Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nostalgia isn't the source of missional thinking

I'm preparing a sermon for Sunday on living in the now which is the final shout in our What's God got to do with it series. I want to reflect on a couple of things - our anniversary-besotted culture (so prevalent that Radio 4 aired a documentary on the subject a couple of weeks ago) and the church's tendency to indulge in nostalgia, the desire that things return to how they once were, which tends to stifle mission.

Even this morning , the Today programme is lauding the fact that Yes Minister will be thirty years old during next year's election and is about to be remade for Ukranian TV, an excuse to play vintage moments and interview Tony Jay, the writer. It is still seen as seminal political TV in a way that The Thick of It isn't (but give Iannucci's show thirty years and we'll come over all nostalgic about it).

Nostalgia prevents us from living in the present and facing its challenges. This is not to say that we can't learn from the past. The past has a huge amount to teach us and we need to study it to learn those lessons. But nostalgia is about wishing we were still in the past, thinking that the present is not as good as the past and refusing to take it as seriously as our history.

Nostalgia prevents genuinely new thinking being heard and adopted. I got a whiff of this in the debate about the future of Christian book selling over on the UK Christian booksellers blog (here). It's not that there aren't good ideas being expressed, but that one or two posters are saying there's nothing to be done because we're not in the situation we used to be in when people read books and had money to spend on them in Christian bookshops.

One comment talks about the church being strapped for cash, unable to meet its pensions and buildings maintenance bills because of falling numbers. Well, let's shut up shop now, then. Surely falling numbers is a spur to our thinking about what we're doing and why it's not attracting people in the way it used to.

The trouble is that we wistfully look back to the days when people came to our churches; nostalgia tells us the attractional model of mission works. But it doesn't. We are not attractive, very few people come out of the blue or because a friend invites them. So we have to find other ways of engaging people with the gospel.

Given that large numbers of our neighbours spend a lot of their leisure in the High Street, is there not a case for thinking how we might be present on the High Street, engaging them in conversation and creative ways of sharing the good news about Jesus?

If we don't get creative, we'll find it harder and harder to meet the pensions and maintenance bills. But much more important (cause, after all, the church can live without high-cost buildings) if we don't get creative lots of people will not have the opportunity to hear and engage with the good news about Jesus - and none of us want that, do we?


Anonymous said...

And there was me thinking nostalgia isn't what it used to be ...

Anonymous said...

excellent post Thank you!
I would be interested to know the kinds of things we might do in town centres to engage with people. How might we be present in the high st?
I wonder if you would develop that thought in another blogpost?

Craig Gardiner said...

I am reminded of the old stroy told of George MacLeod and the church window that declared in stained glass "glory to God in the Highest" until a well aim removed the final "e". MacLeod preffered the new vandalised version "glory to God in the High St"