Renewal and the Church

 

Here we share a six minute slideshow prepared by Together for the Common Good for Churches Together England’s conference on missionary discipleship held in November 2020. It features Jenny Sinclair, founder director of T4CG. CTE is the national umbrella body for more than fifty different Christian denominations.

To watch the video click here or scroll down to the bottom. Here is the text:

“Ten years ago, I had a prompting of the spirit. I saw our society was in trouble. That trust was breaking down. I felt called to explore how the church could be part of the solution. Since then it has been my vocation, and others have joined me. We need to understand what’s been going on.

Forty years of extreme individualism have taken their toll. The dominance of the market and the state has eroded our common life together, led to inequality, loneliness, crisis of meaning and a breakdown in social trust. The pandemic is accelerating these trends and the grief is real.

But there is an antidote to individualism – the common good. The common good is this shared life of a society in which everyone can flourish by working together, each taking responsibility. It’s not a utopian ideal, and it rejects identity politics. We build the common good by acting together across our differences.

Churches devote huge resources to picking up the pieces, but unless we address the causes, our efforts will be like sticking plasters. Our fractured nation needs our help. We can overcome individualism by building the common good. Together for the Common Good’s training helps churches play their part.

As Christians, we know we’re members of one body. We’re called to live, as Jesus did, in friendship – across class, income, ethnicity and educational background. We’re to be non tribal, build bridges, break out of our echo chambers and to act in solidarity with fellow citizens who’ve been left behind.

God is calling the church to be relational. Our model is the Trinity – to live in relationship with God and with each other. So relationships come first. Genuine loving relationships of reciprocity and mutual respect. We’re all called to play our part. A relational church.

But the culture of individualism has infected the churches, too. There has been mission drift. Some have become inwardly focused. Others have allowed social action to drive their purpose. Others adopt managerial practises, the language of marketing, or are captured by a secular agenda.

This drift has caused the church to lose touch with its sacred civic role. It has fallen out of relationship with ordinary people. The vocation of the local church relates to everyone in the neighbourhood, not only its own congregation and those in need. If it’s not in relationship with its neighbours, it can’t act in genuine solidarity.

Many churches are facing rapid decline. In a bid for survival, some are attempting to justify their existence by their usefulness to the state. But God is transforming the church. We’re called to be more than an NGO. We’re being called into a new role that is also ancient. To be a good neighbour.

Instinctively, people feel things aren’t right. There’s a yearning for change. Individualism has made our life transactional. Its culture of contract degrades human beings and the natural world. But deep in the memory of the church is a different vision. A story of covenant.

Covenantal relationships form part of the antidote to contract. Renewal comes as we build durable relationships of commitment, meaning and belonging as we become communities of place. A humble church, restoring its relationship with the neighbourhood. Together for the Common Good helps churches do this.

Our three part programme, Here: Now: Us People, focuses on discipling the people of God for the common good. Here: because it’s focused on our commitment to where we live. Now: because our contribution is needed at this critical point in our history. Us: because we work together and with our neighbours.

The programme disciples groups of up to 20 who together discern where their gifts can contribute to civic renewal, integrating the how and the why. We teach that before any project or social action, it’s necessary to build relationships first, to be attentive to what God is already doing in the neighbourhood.

Our principles, rooted in Scripture, guard against mission drift, The common good, the human person, dignity, equality, respect for life, the dignity of work, social relationships, participation, reconciliation, solidarity, subsidiarity, stewardship on everyone is included, no one is left behind.

We also train churches to build covanental relationships with local institutions like clubs, businesses, schools, associations, community groups and so on. To build a relational power to strengthen civil society, in order to resist the dehumanising tendencies of the market and the state.

As the pandemic rolls on, we all feel a sense of grief and uncertainty. The church is vulnerable, diminished, in need of friendship. To build relationships of love and reciprocity, it must share its vulnerability. No longer the patrician church acting as host, but as neighbour – able to receive as well as give.

In the new era, many churches are struggling to adapt. Especially those who’ve fallen out of relationship with ordinary people. Church leaders face a threefold crisis. Financial, vocational, theological. But God is at work, breaking down in some areas while building up in others.

The spirit is working to bring us into relationship with our neighbours, building trust across denominations, and alliances with fellow faith communities and with secular allies. There’s much we can do together if we organise ourselves. Building relationship is our insurgency against individualism.

We’re called to be salt and light, integrating the personal and social gospel, re-weaving the places where we live, not as service providers, but living alongsiders, in loving friendship, from the grass roots to the boardroom. Building just, covenantal relationships in solidarity with our neighbours.

Our society is in trouble. Our common life is further fragmenting. But the wind of the spirit is moving. You and I, the whole people of God – ordained and non ordained – are called to become embedded in the local and to build common good with our neighbours. This is the nature of the radical renewal to which God is drawing us.”

Jenny Sinclair, Director T4CG

This is an extract from our winter 2020 mailing. To access the full newsletter click here.