Sunday, July 24, 2011

Religion vs the Gospel

A friend recently visited Mars Hill and he picked up a copy of This is Mars Hill which is their church annual report and he gave it to me yesterday. It is one of the most impressive pieces of church communication I have come across in a while. Now you may not necessarily agree with all the content theologically but they are at least a people who clearly know what they are all about, what they want to do and how they plan on doing it. How does your own churches annual report compare to this? Mine is here

I have never read the C of E's Annual Report until now- I didn't know such a thing existed. It is, I now learn, called 'The Pensions Report' and this may be telling us something pretty blindingly obvious or am I missing something? I will say that again- the annual report is called 'The Pensions Report'. One other thing- it doesn't seem to mention Jesus anywhere. Oops. When your reason and mission for being is a pension you are surely but steps away from the end- failing drastic intervention and prophetic leadership. A crisis even but seemingly approached in a lovely English way that all will somehow turn out for the best.

I have been reading the excellent Rethinking the church by James Emery White (you would do well to put a copy in the hands of your bishop and to read this yourself if you lead a church) and he has a simple thesis. Now I don't want to get all complicated on you but, so he says, the purpose of the church is to preach the gospel in such a way that the people who don't come to church actually do and it actually grows. No,  honestly he really believes that. I know it's an extraordinary idea. Here's the funny thing. If that happens, the people who start coming may also start serving, giving, loving, praying and blessing their communities and soon you'll have an annual report that can be about people who are people planning on living rather than dying. You could call it something like 'The Hope Report' or 'The New Life Report' or the 'What we hope Jesus is going to do in might and power in the years ahead Report'. I know they are not quite as uplifting as 'Pension' but I am just having a first stab. And remember I'm not a Bishop yet, so I'm not really qualified for this sort of thing. Then what we could have is something called 'The plan'. You know the sort of thing that other organisations, businesses and families have. 'The plan' that perhaps says 'This is where we are and this is where we want to get to and this is how we plan to do it'. We could then gather people together and actually tell them 'The plan', set them some goals, train and resource them and put the right people in place who might actually make 'The plan' happen.

My understanding of what is expected of me as a leader of the local church in the Church of England as it comes from the top down is this as I have asked and travelled around chatting to pals across the country: "Do the liturgy well". That is I think the Vision and I must say a heart-gripping one at that. The consequence of this seems to be just on the raw numbers- losing six stipends this year and six stipends next year and an £800k hole in the budget YTD in our patch of the land. I hope your patch is doing a tad better on both finances and planned-posts decline. Now, as I understand Vision, now remember again I'm new to all this (apart from nearly 15 years working for a FTSE 100 company that is), is meant to drive outcome.

So let's just for fun have a go at coming up with another statement. Instead of 'Do the liturgy well' we could replace it with something like: "We exist to reach those who are far from God and see them come to belief in and passion for Jesus". We could then share this and create something, let's call it a 'Vision Action Plan' . The 'VAP' would need to be measured against the Vision and we could assess if the things we are planning to do get us any closer to the desired outcome. This might include four things that we plan to do in the next year. Literally off the top of my head they might be:

1. Gather every church for a week of fasting, repentance, prayer and seeking God (2 Chronicles 7:14).
2. Remind the church of what it is meant to be like. (Acts 2:42-48)
2. Plan four events in the next 12 month to bring the church into contact with its community through acts of loving kindness, mercy, radical blessing, service and generosity. Challenge the people of the the Church to give abundantly and sacrificially of time, money and prayer towards this end. (Acts 9:36)
3. Conclude these events with a gathering that enables the gospel to be proclaimed to those who are far off. You would do well to get someone called 'An evangelist' to do this job (2 Tim 4:5)
4. Follow up these with some means of enabling people to engage in questions of life, faith and community and continue the acts of kindness and blessing irrespective of whether people choose to believe (Isaiah 58).

You know the more I think about this, I think what we could then do with is a prophetic leader like they seem to have in the Bible and God tends to raise up when it all looks like it is going to a ball of chalk. As my ex-alchohlic friend said to me on Saturday sitting in the entrance to our church, "It's chaos out there". You just need to choose one perhaps like Nehemiah, Josiah, David or John the Baptist. You probably need someone with some guts and fire and courage in their belly. People will most likely hate them as they hated Jesus (John 15:18), particularly the religious establishment. Someone who doesn't give a rip about anything but the glory of God in this land and the land's healing and transformation and is prepared even to the point of death to see his nation called to repentance and new life (Acts 18:9). He will certainly need to have the Spirit of God upon him with power (Acts 6:8).

I'm rolling now. If you found this leader (where would you find someone like that?) he could maybe call the Bishops to write to every Vicar in the land demanding of them (I know very un-C of E but that's what prophetic leaders do I'm afraid) one of these odd things called a 'VAP' about how they are going put the Vision of reaching people far from God into action. He would probably completely reorder things (2 Kings 23), close things down, get rid of people who aren't doing the job they were supposed to, reallocate finances and call the leaders to repentance and holy living (1 Thes 4:7). These Bishop's (Acts 20:24-31) who I imagine know about the Gospel, the Bible, evangelism, mission, prayer and all that stuff (most of them have Phd's and everything) could evaluate the individual plans, add them all together and then you would have, you guessed it, 'The Vision Action Plan' for the whole of England. The prophetic leader would then tell everyone to stop doing everything that didn't get us closer to the Vision and start the whole process with prayer, mourning and tears over how bad we have let things get (Ezra 10:1)  . Once we have 'The plan' the church might then start to grow and we could even evaluate how we are doing against 'The plan' as we are going along. You never know, it might even over time solve the pension problem to boot. I'm not charging for this by the way. It's free- like grace. I'll stop now with such crazy thinking. 'The Vision Action Plan' - whatever will he think of next.

You would do particularly well to linger on the section in 'This is Mars Hill' entitled 'Religion vs the Gospel' and why not give yourself an hour. Read these statements slowly-really really absorb and think about them- then look up the references methodically and finally spend some time in prayer, journalling and reflection. You might also want to listen to Tim Keller's Preaching the gospel from which this material comes. You may even want to burn this talk onto a CD and give it to your church leader, any preachers you know, anyone you know or come into contact with tasked with leading or organising your church and have faith that if we applied what it says about preaching the Gospel by God's grace the tide may start to turn. In a world where you never know if a mass-murderer is going to gun you down in a park on a Summer's day, now might be a good time to crack on with the mission of the Church in our land.

If you don't want to do any of this we could just have a debate about lead on Church roofs, the Anglican Covenant or Women Bishops.


Tim V-B said...

Brilliant! I can sense lots of frustration coming through - but a frustration driven by sincere love for Christ and a desire to see the lost saved. The C-of-E as a whole hasn't just dropped the ball, it buried the ball in a field far away and forgot to write down its location. But we live in hope of resurrection!

tallandrew said...

Thanks Dave. You know, I've been thinking for a few weeks to get my vision clarified and written down. Now, I might actually do it this week!