Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.
Stories of a broken trellis is a series of anonymous blogs showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.
Recently, the leaders of my church said they’d like to work on “vision” and “strategy”. Where are we heading and how do we plan to get there? “Can you write something down?”
This is not the type of thing I am good at so I asked a friend about it. He said; (I summarise) “You have to write this type of stuff down because you have to make transparent decisions about how you are spending money! But you can write anything you like on that bit of paper, God works in his own unexpected way. Look back at anything you think your church has achieved – it will all have been God surprising you. You run a mission, but a non-Christian actually becomes a Christian through dating a Christian (which we don’t approve of!). That young person learns more from a quick chat after church with an older woman than they do from your carefully planned sermon series. Someone dies who seemed so central to how your church would run, you don’t know what you’ll do without them, but the witness of their hope is incredibly powerful. Whatever strategy you have needs to accept God working mysteriously outside our plans and expectations.”
This is just true. It shouldn’t be surprising as it’s the pattern of every person who God actually uses to bring change in the Bible – David, Hannah, Gideon, Ruth. No one would have strategised them into leadership – it’s God surprising everyone. They are jars of clay, their weakness is his strength and other Bible truths we have read. God working through the tragic death of someone who doesn’t deserve it – well that’s not exactly a new idea for anyone who’s met Jesus.
I am a white conservative evangelical man. While I’m not posh and so felt left out of BWW, this discussion has made me face up to the fact I have probably benefited from BWW culture without even knowing, whilst others who had more to offer than me were overlooked. And it seems to me that if there was anything in its favour at least the strategy was honest. Certain people were identified, and it wasn’t hidden that these were the future leaders of the country and world tomorrow, so it’s more important to get them evangelised and trained. Others were deliberately and unapologetically excluded on the basis of background or sex or potential “future impact”.
The problem with strategies is, as my friend says, is that you easily strategise out of the picture the way God actually works. So if you have a strategy that does not involve you learning from Christians different to you, from the poorest or “weakest” or most untaught Christians speaking prophetically into the lives of others, or people’s weakness and failure (rather than their strength and social standing) being what God uses, well if your strategy excludes that, you are at risk of obtusely trying to push out the way God says he gets things done.
Some of the critique of all this has just been basic natural law. It’s unfair. I have been excluded. My gift wasn’t used. That matters but Jesus goes further – he says whatever power anyone has should be used to elevate “outsiders.” It’s not about me and how I may have been hurt – right now how am I using my power (which I undoubtedly have) to find, elevate, invest in the places where God works?
Here’s two things I’m trying.
First I’m trying to learn from people who are supposedly there to be trained. I went to a session once for church leaders about investing in international students so they can return to their country well taught. Well, yes. But my experience, which I’m trying to treasure and step into, is that people from other countries where the church is actually growing, or where they are already Christian in a highly anti religious environment might have something to teach me. Even the ones who aren’t Christian will observe blind spots in my discipleship.
A person from a central African country once visited our church and asked why we don’t preach more against pensions! Confused I asked why I would do that and he said “doesn’t the Bible say that serving the poor matters to Jesus? How can you justify saving up money that if you die won’t even be used, when there is so much poverty?” Leaning into insights from “outsiders” will open us to God’s work more than spying out insiders worth watching.
Second, I am trying to do, and get others I am training to do, things we know we are bad at. Great at studying and preaching? Do that, but also get out and knock some doors and chat to people. Good at working on your own? Be disciplined in getting into a team. Love corporate prayer? Set aside time to pray by yourself. I find this a deeply unsettling experience, putting myself in places that I feel deskilled and awkward and where I do things embarrassingly badly. But do I really believe that strength comes through weakness? Is God’s power made perfect as he stoops in grace to help me? Is this better ministry if I am weak and in prayer at every step? Is it good to be in situations where what I am doing is not worth watching and I get no praise and affirmation?
That’s the upside down way the kingdom works, and I really don’t want to strategise myself or my church out of living there.
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