Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wondering where the tornado left us

I've been having an interesting exchange on Twitter with some good friends and colleagues over the future of our movement. Thanks to Neil for the initial stimulus and to Andy and Anthony for the provocation thereafter. I feel  need something more than 140 characters to set down some thoughts - hopefully to stimulate further conversation and creativity.

We baptists stand at the crossroads - we've been here for a while - and at the forthcoming Assembly (which I'm unable to attend), some sense of the new direction in which we will be travelling will become clear with the appointment of a new General Secretary. God will need to give this brave soul great and continuous supplies of wisdom, creativity, stamina and chutzpah.

As well as this strategic appointment, Neil pointed to the creaking structures of finance needing a thorough overhaul. He suggested the current model could remain in place for a while; I'm not so sure, though it depends on how long the 'while' turns out to be.

Undoubtedly the church in the UK needs to change. It's older, more set in its ways and less nimble on its feet than most of its neighbours; and for that reason fewer younger, agile people see it as essential for making sense of their lives - and hence are not joining.

My church needs to change. And thereby lies the problem. When I outline dreams that suggest that what so many people mean when they say 'church' will be replaced by something more flexible, more missional, more responsive, more dynamic, more connected with our neighbours, I can smell the fear; I can see the anxiety in people's eyes, hear it in their (often supportive) observations and questions.

Like Dorothy at the start of the Wizard of Oz, the realisation that we aren't in Kansas anymore is unsettling. Everything that has given comfort and security, the familiarities of home, has been caught up in a tornado of change and we have been deposited somewhere we don't recognise even though we are waking up in our familiar beds.

So, we need pioneers - and a movement that is supporting them - but we need to find stories that help those who do not feel like pioneers, rise to this fresh challenge. This is because Neil's second point is as true for local churches as it is for our movement as a whole, namely we need change to be bankrolled by the very people who want things to stay the same while we are exploring new ways of funding the kind of mission we're called to do and the communities that such mission creates.

As a minister paid by the church, I can smell my own fear about that!


Tim said...

Thanks for this, Simon. Clare and I spent this morning with another church which is having to face up to the reality of what you write the hard way. They have a traditional building which is crumbling around them. They have a minister who has realised they can't afford to go on paying him for much longer, and have also realised that what they are doing isn't addressing the needs of the community in which they live.
And they are scared.
So we spent some time reassuring them that there is life after traditional church.
For many though, I think the fear is the predominant emotion. And others will see the kind of change you are discussing as simply another way to avoid facing up to the death of an institution which is the only expression of gospel they have ever known.
We are only at the beginning of a very long journey.

Anthony said...

I'm glad this has been moved beyond Twitter, 140 Characters only goes so far - given my predilection ot verbosity I do struggle with Twitter.

Thanks for the thoughts Simon, helpful as always. I must confess a little discomfort to the dichotomy sometimes expressed (though I don't think it is there in your piece?) between existing church and pioneer ministries; particularly when there is such dependence. The celebrating of all things pioneer is good, but I feel there also needs to be innovation and creativity practiced (and celebrated) within the existing models of church.

I feel an unease with a view which sees the predominate model of church as primarily a funding source for the pioneers. Partly because I'm not sure the existing model of church is going to remain financially strong enough for long enough to sustain the pioneers until they are financially independent. But also because those folks ensconced in the existing models of church have been endorsed in their current practice by the establishment (ministers, BU, Colleges & Associations) for so long, that I think more needs to be done to give them opportunity to renew and re-form.

So perhaps, given that some are still asleep in familiar beds in unfamiliar locations it is time to draw the curtains back and open the windows so they might awaken to the new context in which they are in?