Reaching the whole of Luton?

In the years prior to going to university I had been to church a handful of times and hated it. It never dawned on me that church had anything to offer. Whilst at University I began to argue with Christians and eventually came to the conclusion that they were right and I was wrong. I was convinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be as declared by his rising from the dead. Soon afterwards I was also persuaded that church was also part of the package and that I should get involved, even at the cost of playing rugby on a Sunday morning.

It took me a long while to feel at home in church culture but I persevered. The experience left me feeling that church should not just be for those brought up in it, but for those coming in from the outside like myself. When I felt called into church leadership over 20 years ago this was the biggest thing on my agenda.

Through different things that I read recently I have been reminded that this is still the case.

Christianity has now become a foreign language for very large numbers of the population and what goes on in church seems strange, if not alien. Until about 1960, what went on in church would have some resonance across the culture as a whole. We now have the third and fourth generation growing up since then for whom it is simply outside their world view. Failures that tend to be blamed on schools or parents simply reflect a rapid and massive change in the general culture. From the Times Monday 1 October 2012

I have also been impacted by a book, Clusters: Creative Mid-sized Missional Communities by Bob Hopkins. He said that across the UK as a whole around 20% of the population could be described as churched, either regular attendees or part of the fringe; a further 40% could be described as dechurched, meaning they used to go to church in the past but no longer attended. Half of these would be open to return if invited but for the other half their experience of church had left them closed to any thought of returning. The final 40% were totally unchurched, they had little or no experience of church, just like I had been in my youth.

In summary Hopkins broke down the population of the UK as –

20% churched

20% open dechurched

20% closed dechurched

40% unchurched

Hopkins makes the point that amongst younger people the percentage unchurched goes up considerably. In a multi-cultural, multi-faith town like Luton the percentage of unchurched would certainly be above the national average. The point Hopkins makes is that there are very few churches making any sort of impact amongst unchurched people. This means the church in the UK is relevant for less than half the population and unless things changed the percentage being reached will keep reducing.

I am now even more determined than ever to do all I can to help us communicate with the high percentage of people for whom Christianity is a foreign language and church feels alien. I want us to explore what it means for us to reach out relevantly to all the population of Luton, including the unchurched.

Questions to be considered.

  • In what ways have you found that Christianity is a foreign language to people you are in contact with?
  • How can we help people penetrate the alien culture of church?
  • Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, Luke 15v1-7, how does that apply in our situation?

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Church of England Synod vote on Women Bishops and the public reaction: Part 3

The third issue we need to face is the fact that the church is not being taken seriously because of our sexism! Is there anything we can or should do about this?

Here I turn to the blog of another friend who has written of the subject, Matthew Hosier. He acknowledges that in our society sexual equality is a given, the idea that men and women are different is alien to society as a whole. Therefore the popular view is that it is nonsense that any role should not be open to both men and women. He goes on to say

However, I am not sure there is any evidence that the appointment of female bishops would lead to a reversal in the declining fortunes of the Anglican church. The appointment of women priests 20 years ago may have added a layer of pastoral depth to the church, but it certainly hasn’t arrested its numerical decline.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that those same non-church attending friends of mine who don’t understand why women shouldn’t be bishops because they assume sexual equality as a given, would be no more drawn to church by the presence of a female bishop. It might actually put them off. This is because for many – especially men – another assumption is similar to that of Celsus in the second century, that Christianity is only fit for women, slaves and children. Even when they assume sexual equality as a given, most men do not want to attend institutions they perceive as feminine. The evidence is clear: when men stop attending church, so do their children, and in the end so do their wives.

It seems that the church’s place in the media spotlight has now come and gone, however I suspect that the issues that it has raised will not go away. Hence feeling it is important that we do consider them, and are clear on where we stand.

Questions you might consider regarding this:

Why do you think the world has concluded that men and women are the same whilst buying books “Men are from mars, women are from Venus”?

Is it possible to be different but equally valued?

What do you think would be the implications of a church where the leadership was predominantly female?

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Church of England Synod vote on Women Bishops and the public reaction: Part 2

The second issue is what about bishops, do we believe in bishops, let alone women bishops!

My friend Phil Moore addresses this in his blog.

The big question is not whether there should be women bishops. It is whether there should be bishops at all. Why is there a church in Britain which mirrors the leadership structures of the world rather than the leadership structures outlined in the New Testament? When one of the panellists on “Question Time” pointed out that “The Queen is the head of the church,” she was both right and wrong at the same time. She was wrong because the New Testament is very clear that Jesus is the Head of the Church and that anybody else who tries to usurp his title had better watch out (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:23). But she was right because this is the title which the Church of England has conceded to British monarchs for the past 500 years. 

As a result of this historic intertwining of Church and Queen and Bishops and Parliament, everybody seems to be missing the point: Since Jesus is Head of the Church, he gets to decide who should lead it. Not churchgoers, not the clergy, and not the non-Christian government. Talk of equal opportunities and of a ‘stained glass ceiling’ for promotion is shows how far the Church of England has drifted from where the Church is called to be. Jesus gets to decide who should lead his Church and he gets to decide whether they should be male or female, young or old, gay or straight, right-wing or left-wing. The New Testament tells us that he has chosen for his Church to be led by teams of elders (not by bishops, regardless of whether they are male or female), and he has chosen for his Church to be free from the interference of the state.

Amen to that as well. Let us keep clear who is the head of the church, and let us seek to allow him to lead it!

Questions you might consider regarding this:

To what extent have we already accepted the world’s understanding of leadership in the church? As we have seen in looking at the early chapters of 1 Corinthians, this is something Paul argued against.

If Jesus is the head of the church how do we know how he wants it led?

LOOK OUT FOR PART 3 NEXT WEEK

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Church of England Synod vote on Women Bishops and the public reaction: Part 1

It is not a common occurrence to see issues associated with the church on the front pages of newspapers and the lead story of TV news. It seems everyone has an opinion about the role of women in the church, particularly whether they should be bishops. The advice from many in the church is to keep your head down and not to comment, however I have never taken advice and feel that I want to respond and bring my own perspective on what is happening.

I feel there are at least 3 distinct issues which are worthy of comment and clear thinking which I will try to address.

The first issue is the perspective that the church is out of step with culture and the insistence of many, including the prime minister, that it needs to get back in step.

In my mind this is the most dangerous and important issue, the assumption that the church should keep up with the times, because the times are by definition always right. Tom Wright, formally Bishop of Durham, bravely and eloquently deals with this in an article that was published in the Times.

“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?” “I have seen them both in an egg,” replies the young hero. “We call it Going bad in Narnia.”

Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women’s ordination will never appear in full strength.

“Now that we live in the 21st century,” begins the interviewer, invoking the calendar to justify a proposed innovation. “In this day and age,” we say, assuming that we all believe the 18th-century doctrine of “progress”, which, allied to a Whig view of history, dictates that policies and practices somehow ought to become more “liberal”, whatever that means. Russia and China were on the “wrong side of history”, Hillary Clinton warned recently. But how does she know what “history” will do? And what makes her think that “history” never makes mistakes?

… What is more, the Church’s foundation documents (to say nothing of its Founder himself) were notoriously on the wrong side of history. The Gospel was foolishness to the Greeks, said St Paul, and a scandal to Jews. The early Christians got a reputation for believing in all sorts of ridiculous things such as humility, chastity and resurrection, standing up for the poor and giving slaves equal status with the free. And for valuing women more highly than anyone else had ever done. People thought them crazy, but they stuck to their counter-cultural Gospel. If the Church had allowed prime ministers to tell them what the “programme” was it would have sunk without trace in fifty years. If Jesus had allowed Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate to dictate their “programme” to him there wouldn’t have been a Church in the first place.

Well said, Tom, I couldn’t agree more. Let us not be caught up in the trap that public opinion is always right, it often isn’t.  Sometimes we have to stand up for what is right rather than to seek to be popular. We should never be bullied into accepting what the world says we should believe and do, once we do that we loose all our distinctive  we stop being yeast, salt, light and all the other metaphors of what our calling is meant to be to the world.

If the implication of this argument is that the bishops should not sit in the house of Lord’s that is a small price to pay to allow the church to be true to itself rather than to unthinkingly reflect popular opinion.

Questions you might consider regarding this:

Why do you think that so many people feel the need to tell the church what it should do and believe?

What would be the consequences of us seeking to be popular by embracing the world’s view on things?

How important is it for the church to be represented in parliament via bishops in the house of Lord’s?

LOOK OUT FOR PART 2 NEXT WEEK

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.