Why was it that, having just heard an enthusiastic man speak passionately about selfless people who take enormous risks to share the story of Jesus in communist countries in Asia, I found myself cringing at a photo showing a person playing a guitar in front of a small congregation of people?
Up until that moment all I had was admiration for their courage, their sacrifice and determination to go to people living in inhospitable conditions and share hope and initiate life-transforming projects amongst the poor and marginalised. But as I saw the guitar something dawned on me – this popular instrument is responsible for the globalisation of churchianity as I currently know it. We all know that guitars in most church contexts are only used to perform 4 chords and to rendition the obligatory middle-of-the-road soft rock/country tones of the evangelicals, and I knew that this small group of people who were journeying into faith were, in all likeliness, singing the same songs and tunes sung in churches all over the world. And a little tear formed in my heart.
The guitar is a weapon of Christian globalisation – it is a powerful leadership tool that commands respect and attention, that dominates its context and imposes and controls what people are expected to do. I am sure no well-meaning gap-year student or long-term missionary has any desire to unleash such arsenal, but I wonder, if guitars and Western songs, even historical hymns, were banned when sharing the Jesus-story in pioneer contexts, what beauty and culturally-wondrous worship would emerge? Would local people cease to follow the flute of the pied piper and, instead, create their own songs and expressions of worship and wonder?
Contextualisation is a loud cry of the missional and incarnational church movements … and the humble guitar is, in my humble opinion, one of its greatest enemies. There are few places yet untouched by this globalised worship. Perhaps mission agencies have a responsibility to create nature reserves around such peoples, protecting them from further unnecessary pollution and disturbance and enabling the story of Jesus to emerge from the cultures that already exist?
I was delighted today when I read my copy of The Urban Bulletin that Terry Drummond, the Bishop of Southwark’s adviser on Urban and Public Policy, had kindly written a review of the book I recently wrote about the work of Urban Expression. I was also happy to hear from the publishers that the ebook version is now available. You can find it on Amazon and other main outlets or at Troubador.
Terry Drummond writes:
The importance of the Church in urban communities can never been under-estimated and is even more important when half of the world’s population live in cities. The presence of Christian disciples offering worship, service and outreach can frequently offer the saving grace that ensures that individuals and families are given a space for personal development.
In reading this book I was introduced to a group that I had heard spoken of for many years, but without ever having any contact. Urban Expression, which one of the founders Juliet Kilpin describes in this book, is an example of the Church at work through the ministry of believers who have made a commitment to living out the incarnation in urban communities.
The chapters are a combination of the descriptions of the history of the development of Urban Expression, followed by the testimony of different members who have been a part of the various outworking over 15 years. The chapters all end with a prayer and in every case these are reflections that can be used by the reader to open themselves to a deeper relationship with God.
The importance of Urban Expression is, in part, found in its ability to work outside the structures of the institutional Church. The members commit themselves to living out the Christian message by sharing a life in community that is rooted in worship, that leads to outreach in the local community. The message of St. Francis ‘preach the Gospel, use words only if you must’ are reflected in these pages. The sharing of meals and parties that bring people of different cultures together is an example of how, through knowing their neighbours, the members of Urban Expression build a sense of community.
The Christian underpinning and commitment may not always be known or recognised by the community who come to take part in meals and parties; it is more important that fellowship is shared and life together is celebrated. The importance of the celebration is that in most cases the ministry is with people for whom poverty and exclusion are a part of their daily existence.
In the Gospels, Jesus eats and parties with tax collectors and sinners, much to the annoyance of the religious leaders. In this way he ensured that His message was shared with those who were excluded and criticised by those with power. In the same way Urban Expression brings the message of salvation and grace in to communities where the institutional Church is not always strong.
It is important that the message of Urban Expression, with its commitment to living out the incarnation, is celebrated and shared with the wider Church. It is of equal importance that we recognise that it is in a wide mix of expressions of faith, both formal and informal, that Christians continue to serve in urban communities. There is no one right way of ministering, just a glorious mix of people working together in seeking to bring the message of the kingdom to urban communities.
In Urban To The Core Juliet Kilpin, with others, tells a story of how the Christian message can be lived out by those who are called to a life of community that serve in a neighbourhood and brings the message of hope to many who are all too often caught up in hopelessness. The reader is invited on a journey of exploration and at every stage they will be challenged to a deeper understanding of what living out the incarnation can mean for those who are called to live in urban communities.
Twenty years ago, whilst in the process of having my calling for ordained Baptist ministry tested, I was asked by a key interviewer if I was a man in a skirt.
This week-end we saw a woman in a skirt take the most prominent role in the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
If this rate of change continues, I wonder if in another twenty years we might see man in a skirt in a position of Baptist leadership? ;-)
BMS World Mission reported today that more than a century after BMS missionaries arrived in Mizoram, Baptists in the north east Indian state have ordained their first-ever female pastor.
Dr R L Hnuni was officially installed at the Assembly of the Baptist Church of Mizoram (BCM) last month. Her appointment was described as a a ‘bold move in such a male-dominated society’
I would like to offer my congratulation to Dr R L Hnuni and to the Baptist Church of Mizoram. We in the UK may sometimes feel that ‘Majority World’ nations such as India are ‘behind’ us in some developments, but I would like to honour the fact that it only took them approximately 100 years of baptist presence to get to this point as opposed to the 310 years it appears to have taken our British baptist family according to the history on the Baptist Union website.
Well done India! I’m trying to take the log out of my eye instead of looking at the speck in yours :-)
Neil Brighton recently complied a top ten list of people whose opinions he considers baptists need to listen to as we face major changes in the way we do things in BUGB – people he suggests could positively influence the future shape: people he would invite if he wanted to start a denominational conversation.
I am flattered that Neil included me on that list amongst people I respect so highly. Neil’s post has generated lots of responses and helped kick start a conversation in the blogosphere. It seems to me that the names on the list are not so important but the conversation is. It seems to me that it is the value of being heard that is key to so much and it’s not just a baptist thing.
The Guardian and the London School of Economics released their findings from their research into the reasons behind the riots last week. A short summary video was featured on Question Time and there is a link to it here. A friend who was taken on as one of the researchers said the film was very accurate.
Reading the Riots
There is a lot to ponder from the film but one key aspect is that of those on the margins feeling like they are not being heard. Whether they are unemployed young people with lack of aspirations and hope for the future, or members of particular ethnic communities who feel repeatedly mistreated by the police, or campers outside St Paul’s who feel they are paying for the bankers’ bonuses, all have something in common – they feel unheard. Martin Luther King is often attributed to have said that ‘riots are the voice of the unheard’.
But the key question is HOW can people’s voices be heard in a genuine way which can affect change (rather than a ‘let me talk with you but we’ve already decided what we’re going to do’ way)?
I am sure some of you have more constructive suggestions than me regarding the future shape of baptist witness in Britain, but one proposal I mentioned in a conversation at Baptist House in the summer was why not hold an event at Baptist House once or twice a year when anyone (lay or ordained, well-known or unheard of) who thinks they have a practical, visionary idea for how an aspect of the Union’s life can work even better can come and share their idea. Not so much a Dragon’s Den type of event where you have to impress and win over defensive stake-holders, but more like a TED conference where those known to have a specialism are invited with no agenda, simply to bring their constructive visions for what could make our little, passionate family even more effective at the task we are called to, in the hope that they may connect with others who can help mould the dream and potentially make it a reality. It seems to me that we are living in a age with many questions and uncertainties and in that era idea-sharing becomes a creative starting point (as modelled by the Bank of Ideas). Just an idea anyway!
And just for fun, one seasonal image crossed my screen this week which seemed relevant on the theme of influence: