Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fresh Expressions of Vicar 3: One Message, or 3000 Sermons?

3120 sermons. That's how many sermons a person will hear if they go to church every Sunday for 60 years. More, if they take the God Channel. What do vicars talk about for all that time? What do we really need to talk about? Andy Griffiths continues as guest blogger...

My second post may have given the impression that the incumbent’s job is primarily that of being a manager of volunteers. 

If so, it is perhaps a surprise that Titus’ role is primarily focussed on what he is to say.  He is not to manage every part of church life, but he is to be a voice for what really matters.  “Keeping the main thing the main thing” is going to be crucial, because there will be so many distractions, and his method to keep the main thing the main thing is primarily rhetorical.  At Crete, the “disruptions” (1.11) centre on the promotion of circumcision and the telling of mythical stories (1.10-16); in 3.9 we hear that foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law are unprofitable and useless.

Some people are “divisive” (3.10), and it seems to be Titus’ role, not that of the ministry team, to
warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

When the church needs hard work and generous action”, comments Tom Wright with reference to this passage, “it’s interesting how some people, perhaps as an avoidance technique, suddenly discover that there are all sorts of theological and biblical disputes that they need to hide behind”.  In the face of these disrupting alternative narratives, and of a bent towards Law (whether this is to be understood as Torah-based boundary markers or a more Gentile legalism), Titus is to be a single-minded champion of a message of “grace” followed by “zeal”.  

Here is that message in Titus 2.12-14 and 3.4-8:
Grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, zealous to do what is good.
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.

The pattern repeats several times in these verses: the Saviour delivers by grace, and that grace, given quite apart from any worth in our actions, leads us to devotion, zeal, doing good, saying no to ungodliness, etc.  John Stott expresses the message of these verses with customary thoroughness: “Salvation’s need is our sin, guilt and slavery; its source is God’s gracious loving kindness; its ground is not our merit but God’s mercy in the cross; its means is the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit, signified in baptism; its goal is our final inheritance of eternal life; and its evidence is our diligent practice of good works… The past is justification and regeneration.  The present is a new life of good works in the power of the Spirit.  The future is the inheritance of eternal life.”  

This goes beyond a Reformation commitment to sola gratia (by grace alone) – it may suggest sola gratitudine (living by gratitude alone), in which a life eager to do good is motivated not by pride (you’re better than this), threat (you’d better do this) or guilt (if only you’d done this) but simply by unforced, confident, cheerful gratitude.  If your zeal for good works is slipping, don’t look to the law, look to the grace of salvation.

The incumbent is to be a voice for grace that leads to zeal to do good.  “The dominant theme in Titus is good works for the sake of outsiders”, says Gordon Fee, but the way to stimulate these is to help church members appreciate the wonder of salvation.  Without such a voice, a church will slip into legalism and distraction, and ironically the end result will be not only a depressed, defeated church, but a demotivated church not engaged in active love.  

This rings true to my experience – lay preaching teams seem to have a tendency to need bringing back to the rhythm of grace that leads to action for the community.  The answer to this natural slippage is not for the incumbent to once again take on the mantle of “the preacher”, delivering all the sermons and leading all the midweek groups, but for her to use every rhetorical advice at her disposal to help the ministry team exemplify this rhythm – and if necessary to make sure legalists and distractors do not have a microphone at their disposal. 

And if we can move incumbents to the margins of the church, there is some hope that they will be able to bring grace to bear on the structures of the community, pioneer new projects, and be active in creative evangelism.  Of course, this is not guaranteed.  But if incumbents are still having to chair the PCCs, pacify the flower-arrangers, raise money for the spire and visit two housebound church members a day, the scope for this fruitful, grace-voicing marginal ministry is almost nil.

The final reflection will be posted here tomorrow

Andy Griffiths is a dad, a husband, a Vicar in Essex and the “Warden of Ministers” of a Mission and Ministry Unit Team – he’s talked about the appointment process for this in his earlier posts,  I've invited Andy to guest blog four posts about incumbent ministry, originally written for the church of Essex. Because it's the only way. This is the third post – in his first two posts he spoke of incumbents as team members and enablers. Follow the Titus Series link below for the other posts. 

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