A genuine grace saturated culture? Don’t lose the challenge

This is kind of a postscript or P.S following my two articles on Evangelical futures.  There’s a further PPS to come in a few days where I want to talk about the positive aspects of Australian/Sydney Anglican influence on UK Evangelicalism.

In this article I want to talk about two linked things that primarily are a follow on to my article “There’s more to reformed evangelicalism than this.” In that article, I highlighted some positives about UK conservative evangelicalism but I don’t want us to become complacent.

What about world mission?

The first reason is this. Eddie Arthur in a passing twitter comment observed that neither Glen’s original article nor my engagement had said anything about world mission and the many people outside of the UK that have never heard the Gospel. His challenge was that conservative evangelicalism has become inward looking.  Now, in Glen and my defence, we both were writing to quite a tight scope. We didn’t talk about world mission but then we didn’t talk about a lot of things that we could have done. I wouldn’t read too much in to that.

As with other aspects of evangelical culture and theology, I think there’s much to be excited about concerning UK church engagement in world mission. Our church has recently sent to young people into long term Gospel mission, one here in the UK to work with students, the other over seas to a lesser reached context.  At our previous church we sent young people on short term mission to Indonesia, Bolivia and New Zealand.  Some of us were involved in visits to Egypt.  I personally have friends serving in a wide range of countries. Others will have similar anecdotal stories.

However, whilst I don’t have the figures, I’m sure that Eddie is right in his assessment that the overall trends are not so good.  There may be a few reasons for that.  One may simply be about how we communicate about mission.  Another might be the narror focus of the so called Blokes Worth Watching method which focused on identifying potential vicars.  A third consideration might be that we can expect specific missions movements to arise out of particular awakenings and moves of God. Should we expect the same numbers and the same level of interest over time?  These last two points push us back to a potential root issue which is the shared theme with my second point.  If we want to see people engage with and be motivated about world mission then they need to be captivated by the grace of the Gospel. That means we need churches saturated in a culture of grace.

Different names -same challenges

As I indicated in my last article, many people hadn’t heard of Iwerne Camps and people like Jonathan Fletcher. We can over-estimate their influence even within conservative evangelical Anglicanism.  Lots of people never attended a talk by a Sydney Anglican. Plenty haven’t read The Trellis and the Vine. 

Does this mean that we have a clean bill of health then?  Well, no, I don’t think it does.  Independent church circles may not feel like the Rugby locker room but according to Glen’s source, they do feel like a football changing room.  This means that, particularly as complementarians, FIEC and New Frontiers churches have to think about whether we consider what and how might women be called.[1]

It means that we shouldn’t lose this comment from my earlier article:

And if it sounds like I’m having a go at Anglicanism, I’m also aware of people discovering that a person has been head hunted within independent evangelicalism or of applicants for pastoral posts discovering that they’ve been bumped down the list at the last minute because someone has decided that the job is just right for someone who hadn’t even been in the process until two days ago.


And I would encourage you to consider some of the other things I and others have been saying for some time. Naomi’s focus is on women but could it be that there are brooder issues within eider conservative evangelicalism, it’s not just the Anglicans, it’s not just the South East.  We have our significant churches -are you connected to the right one?  This means that people presume about churches because of their name and historic reputation. I remember someone starting one of those infamous conversations with me once “so how is your church doing?” They really meant “how many people go there? How big is it?”  Eventually I told them.  They looked shocked “I didn’t think that it was that size.”  The assumption was that we were a tiny little place. Now, it isn’t about numbers but as with out experience, there are churches that are below the radar that have multiplied, planted, grown and more importantly had a significant impact on their community. But because they aren’t famous, because they aren’t well connected, you won’t hear their story told. You won’t see their pastor speaking at this or that conference. And if you are from that church, you may be familiar with the dreaded networking experience my friend Steve Kneale sometimes talks about where a person will be literally looking past you whilst talking to you seeking the opportunity to get closer to someone better connected.

In my last article whilst describing some positives, I also commented that we were not seeing nearly enough (a bit like the situation with mission).  Every other day here on this website or via facebook or Twitter, I beg and plead for people to show an interest in urban church planting.  I’m not sure that inner cities themselves are that hard ground. I do think that talking to conservative evangelicals about the need is like trying to break up hard, stony ground.  Again, to take Steve’s name in vain, I remember him saying to me once

“Dave, you have got to remember that you are literally offering people nothing. There’s no guaranteed money, there’s no guaranteed success, they aren’t going to get famous.”

Incidentally, Steve wasn’t saying that I should offer those things.  I’ve commented before on urban mission that we can be tempted to assume that if we’ve got a few heroic pioneers doing their part, we’ve got Mez up in Scotland and Duncan in London, we’ve even got a couple o guys in Yorkshire then we’ve done our bit.  The danger with this is also that we associate urban ministry with people who are seen (rightly or wrongly) as mavericks rather than as everyday ministry.

And I’m still talking about men about planters and about pastors.  We might be doing well with our preaching groups but is that the full story of discipleship and gifting. I hope not.  The challenge is this “Do we spot the people who are not white middle class young men and who do not want to be preacher-pastors?”  Are we encouraging and discipling and equipping the whole church for works of service?

A Grace culture?

A few years back I did a little series of talks called “The Grace Driven Church”. These were originally prepared for a church’s weekend away I spoke at.  My comments on church culture predate the recent abuse scandals and reflect a long term concern. I’m encouraged that there are others pressing away at these points, especially Ray Ortlund with his insistence that we need a culture of grace not just the doctrines of Grace.

It is after all that sense of a grace saturated culture where we truly get a vision for who God is and what he has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus that we need.  Conferences, books and blogs won’t cut it.  It’s when we are captivated by a better vision that we stop thinking in terms of blokes to watch and projects to complete. It’s when the Gospel has transformed us that we are motivated to go out and tell others at home and abroad about Jesus.

[1] See Nay Dawson’s She Needs, series on this including She needs help failing in order to serve in your church – Nay Dawson

%d bloggers like this: