Thursday, 29 November 2012

Men in Church

Last week we had a men’s breakfast in church. We discussed what we find helpful in our spiritual lives.

We examined how Samson failed to fulfil the potential from God’s Spirit. Sexual sin, violent anger and racial prejudice were his downfall.

In discussion, people made the following points:

  • ·        For some having two or three close friends helps to feel supported.
  • ·        A prayer partnership, of absolute honesty and confidentiality, can be a lifeline.
  • ·        Some do not want ‘support’, preferring to work out things by themselves.
  • ·        Some find it easier to relate to God on their own, for example going fishing instead of a church service.
  • ·        The sense of ‘team’ may be helpful to work together on something.
  • ·        Vision, purpose, an aim or goal, is what others want. Christianity feels boring. When they became Christians, they wanted to make a difference.
  • ·        For some, corporate worship feels ‘feminised’. What would masculine worship be like?
  • ·        Do we ever fulfil our ‘potential’? We should not try in the flesh, but rely on the Spirit, and avoid condemnation.

What is clear from these responses is that the answers are different for each person. But equally apparent is the need to explore how we can go forward.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why I am against women priests

This week’s vote by the General Synod against women priests has caused a lot of controversy.

I am against women priests. Actually, I am against all priests. The New Testament, read from my radical reformation standpoint, has no place for any priesthood.

The Bible calls Jesus our high Priest. We need no other intermediary between human beings and God.

Consequently, all believers enjoy the position of being priests, in direct access to God, with no need of ritual or religious mediation.

So, Anglicans are asking the wrong question. It should be: can women be pastors of the local assembly, the body of Christ?

The point that all Jesus’ disciples were men, no more means that all pastors should be men, than that they should all be Jewish.

Instead of a hierarchical ecclesiastical polity based on privilege and power, the New Testament portrays a dissenting and deviant counter-culture.

However, the criticisms of the church by secular ideologues and politicians miss the point. The church makes decisions by different, theological, criteria.

Hence the conservatives provide a healthy example for us of marching to a different drum.

But to be free of secular interference, the Anglicans must then address the dilemma of disestablishment.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Small Church 2

Differently sized churches are able to do different things. There is more intimacy in the small church. They are also more flexible in responding to emergencies than the large church.

One London church of 200 was approached by a mental health to look after a client. They explained that the demands of their programme meant they could not help.

Another church of 12, which included several people with mental health problems, responded by welcoming the new person into their already slightly chaotic congregational life.

Not that I want to erect another hierarchy of small-good, large-bad. Each has a different place in God’s  economy.

The mistake is setting up size as a measure of ‘success.’ Often this is because we look to the US, with a church culture very different to the UK.

In fact, the impression of huge American churches is false. The average UK size of congregation is, apparently, 65. The average in the US – is 65.

The few mega-churches are matched statistically by the rural family churches and urban store front churches.

This reveals a sociological point, about the size of group where people feel comfortable. We must discover what God is calling our church to, and do it.

Small Church 1

Recently I was invited to speak at the annual day conference of the Small Church Connexion.

Most conferences are aimed at big churches, and invite speakers from these churches, who make everyone feel guilty because their congregations are not as big as theirs.

The assumption seems to be that if you are the pastor of a small church, for this purpose under 40 people, then you are not really cutting it, and need to get your act together.

There is no understanding of group dynamics, the influence of various social settings, and the very different contributions which small and large churches each bring to the wider body of Christ.

But there is a process of judgment. Definitions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ create different feelings about ministerial self-worth.

I remember a pastor of a large church speaking about the Home Mission Fund. He complained that the Baptist Union knew how to support ‘failure,’ but not how to support ‘success’.

Obviously, he counted himself a ‘success’ because he led a large church. But he had inherited this large church.

The fact my church grew from 16 to 70 members [a 337.5% increase] labelled me a failure because we were on Home Mission.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Suburban Mission

I recently led a retreat for the pastors of some Baptists in the Thames Valley in Surrey. They had wanted some training on building and developing missionary congregations.

Some were leaders of small churches of under twenty members. Feeling discouraged at their lack of numerical growth, even shrinkage.

Aware of the wider decline in church going in the culture and wanting desperately to do something, to reach their communities for Christ.

Actually they were already doing something. Experimenting, seeking partnerships, reaching out to resistant groups.

Several renting space to new churches from recently arrived ethnic groups. Old hat to those of us from the inner city. But a revelation to these suburban enclaves. The discovery of faith for growth.

New partnerships with local government and secular organisations, to meet the needs of the neighbourhood.

Realising their lack of resource and discovering leverage through extending their reach through cooperation.

Sometimes old-fashioned door knocking, revealing a reservoir of good will among people, just waiting to join a church that reaches out.

A community chaplain working with the homeless, setting up a loose afternoon service, which appeals to them, and seeing conversions and baptisms.

There is creativity in the suburbs. Potential for mission.