Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. Its quiet down by the river at 6.15 and not too hot. I hope you’ve survived it! This is going to be the last one for a few weeks as I take a break for the Lambeth conference and then a holiday. I’ll be resuming at the beginning of September.
The recent conservative party leadership election has caused me to reflect on the adversarial approach we British seem to take to conflict. Former colleagues are publicly taking chunks out of each other. Our national culture seems to work to the principle of the zero-sum gain approach both in economics and social issues. If someone else is advantaged then I must of necessity be disadvantaged.
There is a huge danger in the church if we allow this zero-sum gain attitude to establish itself. When I was in Chichester I had responsibility for leading on the diocesan strategy. I remember once being introduced to someone who responded, “Oh, you’re that Bishop of Lewes.” On enquiring why, he emphasised the ‘that’ so strongly, he replied, “you’re the Bishop who hates old people!” This was a puzzle, since I wasn’t aware I’d ever expressed that sentiment. Further enquiry revealed it was an extrapolation from a presentation emphasising our need as a diocese to grow younger. It was perfect illustration of zero-sum gain thinking. If we want to grow younger then we must of necessity diminish our care and attention to more elderly congregations.
However, Paul’s exhortation from 1 Corinthians 12:26 expresses precisely the opposite mind set. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” Or to paraphrase, “when one part flourishes, all flourish.” Paul advises us to approach life from an abundance mindset rooted in the love of God, rather than a scarcity mindset rooted in our own insecurity and competitiveness.
As we think about our diocesan strategy we must do so from this place of abundance rather than zero-sum gain. Going forward much of the life of our church will be a ‘mixed ecology’. Our life together will not be simply our regular Sunday worship. Families and children will be part of Messy Church, Forest Church and other diverse congregations. We will be ministering more overtly and directly to the 12,000 children in our 78 church schools, through assemblies, RE lessons, after school clubs and we pray increasingly through chaplaincies. We will see spiritual life in the Filling Station meetings across the diocese, through Bible studies in people’s homes and through informal and spontaneous prayers together. We need to make space in our corporate life for all of this. Sunday worship will continue to be the bedrock of our life together, but it is not diminished by these other expressions of corporate life, tapping as they do into energy that doesn’t feel able to engage with our traditional worship.
The Kingdom of God is not a zero-sum gain. It starts with something as small as a mustard seed and grows into a tree big enough for all the birds to seek shelter in its shade.
We should be able to rejoice in the fruitfulness of others and not feel that our efforts are in some way diminished or criticised by so doing. One of the ways we will be expressing that trust and dependence in God’s abundance next year is through a year of prayer. Yes, we will be communicating our strategy to address some of our serious presenting issues over the next few months. It would be very easy in so doing to get thoroughly depressed about money, numbers, and even deeper existential questions about whether our diocese can survive as a going concern in 10 years time. I’m calling us to a year of prayer starting in January 2023 as an expression of how much we need God. The issues we face are not readily solvable through our own ingenuity.
At the beginning of his correspondence with the Corinthian church he rebuked them for their factionalism. Parties were following different leaders, each with particular gifts and insights into how the church show go. He had little time for that. In 1 Corinthians 3: 7 he says, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow”. My hope is that our year of prayer will ground that reality in our hearts and minds. I pray our future will not be one of zero-sum gain but trust in God’s provision.
Have a wonderful summer and I hope to see many of you over the autumn as we discuss these things together.