Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Transform 2015 - a perspective.

A couple of weeks back we were at Transform 2015 – the bible-week offered by the Salt and Light group of churches, of which Bicester Community Church is part.

We have been going to bible-weeks for a long time now (since 1979) and seen a lot of different things, organisations and ways of doing stuff. Some have been big at 10,000 plus, and some, like this one, quite small at less than 2000. The bible-week has often been the place where the organisation that is responsible for that particular church group lays out its vision for the next year, and this was no exception, but there’s something that concerns me, and I’ll come right out with it: I’m afraid that Salt and Light is no longer working like a single organism, and is increasingly embracing evangelical values while letting go of its spiritual roots. I don’t want to unpack that in a public place like this, so I’ll park it here, but I am not alone in having concerns about these things.

So, what was the worship like? Isn’t that something everyone goes for?

It was very loud, very powerful, lots of coloured lights and smoke, very high quality musicianship and singing. PA was a bit iffy the first couple of days (reverb on lead vocals was iffy ALL the time) and then better speaker placement helped. If it had been a gig with a favourite band then one would probably have been happy in the end, after a rocky start. And that should tell you something from the aspects I’m not mentioning.

OK then, how about the speakers? Weren’t there some big names from the evangelical world there?

Yup, there were.

I fell asleep several times during the preaching: on a couple of guys that were shouty, one lady who was quiet and gentle and one who had some amazing stories but was often a bit strident. Maybe I’m getting old and have ‘rose-tinted hearing aids’. Some of the guys said some good things, one wittily repeated the stories he used in Christianity Today magazine and had also put in his books (available on special offer, just while I’m here).

Don’t get me wrong, there was some good stuff there, I made notes during several messages and think I probably heard God talking to me. I was really glad when 5 guys responded to an altar call one night, even though that speaker had been one I slept through.

Then there was a seminar for those with creative gifts (initially I'd understood it to be a worship seminar) from a guy who was clearly anointed to lead worship..... where he mentioned how one can feel short-staffed and lacking in personnel with a team of 60 to run the stage, lighting, sound and multimedia as well as the band. He was trying to show how he understood what it was like to be in a small church with just a couple of musicians.

There’s a nagging going on, that phrase about having started with the Spirit……

Or maybe I’ve become old, cynical, jaded, burned out in trying to help lead a difficult church, desensitised through personal failure and lack of spending time with God.

It’s not like many of the guys in leadership here are strangers that I can throw stones at in ignorance. I’m on first name terms with quite a few, although most that I know best are around retirement, and recognise them as men of God, spiritual, mature, wise, good and upright. And yet I also wondered if I were seeing a theology shaped by society, rather than the bible first and foremost, like the leader who tore me a new one about how women must be in leadership when I tried to talk to him at a friends wedding 4 years ago.

Maybe this should make me more sympathetic toward the Anglican church - or harsher in my assessment of it. God, please save Salt and Light from becoming another denomination.


  1. "is increasingly embracing evangelical values while letting go of its spiritual roots."

    This is a mysterious phrase! Does "evangelical" mean something different at your end of the Atlantic? It sounds like you're using it as a pejorative term...

  2. Yes, well in a sense anyway, to both.

    Hi Marc, glad you're reading. :-)

    The spiritual roots of the group of churches we're part of were very much about direct involvement with God and the Holy Spirit - many, many times we've been of the mind that if God didn't turn up then the meeting will be a waste of time and probably a trainwreck. In the context of my blogpost, it felt like the meetings were run to such a tight time schedule that if God wanted to turn up in some more tangible way, then He'd have about a minute to do His stuff before the band came on or the speaker was up.

    So in the context, evangelical means organised, entertaining, closed, ordinary, rational, neat and tidy. A sofa and a glass of wine wouldn't have felt out of place.

  3. Ah, I see. That makes sense. I probably wouldn't use the term evangelical for that, as I see it as a very broad category defined more by theology and emphasis than what Sunday worship looks like, but I get what you mean.

  4. Theology and emphasis are absolutely key, with the Sunday meeting (and others) a product of that theology.

    Elsewhere it was occasionally mentioned when discussing about worship that if (as a worship musician) you couldn't worship in the Spirit then you'd better be darn good. There can also come a point when it's much easier to be darn good than worry about whether the Spirit will turn up or not, and THAT is a central bit of theology. Being good doesn't mean the Holy Spirit can't or won't work, but it can make it much easier to be adequate instead of humble, and sufficient instead of waiting to see what He wants to do. Over the last 15 years I've seen the 'weak & foolish' do some amazing things that deteriorated when the able and excellent got hold of them.

  5. I don't think you are alone in this. There has been a bit of drain away from Evangelica/Pentecostal/Charismatic churches by people who have found their theology doesn't quite stack up against real life (too triumphalist) or they are too controling, or too free ... Usually those who have been super-committed. There was a really good study done by Alan Jamieson in NZ about this with a follow-up 5 years later to see where those he interviewed were in terms of their faith journey. The books were 'A Churchless Faith' and 'Church Leavers - Faith Journeys five years on'... Interesting reading about what works, what doesn't, how people move on. Few lost their faith - but it sort of developed. :)

  6. Hi Carol and welcome for your first comment.

    My personal experience - and I appreciate others feel differently - is that people have a tendency to degenerate toward making rules that can be followed. Rules are safe. So things that were started by the Holy Spirit often degenerate to look like the traditions they left. That's not picking apart any particular tradition, so much as taking a look at church history, both recent and ancient.

    I know there have been various moves to start non-church church, and a good friend in Oz shut his more conventional church meetings (and effectively closed his church) in order to follow more the liquid church model. But when the church stops meeting together it stops working as a church: you need to be together to grow and develop in healthy directions.

    For me, what works is a church that forms around the Holy Spirit, and what he's doing. It doesn't have to be spectacular, but it does have to involve Him. You know when He's at work because people come to meet God (rather than see the light show) and you know when He's not because you will be pushed to evangelise.


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