Friday, 26 September 2008

Relevant?

I've been thinking quite a lot recently about the "relevance" of what we do and say in Christian communities. Having read Tim Leeson's "Angry Rant" I feel the need to blog... or have my own rant...

At Greenbelt I was struck by the comment that we need to deal with the questions that people are actually asking - and these questions often appear through mass media. Hence, some of the more interesting Greenbelt seminars (at least for me) dealt with film and television: Lost, Doctor Who, etc... I came away with a new sense that my interest in popular culture should find a place in my "professional" communications...

During my sabbatical I was struck a number of times by the discord between church life and daily life. Churches should support their members in ordinary life, rather than draw them out from reality. After the welcome for some new ministers in Milton Keynes, a colleague and I reflected on the way our public focus on clergy effectively devalues the ministry of all members. I am feeling the need to find ways of reversing this process...

As I continue to reflect on the global economic situation I am concerned that a sensible and realistic but visionary voice needs to be heard. The social order we have constructed since the industrial revolution is slowly destroying the planet and we are facing a major change of direction. Big businesses and politicians find it easier to talk about "business as usual" but it would be more sensible to take a long cold look at reality and put in place policies for significant but steady change...

...and that's before we take account of some of the other issues of justice, peace and the integrity of creation...

Oddly enough, the Local Shared Ministry Project and the difficulties posed by deanery finance and deployment give me huge reasons for hope. The unsustainable models of church and ministry which were set up when Milton Keynes was founded have been on the rocks for a while now and a number of us have set out to develop more collaborative and sustainable approaches. This may sound like moving deckchairs on the Titanic or a desperate attempt to find ways to survive, but I think our attempts to build sustainable Christian community will help us develop ways to encourage sustainable human community. A genuine local shared ministry community could be a sign of hope for the whole world...

When I said I had a vision for a sustainable, growing church, I was criticised by a good friend for using the word "sustainable" - but I increasingly believe that this word "sustainable" is central to what the Church could offer to a commercially dependent, consumerist society - such as we find in MK.

This has not been an "angry rant". I recognised long ago that the Gospel is not just about the "spiritual" world, but is for all creation. Hence, we are called to proclaim freedom to prisoners and good news to the poor, to be good stewards in creation and to continually expand the circle of hope.

But how do we do this? Can Sunday Church, such as we have it in MK, create space for deep reflection and engagement on these issues? If we have "seeker" sensitive services, can we also debate homosexuality, economic theory or community development? And if we can't what do we actualy have to contribute to this world?

I don't think I've got an answer here. As a pneumatological democrat and a believer in collective decision-making, I'm extremely warry of standing up in church and expressing a personal opinion, since I'm not sure I actually have the right - particulalry if there is no room for debate. Traditional forms of church encourage a didactic approach, but challenging issues are better dealt with by communities. Which brings me back to Rolland Allen's "tell it to the church" and the reflection that leaders can only impose short term "truth".

In order to deal with some of these tricky issues we need forms of church that create space for debate, and enable us to engage with real life. For many of us, traditional church just can't do this. On Thursday night I met with some of our worship leaders for a time of reflection. On these occasions, we often find ourselves saying that we don't give ourselves time for deep reflection, but get bogged down in commities and activities which often drain our energies. Oh for a church where this is not the case!

I agree with Tim Leeson's rant and would happily have written it myself, but I think the answer is closely related to the issue of how we do church. Can the "emerging church" do better?

1 comment:

Tim said...

I enjoyed reading this, thanks for your thoughts, Tim!

Have you come across Tom Wright's latest: Surprised by Hope? It's the fuel for a lot of my thoughts at the moment, and though primarily a book about eschatology, it raises some very profound issues for the question of 'how we do church', and I found it exciting to read. Check it out!