The Gospel of Matthew and the Rio Olympics

olympics

Congratulations to Team GB who have achieved the best performance in 100 years. They have done this by adhering to Biblical principles.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of The Parable of the Talents. It’s about three men, two of whom use the talents they’ve been given and one of whom buries his. When the reckoning comes, the man who has failed to use his talent is punished, and his talent is given to one of the others.

Jesus says: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

This is exactly the strategy of UK Sport, which has funded sports which win medals, and has defunded those which don’t, leading to tremendous success in Rio.

You might think that Christians would follow the same principle, but unfortunately the institutional church up until now has set up a system which rewards mediocrity, a formula described as “perverse”.

Some have argued that for Christians, there are better ways to spend money than on Olympic Gold.

That’s true, but there’s a lot for us to learn from their success in particular the words of Liz Nicholl, the Chief Executive of UK Sport: ‘[We have] a “no compromise” philosophy. We will not do any of the “nice to dos”. We won’t tolerate distraction from our core mission’.

Shouldn’t the Church have the same philosophy?

Team GB have spent the money on making marginal gains, improving equipment, training and diet bit by bit, to produce huge improvements overall. They then do it all over again, in order to stay ahead.

My guess is that most churches could make marginal gains in their buildings, music and organisation in order to improve. Unfortunately too many churches choose not to do this because they prefer not to change, which is the equivalent of doing nothing, and somehow hoping to win a gold medal.

St Paul wrote: Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.

Making disciples is far more important than winning races yet it would appear that UK Sport is more biblically astute about being distracted from its core mission than the Mainstream Church.

What do you think? And don’t forget that the man who buried his talent no doubt thought that it was important to be faithful rather than to be successful……..

In Praise of Younger Ministers

I recently attended an event where a number of young ministers were accepted for training. I found the whole event inspiring and encouraging. It gave me hope for the Church of the future.

Looking at their youthfulness, brought to mind the often heard, but factually unfounded idea that younger ministers “should go away and spend some time in the real world” before they work for the church.

The overtly negative effect of this is to cut the number of years that a minister will serve, (if they come back at all), reducing the amount of ministry available to the Church.

But I’m more concerned with the mistaken attitudes underlying the idea. Here are eight hidden assumptions which show why the statement is so damaging.

  1. It assumes that the Bible is wrong. Paul tells Timothy Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. I expect he could have said something different if he wanted to. David, Gideon, Samuel and Mary were all young when called by God. If you’re called by God, you’re old enough.
  2. It assumes the atheist worldview that the Church isn’t the real world. If Christianity is true, then the Church is involved in the new reality of eternity, and it is the secular world which is trivially trying to increase quarterly widget sales by improving Search Engine Optimisation. If Christianity is false, then we don’t need ministers anyway.
  3. It assumes that older people are the norm. If it were suggested that black ministers should be more white, or that women ministers should be more male, there would quite rightly be outrage. So why is it OK to suggest that we only want older people to lead the Church?
  4. It assumes that what the mainstream Church needs is a “safe pair of hands”. I would assert that the last thing the Church needs now is a safe pair of hands, any more than people on the Titanic needed somebody to assure them that if they stayed where they were, everything would work out alright. What the Church needs now is holy risk takers, entrepreneurs, leaders ready to change the world. Andy Stanley, the founder of Northpoint, said that when he started, all the clever people knew that what he was trying to do was impossible. He was too naïve to realise. The result? The largest church in America.
  5. It assumes that the mainstream Church knows better than everybody else, and other vocations have got it all wrong. Young doctors, police officers or teachers aren’t told that they should go away and get more experience. Do we think their professional bodies are mistaken? If the Church was doing spectacularly well then such hubris might be justifiable, but it doesn’t seem to be working.
  6. It assumes that we have nothing to learn from people younger than ourselves (which in Church terms is most of the general population).
  7. It assumes that younger people can wait until they are old in order to have role models. Could it be that the shortage of people in their twenties in the pews which the mainstream Church laments as the Missing Generation, is caused by the Church’s previous deliberate policy of restricting people in their twenties from the pulpit?
  8. It really assumes that the Church is just for old people and that young people should keep quiet and wait their turn. This assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There’s nothing wrong with a Gap Year, but what the Church needs now is leadership from the next generation.

What do you think?

On the sacking of Mr Gary Neville

nevilleGary Neville has been sacked by Valencia. This now seems inevitable: football, like church, is a results game, and failure to perform cannot continue for ever.

Questions are being asked about whether he can return as a pundit for Sky TV and how he is going to talk about tactics, having failed in Spain.

Yet that’s a bit unfair – it might just be that nobody could have succeeded at Valencia with their infamously demanding fans.

In the English Premier League, Aston Villa have been terrible this year and have just sacked their manager. But even if they had a world class manager like José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Neil Warnock, they would still be going down, because of bad decisions made again and again over many years. Villa could play 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or even a Double Diamond formation with Catenaccio and a false number 9, yet because their players just aren’t good enough, there would be no difference.

I’ve spoken before about how if the Mainstream Church was a football team, there would be people outside singing “Sack the Board” because of the relegation standard performance over many years. But should they want to sack the manager/preacher?

There’s a similar idea that if you just get a new person in, they’ll be able to fix what the previous one couldn’t. If you just get the right person, then everything else will follow. Unfortunately it isn’t true, especially if there are fundamental underlying problems which need to be confronted.

Today a friend of mine posted the text below on her wall.

jamespaul It is a standard Protestant idea, that if the preaching is right, everything else will follow. Just Preach the Gospel is all you need to do. The corollary to this, is that if the church is declining, then there must be something wrong with the preaching.

I’ve preached in growing churches and declining churches, and I can assure you, I used the same sermons.

There are some congregations who would listen impassively, even if Billy Graham was their minister.

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance which inoculates against the gospel, and to admit that the new person might not be able to fix the unfixable. Perhaps we should try a different approach? It might not work, but it could hardly be worse……..

On the Appointment of Mr Rafael Benitez

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The big news round here this weekend is the appointment of Rafa Benitez as manager of Newcastle United, the troubled football club.

Rafa has won most of the major club competitions including the Champions’ League in 2005, and started this year as manager of Real Madrid.

How have Newcastle United been doing? Recently they have hit hard times and have had 4 managers in the last 15 months. The most recent incumbent, former England manager Steve McClaren had presided over a terrible run of form and has been fired. Taking on Rafa was a bold (and expensive) move, but it was clear that the present structure was not working; it was time for something new.

So let’s ask a different question: how’s the Church been doing?

If the Mainstream Church in England was a football team, it would be doing even worse than Newcastle United. It would have suffered serial relegations over the last 50 years. There would be fans outside demonstrating, chanting “Sack the Board”. It would be clear that the present structure was not working; it would be time for something new.

So is the church looking for a new direction?

Apparently, Church Contemporary Music is on the way out. Now I don’t see any evidence for this, but if it is true, then maybe we should try Rap, or Bluegrass or Electronic? If it’s not working, then surely the answer is to go for something new?

Yet bizarrely, in blog after blog after blog I read that the answer for the church is to go back to singing the hymns of the Eighteenth Century.

In all the heartache and desire for change at Newcastle, nobody has suggested going back to the managers who have failed in the past. In fact, of the 12 different people who have managed Newcastle over the last 10 years only one was a returnee, Kevin Keegan, and that ended in tears.

So why do people see the answer to church decline as being a return to that which we know has failed?

My experience of working in the mainstream church, is that it felt as if I was pushing out from inside a rubber balloon. As long as I kept pushing, things would change, but as soon as I stopped, it would all snap back to what it was. There was an inherent tendency in the system to return to singing the old songs.

This is the football equivalent of the return of John Carver – which nobody wants.

What do you think?

PS My tip is that Sunderland will stay up, and Newcastle will join the unable to score Norwich City and the dismal Aston Villa in the Championship next year.