The Closing Window

Up to some point in the SS Titanic’s fatal journey towards the notorious iceberg there remained a window of opportunity during which decisive action could have been taken that would have avoided the disaster that ultimately took place. We know of course that such action was not taken, at least before it was too late, and the window of opportunity closed and the ship full of partying passengers plunged into its icy tomb. I wonder is that kind of closing window image, a terminating ‘kairos’, a fading time of opportunity apt for the church of our time? Given the well documented trends of decline how long have we got, indeed have we got any time left to change the direction of SS ‘Church’, or is the ’Window’ already closed?

I was caused to ponder on this by an article entitled “Having Forgotten its Foundations, Europe’s House is Falling Apart” in the ‘Wall Street Journal’. The article claimed that the “death of Europe is in sight” because it has become morally incompetent, because it has undermined its own (Judeo-Christian) foundations. To put it another way, the Judeo –Christian metanarrative (the grand story) that was the womb that nurtured and gave form to modern Europe is now ignored and even denied by modern Europeans, particularly the intelligentsia. The result is now a moral vacuum, a society fragmenting and drowning in a moral shallowness.

Why is this relevant to those of us who live half a world away in Australia? Because we are a nation that was born and nurtured by the same now lost metanarrative at the centre of which was God, and we are afflicted with the same God-denying cancer, a society with the same moral vacuum collapsing into the same Abyss, where what is right is what I think it is and therefore nothing can be said to be absolutely ‘right’. The reality is that we are now in a ‘Judges’ society where everyone does “what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) , where there is no ‘King’ i.e. absolute authority, and certainly not God, where a Neitzschean ‘God is dead’ relativism pervades, where the ‘grand story’ is replaced by a multitude of ‘my stories’.

So what can save this society teetering on crumbling foundations? It can only be the restoration of the biblical ‘grand story’ which birthed and shaped the western civilization now collapsing. What can be the agent of such a restoration? It can only be that God-ordained body we call the church. Ah yes, the church, now weak, enfeebled, infected with the gods of the culture, fading into peripheral irrelevancy. A Laodicean St Luke-warms, having lost its first love, a pale and paling apology for the glorious Christ- created body that once was, that spread the gospel to far off pagan lands, for which men and women were burned, stoned, crucified. The Satan-terrifying body once powered by the Pentecostal Spirit, but enflamed no more. And the ‘Window’ keeps on closing’.

It could be said that the church fiddles in an Einsteinian insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results that do not materialize, while the Rome of western civilization burns.

A methodist minister recently said that he thought most of his 35 year ministry had “been insane”! For he had

“Enthusiastically followed the latest ideas for ministry, evangelism and church growth. However, none of them have gone deep enough to examine, much less challenge, deep-rooted ideas about what church is”.

That would be typical of many leaders and churches, for I believe that the core of our missional unfruitfulness is a failure to go “deep enough to examine, much less challenge, deep-rooted ideas about what church is”, and to develop a new biblical ecclesiology for a truly missional church. Rather we continue with a Sunday-centric, in-drag, Christendom form model of church that persists in re-treading 20th century forms of local mission. This includes the traditional classic church plant which is culturally alien, vastly, yes vastly, too expensive and too slow to change for a culture in turmoil. And the ‘Window keeps on closing’.

So what will bring about the saving, nation redeeming change? Yes it can only be the church, but for that to happen it must be restored to that demon-quaking, Spirit powered purpose for which it was created, and in its current form it is long since past being anything like that. And the ‘Window keeps on closing’.

What is needed is for the church to be set free, unbound, from the current forms of church, culturally alien forms and long since past ‘use-by-date’ missional strategies of yesteryear. New strategies and forms are required, those which the Unbounded Church concept can release. This will require an urgent radical change such that the currently developing and fruitful alternative forms of ‘church’ move, using the title given to an imminent church conference, ‘From Margins to Mainstream’. i.e. Missional Church Communities and networks will need to become the norm not the exception. But as the traditional church gives all the appearance of sleep walking into the iceberg, how much time to we really have?

As the ‘Window keeps on closing’

3 thoughts on “The Closing Window

  1. Hi Martin, as a “layperson” (a very unscriptural concept!) I feel part of the problem lies in the professional clergy (present company excepted!) A person can become a clergyman without ever having done a regular job, their training can ensure they are well “brainwashed” into the particular brand of christian culture of their denomination, they can live in a christian culture all their lives and not understand well how the world feels to non-clergy, they control much of what happens in their church so they can avoid being challenged about the way they do things, and they have a vested interest (their feelings of self-worth) in doing things they feel comfortable with.

    So we get long sermons when educationalists and psychologists know they are poor methods of imparting knowledge or motivating change – studies show their most positive outcome is making people feel good, and feeling good isn’t often a motivation to change and grow. And we get methods of evangelism which don’t work, but they don’t know because they are detached from the real world most of us inhabit. Their income is tied to following the denominational line, and the treatment of dissenters may not be very loving.

    The result is that congregations who are too much controlled tend to be come passive consumers.

    I don’t think much will change until the denominational controls are relaxed a little, greater variance is encouraged rather than frowned on, and lay people collectively have a lot more involvement in leadership (thus dramatically increasing the gifts available in decision-making and strategy setting).

    I’m not holding my breath regarding our denomination, which is very controlling and very uni-dimensional. I think the window is certainly closing, and it will be alternative churches, possible less stable non-denominational churches, groups that don’t even look much like churches but more like social action collectives, that will carry the great commission forward. You and Michael Moynagh are much closer to the money than most clergy.

    Just one raving layperson’s ideas! 🙂

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    1. Yes I think there is a critical problem with the selection and training of leadership.

      As well as some of the things you mention I also think part of the reason is a failure to have defined what we are training people FOR. We need to select and train people for mission, and the missional church of the future. If we have yet to define our target we are certain to miss it. Selecting and training leaders for the ‘old church’ 20th century paradigm is just compounding the problem.

      Also to like doing what we are comfortable with is a human trait, but should be a disqualifying trait of the missionary leaders we need.

      Keep on raving!!!!!!

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  2. One other small rave: I was told be a recent graduate that Moore College is a theological college, not a ministerial training college. So most Sydney Diocese ministers are not trained at all in being a minister, only in knowing theology.

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