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!