I’m writing this after a day at the Kingdom Come Conference in Belfast. I got to a seminar by Bishop Harold Millar and Mark Russell on ‘Is the Church and Obstacle to Mission?’ and then I sort of had no option but to make it to the later seminar because I was co-leading it with Mark Russell on ‘Culture and Context’. So lots of talk about missional church, Christendom / post-Christendom, engaging with culture, leadership challenges etc. I managed to bring in Beyonce as an example of a ‘work’ of contemporary culture with a ‘world’ of meaning attached to her image 🙂 Overall a really encouraging day.
A couple of comments:
Mark made loads of great points at high speed! – one was that there is not a shortage of passionate younger Christians willing to get engaged with the tough but privileged work of Christian service. Yet current training and church models end up swamping them in the institutional church where they become chaplains to Christians. This might be fine in Christendom, but in a new missional context we need models of training and leadership that release people into mission, with permission to try new ways of doing church, with low budgets and fluid structures. He told some great stories of this happening under the Church of England with ‘Fresh Expressions. It seems to me that churches need to be learning from each other, working together and developing space for radical experimentation.
I thought there was an overwhelming agreement from the front and the floor that ‘even’ a heartland of evangelicalism like Northern Ireland is well into a huge paradigm shift and a new missional context. There is a lot of pain and struggle with this, but there is a high level of self-critical reflection going on and a real willingness to adapt and change and take risks. I felt there is much deep dissatisfaction with much church, a desire for more authenticity, honesty, missional identity, outward actions of ‘blessing’, deeper worship and discipleship etc – along with a sense of not really knowing how to ‘get there’ from within current structures and contexts.
Yes – planting new communites is one answer, but it’s harder to see transformation within long established institutional structures that have deep inbuilt inertia. Such of these churches may die, and maybe even deservedly so. Wasn’t it Stanley Hauwerwas who suggested much of the Western church is dying not only because of cultural shifts, but because of the judgement of God? Others hopefully will see renewal through courageous leadership, prayer, vision, faith, gosepel centredness, communites that authenticate that good news, and a rediscovery of the task of every Christian to be a missionary in everyday life.
A final thought – did the apparent success of Christendom ‘mask’ the sorts of problems I’ve described above which are only now being ‘unmasked’ ? Post-Christendom is NOT causing these issues – it is only revealing them. As such it should be welcomed for it may be the context which will be used by God to reform, restructure and revive his church?