Visions to avoid

10 July, 2005 at 1:22 pm 17 comments

Too many discussions of Emerging Church are still underpinned by a desire to be successful. If "success" means growth, then the hard facts are that most churches grow at the expense of others, because we are not so much conecting with people who have nothing to do with Christian faith as competing for a market share of people who are already Christians. Church as it is is getting to the point where we are exhausting the list of people "on the outside" who are interested in "joining" Church.

If the vision to be caught is of a Church that is simply more successful than before in wooing disaffected Christians, it's one we ought to avoid assiduously! There are enough churches presently catering for "already Christians". If we have a justifiable reason for existing beyond our existing shelf life, it must be because we are finding ways of connecting with the vast majority of those for whom the Gospel is clearly not Good News. When we create spaces for them to find faith and join the community of faith, we will find ourselves changing organically. That's when we start to become the Church of Tomorrow!


Entry filed under: catch the vision, emerging church, evangelism, mission.

Praying for our enemies Let’s stop pretending suicide bombers are cowards

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lucy Berry  |  11 July, 2005 at 7:06 am

    I am still trying to get to grips with what “Catch the vision” means. Visions are slippery things. First, you have to see a vision. If someone else has been shown the same vision as you, you can share it. Then, if you are inspired and courageous you begin to try to make it a reality.

    This presumably is the point at which the real “catching” begins;the pinning down and implementing of love and discipline and spirituality into something pass-on-able. But I am unconvinced that the “catch the vision” idea has yet been caught by most members or attenders in most urc places of worship. It has been presented in a fuzzy way and can have too many constructions put upon it.If we are relying on a kindly, contagious vision, which can be caught like a benign cold, this seems a little optimistic.

    What is being attempted is very right – but communicating it could be simplified for those trying to implement what they catch at the “top”.
    Having been an advertising writer for years, I’m sure that this can be and needs to be done. Otherwise the upper echelons are talking, albeit inadvertently, to themselves about visions which have only been semi-seen and semi-shared with the congregations.

  • 2. Wol  |  11 July, 2005 at 9:06 am

    I think you’re right, Lucy. To date, the concentration has been on structures. General Assembly agreed to abolish Districts, which, in terms of our present structures, is quite a radical step. Whether or not that is a “vision” rather than a pragmatic (albeit important) step, I’m not sure. To me a vision has to be something akin to a distinctively new way of being rather than rationalisation of existing structures and I don’t think we’re there yet. My worry is that we don’t seem to be getting there!

  • 3. Leo  |  11 July, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Conversely, the opposite could be said to be true of working with children and young people. For a generation, we have been battling against the misconceptions of what “church” is – passed on to young people by their parents’ experiences of a 1960/70s church which bore little relevance to them. Now we have a generation of children and young people who are a “blank sheet”. THEIR parents had no preconceptions about the church – because they weren’t involved. Of course, before we rush out and evangelise anyone in a hoody, we have to spend some time thinking about what our church (both locally and “faith”-fully) really is about – and how we are going to tell people. We get worried because people aren’t flooding through our doors and yet, here we are, offering them “free” membership of such a wonderful (sic) organisation and we can’t understand why they don’t cross the threshold! Of course, if we don’t want a washing machine; we don’t go to Comet and, even if we DO want a washing machine we don’t go to Comet just in case that irritating Linda barker is hanging around. If we don’t want a meal; we don’t go to a restaurant! So, the question that we need to ask is: what is it that people are looking for? and can we provide it?

  • 4. Wol  |  11 July, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    I like your point about Comet and washing machines, Leo. However, it seems clear that what people do want is life changing experience(s). This is what advertisers try and sell them (am I right here, Lucy?). There’s a lot of faith “out there” and interest in Christianity – though not in church. What about churches that create welcoming and sympathetic spaces for people to come and explore and express their faith or journeying, rather than forcing them into a mould? That, I think, is something we could well explore further. “Interactgive Church”, if you like.

  • 5. Leo  |  12 July, 2005 at 8:34 am

    This all seems to go back to the basic “aim of being a church”. there seem to be two responses: chuch is either a “servant TO society” or a “refuge FROM society” – and the two forms are, for the most part incompatible. So how do we encourage a refuge church to engage with the local community in which it is sited? how do we enable a servant church to give succour (a bloody good Catholic word!) to those who find that the secular world doesn’t give them time to even THINK about spirituality let alone respond to it? and is there any middle ground? Are we looking at using churches as vehicles to enable people to explore their own spirituality and, if so, what do we do if/when thst spirituality can’t be expressed in a way with which we (as a church) are comfortable? I mean, blimey, most URCs would have a fit if you suggested a couple of candles – can’t see them agreeing to hang a few crystals over the communion table! 🙂

  • 6. Wol  |  12 July, 2005 at 9:20 am

    Ok – let’s take as read that the church is engaging in mission in its community. Let’s also recognise that all mission has an evangelical dimension (if not explicit intention) that people are taking note of. Your question is then about how we make the move to involve people in church, right?

    So the first question is why we might want to involve them. That takes you to your “servant to community” answer (really helpful way of characterising the issue! You Catholics have some good ideas occasionally …) and me to my concern that we’re not trying to become simply more successful.

    If we’re going to be servants, then we have to serve. We have to deliver attractive spaces where people can engage. You might want to look at my latest Carver Calendar article on Emerging Church (Most likely, you might not!!! LOL) but I’m arguing that, at the very least, we could try interactive chuch by, for example, running Sunday morning (or Saturday, or whenever works best, but stick to Sunday for the purposes of this example) from 9-12, during which time people can come and have coffee, pray together or alone, meditate, have a bible study on the day’s texts, have a hymn sing-song, light a candle (!!!) for intercessions, and go to a worship service. If, in our worship, we were more creative and adventurous, that would be even better!

    The point is yours about servanthood – it’s working hard to create sympathetic space for people, rather than persuading them to join us. Do you reckon it’s got any mileage?

  • 7. Keith  |  12 July, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    Hi. Thanks for dropping by at Under the Acacias, and for your encouragements. It’s good to read what you are doing here. I look forward to reading more.

  • 8. Lucy Berry  |  12 July, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    As far as i can see the only commodity which we have is Jesus.Everything else which we might offer can be got in other ways.

    At present – for many people – Jesus is the logo for a coterie of nostalgic, well-behaved, well-intentioned, hypocritcal and wistful heterosexuals, many of them serial monogamists. If churches seriously want to open their doors to people other than the existing clientele, can they hack the implications?

    And if we do want to be an open church, it has to be Jesus. We have to be open to the poor, depressed, hated, smelly, sexually different, whatever.

    And Jesus is all we have to sell. Not the jolly atmosphere of our local church. Not our denomination. Not Christianity, but Jesus. Which means re-thinking who we are currently actively and passively excluding. Because Jesus wouldn’t have excluded them. He might tell them not to do this or that again. But he wouldn’t say (or behave as if) they couldn’t join.

    The existing church can’t be given away, let alone sold, except to other people in the existing and rapidly declining market which I already outlined.

    I’m not sure that new experiences are what advertisers are really selling, although new experiences are a defence against the boredom suffered by privileged under-active, rest-less, peace-less people who have lost most of their meaning. Some – not all – advertising is heightening anxiety in order to offer the answer to anxiety. (This nappy will stop you being quite the crap mother you would be without it. This insurance policy prevents you from leaving your family in the inevitable shit which is coming to you. This car helps you look like less of a twit than you currently seem.This make-up will help you fit in better, you ugly misfit)… And churches have also in the past and still do use these tactics.

    The new experience will be when church means Jesus.

    He is our only selling point. Some people still don’t realise it. We need to start from Him. Anything that we can’t envisage Jesus supporting is not worth selling or being.He is the brief.

    I sometimes ache to get my hands on this job. Because until we can substantiate what we are saying about our service and what we deliver, no good, self respecting ad agency advertising agency would want our business.

    Because people can tell when you’re not telling them the truth.

  • 9. Wol  |  12 July, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    Lucy, I think you need to get into a pastorate! Could you unpack a little more what you mean by “when church means Jesus”? Rhetorically, it’s brilliant. I want to know what it means in practice.

    How about commenting on this as a possible rejoinder? “No, church means more than just Jesus. Embarking on the road to discipleship is just the beginning. What the church does is to involve Christians in a believing community, in which they exercise their gifts, are built up by the gifts of others, whose very communal life is itself a sign of the Kingdom and which engages in mission – the transformation of the world in the light of the Kingdom”.

  • 10. Lucy Berry  |  12 July, 2005 at 6:45 pm

    Wol, I can’t imagine anything being MORE than just Jesus. Because that feels as if Jesus isn’t enough. Maybe I’m just sad that I’ve never come across the church that you describe.
    What I meant is that church will mean Jesus when we stop serving ourselves. Organisational psychology shows that institutions almost inevitably swing round to become self-serving; Hospitals serving doctors, schools serving teachers, bla, bla.. It shouldn’t happen but it does. And for obvious reasons it particularly shouldn’t happen with church but it does.

    Church will mean Jesus on the day when the loving at-odds-ness of Jesus and his vehement conviction that actions speak louder than words is an inseparable part of what people RECOGNISE church to be. Joining a church won’t mean being part of the establishment. But it will mean belonging, because there will be trust, if not initially of one another, at least in everyone’s resolution not to crucify each other. We’re talking about the same thing, I expect, just in different terms – the manifestation of Jesus in the collective conscious and unconscious. In the west this rarely happens. Eye of a needle. But I believe it could.

    And in practical terms, in the minds of many outside the church the church no longer IS very closely associated with Jesus. There needs to be a huge amount of time spent thinking about and then dealing with this. Because even in an un-ideal world,church and Jesus should be seen and known to co-exist inseparably. And they don’t.

    Forgive the incoherence. Not thinking so clearly tonight.

  • 11. Wol  |  13 July, 2005 at 9:28 am

    All I can say is, more power to your incoherence! Your insistence that people with recognise church and Jesus as co-existing inseparably is spot on, I think. It certainly clears that helpfully for me, anyway. It means that the church will be living consistenly by its own story of Jesus. That takes us into the whole area of church as story-shaped community which, I think, is precisely where we ought to be heading. Thanks for this.

  • 12. Lucy Berry  |  13 July, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    “Story-shaped community?”.Could you unpack please…

  • 13. Wol  |  13 July, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    I mean a community that thinks of its Christian identity primarily in narrative terms (rather than in doctrinal terms). What makes the community Christian is the extent to which its own life story is correlated with the gospel narrative of faith. This becomes really important when reading someone like Stanley Hauerwas. He’d agree with you in saying all we have is Jesus, but he’d frame it in terms of “All we have is the Christian story”. In other words, for him, the details of the story are not negotiable. He won’t play fasst and loose with the text. He won’t accommodate to the prevailing culture, but reckons that the Christioan story gives rise to a truly countercultural life in the world that is a beacon. I’m not sure how far I go with him on the possibility of being entirely countercultural – my suspicion is that socialisation makes that very difficult – but I love his insistence on a “storied” existence.

  • 14. David Parkin  |  16 July, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve just been reading a article from the Sea of Faith magazine, ‘The quest for the Historical…who?’ which compares the quest for the historical Jesus with the quest for the historical Hamlet!
    The suggestion is made that the ‘storical’ Jesus is perhaps more influential than the historical one – “not an obscure Galilean peasant of whose real historical life we can know little or nothing, but the Jesus created in the biblical literature, the Jesus who was born in a stable and died and rose again, as surely as Hamlet heard and saw his father’s ghost and drove Ophelia to her watery grave.
    Thank God for the story … it is one of humanity’s best, brightest and most enduring stories.”

    I don’t really worry if the stories actually happened, if what was reorted was historical fact or not. What matters for these stories that we live by is that they are true.

  • 15. Wol  |  16 July, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    Thanks for this, dave. Personally, I’m far more sanguine that the author of the article to abandon the historical Jesus. Bultmann was the great advocate of the Christ of faith – the Jesus of the kerygma – because he thought the historical quest hopeless. I think that time has shown that there is a much closer correlation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith than was supposed 50-60 years ago.

    One of my concerns about historicity is that Christian faith is meant to be lived. It is faith for this life and for the ways in which we make our lives, our communities and our world. It is neither “just” a story nor “only” a philosophy. If it were, my fear is that it would have no practical reality. It matters to me that Jesus lived as he did – not just as a fictional character – because that is how we are supposed to live in the real world, not an ideal one (or “fictional” one). I guess I see Christian faith as incarnational in character – ie as “earthed”. Truth doesn’t exist outside its concrete instantiations.

    That said, I’m thrilled that we’ve moved beyond the sterility of the historical-critical debate into a more narrative framework that explores the Christian story on its own terms and within its own integrity. I think we’d differ on the history, but be absolutely together on how faith is lived out – which is where it really counts!

  • 16. David Parkin  |  17 July, 2005 at 9:50 am

    I’m not sure that we are that different when it comes to history. It matters to me too that Jesus lived, not least because what little we may actually know about him and his tiimes (for which I thank God for the work of such as the Jesus Seminar) underpins how we interpret the stories.
    So for me Jesus is one of the most subversive people who have ever lived – at least in his relationship to the powers that be – and so I see the church as a subversive community and communion as a subversive act, a recommitting to Jesus’ great vision of how the world might be.

  • 17. Wol  |  17 July, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    Amen to that, david! My quest (and this is one of the primary purposes of the blog) is to discover how we do that! That, for example, is waht lies behind my post of life in the highways and byways. How do we move from where we are to where we want to get to? How do we genuinely take on Jesus’ so-subversive priorities as a communti where givens such as buildings, traditions, social make up, geography and culture etc constrain our choices and shape us so thoroughly? What ahs to be jetisoned? What can be reformed or redeemed? What act as resources? Thanks for your post.


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