Joy of joys, today was Synod. That day when two hundred Methodists sit on their backsides for six hours, listening to a select few speaking from the front. (It’s not quite that bad usually, but it can be like that.)
Today, our Synod had a theme: ‘The Invitational Church’. This was good for two reasons: (1) we focussed on mission; (2) business items were kept to a minimum (although the Spring Synod is usually the monster for bureaucracy).
In particular, we had a guest speaker, Michael Harvey, founder of Back To Church Sunday. I have never encouraged a church to take part in BTCS, because it seems to me it concentrates on getting that ever-smaller band of people, the dechurched, into our congregations, and overlooks that growing group, the unchurched. In fairness, BTCS can tell some success stories, and I shouldn’t be mean about them. My worry is that it plays into the notion of meeting people in our comfort zone.
But Michael Harvey had one vital gem for all of us today, whatever our perspective on mission. He pointed out that churches ‘eat strategies for breakfast’. We can come up with as many strategies as we like, but they will all fail, because the core reason people to not invite others to church (or engage in mission generally, I would argue) is fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of embarrassment. We use other words like ‘anxiety’ or ‘sensitivity’ but really we’re talking about fear. In other words, the key issue for mobilising the church in mission is attention to the inner life of existing Christians.
What do you think?
“Back to Church Sunday” is that back to a building, an institution? Or is it back to meeting people where they are? I like the second option if we’re talking about mission. When we ‘invest’ ourselves in a church family, we become vulnerable and that means fear is a constant companion. I think it is this fear of investment that perhaps makes people who are interested in Jesus shy away from an all-too-human institution. And sometimes the factors that make us overcome that fear are not the ones we read about in a textbook, they’re what I call the ‘indefinable’ element. Maybe the God element?
I know that I am often uncomfortable when trying to say what I believe to those “outside”. And that word “outside” is part of the problem – I fail to remember that no-one is outside: every person is within God’s love – each person is fully loved by God, whether or not that person recognises that at the moment or not.
But, shhhhhh… you may be asking me to Witness for Christ…