|A tool to help express our faith (c) D. Cassou|
"When the Lutheran and Reformed churches merged in 2013 to form the United Protestant Church of France, the celebratory events focused on the challenge of becoming a witnessing, mission minded church. This identity is not new of course - the call to proclaim the Gospel has always been part of our church DNA - but over the last few years there has been an increasing recognition that the creation of a new national church gives us a unique opportunity to refocus on our mission calling.
The call to be a 'church of witnesses' comes at a time when recent polls have shown that the majority of the French population no longer consider themselves to be Christian. As elsewhere in Europe, secularism has become the dominant political and social philosophy, but in France it takes a particularly antireligious form. 'Religion' is largely seen as a problem, and generations of Protestants have learnt to live their faith in discrete, private ways. This has enabled the church to survive, but has not served its overall witness to a life changing Gospel.
Becoming a 'church of witnesses' throws out a threefold challenge which we are beginning to meet through the training and equipping of lay members and leaders within the church. The first challenge is to enable our members to leave behind historic reticences and become active witnesses to Jesus Christ. We have significant advantages here: French Protestants are typically involved in the tissue of society and have many relational networks. The problem is not being involved, but daring to do it in fresh ways, bearing witness in deeds and words to our faith. To help this process, practical training days are being organized throughout France on the theme of witnessing.
The second challenge is that of helping local churches to become welcoming and missional communities. Many parishes are small, and with numerical decline comes a temptation to focus on survival in a hostile environment. It is hard for some local churches to maintain hope when for a number of years they have had no pastor, and they have few children or young people. And yet, there is a widespread desire to discover fresh ways of being church, ways that remain faithful to our historic identity and yet which reach out to this generation with the Gospel. Our key strategy here is to equip local church leaders, especially church council members, to understand their ministry in spiritual terms, and so to exercise collective visionary leadership.
The third challenge is to be creative in the way we articulate our faith, taking hold of the opportunities that God opens before us. One such opportunity is the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Rather than organizing historic commemorations, we are using this event as an opportunity to proclaim our faith in fresh ways. Under the title 'Protesting for God, Protesting for Man', we have launched this year a 4 year project encouraging members and parishes alike to proclaim key gospel themes in modern, everyday ways. Thousands of calendars have been distributed, offering reflection on a different theme each week, with local and regional events throughout France on 11th October 2014.
Little by little, our church is learning to live out its calling to be confident in the Gospel in old and new ways, witnessing to the hope we have received in Christ.
executive secretary for evangelism and lay training of United Protestant Church of France."