Reform Conference 09

The Reform conference brings together a strange mix of individuals. It’s not just the FCA that gathers a broad coalition of disaffected Anglicans. I think Reform got there first. The angry young men pile in from theological college and their first curacies. The disaffected retirees flood in from the home counties despairing that Anglicanism isn’t what it used to be. And the battle scarred incumbents meet up to compare wounds after their latest brush with the Diocesan hierachy. It’s an eclectic gathering. And the idea that we could actually reform anything seems preposterous. We can barely get the sound system to work! But at the end of the day, these guys are my guys. They stand where I stand. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have gone. And I wouldn’t remain an Anglican.

The programme didn’t look that exciting. I got a sneak peek back in the summer when a Council Member asked me what I thought of the line up. I think I said that there was no one I wanted to get out of bed for! It takes two hours on the scooter up to Hoddesdon. About 90 minutes of that is through Central London. There’s no fun in that. Not even on my new maxi-scooter. But I went, out of loyalty and to keep Jonathan Fletcher quiet at the next Reform Southwark meeting. And it’s just possible that my boss may have mentioned something about wanting me there!

I heard three talks. One by Paul Perkin, Vicar at St Mark’s Battersea Rise, on engaging with the Diocese. One by Chris Green, Vice Principal at Oak Hill Theological College, on training gospel ministers. And the last one was by the Co-Mission Senior Pastor, Richard Coekin on evangelism.

Paul’s wasn’t what I was expecting. Given that he and I belong to the same Dicoese I was expecting something along the lines of contending for the truth. Classical evangelicals and the Diocese of Southwark aren’t exactly singing off the same hymn sheet. What we got was a really astute analysis of the way organisations work and deal with change. It’s a while since I last looked at a normal distribution curve, but Paul used them to great effect. He explained how traditionalists, conservatives, progressives and radicals make up each Diocese. Taditionalists resist change at any price. Conservatives will accept change only if we can ‘afford’ it with the resources we have. Progressives seek change in response to vision, or the circumstances demand it. Radicals seek change for change’s sake. It was stimulating stuff. If But if I have one slight criticism, it would be that though Paul gave us an insightful analysis of the way our Diocesan Officials think and position themselves, he didn’t tell us how to respond.

Chris spoke on ministry training. He took us to Acts and showed us that the two main churches mentioned in that book are Jerusalem and Antioch. Jerusalem was the first mega-church. Antioch launched the first church planting network. He reminded us that the needs for staffing each type of church are very different. Jerusalem needs specialists. Antioch neeeds generalists. I’ve long argued the same thing. I just didn’t know how to justify it from the scriptures! I benefited hugely from the reminder that the fivefold commitment for each church should be; membership, maturity, ministry and mission so that we might magnify God. It’s vintage Rick Warren from The Purpose Driven Church. Chris made a couple of modifications. He wanted to add a sixth dimension to local church ministry; multiplying through church planting. And rather than represent the diagram as a diamond he made it into a house so that we can talk about the chruch being built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. Neat. My issue with Chris’ talk was so minor I didn’t even think it was worth asking in question time. He suggested that his first curate would be a specialist in one particular area in which he was weak. I agree with that, in part. However, I still want someone at CCB who’s a generalist. I want someone who’s generally good at everything, not specifically good at one thing. And the reason for that is that I want us to replicate ourselves in a church plant. Church planters needs to be generally good at everything. And so if we do want multiplication through planting we need to give experience to and train up generalists. A minor point not completely at odds with what Chris was saying.

I was looking forward to hearing Richard speak. But once again, he was pidgeon holed.  They gave him evangelism. It’s usually that, or church planting. I enjoy listening to Richard teach. I especially enjoy it when he teaches the Bible. He sees so much that I fail to see. He makes me a better Bible teacher and that’s good for our congregations. He’s brilliant on training and strategy but we don’t hear him outside Co-Mission on that. And I’ve heard him so many times on evangelism I could probably give the talk myself. In fact, I probably have! And so I wasn’t expecting anything new. But it was good. He got us to think about three beneficial partnerships. First, partnerships in local churches amongst the staff team, the congregation and the various church ministries. Secondly, partnerships with other local Anglican churches in relating to the Diocese, in forming political affilitaions to take action and with parachurch organisations to advance the gospel cause. Thirdly, partnerships with other evangelical churches in church planting mini-movements [like Co-Mission], ministry fraternals and regional gospel partnerships [like the SEGP].

All three talks will be available on the Reform website and are worth listening to.

Question time was interesting. It could have gone on for longer and would have been esepcially useful. The panel was hosted by William Taylor and consisted of Chris Green, Richard Coekin and David Holloway. David’s best reply was to say that if someone had been an incumbent for seven years and hadn’t got the PCC on side it was his own fault. You’ve got to have done the hard yards to get away with saying that. David has. John Richardson asked whether Reform had a strategy for reaching rural communities. He argued that since most of the country was countryside we ought to give our attention to that! If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest amongst evangelical anglicans talk about the priority and value of urban or rural ministry. The population of London is bigger than the combined populations of the next nine biggest UK cities. The people are in the cities. They’re especially in London. For my money we should expend our energies on thinking through a rural strategy when plants become more important than people!

15 thoughts on “Reform Conference 09

  1. Pete Matthew October 15, 2009 / 5:17 pm

    And does your curate match those requirements you mention?!?

    • theurbanpastor October 15, 2009 / 6:04 pm

      What can I say? You set them up for me and I’ll dunk ’em.
      He’s a generalist, that’s for sure. He’s generally rubbish at everything. Boom! Boom!
      And Pete, don’t let your wife see this comment – she’ll kill me!

  2. Pete Matthew October 15, 2009 / 6:50 pm

    He’s learning from the master!!

  3. Chris Green October 15, 2009 / 7:13 pm

    Quibbles, quibbles. Good to know I had someone’s support!

  4. Sarah October 15, 2009 / 9:30 pm

    I look forward to discussing in Ministry Matters why being part of Reform is the only thing that keeps you an anglican…

  5. Brian o'Donoghue October 15, 2009 / 9:56 pm

    Thanks for saving me the travel time.

  6. David Keen October 17, 2009 / 11:43 am

    Thanks, good to hear evangelicals talking about mission rather than sex. Trouble is, we only get reported if we talk about sex.

  7. John Richardson October 17, 2009 / 4:16 pm

    No matter how many people live in the cities, some of them do live in the countryside – and rural (or in our case semi-rural) churches often contain some of our entrepreneurs and big earners who can contribute to the ministry of the church (even, dare I say, in the cities).

    Unfortunately, the rural scene is being reduced to mega-parishes, often staffed by part-time clergy and these are all too often theologically liberal.

    What I’d like to see (and I’ll guess I’ll have to invent one!) is a coherent evangelical approach to rural ministry, where the opportunities are great, as well as to urban ministry.

    BTW if the percentages attending church in our rural benefice where replicated in a typical urban environment of 7,000 plus parishioners, we ought to have a congregation of 300+, which some people would think was going some.

    • theurbanpastor October 19, 2009 / 7:12 pm

      Thanks John
      I take your point.
      At CCB, we’re indebted to the sacrificial generosity of guys who live in the regions who have made it possible to take on students from Cornhill.
      It does seem inappropriate to take the cash from the guys who’ve moved out and then not give them a good guy to run their church!
      But, as you’d expect, I’m convinced that
      1. If they can, Christians should try and live in the cities and not move out to the countryside. It won’t be for everyone but it could be for some.
      2. As a constituency we need to try and reach the regional population centres; I don’t just mean London, though the size of the place is overwhelmingly large, I mean cities like Birmingham, large towns like Bournemouth, and market towns like Banbury. I just don’t think sticking a good guy in Croughton, the village where I grew up is a sensible strategy for reaching the country for Christ.
      But you knew I’d say that, didn’t you!

  8. sarah October 17, 2009 / 10:59 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the conference. I think a rural strategy for Reform is important. As if you want to reach England you have to reach the countryside. If you want to catch the next generation early you have to move out to the countryside…as that where the majority of young families are.

    • theurbanpastor October 19, 2009 / 7:06 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that to reach England we need to reach the countryside. Hailing as I do from the regions I’m concerned that the good news of teh gospel is heard up and down the land. I guess Christians will debate what the best way to do this is. I’m not convinced that the best strategy is to send guys out to plant chruches in the countryside. I think that we probably need to think in terms of gettinggood guys running churches in regional centres and then spread out from there. But I know that won’t go down well everywhere.

  9. John Richardson October 20, 2009 / 2:48 pm

    I suppose part of the (obvious) problem is that here I am, courtesy of Dick Farr, slogging away in the countryside and this makes it look like I shouldn’t be here! But if I were not here, who would be, and what would happen to our folks and the surrounding people if there were no evangelicals – the rest of our surrounding parishes being fairly ‘liberal’ theologically?

    • theurbanpastor October 21, 2009 / 4:34 pm

      And I understand that John. But surely where God has currently placed us shouldn’t necessarily shape what we advise others to do, should it?
      I’ve not found a way of talking about a sensible strategy prioritising major urban centers without making much loved friends feel that they’ve made a bad decision! In talking up urban church ministry I don’t want to denigrate rural church ministry. That would be ungodly. I’m just not sure that sending others out into the countryside is the best use of our gospel resources. I need to find a way of saying that as well as saying isn’t great that people like you and Tim Chapman and others are reaching people with the gospel.
      best wishes

  10. Mark O'Donoghue October 23, 2009 / 7:43 am

    Perks, thanks for the summary and also for your gracious exchange with John about rural and city ministry. Above all, thanks bro for your steadfast call for us to commit to the cities of the UK.

    As someone whose city ministry has benefitted over the years from the rural ministry of Dick, John and others, and who has tried (albeit in a small way) to serve their ministries, what we all long to see, I guess, is real gospel partnership between churches like theirs and churches like ours.

    That being said, when I encourage men and women to consider serving Jesus in a paid full-time role, I am constantly urging them to commit to the cities, not simply because it is where the overwhelming majority of our population live, and not simply because the urban centres are filled with non-evangelical ministries (whether liberal or anglo-catholic), but also because it seems so hard to persuade evangelicals to come to the cities.

    John, do work on a strategy for reaching the rural areas, and then turn your skills to a strategy for reaching our cities, and then perhaps we might draw some evangelicals (whose ministries we respect, love, thank God for, etc) out of the suburbs!
    Blessings to you both,
    your brother

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