Paul writes – I really enjoyed listening in on an all too brief conversation between Ian Mobsby and Brian McLaren – Ian in a cafe in London and Brian somewhere in the US (presumably). While only just over 30 minutes in duration there are some gems in it, things that will be affirming to some, and of value to others as the challenges and opportunities that lie before us are highlighted. Church leavers will appreciate some of Brian’s insights around what leaving churches do for people and their ability to create hospitable open-ended space for others. Brian’s comments on liturgy are also useful, and hopefully will encourage some to explore than important theme in more detail (cf. chapter 7 of Eugene Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer; The Spirit of Worship: The Liturgical Tradition by Susan J. White (introductory); Meeting Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments by Nathan D. Mitchell (brilliant, academic, and Catholic); The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger (again, Catholic, but very interesting). Also useful would be The Rite Stuff edited by Pete Ward; and Living the Eucharist edited by Stephen Conway. Robert E. Webber’s books would also be helpful in exploring the significance of liturgy).
The challenges that our churches face are the challenges that face all of humanity; we’re not exempt and nor should we be uninvolved in working to find solutions to the big challenges around ecology and the environment (pollution, diminishing fresh water etc), the downsides of globalisation, economic inequalities, global health issues (Malaria, HIV/Aids, infant mortality), war and violence etc.
Between Brian and Ian, and while not diminishing the challenges we all face by virtue of our shared humanity, they highlight the “church” challenges (which I’ve expanded on in places) as follows:
- We have to find a way out of having a strong identity that is not an identity over and against the “other”. For example, does being a Jesus-follower make me a better neighbour to people I don’t like, to those who hold different religious belief or no religious beliefs etc etc?
- We have a huge challenge around spiritual formation and discipleship. Brian used the term “saintliness”, i.e. do we help people grow in saintliness? I thought of Eugene Peterson and an interview with him – “The Business of Making Saints” – published in the Spring 1997 issue of Leadership. I see its online here.
- How do we induct new generations (children and youth) into community and new ways of being formed as God’s distinctive people; as Jesus-followers; as human beings created to “image” God and to see that “image” in others? How do we grow them as Christ-shaped, Spirit empowered human beings who are different and make a life-giving difference in God’s world? How does the Christian narrative, “gospel”, and practices of formation grow rather than diminish their humanity and their experience of life and living?
- We have to get increasingly comfortable with a "mixed economy" [I prefer “mixed ecology” and term I got from Ben Edson] approach to being church for the sake of the world, and in response to God’s invitations to join in with and partner him in his mission.
- Sexuality, and ironically McLaren sees the challenges as much bigger than the LGBT ones which many denominations are grappling with. In this respect I thought of Sarah Coakley’s paper which I referred to here.
- Stopping churches from being so hard on people’s humanity.
You can find the podcast here.