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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 25.04.2024

Video for April 25th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

Christians tend to make two errors about leadership.  The first is to claim there is no place for it; that’s it’s a secular tool, and that we should just concentrate on prayer and the sacraments.  This despite the fact that leadership is listed by Paul in Romans as a spiritual gift.  Clearly Jesus and the Apostles were exercising it in their ministries.  The second error is to assume that Church leadership is the same as that of any other organisation. The truth lies somewhere between the two.  Leadership is vital for any organisation, not least the church. But the features of church leadership are very different to those exercised by someone managing a factory to make widgets.

One hopes that emerges in discussions about strategy.  It is always required in any organisation, unless that organisation has unlimited amounts of resources and it doesn’t matter how you deploy them.  It could be argued that the Church of England was fairly close to that position for much of its life. The culture was broadly christian, so a steady stream of new recruits joined the church through baptism and later affirmed it through confirmation. Many of the clerics were the third children of the aristocracy so didn’t really need pensions or stipends.  There seemed to be a lot of money at the disposal of local bishops from glebe land and historic assets and they could spend it how they liked.  The current shape of the Palace at Hereford is the result of decades of architectural vandalism by my predecessors.  Bishop Bisse and his wife spent millions in today’s money creating the great hall and the Georgian wraparound of what was basically a medieval building.  For hundreds of years things just carried on as they always had.  That all began to change in the 1960’s.  The tide of christian culture started to go out quite rapidly. The Church was slow to wake up to this.  Indeed, rather than a confident apologetic about the truth of the faith in the face of secularism, we probably accelerated the decline by embracing a now discredited uber liberal theology that fatally undermined confidence in the supernatural and God’s revelation in Christ. Up until the early 80’s things were in a slow downward decline, but at least we still represented the nation demographically.  There was no difference between the average age of an Anglican and that of the wider population.  Sunday trading and Sunday sport put an end to that.  Since that got going there has been a growing gulf. Now the average Anglican is 62 against a population with an average age of 47, and it continues to get worse. We still have the echoes of a civic role, but the civic services I go to these days rarely have more people in attendance than those who have to be there.

Against that backdrop we clearly can’t continue to be the same church we were even 50 years ago. Experience and research tells us that the sorts of churches who thrive in this new environment are those with conviction.  We need to be more deeply spiritual not less. I hope the three values that emerged from our conversations about strategy over the last 4 years capture something of the Church I hope we are becoming.  The leadership of the diocese, lay and ordained has discerned that we need to be communities that are Christlike, prayerful and engaged. We need to be places where we individually cultivate the character of Jesus Christ and relate to one another in the loving, humble way he told us to. We need to recognise in all humility that our clever strategic thinking alone is not going to cut it.  That should drive us not to despair but prayerful dependence.  We have plenty of evidence in the stories of God’s people that those who ‘humble themselves and pray’ see the Lord act in ways beyond imagination. And we seek to be communities that are engaged with those around us, serving their needs and acting as conveners and catalysts to join with others in that service of community transformation. Above all we seek to grow for the sake of those who don’t yet know Jesus Christ themselves. We should be asking the question all the time, “how does what we do help others to become followers of Jesus” Not can how we preserve this institution the way we like it.  For me that is the vision. Strategy is the steps we need to take to get from here to there.  I hope and pray that in five years we’d have more active worshipping communities like that, not less. And that will require shifts in the provision of leadership given the constraints on our resources. Future leadership will be a more obvious partnership between lay and ordained.  It will involve raising our sights above the narrowly parochial to greater collaboration with our church neighbours.  Finally, it will require all of us to be part of the evangelistic task, according to the gifts and personality type God has given us.

Many people in our culture are saying we are the generation of leaders that will simply watch the tide go out. Our vision and strategy is about what we need to do in the power of the Spirit for that not to be the case.  Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!


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