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Posts Tagged "Evangelism":

Messy Conversations Between God, Church And People – by Andrew Bennison

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The success of a conversation is ultimately determined, I think, not by the answers we receive but by the questions we choose to ask. In the realm of dating, for instance, it is obvious that a romantic relationship cannot be built on small talk alone: since love requires knowledge, sooner or later we’re going to have to ask the questions that enable us to really know the other person. To communicate what is most important to us, we rely on being asked the right questions – or inviting those questions ourselves.

I sometimes wonder whether the Church’s problem in engaging with secular society is that it answers the wrong questions. There are two questions which contemporary culture commonly asks of religion in the public sphere: ‘Is it true?’ and ‘How should we behave?. These questions derive from the way that ‘religion’ is conceived in contemporary discourse: as a set of ideas about God, which influences our moral decision-making. ‘Religion’, in other words, is simply a tool that enables the autonomous individual to make choices and attain satisfaction. Religious Education in schools, for instance, commonly focuses on intellectual arguments for and against God’s existence, and on moral decision-making: religious faith is thus presented as an intellectual and moral framework, to be adopted in the manner of consumer choice – like putting on glasses.

Christianity will always struggle in a conversation which begins with these questions, because the New Testament shows relatively little interest in them. The contemporary conception of religious faith is very far from the message of Jesus in the Gospels, who invited his followers not to ‘bolt on’ a set of intellectual or ethical attitudes, but to something much deeper: a journey of loss and dispossession through which a new and radical life is discovered – ‘those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Matt. 10.39). St Paul likewise conceptualised the Christian life as an experience of deep transformation, through which we relate to ourselves in radical new ways – ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2.20).

So, what question should the Church be inviting instead? My suggestion is the following: ‘What does religious faith feel like?’ If Christians are those who, in the words of Rowan Williams, ‘have tasted the reality of new life’[1], then this question should yield fascinating and fruitful responses. Indeed, it is the question that I most enjoy answering, since I find the Christian life to be an experience of living more deeply: faith does not draw me principally to words and ideas about God, but to a fresh apprehension of the rich and varied texture of life. Because it frees me from fear, it allows me to face open-handedly the mysterious, complex and difficult feelings that life involves – shame, pride, sexual desire, grief, anxiety and anger: all these become much more interesting and easy to talk about! Indeed, perceptive theologians have noted that lived experience is where God-talk has most purchase: Luke Timothy Johnson insists for instance that ‘the human body is the pre-eminent arena for God’s revelation in the world’.[2] According to this understanding, words about God in Scripture exist not as abstract ideas to be grasped, but as resources for comprehending more fully the reality of our lives. Beginning the conversation with the question of what faith feels like thus allows us to place the question of ‘truth’ in a proper context: the ‘truth’ of religious claims lie not in their intellectual coherence but in their capacity to account for and reimagine human lived experience in all its depth and complexity. Doctrine that has no purchase on lived reality cannot be said to be ‘true’.

So, confronted by the deep missionary challenges of our time, I wish the Church would start talking more frankly about what faith actually feels like. But isn’t this a risky conversation? Asking about God’s reality in human lives begins a messy process: life – not least the life of faith – is complex and bewildering, and so the answers we receive will not always sound comfortable, orthodox or systematic. But herein lies an opportunity: beginning this messy conversation invites us to become more fully the Church – it invites churches to become inclusive and fearless communities where there are no ‘wrong’ answers; places where our confidence in the Gospel allows us to welcome, without judgement or anxiety, the witness of all those people whose lives God has touched.

And so perhaps inviting the right questions isn’t the only important thing; perhaps we also need to give honest answers. Maybe then we’ll be having a proper conversation.

General Synod:Not Just About Women Bishops : The Revd David Keen

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An old friend of Lay Anglicana, the Revd David Keen, blogs as ‘Opinionated Vicar‘. He has spotted what some of us (OK, I) missed, which is that the ‘re-imagining ministry’ part of the quinqennial aims has been dusted off and is being currently looked at seriously under the leadership of Bishop Steven Croft (ie the previous blogs here about evangelism were part of a larger picture). This is how David begins his blog post of 27th June; he has added further related posts on June 29th, referring to ‘Towards The Conversion of England’ under the heading ‘We don’t need any new intiatives’; then on 3rd July a post on Church Growth in the CofE – discussion paper and finally on 4th July Background Reading for General #Synod.

If you are interested in lay ministry in the Church of England, I urge you to read them all.


 

General Synod: Sneaking in a radical growth strategy whilst everyone is looking at women bishops

I’ve been critical in the past for the absence of mission from the agenda of General Synod. Looking at some of the papers for sessions starting next week, I’m quietly encouraged.

The full agenda is here, and most of the Saturday is going to be spent in small groups trying to thrash out the women bishops issue (again). The day closes with a 90 minute debate on GS1895. Stay awake at the back there! This is a half-time review of the Church of England’s 3 priorities for the current 5 year cycle. They are:
– contributing as the national Church to the common good;
– facilitating the growth of the Church;
– re-imagining the Church’s ministry.

Each of these will be the subject of a major General Synod debate in the next 12 months, with church growth kicking this off in November.

The paper makes it quite clear which of the 3 is considered to be top priority:

The opportunities for contributing to the common good at a time of considerable social and economic distress are enormous. But the Church of England’s capacity will be less than it would wish unless it can also make progress in reversing the long term decline in numbers and increase in the age profile of its membership. (p2)
(there is a)  ‘mistaken conflation of evangelism and evangelicalism…growth is an authentic priority for all the strands within Anglicansim and should be a practical priority for all’
from the conclusion: it is, rightly, the challenge of growth that is increasingly at the centre of the church’s agendas. As in New Testament days there is a sharp awareness of the challenge posed by an abundance of fields white to harvest and a relatively limited supply of labourers (p10)
Hidden away are some radical thoughts: in a section on vocations there is a growing sense that the current stress on the individual’s sense of vocation needs to be redressed to a greater extent by reference to the kind of clergy who are suited to the present mission challenge and especially to meet the need for greater diversity. I.e. the CofE is looking at rewriting the criteria for leadership selection to put mission leadership as a much higher priority.
The paper outlines some of the work being done under each of the 3 headings, and adds in a paper by Steve Croft, bishop of Sheffield. It’s worth a read, outlining some of the reasons why we don’t talk about church growth in the CofE:
“The agendas of bishops meetings and other meetings are dominated by questions of gender and ministry and human sexuality leaving little quality space for deeper engagement with evangelization”…
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and suggests ‘7 disciplines of evangelisation’, which is a really interesting section: watch this space on this one. It’s classic Croft: take some practices and ideas which have been beyond the pale in Anglican circles and describe them in terms and ways which bring them into the fold. Thus ‘ecclesial formation’ (church growth) ‘forming new ecclesial communities’ (church planting). You may see a lot more of this quoted in the months and years to come.
The Croft paper is also here, on his blog as Bishop of Sheffield.
Finally, there is GS Misc 1054. Otherwise known as “Making new disciples: the Growth of the Church of England” I almost feel I need to repeat that title, just in case you thought you’d misread it first time round. It’s a companion paper to the Quinquennium review above, and makes the theological and practical case for prioritising church growth in the CofE. It recognises that decline can’t go on for much longer without the parish system ceasing to function, and that traditional Anglican outreach to the ‘church fringe’ is no longer enough. It’s the kind of honest appraisal of where we’re at as a church that I’ve been wittering on about for some time….
[Now please go to David’s blog to read the rest of the post ]

Can We Use Imagination More? – Simon Sutcliffe

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In a recent Lay Anglicana post we were introduced to some work that has been done by Bishop Steven Croft which can be read in full here. In his paper Bishop Croft outlines 7 disciplines of evangelisation which I have copied here but ought to be read in the context of the whole paper:

1.     The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)

2.     The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)

3.     The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)

4.     The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)

5.     The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)

6.     The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)

7.     The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

 

Croft isn’t the first to come up with a list of points or words that might enable the church to grow, but if I’m honest I would rather go with Cron’s 5 words in the novel Chasing Francis and be a church that takes seriously, transcendence, community, beauty, dignity and meaning. But even then, the whole thing is just a lot more complex than hanging a movement on a number of hooks.

Steven Croft’s first and the seventh point I would want to completely agree with. A disciple of Jesus is called both to be attentive to a God who longs to be in relationship with God’s people (1) and to place ourselves into similar scenarios with a similar mindset as The One who calls us out into the world (7). Nor do I have a problem with 4, this is the business of discipleship and I, along with all followers of Jesus, have an obligation to learn from those who think differently and those who have gone before. So points 1,4 and 7, are, for me, part and parcel of being a Christian. They relate to evangelism in the sense that they are assumed prerequisites.

I am more cautious about the other disciplines. At this point I ought to declare my hand fully. I am an ordained Venture FX pioneer (the pioneer ministries scheme in the Methodist Church) and I am the Tutor for Evangelism and Church Growth at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. I am utterly in debt to the Church and to the work of Bishop Croft; my bread and butter is Fresh Expressions and I am so grateful for the Mission Shaped Church movement that has reshaped the landscape of British ecclesiology and our understanding of the mission and ministry of the whole people of God.

But you sense a ‘but’ ….

I think I have a number of questions about his other points. Firstly, it all seems a bit church-centric to me which feels like the wrong place to begin, and therefore we are likely to end up somewhere we never intended to be (which might not be a bad thing). Secondly, and related to the first, I’m not convinced that more churches leads to more Christians – I don’t think the evidence bears that out (Some work done by Dutch theologian Stefan Paas suggests something similar you can read some of his work here). Thirdly, I’m not persuaded apologetics will lead to ‘a new evangelisation’ – it demands me to out-think my atheist and other-faith friends, which seems a bit colonial to me.

This church-centric view is prevalent in most discussion around evangelism. In a paper going to the General Synod under the heading ‘The vital importance of making new disciples.’, it reads:

The simple fact is this: unless there is a significant increase in new people joining the Church over the coming years, that there will be an accelerating decline in the overall number of worshippers.

Para 15

 

I’m not overly surprised by this church-centric assumption. I spoke at the English version of the Roman Catholic conference Croft attended that began his thought process. Then, like now, I recognised an almost naive assumption that if the church only did what it does better, and if only we could convince people of the faith we share, then our churches will be full. But, like I said, this is my bread and butter – I know that it is simply much more difficult than that. My experience, and the narrative of other pioneers, tells me that we need more than ‘doing church better’ (Parish Renewal) nor can we rely on outsmarting some clever protagonist of new atheism in the local pub.

The problems lies, I suspect, in the telos, the end result, of evangelism. If we are to think that the chief aim of evangelism is salvation (whatever you might mean by that) and that the only expression of salvation is bound up in membership of a recognised mainstream church, then you will naturally assume that evangelism will lead to church growth and that we will know we are succeeding because our church grows and we will finally succeed when all the world becomes Christian.

But

What if we begin to see evangelism differently? What if, for instance,  the diverse mix that makes up the tapestry of human life and community is somehow God-inspired? So my ministry, as a pioneer, is not to try and mould people into the same shape as me, but to celebrate and point out the rich diversity that is God’s will for all creation.  So instead of lovingly creating a monochrome peoples known as the Church – it is part of my role to work with The Artist to bring together all the raw materials of Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, Theist and Atheist, Muslim and Sikh …. to form the most beautiful, radiant and glory-filled mosaic for all eternity. We might call it Kingdom.

You might not agree with the last paragraph, and that’s fine, but is it possible to think of evangelism and discipleship (the two can never be far from each other) in such a way that the church is vital, but not the centrepiece of God’s missional activity? Or are we always bound to an old expression of theology for a Fresh Expression of Church?

Can we imagine more ….


The image is Imagination by: David Hollingsworth vi Seed Resources

Simon Sutcliffe

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A New Moses And A New Exodus?

Pilgrimage

When Christians think about travelling for God, we usually think in terms of individual pilgrimage. Maggi Dawn’s ‘The Accidental Pilgrim‘ describes it in terms of the labyrinth on the book jacket: we travel without being certain that we will ever reach the centre, but different travellers on the same road, and the same travellers at different times, will all find something different. And it is possible to make this journey of discovery, to ‘travel for God’, without leaving one’s room. Pilgrimage is an individual journey, whether or not it is taken in the company of others, like Chaucer’s. And it is also, surely, a voluntary journey: or can you think of anyone going on a pilgrimage because they have been told to do so by another human being?

Exodus

The second book of the Old Testament, on the other hand, tells how the Israelites, led by Moses, left a life of slavery in Egypt to journey together through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh promised them the land of Canaan in return for their faithfulness. There is a sense in which this was a mass pilgrimage, but the exodus (literally ‘going out’) was not a matter of individual prompting by God, but of the whole community together making this arduous journey for the sake of the hive as a whole, not for the sake of the individual bees that went to make up the hive.

Although the clip from ‘The Ten Commandments‘ above is rather toe-curling to us, it does illustrate very well both the scale of the undertaking and the sense of joint effort and belonging.

Moses

While individual pilgrimages do not need authority figures, it is inconceivable that the Israelites would ever have got out of Egypt in exodus without a strong and charismatic leader. Indeed a version of Exodus, written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) brings a traditional “heroic style” to its biblical subject-matter, with pervasive military imagery and Moses as a general. And Moses must have had the qualities of both a political leader and a military leader. But ultimately it was through his ability to communicate the word of God, and lead the people in God’s name that validated him as a leader: seeing that the people were uncontrollable, Moses went to the entry of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” (Exodus 32.36)

A New Moses and a New Exodus?

On Monday February 4th, Bishop Justin Welby began work as our new Archbishop of Canterbury. He has expressed dismay at the internal disputes which have threatened to cripple the Church of England in recent years. I would add that the wrangling over the Anglican Covenant nearly did that to the Anglican Communion as a whole. Occasionally abstruse points of theology, combined with an inward-looking emphasis on procedural policy, have at times meant that we have become a Body of Christ determined, rather than spreading the good news of the gospel, to spend our time fussing like an aging valetudinarian over the workings of our own Body.

We need to look outwards and onwards. We need even to remember the Israelites and consider the good of the hive as well as the good of the bee. We need to stop obsessing about gender, remember why we exist as a Church and what it means to be Christian. Bishop Justin said recently to Ruth Gledhill ‘I know I will disappoint a lot of people in this job. The thing about the Church is that we are so human…I’m just a very ordinary Christian‘.

This reminds me strongly, and encouragingly, of Prince Caspian:

“Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan. ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’

I – I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian…

Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

I am sure Moses felt just the same as Prince Caspian…

Action-Centred Leadership

Those of you who attended management courses in the 1980s will remember ‘Action-Centred Leadership‘. Those of you who did not may, however, remember those Army recruiting advertisements that used to appear in the Sunday newspapers where you were invited to manoeuvre an imaginary barrel over a stream with the help of a couple of sticks and a few men. If you arrived at what was called ‘the Directing Staff Solution’, you were reckoned to be officer material.

Time may prove me wrong but, from the glint in (Arch)bishop Justin’s eye, I think the Church of England may be in for a spot of Action-Centred Leadership.

Mr Bean or Moses

Bishop Justin has been teasingly compared to Mr Bean. I suggest that a more telling comparison may be with Clark Kent. As you will remember, Mr Kent’s alter ego is exactly what the Church may need. I do hope there is a handy telephone kiosk at Lambeth Palace.


This piece is based on a post for Digidisciple, ‘Travelling for God’ of 5 February 2013.

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