I was out all of yesterday when anonymous and Andy's conversation was going on the comment section of my previous post. It's good stuff.
I find myself agreeing with anon that our toughest challenge as ministers is to help 'folks in the church (in its widest sense)...reconnect with both the UK population and with its original message.'
I guess that's the challenge I took on when I became a minister and certainly when I took on the role I currently have. One of the issues I face - as this blog conversation has so wonderfully demonstrated - is that the language we use to do the one needs to be entirely different from the language we use to do the other.
I've spent a lot of time over the last ten years analysing where the church is losing connection with the general population and why and trying to use that analysis to frame how I speak to both my audiences - those within church and those beyond its walls. That analysis has appeared in books, articles and on this blog over the past three years. This task is made slightly more complicated by the fact that both those audiences are pretty fragmented.
The danger of this, of course, is that we become in Russell's lovely phrase 'poor talkative little Christianity', in that we spend a lot of time talking about where we are and why we're not where we want to be. At some stage analysis - vital and essential as that is - has to give rise to action.
And I think that action has to be along the lines that Andy suggested when he said that he longs to be part 'a church that quietly and lovingly lives up to its message, while still being able to explain and explore that message with others.' We need to say sorry for our stridency and judgmentalism, the speed with which we seek to impose our views on others without allowing our message to shape the way we conduct ourselves with those others.
I'm really not sure that the world needs the Archbishop of Canterbury or any other Christian leader making pronouncements. We live in a febrile media culture where a statement is simultaneously lauded and lambasted - sometimes by the same media outlet. perhaps what we need are church leaders caught doing small acts of love and grace, small works that show God loves everyone, actions that draw people into communities that can not only explore what life's about, but also make life better.
So tomorrow evening, I'll be pounding the streets of my town with others, dressed in my Street Pastor's uniform, not to shout the gospel into people's ears but to sit with them on the pavement and listen to them sob about being dumped by their girl friend or help them get a taxi or bus home, provide flip-flops to girls who can no longer walk in their stilettos, give bottles of water to folk who've taken in too much alcohol. It's not going to change the world but it will offer a helping hand, perhaps ensure one or two stay safer on the streets than they otherwise would have been and, who knows, perhaps a glimpse of a deeper reality nudging into our workaday world.
This has been a good and helpful conversation - thanks to both my dialogue partners for their contributions so far.