clothing they were given on their children. They must have looked ridiculous in oversized finery, but Scanlon saw this as highly symbolic. “God was teaching them to dress for their future—don’t leave looking like slaves, because the slave mentality will stop you. You may look like you’re dressed for a fancy dress party but stopped for a Starbucks. You may look out of place—until you get to the party.”
Scanlon warned: “If you don’t do that, you will not leave anything for the future.”
Scanlon’s message was a positive challenge to the congregation and leadership of CHC—the latest in a series of messages from visiting pastors and preachers who have come over the past year to encourage the church to look beyond its troubles and see what God is really doing in CHC. The message is clear: it is time to prepare for the future of the church and do the things that will strengthen CHC.
Congregant Roslind Yip, 40, a lecturer, found Scanlon’s message timely. “It’s good that he brought greater awareness to this ‘transition phase’ and put a name to it. People tend to be focused on the results of the past and the kind of results they wish to see in the future. So they may feel lost when they are in neither place. Pastor Paul’s definition helps us to recognise that we are in transition as a church—in the process to going somewhere: the future.”