I know I’m cheating. I said IASP was taking a break at least for July and August. But some things just can’t slip by unnoticed.

I could hardly be expected to ignore the story about the Church of England that appeared online yesterday at The Spectator: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9583672/gods-management-consultants-the-church-of-england-turns-to-bankers-for-salvation/

According to features writer and editor Mark Greaves something is happening at head office in the Church of England. Greaves reports,

A new mood has taken hold of Lambeth Palace. Officials call it urgency; critics say it is panic.

The “new mood” is motivated by the fact that,

The Church of England, the thinking goes, is about to shrink rapidly, even vanish in some areas, unless urgent action is taken.

So, a culture shift is being planned to save Church of England patrons from becoming an extinct species in the new two decades. The church is planning to get organized. Church leaders are being urged to take on a more business-like approach to church life. Greaves writes,

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’.

Provoking more anxiety, though, is the emphasis on growth in numbers. Half of the central fund distributed to help poorer dioceses is to be diverted to support thriving projects.

Is developing a “‘talent pool’ of future leaders” really God’s strategy to save the church? Is God interested in “Gospel, Kingdom and Church impact”?

No doubt I am just old-fashioned and stuck in my ways. But, it is hard for me to see Jesus in “business-school training” for church leaders. Of course churches have to be organized and responsible with their resources. No one is well-served by sloppy management structures or lazy leadership.

But, the Gospel is not a product to market.The church is not intended to be a well-oiled machine churning out effective little disciples able to “impact” the lives of unsuspecting non-churchgoers.

The Gospel is about relationship. It is about nurturing a relationship with the ineffable hidden reality that lies at the source of all creation.

Relationships are notoriously messy and unpredictable. This is as true in a relationship with God as it is with any human manifestation of divine love.

Relationships that become systematized, programmed, and packaged for easy consumption, are not the relationships to which Jesus called his followers.

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds the landowner replies to his workers’ inquiry about whether they should separate the wheat from the weeds saying,

“No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” (Matthew 13:29)

The presence of weeds among the wheat would undoubtedly hinder the efficient growth of the desired crop. It is a risk Jesus was willing to take to avoid any danger to one stalk of wheat that might be harmed by the determination of the labourers to root out the undesirable weeds so the wheat might grow into a prosperous/successful crop.

Jesus was willing to abandon an entire flock of sheep for the sake of one lost sheep. He asks,

‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?(Luke 15:4)

How irresponsible, un-cost-effective, and dangerous to leave 99 sheep “in the wilderness” to seek the one sheep that has gone astray. This is not a strategy calculated to grow the flock. It is a strategy that understands the inestimable value of the most significant member and governs itself by a paradigm that makes little sense in the efficiency models that drive the world’s organizations.

Churches are not in the business of growing smoothly functioning communal machines. We are in the business of nurturing authenticity, genuineness, and compassion. The church aims to nurture deep questioning, and vulnerable love. This may make it more difficult to attract large crowds. But, the last time I read the Gospels, the picture of Jesus I saw was a dismal failure in the numbers game.

The Gospel calls us, not to spectacular achievement, but to the willingness to lay down our lives in the face of the vast mystery of beauty and light that resides at the heart of life.

Jesus said,

those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.(Matthew 16:25)

God may be less interested in saving the church than in nurturing “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and inner strength,” (Galatians 5:22,23) whether or not these qualities attract more people in the doors on a Sunday.

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nb: if the Christian Church really wants to grow in North America, we might want to learn from those religious bodies that do have a demonstrated ability to grow in our current context.

According to the 2010 edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, produced by the National Council of Churches between 2008 and 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints grew 1.71 percent to 5,873,408 members and the Assemblies of God grew 1.27 percent to 2,863,265 members.

Other churches that continued to post membership gains are Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 2 percent to 1,092,169 members, and Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), up 1.76 percent to 1,053,642 members.

http://www.ncccusa.org/news/100204yearbook2010.html

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