Looking forward to speaking at Moorlands College this week. They have asked me to speak (for a couple of hours) on the key challenges and opportunities facing evangelicals in the UK. I do not claim to have anything like a panoramic view of the evangelical scene – so thought I would post the issues as I see them and then ask my social media community to make their contributions. Hopefully that way we get a fuller and more accurate picture of what is going on. I have not worked out an order of priority – so feel free to make comments on that too:
5 key challenges
1. Uncertainty of the gospel leads to confusing gospel & culture
Despite a greater sense of missional vision in churches across the UK (see later) we are still struggling to articulate the gospel in “non excruciating” (as one student put it to me recently) ways. There is a growing embarrassment over using words in mission and when we do use words they are often borrowed words from one time bound articulation of the gospel rather than a biblically faithful, culturally relevant and Spirit dependent words.
2. Uncertainty of our role in Public life leads to retreat or Christendom
What is our role in relating to government and media? For some our country has departed so far from biblical values and norms that there is a retreat into a christian ghetto such that there is a complete withdrawal of the church from public life. For others they see our main job as trying to reinforce Christendom – for the church to reassert its once dominant role in the shaping of public life. For the latter this often revolves around hot button issues such as : abortion, euthanasia and sexuality. This leads to sadly a lack of grace in the way that we relate to government and media. There is another way to engage in public life. We look for what Leslie Newbigin called a genuinely missionary encounter with our culture. We assume that PostChristendom is a new opportunity for engagement – we seek to build a relationship with our culture in the same way that the early church did and that cross cultural missionaries have done for generations. We start with finding ways to bless babylon rather than continually chastise it.
3. Personality Driven Tribes and Market forces leads to Empire Building & replication
There is a lot of resource within the evangelical world – but a lot of it is being utilised in ways that encourage competition rather than co-operation. Because of the previous two issues: uncertainty about the gospel and relationship with the wider culture we have retreated into a christian subculture that is often defined by which evangelical tribe we are in or which personality we follow. So there are a number of parallel conferences, training initiatives, mission agencies that basically all do the same things but are divided over personality conflict, style or secondary theological issues. Our impact rather than being amplified is dissipated, the combined resources we have are huge but sadly the problem is we are busy building empires rather than seeking the kingdom.
4. Discipleship Deficit leads to Consumer Christians
As Bishop Graham Cray often points out, our culture is better at discipling us than the church. Because we have not adequately discipled our children, young people, emerging adults, adults and older people – our culture has done the job for us. There are many positive elements in our culture but there are some that are destructive. The Consumer, self-centred side to our culture is having far reaching consequences into the life, worship, teaching and mission of the church. As a result one of the key areas we are seeing catastrophic losses is the missing generation of twenty somethings who are not virtually absent from the life of the church. We are not equipping people to live life in the footsteps of Jesus and so when they get hit by the disciplemaking machine of our culture they have no defences and are blown away. With so many people wiped out of effective Christian life and service we are unable to effectively reach this generation with the gospel. It’s time we rediscovered the church as a disciple making community.
5. Colonialism and Good Intentions
One of our problems in the UK is that a colonial superiority complex lingers on and so we don’t know how to work well with our brothers and sisters in the global church. We could really use their help right now rather than us exporting some of our Christian subculture their way. A lot of the ways we relate to the rest of the global church is well intentioned but often inappropriate, arrogant and driven more by good marketing than good sense.
1. Greater sense of unity experienced across cities and towns and villages
The national scene may be seeing more tribalism, repetition and competition but across cities and towns we are seeing a greater willingness to work collaboratively than I can remember. Thanks to initiatives like HOPE, Foodbanks, CAP, Street Pastors etc, lots of local unity movements are springing up. My friend Roger Sutton in his work with the Evangelical Alliance is now in touch with nearly 100 of these local initiatives. Churches seeking the welfare of the city, seeking to reach out with good news to their communities are working together shoulder to shoulder.
2. More churches seeking to be holistic in their mission
It’s hard to find a church in the UK that is only doing Sunday Services and House group meetings. Most churches are doing something to reach out to their community. There is a greater appreciation of holistic / integral mission in the churches than I can remember. True this sometimes means we find it easier to do social transformation than evangelism – but at least we believe we ought to be doing both! I am working on a project at the Evangelical Alliance to address how we do the words part better of word and deed mission. (www.eauk.org/confidence)
3. Better social media communications networks
Communication is so easy – this must be an opportunity for us to be a body, a network, a connected generation of disciples seeking to bring transformation, hope, goodnews to our world. If James Davison Hunter is right that the key to significant social change is to network thinkers, leaders, doers in all sorts of spheres of influence – then the technology is there ready and waiting.
4. Strength and Wisdom in the Global Church
Our brothers and sisters throughout the world have been wrestling with the challenges of living as the people of Godin tough situations for a long time now. Our brothers and sisters never knew what it was like for the Church to have social significance, money and power and yet the gospel has been spreading at an amazing rate through Latin America, Asia and Africa. There is much to learn from their perseverance, creativity, faithfulness and courage.
5. Last but not least The Holy Spirit’s ability to transform any situation for God’s glory
I believe God’s power, glory and purposes have not changed. The same God that took a small minority of bedraggled and persecuted believers and used them to turn the world upside down is still alive and well today. The same God that helped to reform the church from heresy and hypocrisy in the reformation. The same God empowered Martin Luther King to turn the tide on racism through the civil rights movement. The same God helped Wilberforce and the abolitionists to turn the tide on slavery. He can turn the tide on the church in Europe.
So over to you…
There’s my first stab. What would you say are the key opportunities and challenges? Drop me a line below.