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Archive for October, 2010

I’m still hiring!

Just a quick update to say that the Director of Children’s Ministries position (see post before last) is still open, and is now full time!

Anyone interested in a full time kids ministry gig, with enormous potential, get in touch.

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Synod is here, and it dominates – in time and thought – and so even though I have outstanding debts regarding population policy, I’m shifting to Synod business.

On Wednesday, we deal with an initiative in church planting. And I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with it.

It’s too nice.

I was at the Anglican Church League dinner. Al Stewart, who leads the soon-to-be-renamed ‘New Churches’ organization, gave the keynote address. His topic was church planting, and he made it clear why it was so necessary.

It’s because so many of our churches are decrepit.

The image he used was of a person getting old. When you get old you start losing your vision, your flexibility, your urgency, your creativity etc. You start to value order, comfort, predictability, you become risk averse and slow. The point of course – many of our churches are old churches, they are not doing the job (the reading was from Matt 25, and the challenge was put whether Jesus would say to us, ‘well done good and faithful servants’). And so we need to plant churches that will.

This may be true. But what is really clear is that it is the inadequacy of existing churches that is being used as the basis for church planting in a Diocese where we have plenty of space in our existing churches.

So here’s the point. The main problem with the church planting strategy is that it’s still too nice.

If inadequate churches are the problem, then we should have the courage to name them. To speak the unspeakable and instead of speaking in safe generalities, and name names. The issues that Al mentioned were reasonably objective, and although it may well be painful, it shouldn’t be too hard to defend this labelling. It’s just too easy to speak in general terms.

But with the labeling comes responsibility. Namely, the responsibility to help those churches turn around. Getting labeled should initiate a sequence of events. Along with a ‘New Churches’ ministry, we need a ‘Renewing Churches’ ministry. Its task would be to work with all labeled churches – Rector and members – for, say, 3 years. If at the end of the 3 years, there was no turn around, then the parish should be handed over to New Churches to do an effective church plant. Mission areas will never be able to do this job effectively – it takes more time, and more specific training, than mission areas can provide. It needs a structure in its own right, upon which mission area can call.

Of course, no one can coerce an Anglican church / Rector to do anything, so if a labeled church refused to participate, then New Churches would be free to proceed.

So here’s the challenge. Is anyone prepared to name names, and label 20 churches. (The label of course would be ‘Turnaround Prospect’).Better still would be to self-label.

The time has come to stop pretending, and letting the culture of niceness stop effective gospel ministry. There are a lot of sick, declining churches out there. But just plonking a plant in their parish is not the answer. We need to be more honoring than that. We need to be more accountable than that. And the accountability goes both ways – the Diocese should be accountable for providing a Renewing Churches ministry; and churches should be accountable if they are failing.

At the moment, we have half a strategy, and like a row boat with one oar in the water, the danger is that we just go round and round in circles.

The question is – do we have the courage to create a system that will do both halves of the job. I understand that in New York, the education system was turned around by a rigorous approach to failure – every year, they close down the worst performing 10% of schools. At the same time, they open new schools with new leadership and new DNA.

Of course, simply shutting down churches is too brutal, and frankly not necessary. St Matthias’ Centennial Park was fewer than 20 people before it was turned around in the late 70’s, and there are plenty of similar stories. It’s possible, it happens quite often. And it needs to happen more. And where it’s not happening, a New Church should be planted.

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