Effective collaboration and partnership between immigrant and indigenous churches in Europe are essential and hold immense promise and power. These can give grounding, training and resources to the newer churches and offer energy, spiritual vitality and links to burgeoning communities that the older churches need. Together, churches can offer a shining example of Christ's reconciling power. Immigrant churches are undeniably vital to Europe's future. Pray for God to raise up men and women who will pioneer this bridging of different cultures and backgrounds into one unified body that will glorify Jesus and win Europe back to the gospel.
Massive decline in church attendance and participation in religious life characterized the past generation in Europe. Now we are seeing Christian nominalism rapidly replaced by the rise of the "nones" - those with no religious affiliation at all. These trends began with the Enlightenment, grew in the 20th Century with liberal church doctrine, the prevalence of secularism and a loss of confidence in the gospel, and are now resulting in the precipitous decline of public Christianity in much of Europe.
Many of the world's ecclesiastical leaders - and offices - still hail from and are based in Europe. Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed Churches and many others still look to Europe for spiritual leadership. The Christian world remains profoundly influenced from Europe - ironic in that it is by far the most secular and least religious continent.
Catholicism has been rocked by sex abuse scandals, even more than by the Vatican's inflexible stance on contraception, the ordination of women and the obligatory celibacy of Roman Catholic priests. The inadequate and long-delayed response of the Vatican - and the apparent cover-ups - yield outrage and anger, disillusionment and disgust. Now the increasing antipathy toward Catholicism and, by extension, to all organized religion, heralds yet another sad chapter in the decline of faith as a redemptive force in European life. Catholicism is now fighting a rear-guard action, willing to accept significant numerical losses in order to preserve the integrity of its teaching. Pray that these tragic abuses might catalyze deep changes in Catholicism, bringing redemption to many.
Moral confusion in the Protestant churches is an outworking of the liberal theology that dominated theological thinking in all of Western Europe for most of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Mainline Protestant denominations were - and still are - spiritually crippled by the resulting loss of confidence in the Scriptures and in the uniqueness of the gospel. Evangelicals have done better, but still need to develop a mature theology that addresses the whole range of moral issues - relativism, human rights, gender issues, sexuality and the sanctity of life, to name a few - with authority, relevance and from a strong biblical basis. Biblical illiteracy is shockingly common considering the high levels of education and historic influence of Scripture in European society.
A new generation of leaders must be raised up and trained. This need has reached crisis proportions in much of the Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant denominations. The rapid ageing of the faithful, the lack of young people and the shift in culture mean that, in most countries, very few are entering the priesthood. Leadership is much younger in the evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic movements; the need, however, remains urgent - committed, culturally aware and biblically sound leaders who can pastor, teach, evangelize, speak prophetically into Church and society and plant churches in places where there are none. Bible colleges, seminaries, TEE courses, discipleship schools and other training programmes face a challenging task in producing such leadership.
Emerging church movements have flourished over the past decades, resulting in thousands of fellowships among younger people. Such movements are becoming more mature; they often operate from a missional platform and assist the traditional churches in reaching out to the younger generation more effectively. These dynamic networks often align more along the lines of subculture than of ethnicity or nationality; charismatic practices, worship music, creative prayer, a communal ethos and grassroots social engagement are their hallmarks. Pray for them to capture the right balance of wisdom, passion and biblical understanding. Pray that they might have a renewing and redemptive impact on the Church and society respectively.
Evangelical churches face many challenges and opportunities. Wrestle in prayer with the following points:
- The traditional roots of evangelicals in Europe are in the Pietist, Puritan, Anabaptist and Free Churches, inheriting a tendency toward quietism and withdrawal from engagement with society. There has also been a prevalent inferiority complex and lack of confidence among evangelicals in many European countries, both East and West. Thank God that this is changing - evangelicals are more self-aware, more adaptive, better organized and interconnected and more prepared to stand up for themselves and for what they believe is right in societies that threaten to marginalize them and perpetrate injustice.
- Europe's spinning moral compass and crumbling societies offer opportunities for evangelicals to have a powerful redemptive influence and to restore spiritual and ethical standards. These can be achieved by an active holism that engages with humility and passion the many needs in Europe today - community building, ecological responsibility, political involvement, economic and social justice, combating the structures of sin and so forth.
- Society regards the universal and spiritual claims of evangelicals with cynicism and anticipates hypocrisy and failure. There is therefore a great need for holiness, humility, transparency, community, authenticity and intergenerational, interracial harmony. Should Christians successfully demonstrate these, they will discover great responsiveness and authority from many quarters - and probably greater persecution from others.
- Healthier relationships with Catholic and Orthodox Churches throughout Europe must be cultivated. This is not merely to open doors for evangelicals to freely, but sensitively, function in the traditional strongholds of these confessions, but also to form a Christian bloc that stands together for biblical righteousness and faith and against the further secularization and Islamization of the continent.
- Spiritual warfare and the need to engage in it must be recognized in the Church - Europe's great academic legacy and cultural sophistication can undermine the recognition that the struggle is not against flesh and blood.
Immigration is a boon and a wake up call for the Church. The unevangelized are being brought to its doorstep, but more importantly, Christian migrants are swelling the ranks of the faithful. This is true for Catholic, Protestant and Independent Christian groups.
- The influx of Christian migrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean provides a much-needed impetus to church life. Some claim that almost 50% of the EU's migrants are church members. The sheer numerical presence of Christians as a result of immigration has shored up a flagging Church.
- Christian immigrants' spiritual vibrancy, evangelistic passion and confidence in the gospel are making an impact on religious life in Europe. Many Christian migrants come from nations where persecution is common and where other religions are the majority. Their bold witness and unswerving faith is much needed in the West. Praise God for such faith; pray that it might yield fruit and rub off onto the indigenous Christians of Europe.
- Cross-cultural mission to Europe is changing and growing:
- Until now, immigrant churches focused almost solely on evangelizing their own nationality or closely related ethnicities. But this is changing. More and more, there is a vision to reach out cross-culturally to their host nations. Pray for this vision to grow, and for wisdom in transplanting the Christian faith from Majority World cultures onto European soil.
- Intentional missionary service from overseas to Europe was once dominated by the US. This has been reduced, but new waves of African, Latin American and Asian missionaries are coming and serving in many ways. Pray for adequate preparation, for realistic expectations and for effective outreach that remains focused on its goal. It is easy to get sidetracked into ministering in responsive immigrant churches rather than continuing to till the hard soil of the spiritually needy European communities.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.