Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Church Growth strategies: 'Be Relevant!'

As always I'll begin with my Hauerwas' comment that:

'Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.' 

I have to issue a warning that we are now moving into some of the more dangerous issues in this blog. Dangerous because some people will undoubtedly take umbrage at some of the views aired and points pointed to. Some will say that what I am saying is 'who they are' rather than something they do to grow church - and I'm sure that some are right and others might be less so; but this is merely a mirror and an means by which I and some others are engaging so read it and then engage brain, pray and dialogue. 

It is not meant to be offensive but I know some who will perhaps be offended: Not the goal but possibly the reality (I ask forgiveness and understanding in advance).

One of the most frustrating of the 'strategies' that I encounter is concerned with the issue of 'Rights'. It's frustrating because many people are unwilling to say that it's a strategy and it's frustrating because concern with rights is who we are as Christians. After all, it's what Jesus did when He walked the earth - He just didn't bill it as such, He just got on an addressed the issues. And so should we!

I an more than a little tired of those who want to convince me about Church (universal) and its history of oppressing women and the many minority, and action, groups that we have before us these days. This is not because I'm not concerned with those issues by the way! No, no, no - not at all. BUT I see Jesus setting those who were non persona (non people - meaning those without a voice and the ability to be heard and afforded dignity and respect) free and giving them rights and privileges and all that good stuff we drone on about today. I see Jesus as concerned, and by His Holy Spirit, engaged and with many in the various campaigning and rights groups.

Look at the New testament situation: Women, slaves, children - Jesus spoke into their lives through the Gospel and through His one atoning act of reconciliation to God by the cross and the recognition that He, Jesus, is the Messiah; The Christ. I don't think anything has changed!

The problem is that we want the Church to be popular. 

No, let's back the bus up just a little and rephrase that: 

We want US, and Church, to be popular!

So, because the second comment is more likely the most accurate we engage in the practice of telling people what Jesus would be concerned with now and how He would be preaching something different from the stuff He told those primitives 2,000 years ago! Of course we don't know what He would have said now, because He hasn't said it (and if someone tells me that the Holy Spirit told them I'd have to test it against the received word (the scriptures) tradition and reason to ensure that what I had heard was orthodox (right thinking) - and this is where much that arises also falls.

Seeking to be pastoral we set about rewriting the Bible to stop it being offensive or unpopular. This is a shame because it's supposed to be offensive! It was counter-cultural then and I think that it's countercultural now. 

Then it was different in terms of practices, attitudes and beliefs because the world was different. 

Now it's different because whilst the Biblical position might be static, the world is changing to look like it did when the scriptures started getting written and so the Word of God and the world of man find themselves chaffing! So rather than stand with what we have believed as truth for 2,000+ years, we look to become relevant by changing our message to affirm and permit stuff that Jesus didn't then and, I feel sure, probably wouldn't now. (I have to say probably because of course I don't know because all I have to go on is what He, and the writers of the Bible did say, anything else is like me finishing the end of an unfinished symphony - it's my adjunctive contribution).

The thing is that I like rights but believe that with the conferment of rights comes the demand that we act responsibly and rightly and yet this is not what I am encountering in some in the Church, and when some of theses are leaders then what we have is a 'house divided against itself' and as we know from Mk3//Matt12: 'It will not stand!

One of those moments when you want to shout: 'Let those who have ears (and brains) listen!'

The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions and this is where we are leading others unless we are careful. We bless that which Jesus never blessed and we defend our causes in futile arguments regarding slavery (Jesus lived when slaves were slaves and yet through Him they received the dignity of personhood. We until recent times had people who supported slavery or apartheid and a number of other things and even used their Bible to defend their position - but they were wrong and so too are those who would use it wrongly today in their quest for popularity and relevance!

The Church should be an inclusive place - but not a permissive place.

The Church should be a place where all are welcomed into. But the motto should be:

Come as you are - expect to leave changed!

Some of my colleagues crave the oxygen of acceptance.

They actively seek to be popular and so they are heard telling jokes that would make a miner blush (if we had any left - two pits to go and the breed are all but gone)!

They use what I consider to be foul and inappropriate language both in, and outside, the church building and yet, when challenged, consider themselves to be relevant and me to be a bit of a dinosaur (I think I might be and if so I'm a 'Duknowhesavedus').

A colleague in my diocese, is a heated discussion (sometimes the bestest sort of discussion) told me that to hold the views I held would, 'Empty the churches.' The continued to tell me that by their inclusive and accepting views they would fill the church they were in. Oddly, some ten years on where they are has declined whilst the church up the road has benefitted from their neighbours 'accommodating attitudes' and grown steadily (including engaging in some sheep stealing'* from that place).

The problem is that being relevant shouldn't be about popularity or growth or anything but being able, as we find in 1 Peter 3.13-17 (NLT)

'Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 

14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. 
And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 
16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

We must always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, the Christ. We need to ensure that we are relevant and open, honest and showing respect. But at the end of the day we must also remember that all we have is Jesus, the Christ, crucified, risen and ascended: He is our hope and our integrity.

So the bottom line (almost) is a plea: seek to be relevant and to meet those around with love and integrity.

'Peace is such a precious jewel that I would give anything for it but truth.'
Matthew Henry

* Sorry, I meant 'transfer growth!' must be a dodgy keyboard or something!

PS. The problem is that some will hear me saying that the many causes are wrong or that we are merely posing in front of causes and the like. I'm not (I have a number of causes and they are who I am) - but I am asking for authenticity, integrity and the Gospel (as it is, not as we would like Jesus to return and rewrite is as now). 

The many issues before us are real and we need to stand for the oppressed, marginalised, disenfranchised and all those who need a neighbour: But never at the expense of the Gospel!

Hope this challenges and even inspires just a little - I know it has done that for me :-)

1 comment:

JonG said...

The dilemma about relevance - well, A dilemma, or one of many dilemmas is that what seems relevant to the world, and often to us, is not what seems relevant to God. Rather like Mr Conscience, the Recorder of Mansoul in Bunyan's Holy War, our judgements have often lost their sanity. Mr Conscience sleeps through real threats, and then shouts out at midnight about imagined ones.

As CS Lewis points out repeatedly, each age has its imagined dangers and its ones that it sleeps through, and in our pride we think we are better than our ancestors for recognising and avoiding their faults, whilst barely noticing those things about us that would horrify them.

It goes right back to the Gospels, so often Jesus answered an apparently deep theological question with a response that, on the face of it, appears barely connected, but in reality shows what is truly relevant.