Promoting the Church’s Big Idea – Mike Hill
The arena in which public intellectuals converse is revealing an infectious idea that will be concerning for many church leaders. Indeed, speaking with some church leaders makes it clear that this idea has started to cross their minds to some extent.
The idea is simply this:
The Church, which used to be a driving force of a ‘big idea’ (metanarrative) in the so-called ‘developed’ world, has been declining for years. COVID-19 is likely to be the factor which potentially accelerates the total collapse of the Church, as an institution, in those ‘developed’ countries.
Is it true?
It is true that whilst there was some early excitement about online viewing figures when the Church initially went online at the beginning of lockdown, these numbers are now falling with just a few outliers bucking the trend.
And yet it is also true that there is much to celebrate about the way local churches have responded to the challenge.
- They have quickly learnt new skills in order to deliver their content online
- ‘Ministries of Mercy’ have grown and have involved more people in their delivery
- Despite churches being ‘zoomed out’, they have discovered that they can create some kind of connection that does not just rely on physical meetings
- Morale has been pretty intact amongst the church leaders
- The desire to learn to prepare churches for post COVID-19 times has been impressive
In my mind, there is little doubt that during the COVID-19 crisis, the Church has done what the Church should do and made its presence felt.
So, what is the basis for the negative prophecies of some public intellectuals?
The basis seems to be at the level of fundamental ideas. Many have observed that the basic big stories that dominated western thinking have now been deconstructed to the point of destruction. They no longer hold sway. This, they claim, is leading to the demise of the Church. Our metanarrative is no longer dominant and perhaps not even wanted.
The fact that there is no explicit big idea that unites us is partly the explanation of the divisions we see growing within our own society. The so-called ‘woke culture’, with its ideas of identity politics and intersectionality, is becoming the new big idea that will unite us. You will have to make up your own mind as to whether it is doing so.
My own view is that its inconsistencies and its incoherence make it an unlikely basis for a new and uniting metanarrative. There is always the danger that we morph into the big idea that we exist simply to make as much money as we can and enjoy ourselves – whatever the cost to others in a global world!
Grounds for hope
All this might lead us to conclude that we are now a part of some depressing and irreversible scenario. Except there is still a sovereign God in heaven!
Yesterday, talking to a former Bishop, we discussed the idea that maybe the future will be the Church existing in another form. However, it seems clear we do need to recover confidence and intellectually compete in the public debate about big ideas. This has seemed to be lacking in recent years.
Of course, we do have history on our side. For centuries, the Judaeo/Christian metanarrative held pole position. As Tom Holland has made explicit in his interesting book Dominion, it was this big idea that shaped our culture, our law and our morality, and to some extent it still does.
At the same time, we have to admit that our own big idea has manifested itself in abusive and excessive forms of history – the Crusades, the institutionally racist overtones, the exploitation of workers and children in the period of industrialisation etc. etc.
However, history would tend to show that within our big idea there were the resources for modification and recovery. For instance, the Church lived alongside slavery, with almost everyone else for centuries. It was a Christian Member of Parliament , William Wilberforce, with the support of many others inside and beyond Parliament, that drove the anti-slavery legislation. Today Christians, with others, are in the forefront of confronting modern slavery.
So what can we do?
- That the Sovereign God of the Universe would ignite our courage and our imagination in the Church
Get with the programme
- “Leaders are readers,” said John Maxwell. Read up on this stuff to equip you for the important battle for hearts and minds*
- Listen to some of the culture wars stuff online or via podcasts
- Get all the help you can with leading into the marketplace of ideas. I would recommend the best investment you can make is to register with GLN UK & Ireland, get to the GLS and follow our website content.
Promote the Church’s big idea
- Blog, post on Facebook, Twitter, whatever. Start a conversation. Don’t be discouraged by opposition. Jesus said, “When you are persecuted”, not ”if!”
- Access great teaching on the big idea, either online or resource your own regular teaching session. Incidentally, this stuff will not only bear repetition, it will require repetition!
- Pray for clarity, coherence and courage.
I don’t think I can recommend enough the importance of being resourced and confident enough to enter the marketplace of ideas. Can you imagine a form of Christianity existing without the big idea of the Gospel to underpin it? Well, that seems to be the route that some choose to follow.
It’s about time we made our presence felt!
CEO, GLN UK & Ireland
*Some initial reading you might like to look at:
The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Heidt. (In my view, the authors rightly claim that what’s happening in the USA is true of most liberal democracies.)
Identity by Francis Fukuyama. A good assessment of identity politics and where they will lead us.
The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray. A clear assessment of most of the subjects that divide UK society by an author who has been described as “the leading UK public intellectual.”
Mankind by Rutger Bregman. Amazon claims that 7million (?) people are currently reading this book. Ultimately, its message that human beings are basically good doesn’t align with Christian doctrine on man’s sinful nature. However, it is an interesting read and will help you gain a better understanding of an important departure from Christian thinking.