Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I’m not a great fan of cricket, but I was amused to hear the story of the great England cricketer Matthew Fleming the other day. On a tour of India, the surprising decision was taken to leave him out of the side. It was the way that the Captain handled the conversation that amused me. He took him for a long walk, at the end of which he said, “Matthew, I don’t know what we’d do without you but we’re going to give it a try!” A wise, retired missionary Bishop once said to a youth worker flush with the success of his ministry, “the graveyards of England are full of indispensable people.
As you know I am the 106th Bishop of Hereford, and other than an inscription on a plaque in the Cathedral, I have no doubt that when I retire, the waters will close over, and in several years, like most of my predecessors, I’ll be swiftly forgotten. I’ll resist the temptation of some to get into the history books through acts of architectural vandalism. And the infamy of simply not showing up at all after being appointed is now closed to me. There is a lot of talk in management circles these days about legacy, what you leave behind you. Much of it feels narcissistic, a strategy to ensure your particular passions outlast you, possibly even to be imposed on a different emerging culture and thus wholly inappropriate.
As disciples of Jesus I’m not sure we’re encouraged to have much thought to the future of our own particular projects. The emphasis seems more around being faithful in the now. In Paul’s letters he expresses satisfaction that he has run the race allotted to him. He sets some parameters within which he hopes people will live, but the outworking of these principles in future is for those communities to work out for themselves. The kingdom of God seems to grow through these small acts of often counter-cultural obedience. Jesus encourages us “not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
So where does that leave strategy and leadership. I think strategy is important, but there needs to be room for the serendipitous action of the Holy Spirit. The two most significant tools for the growth of the church in the last 25 years, namely Alpha and Messy Church, didn’t emerge from strategy consultations but from the imagination of local churches.
But whatever our view of strategy all of us in leadership are working to some sort of blueprint. We have an idea of where we would like the communities we lead to be in a few year’s time. Its better if those are public and transparent rather than hidden.
So where would I love to see our diocese? I would love to see a network of spiritually vibrant churches with wide open front doors, accessible to all ages. I’d like to see joyful Christians captivated by the extravagant, generous love of God who see drawing others to experience and respond to that love as their driving passion. I’d hope that that passion would override unhealthy parochialism, preserving a commitment to the communities they serve but with a bias to work together with other churches, ecumenical friends and people of good will. I pray that being a follower of Jesus would be for Monday to Saturday, as living sacrifices, not just for maintenance of the institution. I hope it would be a church that values its heritage and tradition but isn’t in thrall to it. That treasures its buildings but sees them as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. I’d love us to be a church where the wider community sees and experiences us as a blessing and a transforming presence, both for individuals and the earth itself. That we’d be individuals and communities that pique people’s spiritual curiosity because of the Spirit’s transforming presence. I pray that our gatherings would go far deeper than just religious observance, but be places where relationships are restored, addictions broken, meaning and purpose discovered and emotional, spiritual and physical healing released. I hope they’d be communities where it was safe to cry, places where we could look bad and encounter love in response. I’d like us to be a church that was more and more a sign of God’s kingdom and God answered our prayer Thy Kingdom come through our sacrificial giving of ourselves to his service. I pray we’d be a place where if people had spiritual questions we’d be the first place they’d look rather than the last. But I pray that when they did ask, they’d find answers. Not simplistic ones, but rich and deep ones that allow them to move forward, confident in the love of God in the face of life’s uncertainty. And I pray that we’d humbly recognise our own inadequacies to fulfil this and let that drive us to fervent dependent prayer not despair in the face of an apathetic post-Christian culture.
I hope that inspires you to. Could we work together to build a church like that; a community that more fully lives out the biblical vision? We’re just embarking on the next round of our strategy consultation. Do join us in the conversation.