Skip to main content

Ascension, Mission, and Birth...

I'm preaching on Sunday morning following a period of reflection and feedback in our church: we are need of setting a vision for the next few years, a task we've probably not really done before, and are at the beginning of the process. For most people that will be a daunting experience: it's new, and new things often are daunting to well established congregations. My congregation will probably find it daunting. It requires us to wait on God, and to be open to things new as well as old.

Yesterday's Ascension reading, Acts 1:1-11, captured some of what is required as I see it. Jesus told the disciples to wait on God for the Holy Spirit to come, to enable them to be witnesses in all the world. If ever there was a manifesto for what it means to be Church, I think that short passage is one of them. Many people think of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, but I disagree: for me, the birth of the Church (and all the messiness that births often involve) was at Ascension -- all the confusion, clamour, expectation, disappointment, uncertainty is there, and also hope that new life brings, rooted in the word from Jesus that God will fulfil His promises and send the Spirit. To be Church is to wait on the Holy Spirit and as He leads to become witnesses to the good news from God in Jesus Christ.

As part of my preparation for Sunday I've been reading a book by Michael Moynagh called "Changing World: Changing Church" (London: Monarch, 2004). If you've ever read Moynagh before he brings all sorts of interesting thoughts to the table about Church and its future growth. Sometimes in terms of treating the problems besetting the Church I find him a bit too consumerist for my liking, concerned more about what people want than what we ought to be about, and often concerned that if we dont do something the Church will have no future - as if the Church was our responsibility and not God's. But when it comes to diagnosing the problems I think he is very good. I've been mulling over the following quote for a few days, and think I will use it this week:

...there is a growing recognition that we cannot go on as we are. Many clergy and lay people know that today's Church is not working, not connecting with people anymore, but they cannot imagine anything different. They struggle on with tried and trusted methods, feeling uneasy but with little vision for how things could change. Others are busting a gut to make existing churches grow, sometimes succeeding, but often wearing themselves out - and their congregations - instead...Still other ministers looks back to the 1970s and 1980s, desperately hoping to repeat what was effective then. But the world has moved on, and so frequently they are disappointed.They burn out, exhausted and disillusioned because they see little fruit.
Moynagh wrote these words nearly a decade ago, and so there have been some radical changes in the Church of England (in which he is a Priest and theological educator) since then, including moves toward pioneer minstry, and, since Mission Shaped Church, towards creating different shaped congregations. Nonetheless, this is not the story across the board, and I recognize still some of what Moynagh is talking about. For me this has meant a need to embrace a concrete sense of leadership as a minister, helping people to get a fresh sense of what we are called to be by God, and how we can embody that in our own context.

I had a robust conversation this week with someone who has been in our church for decades, and she reminded me that I need to carry people with me and not run ahead or put people off. Once this would have been like waving a red rag at a bull, but I listened hard to what she said, and believe she's correct. Except for one thing: it's not about me and them, it's about us and God. So this week I shall be asking the congregation and myself to wait on the Holy Spirit, to pray regularly and honestly, to be discerning, and for boldness to follow when and where the Spirit leads so that we can be the witnesses Jesus calls us to be.

This will not be an easy birth for us.

Comments

Unknown said…
Thanks for this Michael... I was just doing some teaching for CYM on this. I do wonder about the extremes of 'consumerism' and 'biblicism' in people's approaches to future forms of church. Stephen Bevan's "Models of contextual theology" is still useful in teasing out the options. But I often return to the need to listen to God, (1) as He is at work speaking within the culture beyond the church; and (2) speaking within the church community inspired by Scripture. I often find that (1) challenges (2) and that (2) is easier said than done even in charismatic circles. Look forward to hearing what happens for you all!
Cheers for this Andy. I'm increasingly convinced that prayer and discernment are vital for the life of the Church generally, and for our concrete church communities. It is a difficult way of life to master though, the temptation to "do" something can overwhelm the call to wait on God. We are learning that together at the minute - it's a learning curve in many ways, but we shall overcome! M

Popular posts from this blog

David Clough on Barth

For those who are interested, here  is an interview with Professor David Clough from earlier this year on the subject of Barth's theological development. It has recently made its way online...alas, the interviewer (me!) has been edited out. The interview was for a new DVD Interactive Multimedia Timeline created  by R ev. Dr Tim Hull at St John's College Nottingham. Several high quality scholars agreed to be interviewed, including Dr Karen Kilby, Dr Ben Fulford, Professor Antony Thiselton, Professor David Fergusson, and several others forthcoming. David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics at Chester University, UK, and wrote his doctoral thesis on the interpretation of Barth's ethics. It was published in 2005 as, Ethics in Crisis: Interpreting Barth's Ethics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).

Godpod and theological resources

I have had a great evening listening to a whole stack of theological podcasts from St Paul's Theological Centre, London, UK. There are over 60 podcasts available from the St Paul's website or on iTunes that cover a whole range of topics in Christian ethics, spirituality, systematic theology, history, Christian biography etc.with experts from across UK. The format is pretty simple: a three way discussion between Dr Jane Williams, Revd Dr Mike Lloyd, Revd Dr Graham Tomlin and a special guest or two each session (I've listenind to Prof. Nigel Biggar, Prof. NT Wright, Dr David Hilborn, Prof. Andrew Walker, Prof. Alister McGrath, and a hosts of others so far). Each lasts a bit less than an hour, but there's plenty to think about and chew over. If you're looking for some really good input, and some fun theological discussion from leading evangelical thinkers, then head over to St Paul's Centre and their Godpod page.

What Do You Call a Group of Theologians?

I think the answer should be "an argument", but perhaps that's unfair. I can test my theory this next week, which sees the start of the annual Society for the Study of Theology (UK) conference on the theme of Holy Writ? (The question mark is very suggestive). It looks really good, and the list of plenary speakers is great: Alex Samely (Manchester); Morwenna Ludlow (Exeter); Henk van den Belt (Amsterdam); Walter Moberly (Durham); Anthony Thiselton (Nottingham); Hugh Pyper (Sheffield). The conference lasts several days and is convening this year at York University. I hope to be able to blog a few thoughts from the conference and some info about the plenary sessions, but I shall be presenting a paper at one of the themed seminars on Wednesday afternoon on the interpretation of Barth's ethics of responsibility so may be a bit distracted until then. So watch this space for more info...