Anglican, Episcopalian

A few thoughts before I fly home

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I’m in Manchester for the Launch Europe event. My last engagement before flying out of London for Melbourne. I'm heading home after three years in Britain. Apologies to the readers of this blog and listeners to the podcast. With the move back home, a string of commitments and work on a new book, I’ve had to cut back on the blog and podcast.

I’ve been prompted to dive back in after news, as expected, that Australians have voted in favor of same-sex marriage. I’m not a cultural warrior. I’m not focused on saving Western civilization. My concern is the spread of the gospel, multiplying disciples and churches.

The world will do what the world does. And face the consequences. The great tragedy of this vote is how easily church leaders and ordinary believers forsake (or remain silent about) the clear teaching of the Scriptures.

The Anglican church in England has a leader who can’t say publicly whether same-sex sexual relations are right or wrong. He has endorsed a new transgender policy in Anglican schools. He has awarded an LGBT activist with the Thomas Cranmer Award for Worship. Cranmer was burnt at the stake rather than surrender his commitment to God’s Word.

These are not matters where we can agree to disagree. The teaching of Scripture is clear. Jesus was clear — you can choose to build your house on rock or sand. But you can't choose the consequences.

There is only one true church and that church is under the authority of God’s living Word and the Holy Spirit. The only way out of this morass is to return to being governed by the Word and the Spirit. It’s not easy in this cultural climate, but God gives grace for what he expects us to do. That’s the example Jesus set. He obeyed the Father regardless of the cost.

Any movement, church, individual believer, denomination, Christian organization that steps away from the safety and blessing of obedience, will face God’s redemptive judgment. He will defend his Word. He loves us that much.

The decline of the Anglican church in Britain — nothing new to report

The number of Anglicans in Britain has collapsed by 50 per cent in less than twenty years according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey.

Only 3% of adults under 24 describe themselves as Anglican.

More than half, 53 per cent, of the British public describe themselves as having no religion, the highest level ever.

This trend will continue. The Anglican church in Britain is in serious decline.

From a movements perspective, a religious organization has to align itself with three essential movement characteristics — obedience to the living Word, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus' prime directive to make disciples of the nations. To neglect any element is to court decline and eventual decay.

This is not a counsel of despair. The Word, the Spirit, and the mission are also the way back to life for any declining movement.

The lights are going out in Wales

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The governing body of the Church in Wales (Anglican) has met recently. They heard a report that average Sunday attendance has fallen below 1%.

The Revd Richard Wood described it as devastating, appalling, an embarrassment, and deeply depressing.

He recognised that the Church in Wales was attempting new things, such as pioneer ministry and licensed evangelists, and said that these would take time to produce fruit. But he was concerned about the “huge amount of time, effort, energy, and money [spent] on propping up stuff which has failed”.

He moved an amendment to the motion, to say that the Governing Body received the report “with a heavy heart”, and added a new clause calling for more research into what made a growing Church.

Good to hear they’ll be some research going on.

The Church in Wales ticks all the right boxes — economic justice, climate justice, same sex marriage and the inclusion of LGBT people. They drink Fair Trade coffee. They’re just a bit fuzzy on the gospel.

Can good management save the Church of England?

A report from the Spectator 

A new mood has taken hold of Lambeth Palace. Officials call it urgency; critics say it is panic. The Church of England, the thinking goes, is about to shrink rapidly, even vanish in some areas, unless urgent action is taken. This action, laid out in a flurry of high-level reports, amounts to the biggest institutional shake-up since the 1990s. Red tape is to be cut, processes streamlined, resources optimised. Targets have been set. The Church is ill — and business management is going to cure it.

Reformers say they are only removing obstacles that hinder the Church from growing. Opponents, appalled by the business-speak of some of the reports, object to what they see as a ruthless focus on filling pews.

According to the report two reforms in particular have generated headlines.

One is the plan to swipe £100 million from the Church’s investments to pay for more priests (target: a 50 per cent increase in trainee clergy by 2020).

The other is to give business-school training to bishops and deans and, more controversially, to identify a ‘talent pool’ of future leaders — in the official language, people ‘with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact’.

What can we say about all this from a movements perspective?

The Anglican church is right to be worried. All the signs are evident of institutional decline and decay.  Even worse, they are lagging indicators of a  demise that has been going on for a long time and there are no signs that it is going away.

On the not necessarily brighter side, religious institutions are incredibly resilient. Even if the trends show a terminal decline, life is more complicated than statistical predictions. The Anglican church is likely to be around for a very long time.

The Anglican church in Britain is not a movement. Movements risk what they have for a cause beyond themselves. Institutions protect what they have for their own survival.

By all means, cut red tape and rationalise resources. Sure this is good business practice, it’s also good family practice, good sporting club practice, good local school practice. Nothing wrong with that.

What about spending £100 million for a 50% increase trainee clergy by 2020?

More paid clergy does not equate to more and better leadership for the church of England. Dynamic movements are led by “lay” people unencumbered by traditional constrains. Yes, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican clergyman, but overwhelmingly the Methodist movement was led by ordinary people who did extraordinary things. They signed up for a cause, not a career.

The plan is to identify a talent pool of future leaders and develop people ‘with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact’. But what on earth does that mean?

So Jesus walks up to a bunch of ordinary fishermen mending their nets and says, ‘Lads, I’m looking for some people with exceptional strategic leadership potential for Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact.’ And they left everything and followed him.

Jesus didn’t commission any reports on the decline of God’s people. He didn’t have access to £100 million pounds to invest in future leaders. He wasn’t trying to save an institution. If there is any hope for new life in a declining institution it is by making an innovative return to tradition. Get back to first things—what did Jesus do? What did he train the Twelve to do? What did the risen Lord empower Paul and the early church to do in Acts and the Epistles? Get back to that heritage and ask, What does that look like today?

Mission is not about us, or saving our institutions. It is about God revealed in Jesus Christ. God’s mission is always advanced when his people obey his call and put their hope in the power of the Gospel — his dynamic Word, and the Spirit — his dynamic presence. Obedience to the Great Commission is just the beginning. God has not given up on Britain.

UPDATE: Church of England defends sale of assets for recruitment plan

RELATED:

Archbishops of Canterbury and York warn of Anglican collapse

John Sentamu & Justin Welby

John Sentamu & Justin Welby

From John Bingham at the Daily Telegraph:

The Church of England will no longer be able to carry on its current form unless the downward spiral its membership is reversed “as a matter of urgency”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned.

It could face a dramatic shortage of priests within a decade as almost half of the current clergy retire, according to the Most Rev Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu.

Meanwhile dwindling numbers in the pews will inevitably plunge the Church into a financial crisis as it grapples with the “burden” of maintaining thousands of historic buildings, they insisted.

But the two archbishops also called for the Church to invest more in building up its presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get its message across online as part of a “major programme of renewal and reform”.

Sunday attendances have halved to just 800,000 in the last 40 years – although the Church has previously claimed the decline has been levelling off in recent years.

Every year the figures are released, reports are written, and statements are made.

One thing for sure, this is not the solution:

If the Church of England is to return to growth, there is a compelling need to realign resources and work carefully to ensure that scarce funds are used to best effect.

Nor is this:

Last year The Rt Rev Christopher Goldsmith, the Bishop of St Germans, in Cornwall, warned that the church in the areas was facing a “death spiral” unless parishioners put more money in the offering plate.

This is not the real problem:

[The Archbishops] said the Church’s current arrangements for deciding each diocese’s allotment of clergy and cash are increasingly viewed as out of date and widely ignored.

Nor is this:

There is no central investment in reaching out into the digital and social media world.

No answer here:

The burden of church buildings weighs heavily and reorganisation at parish level is complicated by current procedures.

Perhaps it’s time for General Synod to reconsider progress on Challenges for the Quinquennium. That makes 21 things to do while you’re not multiplying disciples and churches.

The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves

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The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
— Shakespeare

It’s easy to blame external factors on church decline — post modernism, immigration, secularism, the economy. The great thing about external factors is that you don’t have control of them. A mood of defeat sets in. We do have control over internal factors — what we believe, what we do. 

Why is the church of England in decline? Here’s an internal factor worth considering…

According to a poll of Anglican clergy which found that as many as 16 per cent are unclear about God and two per cent think it is no more than a human construct.

In addition to those who describe God as a human creation, the YouGov poll found that three per cent believe there is some sort of spirit or life force and 9 per cent argue it is impossible to imagine what God is like.

Clergy were significantly more likely to hold unorthodox beliefs the older they were and the longer they had been in the ministry. Nearly 90 per cent of those ordained since 2011 believe in God compared with only 72 per cent of those who became priests in the 1960s, the research discovered.