Monday, February 21, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation

Good morning God,
I enjoyed playing six degrees of separation in yesterday's worship. Trying to make the links between the youngest member of our congregation and the queen was easy, as was finding a route to the Pope..
What was more provocative was making the link between any one of us and Ossoma Bin Laden, or the Yorkshire Ripper, or Doctor Shipman.. Realising how closely connected we all are to our worst 'enemies' put a whole new slant on the meaning of the lectionary lesson to Love our Enemies..
I do know that there are some that dispute the theory of six degrees of separation, but the problem is that the Church is so global and 'connected' that it's seldom a problem to achieve the desired goal in 6 or less relationships.

But it also started me thinking again about the difference between independence and interdependence. I am increasingly convinced that independence is the biggest 'sin' that there is. It is contrary to our nature and to our nurture. It distorts relationships (how can you possibly have a two way relationship with someone who is independent !) and leads to an unrealistic idea of self-worth and self-importance which can be soul destroying in so many ways.

If I am honest, I would have to admit that I loathe the very idea of being only six or less contacts away from our Prime Minister David Cameron at the moment.. until, that is, I began thinking about how that connectivity could be used to effect change in the areas that trouble me most - namely the unashamed recreation of the worst of the British Class system with its inherent injustice and base immorality.

There is something more powerful than politics about the fact that we are all interdependent - as we can see by the role that micro-blogging is playing in the protests and demands for democratic reform throughout the middle-east. People naturally feel stronger when they are aware of the fact that they are not alone... Humanity is changed when it acts as one. People change when they feel connected. Love flows easier, poverty really can be bested and fear defeated - by a genuine knowledge of our interdependence, of how we belong, one to another.

The fact is that WE are far more powerful and transformational  than I can ever be.
And it is this of course. that makes the doctrine of the Trinity so powerful. It takes the I am and transforms it into an interdependence of grace from which flows our human sense of belonging and interdependence. I can still be all that I am, without needing to see myself in opposition to all that I am not. I can work with, not against, the forces that shape and form me, the contacts who help to define me and the relationships which nurture and develop me.

Interdependence does not strip us of anything - it does not take anything away from our uniqueness or gifts or graces - but it does add to who we are. It humbles us to learn we are connected to the worst in humanity as well as the best in society. That we are probably as closely linked to the people we despise the most, as we are to the people we admire the most. It helps keep a sense of perspective about who and what we are. I am connected to people who are immensely talented, and to people who see no value in their lives at all. I am linked to royalty and poverty alike, to Muslims, Hindus and Christians and to those of no faith.. I stand with those in Cairo, Libya and Bahrain because I am a part of humanity, not separate from it.

Whether I like it or not, I am linked to each and every member of the British government too.

So the challenge is now on to find a way to use that link to help shape and form JUST rather than unjust policies.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bring back the 'Local' in 'Local Preachers'

Good day God,
I want to say from the onset that I am genuinely glad that you keep calling people to proclaim your word. One of the most powerful signs that the Church has that you are still interested in us, is that you keep calling people to share with us the word of truth that you share with them.

But I'm getting increasingly confused as to how this 'sharing' is supposed to happen.
It used to be that a Local Preacher was able to preach to the Congregation by setting the gospel in their particular 'Local' context. The Local preacher would know what was happening in the lives of the congregation, what their concerns were, their hopes and aspirations.. they would be a part of the conversation of  your people with you God, not set apart from it!

More and more it seems to be the case that local preachers have less and less to do with the congregations they preach to. Time, money (and perhaps some misplaced idea of the role and authority of the Local Preacher) has led to a situation where most Local Preachers seem to work in isolation on their service and sermon, as though the mission of the congregation is of no account.

I know that Faith and Worship tries to encourage those learning to preach to take account of the 'nature of the congregation' in terms of its age, ethnic composition etc.. but I'm talking about something far more fundamental than that. I'm talking about the MISSION of the congregation, the way in which worship is a means of grace, and what the congregation is hoping for from its encounter with your Word in worship.

Intentional or not, we seem, as a Church, to be encouraging a generation of 'hit and run' circuit preachers who visit the Churches and say what they want to say or believe you have called them to say - with seldom any thought to the conversation that congregations are already having with you.  Which, can often mean that the 'service' is nothing more than a rude interruption and something which makes a mockery of the whole concept of a 'Local Preacher' no matter how good the sermon!

I believe that any Church can flourish as a result of the special diversity and contribution that Local preachers can bring when they work WITH a Church to provide worship which serves as a means of grace. When they bring their own unique perspectives to bear on whatever it is that the Church is trying to explore or promote as part of its mission and outreach, Local Preachers really can add to the richness of grace. But of course to achieve that wonderful fusion of your calling and the congregation's growth in grace and holiness means that a Local Preacher has to spend time with a congregation BEFORE they preach to them, BEFORE they have decided what it is they think you want to say to them. All that takes extra time and effort if they are not a member of that Church or if the Circuit is so big that the preacher seldom visits a Church more than once or twice a quarter.

I think most ministers would welcome the chance to work with a team of 'Local preachers' who are really 'Local' and who really do want their preaching to play a part in the local mission of the Churches in a circuit. I am sure I am not the only minister who wants  Local Preachers to do more than read a letter that tells them who their steward will be and when the Junior Church are in or out.. Local Preachers can be a phenomenal resource for your work God, by helping congregations fulfill THEIR mission and grow in grace, rather than just letting them hear another sermon - (even if it is a brilliant sermon!).

There is a way of recovering the 'Local' in 'Local Preacher': Change the Plan.

In one circuit, for example, the local preachers were asked to work in teams with each of the circuit ministers. They were asked to meet with the minister and the Church officers at the start of each quarter to think and pray through the Church's worship. They were a part of the discussions which determined (according to what was happening locally with that Congregation) which acts of worship that quarter were best suited to evangelistic outreach, which would be really helpful in addressing issues the congregation were facing, which were ideal for including families or young people etc etc etc.. Only the team were planned to preach in that Church that year..
Yes.. It reduced the number of local preachers visiting each Church over the year - but it strengthened the concept of local ministry and local mission, What was heard was the Word of God for the people of God at this time and at this place.
And without exception the Churches grew.
So did the Ministers and Local Preachers.