Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Highlights of last week included a couple of hours with Phil Simpson, chairing a busy meeting of the University Council and a wonderful, if not bracing walk with Sheryl along the whole of Brighton seafront – with a shopping diversion into The Laines – of course! Returning to find Jon and Sarah at home was the end of a perfect Sunday.
When I was Vicar of CC Woking Phil and Rachel Simpson and their family moved from Pakistan as Phil was to be based at CMS in its Waterloo Road incarnation. Phil was sharing his thoughts about how our 'network' culture is changing our understanding of the role of leaders. To quote from a review of a book Phil recommends:
'With accelerating velocity, our age's new technologies of social networking are evolving, and evolving us, into new groups doing new things in new ways, and old and new groups alike doing the old things better and more. You don't have to have a Facebook page to know that the times they are a changin'. Hierarchical structures that exist to manage the work of groups are seeing their raisons d'ĂȘtre swiftly eroded by the rising technological tide. Business models are being destroyed, transformed, born at dizzying speeds, and the larger social impact is profound.' (Here comes Everybody Clay Shirky).

Needless to say I am looking forward to reading this highly acclaimed tome.
This led me to reflect (again) on Pete Ward’s ‘Liquid Church’ concept which as I have said before, despite its many critics is seeking to say something both profound and prophetic which is that the communities of the 21st century aren’t formed around front porches, or churches, or any physical structure or social institution. I would modify that a bit and say at the moment ‘not just around’ porches, churches and buildings. What I think Pete is saying and it is thoroughly theological in that it is based upon the model of the Christian Trinity – God is community interacting if not ‘dancing’ (my image is of a line dance rather than individual performance!) and interacting with each of his ‘persons’.

‘The static monolith of the congregation is replaced by a dynamic, inclusive, and fluid dance of intimate communication. In this sense liquid church does not just reflect the life of God. It joins in with that life and it is indwelt by that life: liquid God and liquid church.’

I am no theologian so some will beat me hands down on this one but I do think the image of church as a network of interacting relationships is more ‘Christian’, more Kingdom if you like, than the building oriented and hierarchical structures we have at the moment. A term like ‘The Body of Christ’ is obviously more movement and relational than THE CHURCH. I think this also applies to other organisations as well.

Last time I shared a little list of the qualities needed in leaders (in taking weddings) – maybe that little list is the basic requirement for leaders in this less solid culture full stop. Training as well as being about theology and liturgy need to focus more on developing people, community and team skills.

Questions still remain however which you might like to consider: What is the role of the Christian leader is a more fluid context? Where do church buildings fit in and are those denominations that see them as vital to mission right in spending vast sums they don’t have in maintaining them? Where does the larger gathering fit in?
Unlike many other scholars and preachers Pete sees consumerism (commodification) as the hallmark of this ‘liquid’ culture and encourages church to see this as a friend rather than a foe. Like advertisers who are there to stimulate our desires the church’s (community) role is to stimulate people’s desire for God. What do you think?
More fluid expressions of church are essential in that they take "the present culture seriously and seek to express the fullness of the Christian gospel within that culture.'

To be honest I find this approach more ‘honest’ – after all we are all consumers to a greater or lesser degree and church leaders are more than adept at using consumerism for church purposes on the one hand whilst preaching against it on another! (Discuss)

As some churches continue to embed themselves in a corporate and hierarchical model of leadership and management, business corporations have been known to look to religion for insights into spirituality, relationships, trust, intuition, mystery, community, commitment, cooperation and even love! Maybe in this emerging ‘liquid’ world we need to stick to and build on the values we know and yearn for. Sounds like Jesus in my book........


  1. Yes, I think it is happening.
    When you have a fresh expression of Church, this is part of the process.
    The only trouble is most of us want to keep things static, because it feels safer.
    So we have to get used to more of the unexpected in our day to day lives!

  2. Thanks Stephen

    Agree with you - something about seeing what God is doing and joining in - scary stuff.

  3. Interesting points. I've been saying for a long time that the fundamental difference between modernism and post-modernism is the change from seeing the world as hierarchical to seeing it as networked. I think this is especially true in the way that people assess truth claims; we are often more likely to trust our network of friends than the authoritative 'experts'. (Which means that a church leader can no longer assume a right to be heard merely by virtue of his position.)

    Have you read 'The Great Dance' by C. Baxter Kruger? Your point about the trinity seems like something out of his book.

    Glad the sabbatical is going well, appreciating getting to read your thoughts.

  4. Thanks Trevor

    Will look up the book. The Trinity stuff is really Colin Gunstone. Totally agree about the place of the church leader - something more is needed like openness, vulnerability, being authentic and human - maybe.