As I got home from my long placement in London I was relieved and surprised. Most of my reflections from my placement, on a personal level, revolved around the concept of home and what it means and the impact it has on ministry (see ‘London Calling (part V)‘ post). Having said all that about ‘home’ being a relationship or a state of mind where you feel safe to be vulnerable where you are known and allowed ‘to be’, I found myself associating home with a geographical location; I found myself saying “I just need to get home.” (meaning I need to go to a building in a place.) When I got there I was surprised that a) my home didn’t feel right or relaxing but b) I felt at home. My wife had been with me for five days and still I felt at sea but the moment I saw Durham Cathedral towering into the sky I was restful. My home was different but I still was restful.
As an introvert I put an emphasis on my place, my quiet time, my study! When I got there it had been taken over by my wife, who had been living in our house without me for 25 days. I didn’t feel bitter or shocked by the fact that she needed to go into this room and use the computer and the printer or that she needed to use it as space to put things out of the way. (I did feel upset that this space, this sanctuary had been defiled by alien and idolatorous objects like Body Shop products!) (That’s a joke!) I was remarkably calm about it because I felt close to people who had seen and been a part of a massive shift in my vocational journey and I was now surrounded, even though I hadn’t seen or spoken to them, by people who knew me, as I am now not how I was. I didn’t need to be in a space, talking with them, but I knew they were close and it reminded me of what I was doing.
Then it struck me. My big issue and conflict with my placement was not that what this community were doing was bad or wrong, necessarily, but that I had moved on and I hadn’t realised it. It had been like looking in a mirror after fifty years and not recognising yourself.
All my difficulties, my thoughts and reflections clashing with the people around me, my concept and passions being questioned, My ideas not fitting in with the ministry of the church, all it came down to was this church was what I had known and worked in but I had been formed and shaped for different things.
During my time down in London I had visited my ‘sending’ church, a place where I had served for a year, full-time. When I got there I found myself frustrated and restricted, ‘home’ had changed, or rather I had changed. The person I was is no longer and I had been shaped into something else. When did this change happen? I do not know but all I know is that it has happened.
C.S. Lewis tells the parable of two men travelling over the border from France to Belgium. One is awake at the crossing and could tell people the exact time of the change from France to Belgium, how he felt and how it happened. The other man is asleep and so doesn’t know those details, the only thing he is certain about is that he is now in Belgium. This parable describes the act of conversion but is useful for this scenerio as well… I am now in Belgium! (this analogy must stop here because I’ve been to Belgium and it’s not the same feeling being in Belgium as being in this new mindset!)
So what has changed?
The churches I had been a part of in the past were in a model of Church that was still set in a Christendom mindset. “What is Christendom?” I hear you ask. Well I had a vague understanding of this concept but I felt I needed to go and do some reading to help me process the frustration, difficulties of the placement in London and was recommended a book by Stuart Murray, ‘Post-Christendom’.
Before I go any further I’d like to give a brief review of the book and talk about the concepts it raises. If you’re anything like my wife and think that philosophical and theological debate is a little dull and you read these blogs for the story and personal touches then you may want to skip this bit!
‘Post Christendom’ is really insightful, well researched and has, on the whole, a balanced and fair assessment of the history of the Established Church, finding positives as well as negatives of the growth and changes of the Church in Europe (mainly) over the centuries. One problem I think I have with it is its Anabaptist bias. Anabaptists are a denomination of church that grew out of the Reformation and were, apparently, modelling post-Christendom structures and principles of church. This is the weakness of the book but I’m unsure how great this Anabaptist model of church was without further research.
The basic idea of Christendom, being put forward by Murray, is it is a geopolitical structure established, in part, by Constantine in the 4th century and was built around the Roman Empire and was translated for the Latin culture across Europe into the medieval period. Christendom was the development of a Jewish sect into, what we now know as, the established church of Christ. Christendom is the developed hybrid of state politics and institutional religion. There is a whole biblical interpretation that has grown up as ‘orthodox’ in this system along with an established way of doing church and mission. Murray goes through these and charts the development of ideas such as infant baptism becoming the normal practise, compared with the Early Churches favoured lengthy induction programme for those choosing faith.
Many theologians are now looking at the shift in Europe and the UK from Christendom to an unknown era, currently called ‘post Christendom’. Post Christendom is uncharted territory but needs careful consideration and thought as to how we structure church, engage in mission and interpret scripture. There are many thoughts on how this could be done but the main direction this thinking is taking is towards smaller communities that has a voluntary membership and induction, that prefers dialectic preaching which focuses on exploration of faith. When it comes to mission, so Murray suggests, this ‘post Christendom’ model of church will have a greater emphasis on priesthood of all believers to the extent that it is natural for all members to engage in mission because there will be little distinction between clergy and laity. leaders will be chosen from within the community based on spiritual maturity rather than academic and intellectual prowess.
Those of you who skipped that last bit you can start reading again!
I want to stress that the Christendom model of church (one that is leader led, clergy focussed, monologue based sermons, front led services, etc.) has its strengths. Christendom models of church emphasise a great call for networking, sharing resources and knowledge. The size and stretch of the ‘established/inherited’ church means that a faster impact can be made on our culture and those congregations that struggle financially are supported by others. Christendom is great at attracting those in the world who appreciate the heritage of England and the UK; the truth is Christendom is in this countries DNA whether we like it or not and so it’s important to acknowledge that and to maintain the strengths and positives of that heritage.
My personal issues with my placement church are that I don’t get excited nor do I see myself serving in this model of church. Up front leaders speaking monologue style at their congregation is too much like performance in a theatre. It gets complicated when trying to say that preachers aren’t ‘performing’ a sermon but sharing ideas and reflections on the world and the Word. From my experience leaders in this model of church sometimes pile a lot of pressure on themselves to drive the mission and vision of the church where I see a greater call for the community to drive things and the leader to be like the divine director (see ‘Divine Director (part I and II)‘ posts)
In the final days of my placement I was drawn to look at my journal which i have had since the start of my exploration of vocational ministry. I was struck by two things;
1) Words and pictures given to me years ago before I came to college clearly see me being ‘a part of a new movement’, a call to plant and grow communities and a sense of freshness to my ministry.
and 2) Ezekiel 3 (which has been a passage that has always struck me as important for my personal ministry) has a call to prophetic struggles from a prophet on the inside. It marks out the role of the prophet to call back to the margins those who are secure in the centre.
There’s a lot more reflections needed on my ministry but this new avenue of exploration has released me from a confusion that has clouded my thoughts throughout the placement and afterwards. As I head towards the beginning of my term time placement, I spend less time concerned with what this community will look like but whether I am a humble, sacrificial leader who is able to focus on Jesus as the perfecter of my faith. My discipleship is essential to my leadership.