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The relevance of the Church

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 2 years ago

I've just recently come to the conclusion that the Church made a tremendous blunder in the mid 20th century. I'm still working out the details, but it all suddenly fitted into place.

 

We decided that we would become more "relevant". It sounded like such a good idea at the time. I was taken in completely. But the problem was the way in which we measured ''relevance". In hindsight, the problem seems so obvious. 

 

Because we measured "relevance" by what the rest of the world thought about us... by our popularity, or worse, by our expectation of popularity. And the problem with that was, the rest of the world was not Christian. In many cases, they didn't even believe in God. So their values were rather different to ours, or at least they should have been, and we should have expected them to be. But no, we were, consciously and deliberately, adopting their values. They were not going to change, or so we thought. So we must. The reason that this now sounds so stupid is that it was.

 

Glorious hindsight. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

 

The rest of the world saw this blunder long before I did. In the "Yes, Prime Minister" episode "The Bishop's Gambit" (1986) Hacker (himself a self-confessed agnostic) is the only person to object to the appointment of a bishop who does not believe in God. All the best humour contains more than a little truth, and this parody of the church of the time is excellent humour. And we are still guilty.

 

And the other, related problem was that, far from becoming more relevant, we actually became irrelevant. The Gospel was the thing we did best, and better than anybody else. It was and still is our core business. In seeking to become more relevant, we diversified into environmental issues, into politics generally, social activism, all sorts of good things. But we often weren't nearly as good at these things as were other organisations with which we now competed.

 

And the seductive thing was, these were all good things for the Church to be doing. Some of them, such as care of orphans and the elderly, we had been doing for a long time, and did very well. And we have continued to succeed in new areas, such as the Kairos Prison Ministry, to which we have been called.

 

But it was not good to do them at the expense of our core business. Or to put it another way, there was a big difference between doing these things because God wanted them done, and doing them because they made us "relevant". I have been heavily involved in Kairos, and let me tell you it is hard, difficult work and expensive love. It is wanting the unwanted, and they are unwanted for good reasons. (Well, perhaps "wanted" is an unfortunate term to use here.)  It is the sort of stuff Jesus did, and he explicitly said we would not be popular if we followed him. 

 

The result of this blunder was that we found ourselves in the paradoxical position that our popularity was steadily increasing, but our market share was just as steadily decreasing. We had focused on markets in which we simply could not compete.

 

And we are still seeing the results. Recently my church burned down, and the question being asked was, do we rebuild? About 70% of the congregation wanted to rebuild, so that was the favoured option. But then we had a community meeting to decide exactly what to build, and 100% of the wider community were not only in favour of rebuilding the church, but completely horrified that anyone would suggest replacing "their" church with some other community facility. There was a feeling of scandal and betrayal that it was even suggested, and strong support for the community, not just the congregation, raising money if the insurance did not cover the rebuilding, from people who never attended church except for weddings, christenings and funerals... not even Christmas and Easter, many of them. The hatches, matches and dispatches brigade.

 

We are still popular. And we are still relevant, and always were. And still losing market share!

 

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