Back in 2013, I led a session with the “Encounter” students (this was the Gap Year Team, part of the work my department at the time ran for the Diocese of Chichester), on “The Future of The Church”. I wondered what it would feel like revisiting those 6 years on . . . so, this is what I wrote at the time ::
The three things I think are (and will increasingly be) most challenging for the Church are as follows:
1. Authentic Community. What does that look like? Being “in” the community is fairly straight forward if we live cheek by jowl with people who we are seeking to minister to. However, as soon as we use language like trying to “reach” people – we immediately take ourselves out of the community in some way. We struggle to Be the community and reach it and understand the difference. We also talk more about being a church community than actually being one, so what would an authentic community look like – and where does that get built? Literally – in a geographical location? Somewhere special that can gather a crowd, in a lounge, in cyberspace? where do we spend most of our time (online / social media?)
2. Distinctive. This is challenging – when we are trying to be real with people and not be some “weird” Christians . . . what makes our faith and our lives distinctive? What, essentially makes us Christians? Are we actually called to be distinctive? Or are we simply to point others (and be orientated that way ourselves) towards the distinctive one – i.e. Jesus Christ.
3. Letting the future of the Church be decided by those who will inherit it. This I think is a bigger challenge than the above two things. Two many leaders, my age and upwards, continue to want to shape things, or impart things, or “develop” younger leaders. That is fine, as far as it goes . . . but, when is this generation going to actually be free to do things they would like to do with church – we are still incredibly institutional – every mainstream church is. This generation of young leaders, by that I mean those in their late teens and early twenties need to be given some freedom and encouragement to shape the church NOW – not to have to wait until middle age! Every generation rebels a bit (in church circles) with what has gone before, they are then aloud to mouth off a bit, are patronised until the calm down . . . and then, and only then, do they get a shot at making decisions about stuff (once we have assimilated them or trained the life out of them).
So, we have to keep asking ourselves these three questions ::
- Is this real, is this real church?
- Is this distinctive, is this Christlike?
- Am I in the way, should a little child be leading us?
At the time I also said, “come on now, let’s not have the same church we have now in 20 years . . . just a bit smaller.”