After what many people feel has been a punishing 2016, ET looks at what some organisations are planning this year to support Christians worldwide and spread the gospel.
For many organisations, speaking up for the rights of Christians at home and abroad will be a priority for 2017 in the light of increasing persecution across the globe.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: ‘This year, by God’s grace, Christian Concern will continue to speak of Jesus Christ in public debate, stand with those who are challenged for their Christian faith and equip Christians to play an active role in public life’.
In the light of two significant events coming up this year — the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses and the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act — Christian Concern said it would be important to continue ‘working to highlight the importance of proclaiming biblical truth in public life, and standing up for the sanctity of every human life, made in God’s image’.
Ms Williams has asked for prayer for Christian Concern’s legal team, as they handle a growing number of cases related to gospel freedoms.
Her comments were matched by those of the Christian Institute (CI), which also stands up for Christians in the public arena. In a statement, the CI commented: ‘Our vision for 2017 is to see Christians in the UK standing for Christ in the public square. In fact, this has been the vision of the institute since we began’.
By so doing, the organisation believes God’s people can be a Christian influence in a secular world. The statement added: ‘Please pray that the government plans to inspect church youth groups for signs of “extremism” would not go ahead.
‘Pray also for success in the many religious liberty cases undertaken by our legal defence fund and for all the staff at the CI, and that God would provide for all our needs’.
Internationally, there are many points for prayer throughout the year, especially for Christians in Syria and Iraq and wherever so-called Islamic State is making inroads.
However, there are some specific focal points. For example, Release International is making Sri Lanka a focus for prayer and campaigning in 2017. In November, the advocacy organisation launched a petition to force Sri Lankan authorities to withdraw a 2008 circular that is being used to target churches and intimidate churches.
The organisation says, ‘Let’s pray for the petition’s success so that churches in Sri Lanka can continue to be bold and shine the truth of the gospel into their local communities’.
Education and training are also going to be an important focal point for some organisations, with the aim of equipping men and women to take on the work in churches and on the mission field.
Robert Strivens, principal of the London Seminary, said 2017 is to be an exciting year with a new pastoral studies course and a new part-time stream for women’s work.
He told Evangelical Times: ‘London Seminary is looking forward to welcoming many visitors in early 2017, at visitor days and open days, with a view to starting the pastoral studies course in September.
‘We will also be planning the launch of a new part-time stream for pastor’s wives and women’s workers in September 2017’.
Mr Strivens has also asked readers to ‘please continue to pray for our students, that they would give themselves to the task of preparing for pastoral ministry; and for wisdom for the board and staff as we seek to take the work forward’.
The John Newton Project has expressed excitement about the 244th anniversary of Amazing Grace, a hymn written to accompany John Newton’s sermon on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. To help churches and groups put together special meetings or evangelistic outreach based on Newton’s famous hymn, the project has placed resources on its website.
Many churches are preparing for a year of outreach, with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) gearing up to continue its mission of equipping and encouraging the more than 550 independent churches that make up its network, to spread the gospel.
Phil Topham, head of communications for the FIEC, said: ‘In 2017 our Leaders’ Conference will move to Torquay to accommodate growth, and we will hold 12 day-conferences for pastors and their wives, to help develop long-term effectiveness in gospel ministry and foster growing mutual support.
‘The Hub Conference this January will equip those on their journey into gospel ministry. We will continue to provide grants to individuals and churches to help train the next generation of gospel workers, and we will publish two issues of our theological resource primer’.
At the end of 2015, a new London church was launched, the Globe Church in Southwark. Pastor Jonty Allcock commented on its plans to reach out to the community. He said: ‘Since the Globe Church launched in September 2015, we have been thrilled to see God establishing a gospel community on Borough High Street, at the heart of London.
‘There are plenty of distractions, so we have set our vision for 2017 to pursue prayer and courageous evangelism. We have a specific need for a venue that will allow us to continue to grow and serve our community’.
What 2017 holds in store is unknown to us, but let’s pray it will truly be seen to be ‘the year of the Lord’.