Farewell institutional power, hello grassroots influence

Sermon on the Mount by Bloch. Image: Wikipedia

Churches have probably lost the fight against the NSW Government’s plan to introduce ethic classes in public schools at the same time as optional special religious education.

Education Minister Verity Firth is glowingly positive about the review of the classes and while there are no plans to remove SRE, the once ‘sacred’ right to offer Scripture without competition in NSW public schools will soon be a thing of the past.

Of course this is a manifestation of a wider truth that the church has lost much of its institutional power and perhaps in the future will lose even more.

There are positives though and the main one is that if churches and Christians learn they can’t rely on a privileged institutional role in society, they may finally revert to the ancient source of Christian vitality –  personal and community transformation through offering real life encounters with a living God.

This of course can’t be done any other way than through authentic relationship and engagement with people of all kinds.

Grassroots influence verses institutional authority – which one sounds more like Jesus?

A good place to start might be to listen to what non-church goers think about the church. Some have very sincerely sought to engage with the church, only to walk away for a range of reasons, such as being bored out of their brain…

Claire Harvey writes in today’s Sunday Telegraph: ‘I’ve never really been a churchgoer but during my 20s I started going to church just once a year at Christmas… It was a chance to think about my own complex feelings about faith, and to see all the other people enjoying the mood… Then a few years ago I went to an 11am Christmas Day service… It was awful… dull tedium… sanctimonious… obscure… a lecture about self-restraint, then ponderous hymns. I haven’t been back to a Christmas service since…’

I have left the identifying bits out, but many of our churches could plead guilty to these accusations.

She says that rather than attacking the ethics classes in schools, perhaps churches could learn from their success – ‘Students appeared excited by the issues the scenarios raised, readily articulated their views and backed those views with reason,’ Harvey writes, quoting a report on the classes. She continues, ‘The ethic classes should make the churches jealous. This is what they should be teaching – real-life lessons of how to make good decisions.’

The sad thing is that many churches (and scripture lessons too no doubt) are very relevant, practical, deeply spiritual and far from boring but we are losing the battle of public perception. Until we have communicators who can utilise the media, in much the same way that Claire Harvey has, even the best examples of the church in action will be relatively unnoticed.

Still, if grassroots influence is underway through real-life individual and community transformation, it won’t matter what the media says.

One thought on “Farewell institutional power, hello grassroots influence

  1. Peter, I tryed to send Claire the following response – but I could not find an email address. Perhaps you could send it to her??
    Ray Carter

    I read your Sunday Telegraph article this morning (How church can avoid jumping the shark) and wanted to respond to it. I could not find an email address in either the newspaper or the Sunday Telegraph’s website. I found it an email address attached to your article in the New Zealand Herald about the Tamakis (Destiny Church) but that failed.
    Wow, quite a double and both articles attacking different branches of the church – both here in Australia and on the other side of the ditch as well.
    I too have a great interest in the church and like you I have been involved with both the Anglican church and the Pentecostal movement. However that is where the similarity seems to end as I take a completely different attitude to you about the church.
    Your credentials seem a little thin as you point out that, although educated in an Anglican school, you did not attend church (except at Christmas). So perhaps somewhere along the way you may have rejected Christianity, although you have obviously benefited through a Christian education.
    You want the church to be more relevant but you base your opinion on a variety of evening services at Christmas and a small church in East Sydney – which you say was awful. May I say that there is much more to Christianity than just Christmas, although of course we place the birth of Christ in the category of ‘vital importance’. But no one can mature just by going to a few Christmas services or one visit to a struggling little East Sydney church.
    From this perspective you draw a lot of opinions: ethics teaching in NSW is good; we read obscure Bible passages; sing ponderous hymns; scripture teaching in schools must be boring; big Christian churces have failed etc etc.
    Now I know that your article takes a humorous, tongue in cheek approach to the subject, but at the same time you are serious in your obvious attempt to undermine the church’s role in the schools, in fact it appears you would like to see an end to it altogether.
    You are probably enjoying a lot of support in the community with these views and that is to be expected as Christians do not always respond to this sort of journalistic attack. We usually think that it is just another cross to bear. Populist journalism usually seeks to find an easy target and go in for the kill. We can take it. But as far as ethics teaching is concerned there are two sides to the story.
    Rather than give you the history of scripture in schools (I sure you have studied it anyway), the word ‘ethics’ is quite am misnommer. I ask you, should it not be called ‘philosophy’? The program has virtually nothing to do with Ethics. In fact we believe that it will eventually become an Anti-Christian program. I presume that is what you want.
    Toward the end of your article you point out that Christ was a rebel and I would agree with you . But did you know that he also said that he was the son of God? You could say he was killed for saying that. People can either say they believe he was, or not. But how can Christians teach any other perspective, he was either a madman for saying that – or it was true. We cannot make the church more relevant to today’s understanding than his supporters did 2,000 years ago. It is still the most relevant news you will read today, whether it comes from a stuggling little East Sydney Anglican church or Bishop Tamaki’s Destiny Church.
    I wept in church today as our pastor spoke on Luke 15, the Prodigal son story. Jesus told this story to highlight the love of God the Father (his father). You may view this as just another “obscure” passage from the Bible but I respectfully suggest that you read it and ask yourself, is this relevant to people today? Is it relevant to me?
    If you believe that Jesus was mad, then carry on with your vendetta, if you however conclude that he was the Son of God, then chat to a born again Christian that you can trust.

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