I guess the knack for ministry (and for life) is when things go wrong, use the opportunity.
The Sunday following Christmas is usually an anticlimax, not least for me as vicar. All the preparation and all the energy go into four services concentrated within just 12 hours.
Except this year I noticed that between the 8.00 am Holy Communion and the 10.00 Family Service, the church boiler failed. Thankfully, the church was already warm and nobody seemed to notice.
An electrical fault was the cause but there was no way it could be fixed during this holiday period. We had already decided just to have the one service the following Sunday and so the obvious recourse was to hold this in the Ministry Centre.
We could, of course, have the same service in a different building with the chairs in rows facing the front – but this gave the opportunity to do something new. I emailed round and a group of us got the hall ready on the Saturday morning.
So we had our very first café church – and by all accounts, it worked very well. Elderly members were especially appreciative – warm, comfortable and lots of buzz. You can see the photos on our Facebook page.
I have no doubt that this will become a familiar part of our Christmas ministry. But that’s how the Holy Spirit often works – we discover new ministries when things go wrong. Or as Elvis said: “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”
In fact, things going wrong has to be the main theme of the Bible, beginning with Eve reaching out for the forbidden fruit. Wonderfully God’s response is to sort his creation out and he purposes to do this through the seed of Abraham.
Except right from the outset things kept going awry. Abraham showed a remarkable ability to do the wrong thing – even though he believed God’s promise to bless the nations through him.
My favourite theologian, Tom Wright, often speaks of the people of Israel chosen to be God’s response to the problem becoming the problem. So the story of the Old Testament is things going wrong, culminating with the catastrophe of the exile.
But this gave the opportunity for God to show his commitment and care for his people articulated through the prophets. In fact, the exile allowed a spiritual flowering. Tellingly those prophets who most influenced Jesus – Isaiah 40-65, Daniel and Zechariah – were prophets of the exile.
Similarly, for the people of God in the New Testament, times of spiritual advance happened as a result of things appearing to go wrong.
It was only when Stephen was seized and executed did the church start to move out of Jerusalem As Luke tells us: “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1).
This setback gave some disciples the opportunity to share the Gospel, albeit with some hesitance, to non-Jews. At the time a controversial move: many of their number wanted to stay within the Jewish family.
And of course, many of Paul’s epistles were written from gaol. A man of considerable energy, he wanted to address problems in his various churches in person rather than send a letter – which always had the potential of being misunderstood. Something the Corinthian church seemed to have developed to a fine art.
But Paul knew from experience how God uses setbacks, even disasters. So he writes to the Philippians. ““Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (1:12).
But above all it is the cross of Jesus which shows how God uses total disaster to bring healing to his broken world. You cannot exaggerate how his execution would have been seen at the time as a complete catastrophe, a devastating disaster. At the time, no one, not anyone, could see a way out.
So as we face a new year, be prepared for when things don’t go to plan. God may be at work. The big question is are we prepared to step up to the opportunity?