Monday, June 18, 2012

They think it's all is n....

'If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used' 
A W Tozer

I once heard someone suggest that the process of evangelism is simply finding something you enjoy doing and then doing it with people who don't yet know Jesus.

One of the things I have on my heart for my next adventure in Barnes is that my church will be the sort of place that people want to come to. You can call that 'seeker-friendly' if you like but I pray it will be less marketed and pseudo-intentional than that. It seems to me common sense that 'church' should be a rich experience for people to meet with both each other and with God.

Our next gathering is tomorrow watching football and eating food. V holy.

Welcome is a good word. Welcome to families, welcome to singles, welcome when you don't know where to sit, welcome when you don't know what might happen next, welcome when you don't know what to do, welcome if you can't sing, welcome if you don't think you are dressed right, welcome when you think you won't be, welcome if you have never heard or read the bible....

Our problem in the C of E is our liturgy doesn't do 'welcome' that well for unbelievers. I will never forget a young lad from Wakefield who had never been to church before who I invited to church when I was living in Canada- the things he told me afterwards about the liturgy have always stayed with me. Before I get lynched by the liturgical commission what I mean is so often we 'insiders' of all flavours don't see our services as a problem because everyone coming to church (especially the people in charge like me who read all those words out and tell everyone what to do next) so often love it's form and content. Interestingly though, three clergy in the last six months have told me of the heated debate they have had with people in their churches upon changing the Lord's prayer to the modern version. 'Thy' to 'your' is radical stuff for us in the C of E and it might seem to you and I dear readers like another world but this is the unchangeable land the vast majority of the C of E still resides in.

We wonder why the genuinely unchurched don't attend our services and might it be:

1) We don't invite them
2) When we do what we then expose them to is a service that is so hard to follow and uses such incomprehensible language and styles of music and songs that are so utterly alien to our culture that we may as well be from Mars. (If you haven't read 'The purpose-driven church' although now old hat it is packed with wisdom but you need to filter out all the contextual American stuff.)
3) Often in the C of E half the service is taken up with a rite and ritual that non-attenders are not only not included in but are, in fact, actually intentionally excluded from (I do know it is possible to do 'trad church' well as Robin Gamble has written of but this is often 'well' for those who are familiar with it). Next time you attend a baptism look at the faces of the unchurched visitors.
4) We do this rite by Canon law in every church every Sunday up and down the land (since the 1950's Parish Communion Movement which in my opinion fired the first killer bullet for the C of E and made it even more 'religious' than it already was) Please be clear, I am not anti-communion which is vital but the 'when' and the 'how' we share it might benefit from some post-Christendom missionary rethinking). The result of this lack is over-worked clergy running totally exhausted from one gig to the next to minister the sacrament to three men and a dog with little encouragement or support. And it costs £100K to train someone to do it.
5) Finally, it is only on the rarest of occasions in C of E pulpits that one hears even the simplest articulation of the gospel of grace (Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration) and most clergy have never been taught how to preach but instead are 'taught' to administer/lead the liturgy- it's staggering I know. This is the one opportunity we do have to explain 'communion' to the unbeliever (which is surely quite important and necessary for secular-folk) but the people tasked with this are sadly often not gifted in preaching/teaching so manage to miss kicking the ball in the back of the net  of even a the most open of goals.

A while back I attended a posh car boot sale in the grounds of a National Trust home. Amidst the cars was a tent and in it I met a crowd called 'The Norfolk Churches Trust' and they were very jolly, all over 70 and were selling branded tea-towels and aprons to raise money for the church. When it has come to selling a tea towel dear friends it's all over. You'r not a church- you're a museum. And they are considering the Bishop of this diocese for A of C. Paddy Power has the latest odds.

Here's what prompted this post. Ruth Gledhill predicted in Saturdays Times the 'certain death' of the C of E unless things change but hear this -this is not the same thing as 'the church of Jesus Christ'.

The 'church' (a people who love and follow Jesus as 1 Peter 2 tells us) dear friends is very very very much alive and well. Ruth might like to check out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. I'll stop now but you get my point....

I agree in part with Gledhill's ever more gloomy prophecies of doom for the C of E, much of them of our own making,  and due to a failure to answer the BCP 'each generation' mandate but I disagree with her remedy and it's not due either to the impositions of VAT in the budget.

Making the church, as she suggests, more 'gay-friendly', more tax efficient or theologically revisionist is not the key to revival fires and you can call me a stick in the mud orthodox creedal Christian or 'traditionalist' (to use her words) if you want to. It's funny that all the here churches appear to be that way inclined. Any cursory reading of church history will demonstrate this for you.

The key to revival fires is, it seems to me and to the BCP, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with power and call sinners to repentance and faith in him and pray- a lot. And to do this 'afresh' for this generation.

Apologies for being so Cranmerian.

I am going to 'a crisis meeting' (or Consultation in Anglican speak) on Thursday with my Bishop. When the Bishop's start acknowledging that no one is coming to church believe you me we do truly have a serious problem- they are often the last to know because everyone usually turns out for the shiny pointy-hat bun-fight occasions. The grand plan appears currently to be to close churches and reduce the numbers of clergy or for some to leave with bat, ball and most importantly the cricket club kitty (how exactly we work out who is and isn't allowed to play for the new cricket club, who the team captain will be and how one organises the fixture list with the old club is not yet entirely clear to me but it may yet be explained?)

Did I mention I wrote something called 'Why plant churches?'

May I suggest the answer I offered in it.

Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and call sinners to repentance and faith and to be full of the Spirit and do this afresh in this generation.

Oh sorry, I've already said that......


Anonymous said...

One of the most insightful things I have read on the subject.
I know you have seen "Reverse Missionaries" and loved it. There is one crucial element in those programmes that the C of E needs to embrace AT EVERY LEVEL. Each of those people focused their activities on bringing people into those Churches who had never set foot in Church before. Each of them was resisted (and not by CofE congregations by the way).
The secret of Church growth is not the vibrancy and passion for Africa of your congregation. It is the willingness to make it the least exclusive club in THIS land.
The future of any Church (let alone the CofE) will be impacted ZERO by gay marriages, gay bishops, women bishops or the leity administering communion. The future of the Church will depend entirely on its becoming personally and individually relevant to a gazillion people that would currently rather stab themselves in the eye with a red hot lolly stick than attend.
God doesn't need the C of E - but my word the C of E needs God

David Cooke said...

Thanks Michael and for your thoughts. You line

"God doesn't need the C of E- but my word does the C of E need God" will stick with me.

Grace my friend