ARTICLES, SERMONS & DISCUSSION
What is your local church?
of the stock phrases in government-speak these days is ‘service
provider’. The bank, the solicitor’s, the doctor’s surgery, the
hospital, the bus company - all are categorised as ‘service
providers’. As such they are expected to ‘give the public what they
want’ or perhaps to give them ‘what they have the right to
expect’. And they must conform to ‘certain standards’ of
efficiency, ‘health and safety’, the Disability Discrimination Act
and so forth.
such, the church might at first be thought of by some as a ‘service
provider’. Doesn’t it, after all, provide church services?
This is certainly the way it is frequently spoken of.
I would like to suggest that this ‘consumerist’ model of the church
is misleading and not altogether helpful. Here are some points to
As is so often said, the church is not a building but the people
who go to it. You can have a church without a building; but if a church
building is not attended it’s not really a church. And the question
will arise whether it should remain open.
The church can only be run from the resources it can muster.
These include: people, goodwill and money.
The church everywhere in the West is going through a difficult
and challenging time. It is not just that we are short of people to do
the work (I am trying to do the work that four people did 50 years ago),
or the money we need to pay for this work. These things are just
symptoms of a more general cultural upheaval which all of us have been
going through. This cultural upheaval is a major force in our lives, and
takes in the following.
a breakdown of the fabric of our society. This includes the
breakdown of the stories and attitudes that used to nourish and sustain
us, i.e. a basic set of beliefs and loyalties, a sense of beauty, and a
sense of community.
perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.
I needed to pose the question: what is the church for anyway?
Popular ideas vary enormously. Here are seven things which could be
these seven are all interconnected, I would like to emphasise the last
point as the most important. For many, it will be strongly linked with
my second: the celebration of the Christian Tradition. And I suppose we
must agree that, by definition, you can’t have a church without
Christianity. And yet. Isn’t it is also true that some affirm
Christianity with a strong certainty but without much sense of loyalty
or love for their fellow human beings, and in a way that judges and
excludes them? Would a
group of such people be a valid church?
Surely not. Many of us would prefer to belong to a church of
peace-loving and inwardly warm ‘atheists’ and agnostics!
This is why I am saying that the community aspect, the fellowship
and loyalty, is of supreme importance.
the way, speaking of atheists, did you know that the earliest Christians
were called atheists? This
was because they did not believe in the gods that others believed in at
that time. Instead, they wanted to affirm their ‘community values’ -
their love and loyalty to one another, their fellowship with others of
like mind, and their need to give and receive forgiveness - by the
sharing of bread and wine. This is what made them into a church.
To those who still want a church in their village, here’s a suggestion. Forget about the idea of ‘service provider’. Consider, rather, what you could do to make us a focus of true community.
© ASF 2006
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