Wonder of wonder, miracles of miracles! A Clergy Conference address worth listening to!
Martyn Percy of Cuddeson was invited to speak to the St Albans Clergy Conference in Swanwick last month1. In his first address he commented on the strange seductiveness of contemporary culture for the Church, and especially for a Church and minsters wanting to be effective, to make a difference. The problem comes because “We’ve found ourselves, strangely, as a Church, seduced into believing that numbers and success can be elided with faithfulness.” The Gospel has little, or nothing, to do with “numbers” and “success”, especially in the way those concepts are defined by the world. Rather, we should as a church be considering the reactions of the prophets to the experience of exile in Babylon:
You can imagine the Israelites in, say, Babylon, and those wonderful, whispering voices of Anglican accommodation that would’ve been around even then, turning round to the leaders and to the prophets saying, “Now look. We’re not really saying that we want to dump Jehovah. All we are saying is that the Babylonians have done really rather well for themselves. They have nice gardens. [Laughter] They seem to be running rather good water-systems. The roads are excellent, health-care provision is good. So, we’re really saying how about a bit of a mixed economy here? How about giving these gods a bit of a run, and keeping on with Jehovah, and let’s see how it goes?”
The prophets refused this easy, sophisticated, buy-in to their time and culture. Their message was “no” and “wait”. This is hard. As Percy went on to say:
There is no easy buy-out from your time in exile. The things you might want to do, to bring success, and growth, may ultimately do more harm than good. That’s a difficult thing to say. Some of the things we do in mission and in evangelism, give you short-term success, but medium- and long-term problems. A little bit like the Body of Christ taking steroids; it gives you plenty of critical mass, for just a little bit of effort, and it look great. But the medium- and the long-term-consequences can be disastrous.
Here Percy is talking about mission work and evangelism which focuses on “spirituality” rather than “Jesus” and thinks that you can camouflage all the demands of the Gospel behind words and practices like “latte” and “cafe”.
He concludes that he wants the Church to become much more deeply reflective about the things it “ingests” from the contemporary world. Things ingested grow within us, and may, may, may, produce wonderful, immediate results, with all the salving of egos and attention from archdeacons which go with that, but which may actually have deeply damaging long-term consequences. “Latte Spirituality” is one such thing, according to Percy.
The Church’s obsession with “Leadership” is another. It is the crack cocaine of ecclesiology, and because everyone you know has tried it, and liked it, and is on it, it becomes harder and harder to resist.
Welcome to the world of Jeremiah: “No” and “Wait”