Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Needful provocation

I've been finishing the light revisions to Why bother with church? this afternoon. And apart from being pleasantly surprised at how much I still agree with(!), the thing that struck me was that the model of creative and critical participation in church life depends on the church being of sufficient size to be able to cope with multiple things going on.

So I recognize Stuart's point about smaller churches being disempowered by the models on offer here. And I'm not sure what to do about it either.

I agree 100% with Stuart about creating gatherings that are 'places of challenge and commitment to one another and Christ.' In fact that is a key motive in exploring change. At the moment I think we settle for a middle of the road mush where everyone feels comfortable and any challenge comes through cosy and predictable channels. I'm not just talking about my church; I think this is true up and down the land and possibly accounts for the lacklustre quality of British Christianity.

I think it's probably pretty difficult creating gatherings that scratch where people itch and lead them into a place where their values and lifestyles can be challenged and unsettled. But that's what I want to do, I think.

So, as we unpacked the theme of grace using the movie Chocolat, one of the things we were doing was asking whether we are people of grace and whether our church was a place where people found grace. What we hoped was that the film would provoke attenders to think and feel differently about themselves and their church than they would have done had we just talked about being all things to all people from 1 Corinthians 9 and suggested we need to be a welcoming community.

Some in the congregation warmed to the approach, others didn't. Those who did were clearly challenged and unsettled - even as they enjoyed the evening. Those who don't get films probably left with mixed feelings but majored on disappointment with the way the evening turned out.

The advantage of offering a variety of ways of accessing the same theme through a single day is that people who get a buzz out of talking about the spiritual messages in movies will come to one gathering, while those more comfortable with a more traditional linear approach consisting of singing and sermons will attend a different one. Both groups, hopefully, would be comforted and built up in their faith and challenged to live a more Christ-like life.

And those who were interested in exploring the spiritual life and who came to either gathering - though probably the film evening would suit them better - will be helped to think and feel about life, the world and God in a different and distinctly Christian way. And hopefully they too would find themselves provoked and unsettled.

I guess what I'm arguing for is a set of different entry points to hearing and experiencing the challenge of Jesus' word. But everyone attending whichever gathering ought to experience needful provocation of the kind that might lead to change through the grace of Christ.

I shall respond to the parallel, related and equally important issue of community and how the creation of community - and people feeling a sense of belonging to it - is essential to them being in a place where they are open to the challenge of discipleship.

But that's for another post....

1 comment:

Stuart Blythe said...

Simon I have continued to reflect on your previous posts re on the one hand a variety of services within one church and issues related to membership. Reading Fiddes in Tracks and Traces - he sets the idea of 'covenant' against consumeristic choice in that covenant has the idea not simply of a voluntaristic association but a gathering of the 'gathered' within the greater covenant of God with the Church and indeed humanity. I guess that this raises issues of the 'pragmatic' with respect to Church and mission - this works - and theological understandings of the nature of Church. I do not concede easily to oppositites but it does seem that covenant and choice, the pragmatic and the theological in all these issues require to be negotiated.

Re. smaller Churches and perhaps poorer Churches. My fear here is that that which works for larger Churches rather than being the key for growth that we should all seek to emulate in fact reveals only a strategy that will work in larger churches. Accordingly we may be failing to give sufficient attention to what the wider issues for growth for all curches and the Kingdom actually are.