Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Church of England - Evangelism on the Agenda

It would seem an obvious thing for a church to prioritise evangelism. Jesus parting words were 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28), and the outcome of Pentecost was that the first disciples would be witnesses to Jesus (not 'do' witness but be witnesses). After a serious finger burning exercise in the 'Decade of Evangelism', it's exciting to see the CofE picking the ball back up.

General Synod next week has a large chunk of time devoted to evangelism. I used to witter repeatedly about the failure of the national CofE to engage with mission, one reason this blog is a bit quieter than usual (apart from having 2 1/2 years without a full time colleague) is that I've less to complain about.

As well as debates on Estates evangelism, and growing faith in families and schools, Synod is also going to be asked to approve GS 2118. Calm down now, I know you're excited. If approved, the national parliament of the CofE will be signing up to 4 headline commitments
1. That every worshipping community makes evangelism a priority
2. That every parish gets involved in 'Thy Kingdom Come', a (now global) prayer initiative focused on seeing more people come to faith
3. That every diocese helps all their members to find more confidence in sharing and living the good news of Jesus in daily life
4. That the church be held to account for 1-3, plus a cluster of other recommendations (see below).

Readers of this blog from other church streams may be slapping their foreheads repeatedly at this point. Surely evangelism as a priority is a no brainer? Well a) not if you're Anglican and b) not if you're British. We've never been that comfortable talking about faith in public, and indeed when we do it puts a substantial number of people off.

There are several key ideas underpinning the report
 - The integration of evangelism and discipleship. I remember the stir caused by William Abrahams 'The Logic of Evangelism' in the 1980s, reminding evangelicals that we are called to make discples, not converts. The report therefore sees evangelism as an integral part of discipleship, not a separate activity.
 - The work of LICC and others in exploring 7 day a week discipleship
 - The word 'confidence', which keeps recurring - as a church, and as individuals, many of us lack the confidence to share our story, or even invite people to a church event.

The report sets out 6 'operational priorities' for the next few years. These are going to be challenging, but exciting, if we take them seriously
a) Every person equipped to be a witness - 'mobilising the million' CofE members to be more confident in sharing their story and Jesus' story, and developing a culture of invitation in the church

b) Every person released to live out the gospel 24/7 - which links up with the discipleship/setting God's people free agenda currently being rolled out nationally.

c) Every church prioritising children and young people in evangelism  - with the startling statistic that 65% of CofE churches have less than 5 members under 16, and half of these have none.

d) Every church a welcoming community, both as people and as places, and makes the most of 'life events' to connect with the community and build an ongoing relationship

e) Every church considers developing a new worshipping community. London diocese has traditionally led the way on strategic church planting, but it now looks like this will become a national expectation

f) Every leader trained and equipped to be competent to lead in evangelism and encouraging disciples. Though this is the last of the 6 priorities, this is the potential bottleneck. For many vicars, their gifts lie elsewhere than evangelism, and for many others, it's simply not on the radar. This will take quite a shift in culture, but it's a shift that's needed.

An appendix to the report picks up on specific areas - new estates, ethnic minorities, chaplancy and youth.

A few thoughts
1. There is a concern threaded through the report that this work will lose 'momentum' and not become embedded in CofE culture. This may have half an eye on the future leadership of the CofE - John Sentamu is retiring, and Justin Welby is 6 years into his stint as ABofC - most recent occupants of that role have managed about a decade.

2. Linked to 'confidence' is apologetics, which doesn't get a mention in the report. One of the things which gives Christians confidence in their faith is seeing that it answers key questions well and coherently. This work may be happening elsewhere, but it strikes me that the CofE needs to regain its nerve in the sufficiency of the Bible and its worldview to provide a framework for life, ethics, thinking, and spirituality.

3. 'Setting God's People Free', with its focus on everyday discipleship, does seem to be gaining traction, and has the potential to transform Dioceses and local churches. It's good to see the evangelism agenda linking up with this, but it will take excellent resources, prayer, and consistent leadership over many years to see these changes get to the 'average' churches. A small number of churches 'get' evangelism already,  small number will probably never get it, so it's good to see the report zeroing in on the thousands of 'average' CofE churches in the 20-60 membership range, and considering what this all looks like for them.

4. This is being driven/led from the top, to which I cry 'at last!' But at Diocesan level it needs to be broken down a bit, otherwise Dioceses could end up appointing a forest of advisors and facilitators. I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone in a Diocesan post needs to be part-time in a parish, so that they remain grounded in the realities and responsibilities of parish life. Advisors in spirituality need to be leading their churches in prayer, advisors in evangelism need to be equipping their own local church to share faith with confidence etc. That gives credibility and context to the people promoting this stuff, and also prevents them 'going native' into a Diocesan culture which becomes separated from the coalface realities of parish life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Lightening Rod on the Irish Border

So Teresa the Relentless is off to Brussels again, to renegotiate the 'Irish Backstop'. Because that's the only real problem with the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexiteers, isn't it?

Um, no. It's only 1 of 8 things on John Redwoods list. Jacob Rees Mogg has several others, and lets just assume for once that Boris Johnson is consistent and still believes the stuff he said last month. Just as Brexit itself has turned the distraction levels up to 11 and prevented good and careful governance of the UK, so the Backstop has become a distraction from debating everything else in the 585 page Agreement.

If no other part of the Withdrawal Agreement is rewritten, Teresa May could come back with movement on the Irish Backstop, and still lose a vote on the Agreement to Brexiteers. This has the potential to become an even more colossal political mess than it is at the moment.

And if the Agreement somehow gets through, the 'May way or the highway' strategy of bringing the agreement to Parliament at such a late stage, compounded by the time lost on confidence votes and infighting, makes it possible that a huge bit of legislation will get through Parliament with almost zero scrutiny of the details.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A bit of press coverage

Goodbye St. Peters Hall Yeovil. After serving the local community for 50 years, it's now being pulled down, to be replaced with a new community centre. Between the the church, the community association, and partners from the local council and housing association, we've raised £927,000 of £945,000 required, and demolition started on Monday.

BBC Radio Somerset did a piece earlier in the week, fast forward to 1h 32m in and then again 2h 34m in. John Clark in the second clip is a local councillor, and is the tall guy at the back.

A few other news pieces, apologies for the duplication of news and photographs!

Diocese of Bath and Wells

Somerset Live (online version of the Western Gazette)

Yeovil Press

Yarlington Housing Group

It's amazing how God has brought together the funding, the team, and the vision for the project. It started with 4 people in a chilly back room in Jan 2014, wondering what a church of 20 elderly people and a fledgling community association could possibly do with a creaking old hall. It's notable how folk who aren't part of the church are regularly commenting how it's all come together, from the project team (with every skill we needed, and every job we needed doing had someone willing to do it), to the finances (£900,000 raised in 13 months).


Friday, January 18, 2019

Brexit - New Options on the Table

Lard Brexit - build a barrier made entirely of lard along the Irish border. This avoids a hard border (except in exceptionally cold weather) and ensures that Brexit is smooth, if not orderly.

Chard Brexit - a no-deal Brexit is piloted in a small town in South Somerset, and then rolled out nationally once teething problems are ironed out. Worked a treat with Universal Credit.

Irish Buckstop - leaders of the main political parties play the popular party game 'pass the Arlene'. Whoever's left holding the DUP when time is up has to come up with a deal which commands a Parliamentary majority. 

Toffed Brexit - Using a Parliamentary protocol last invoked in 1381, Jacob Rees-Mogg compels the entire Withdrawal Agreement to be translated into Latin, and commences negotiations with all the European states who still use it. Within a month, he and the Pope have sorted everything.

Yellow Lines - The red lines in Teresa Mays withdrawal agreement are replaced with parking regulations. All MPs are charged hospital car park rates for every minute spent in the House of Commons debating the Brexit deal. Agreement is reached within a week.

Taking Those Eels off the Table - Jeremy Corbyn comes up with an innovative but irrelevant proposal for fisheries policy.

Peoples Vole - in a British attempt to emulate Groundhog Day, a small rodent is held aloft on March 29th. If he casts a shadow, we stay in the EU, if he doesn't, we carry on holding the little blighter in the air until the sun comes out.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Youth Work Placement in Yeovil from Sept 2019

We're looking to take on a youth work trainee for up to 3 years from September 2019, to work in 2 local secondary schools, support youth groups at both churches in the parish, and explore ways of connecting with local young people beyond the church. Bed and board are provided, along with a weekly allowance and expenses. Details are here https://swym.org.uk/placements/trainee-youth-worker-3/ - if you know anyone who might be interested please point them in our direction!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sex Education from the BBC: what's missing?

More than a third of women and a quarter of men in their teens and early 20s admitted it had not been "the right time" when they first had sex.  Thus the BBC reports on the 'National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles'. They then give a helpful list for anyone wondering...
When is the right time?
  • If you think you might have sex, ask yourself:
  • Does it feel right?
  • Do I love my partner?
  • Does he/she love me just as much?
  • Have we talked about using condoms to prevent STIs and HIV, and was the talk OK?
  • Have we got contraception organised to protect against pregnancy?
  • Do I feel able to say "no" at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that
Yup, 'Am I married to my partner'? doesn't come into it. The first 3 conditions are subjective - the survey assumes that children as young as 13 are able to answer these questions well and be 'sexually competent' Have they ever met a 13 year old? All the criteria would be also satisfied by someone cheating on their partner.  The only moral question here is consent - tick that box and everything else is ok. Is sex really that trivial? 

I note in passing that the report never refers to 'children' - "22.4% and 36.2% of men and women who had first sex at age 13–14 years were categorised as ‘sexually competent". Child sexual behaviour is reported as if it were adult sexual behaviour. Am I alone in finding that a bit disturbing?

The genuinely radical option here is to honour sex as the ultimate physical expression of commitment, saved for the one person to whom you make the lifelong covenant pledge of marriage. Even if you don't buy the 'sex as an expression of commitment' thing and just want to be pragmatic about it, if you value the relationship you're in, you'll wait, as it's better for the relationship.  

There are public health benefits too: sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted by, you guessed it... They jumped massively in 2012-15, and the number of people attending sexual health clinics in Wales has doubled in just 5 years. There would be dramatic falls in STIs if it was normal to pursue faithfulness to a single partner and public health policy encouraged people to wait. Sure, not everyone will do it: not everyone takes up the MMR vaccine either but that doesn't make it bad practice. And it could save the NHS up to £1bn a year, which is before we get into all the other financial costs of a culture of casual sex.  A culture which the BBC itself has been normalising for decades. 

One of the complaints in the Br***t debate is that you can't question immigration without being labelled as racist. Can we discuss sexual behaviour without being labelled as moralising? 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Peoples Vote: Why We Need to Re-Run the 2017 General Election

The people of the UK should get another say on the result of the 2017 General Election. Why?

1. Because some of the claims made during the campaign have turned out to be demonstrably false.

2. Because the facts on the ground have changed, and we know more now about the negative outcomes of certain courses of action (Universal Credit, approach to the Brexit negotiations, dismantling the welfare state, making Chris Grayling Secretary of State for Transport) than we did then. So we would be better informed for this vote than we were for that one.

3. Because the electorate has changed, over a million people are now eligible to vote now who were under 18 at the time of the 2017 election. How can we not involved them in decisions about their future?

4. There are question marks over whether party spending limits were broken, as there were in the 2015 election. 

5. Because we're even less happy with the result now than we were then.

6. Because we need to trust the people.

7. Because we only knew general details about Conservative policy at the time of the election, and they've gone and done things which weren't in their manifesto. Like teaming up with the DUP. Which we didn't vote for.

Coming soon: Why We Need to Re-Run the 2019 General Election.

Prayer - A Typology



I have no idea what a 'skinny' is, but we're starting a series on prayer tomorrow and this is fun and insightful at the same time.