Friday, 14 January 2011

The church that doesn't 'do' evangelism....

The church that doesn't do evangelism - what does it look like? The short answer is probably - small & dying. However, that's not what I'm talking about here. This isn't another new year message to try harder at doing the stuff we feel guilty about not doing enough.

I've been looking at our own community here & allowing myself to wonder if there is another way, a simple, instinctive way of following Christ that doesn't involve any kind of 'doing' performance or targets.

The first step involves our lifting the lid on the prevailing culture in some of our churches. Out with the crowbars, out with the old school thinking of Pastors/experts/extroverts performing evangelistic work for the rest of the church, vicariously, on our behalf. Here there is no expectation of someone else helping a new believer to follow Christ, no sense that I have anything to offer in that process. No confidence or maturity in me which enables me to play my part.

The kind of culture we're looking for isn't written in the language of programmes & professionals. In an instinctively missional church we may not even 'do' evangelism or discipleship in the sense of running programmes – these become the natural fruit of a family that is growing in maturity & confidence. To put it another way - a healthy church just grows. Let's unpack the detail on this:

The job description which Jesus left for us is one which calls us to make disciples – to train other Christ followers in growing numbers. For so long our churches have been concerned with 'doing evangelism' when we are actually being equipped & released to be disciples who make disciples. To simply 'do evangelism' is to miss the whole point of the great commission!

What we believe in this begins to change the emphasis in what we do as a local church. Rather than putting on lot's of evangelism programmes, we would prefer to grow up into being a missional church which looks & sounds as much like Jesus as we are able to. Our job as church leaders becomes one of training ordinary believers to live extraordinary lives, full of the Holy Spirit – These are the kind of people who instinctively make Jesus attractive to the their generation, & authentically shape His likeness in other Christ followers around them.

As a consequence, any programmes we do have must lead our people to grow up into maturity as confident Christ followers who can naturally make disciples. We are not concerned with converts to the gospel, although this is a thrilling first step – We are more concerned with helping those who have been saved get thoroughly added into the Church family & growing up in the authentic reproducing culture of those around them.

If that is the foundation, the culture, then what are the processes that enable us to grow & reproduce? What are the programmes & structures which help & release? Which are the old structures which only perpetuate old thinking & must therefore be let go & undone? These are the subject for the next series of blogs.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Book of the Year 2010

Here is my traditional offering (well I did it last year!)An opportunity to celebrate the best reading from all that was on offer during 2010.

There are no prizes, no awards ceremonies, no authors will be dining out on the prestige of gaining my approval. It is an exercise entirely dependent on personal taste & preference - these are the books which I have liked & preferred the most! You may disagree strongly, or you may not even care to read any further.

I shall open the golden envelope & read in reverse order -

5/ Abba's Child - Brennan Manning
This is not a new book, nor is it a new message, but no other book has moved me in this way during the year. Manning always writes with a freedom, best seen in his classic 'Ragamuffin Gospel. The legacy of Abba's Child is an ongoing, deepening intimacy with God & an aching hunger for more of his amazing grace in our lives.

4/ The Confession - John Grisham
Everyone needs to read a Grisham story from time to time. He is a fantastic story teller, & trawls his usual territory here in a race against time legal thriller. As the clock ticks on an innocent man heading for execution, the themes of repentance, forgiveness & redemption are strong. This was my first proper book on the Kindle, & I couldn't put it down.

3/ Reformation - Harry Reid
This was my 'big book' for the summer hols & it didn't disappoint. Much has been written on this pivotal era in history in recent years, yet Reid manages to write with a verve & freshness which is so engaging. This is much more than a text book. It will inform, & is particularly strong on the reformation in England & Scotland, but more than this, it will provoke, stirring a desire for truly biblical churches to arise again in the west.

2/ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
There was a point in March when I was so immersed in this story that I took it everywhere with me. I had avoided it for a while, refusing to read it, not wanting to jump on the best seller bandwagon - but finally it got me.
The back story is intriguing, the author dying young having just completed this trilogy - this is a genuine 'fresh voice' in fiction which publishers must long for, one which will sadly no longer speak. It is also a fresh setting - secular, modern Sweden. Dark, cold, fractured relationships, broken lives, Godless, empty landscapes - all sharp contrasts to the usual glossy big budget novels. This is surely part of the allure.
The writing is bold, the language & content very strong at times, but the book takes a worthy 2nd place in my awards league!

1/ The Book of Common Prayer - Thomas Cranmer
What! Some kind of mistake here surely? No, I bought the 450th Anniversary issue back in January last year & spent a happy 5 months working through it each day, a little at a time.
Based on the 1662 version, but boasting a brilliant introduction by scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch, this book is quite simply a masterpiece. Whether you read it to gain a snapshot on the turbulent years of the reformation, or with an eye on developing English language, or if you still find the flow of the daily prayers & scriptures to have a resonance - either way, nothing quite like it has been written before or since.
MacCulloch & others are convinced that Cranmer's flowing prose has done more for the rise of English nationalism & the spread of spoken English around the world than even Shakespeare. A conclusion that is open to question perhaps, but the fact that it remains so readable today, yet was written to engage 16th century English culture is amazing.
Many of my Anglican friends have expressed surprise at my being drawn into this work, especially as significant numbers of Anglicans have themselves spent years trying to get it out of their systems! Maybe it is because I didn't have it forced into me during my formative years that gives it such an impact now? Or maybe I've simply discovered a love for an old book which rises like a tide, gently lapping at every part, every moment of our lives. The seasons, the holy days, births, deaths, marriages, harvest & springtime, the nation - all soaked in scripture, all held up before the God whom we can know through His grace. That was Cranmer's great message to the Reformation church, & his words continue to teach us today.

Honourable mentions go to the following - Meltdown - Ben Elton. Juliet Naked - Nick Hornby. Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve. Forgotten God - Francis Chan.