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.