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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, February 19, 2003
    Radiating gratitude
     
    Interesting exchange on Steve TaylorÕs NZ Graceway site, in a blog titled Saddest blog entry IÕve ever read. Taylor quotes US church growth 'coach' Todd Hunter haunted by the perceived failure of "the celebrated approaches to Ôchurch growthÕ I employed my whole lifeÓ and left wondering Ówhy so many of us are on this upsetting journey of letting go of almost everything we've known regarding church?Ó:
      I once asked Eugene Peterson "why do you suppose my generation of pastors messed things up so bad" É He said ÒMost of you guys were not willing to be seen as unsucessful in the eyes of your peers, which in your era meant a rather mindless pursuit of numbers, growth and programs ran by professional managerial typesÓ
    Taylor writes: ÓThis guy has given his life to ministry and now sits there beating himself up about his cultural complicity. As well as admiring his vulnerability and courage, it leaves me with a some questions for all us so-called postmodern ie this generation of pastors; What might cause us to Òmess up so badÓ? What in .. [our] .. context might seduce us? I have a hunch that as we reflect on such questions, ToddÕs ministry might well become gift, not sadness.

    I think that's right. Certainly after the annual Liverpool University Anglican Chaplaincy Lecture which Rowan Williams delivered last night, an exquisite exploration on the theme, The Authority of the Church.

    Some - perhaps many - Ôauthority figuresÕ would approach that topic in such a way as to assert and bolster their own position. ThatÕs one ÔseductionÕ IÕd say to Steve Taylor we need to watch out for. Not Williams, though. Warm and seemingly relaxed in his own, and our company, his take on the churchÕs authority to represent God in the world, is to ask the questions,
      - Does it look as if weÕre listening to God?
      - Are we a people who look like weÕre being converted?
    What makes the church credible in conversation with the world around us, Williams says, is that we show that weÕre Ówilling to face the fact that we are not GodÓ, that we live Ótransparent livesÓ, which are Ógrateful not smugÓ:
      ÓA church that radiates gratitude has authority. It is serious ... but not too serious ... about itself.Ó
    Our business is to allow ourselves be transformed into people who can be believed, the church is to allow itself to cease being seduced into being a policeman and instead to concentrate on "letting God through".

    How far away all that is, from a Ómindless pursuit of numbers, growth and programsÓ. How liberating. Words of a great, and humble, leader.