A holy huddle or a light which cannot be hidden?
Rob James is church and media consultant for Evangelical Alliance Wales.
I well remember the Sunday morning I stood outside the local supermarket interviewing young and old as they scurried about on their regular business. I learnt much about how our culture views the Church that day as the responses demonstrated over and over again that much of communities readily associate the Church with its devastating historical record on child abuse.
I was reminded of that realisation when I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury commenting on Radio 4 earlier this week on how the BBC and the Church have dealt with allegations of child abuse. To be fair, though the Archbishop’s observation was only a small part of what he had to say, it does raise a very important question: how is the Church regarded in 21st century Britain?
In his book, Invading Secular Space, Martin Robinson stresses the importance of the credibility of the Church: “The single biggest factor in determining whether or not people come to church resides in what they think of church.” He continues, “It is much more likely that people will respond favourably to the witness of the Church when the Church is well regarded. The way in which we live and bear witness significantly influences the view that the wider community has of the Church”.
Robinson’s observations ring true in my experience. It helps to speak with authenticity, whether we’re preaching the gospel or addressing pressing social issues like child abuse, freedom of speech or unity. After all we want to be identified as followers of one who was the way as well as the truth and the life: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5 14-16).
Initiatives such as food banks, debt counselling centres and street pastor teams are clearly helping to bridge the credibility gap, shining as lights before others. We have certainly seen this in Wales, in the active engagement of the Christian community with those who don’t go to church or even know much about it. This is a welcome development given the legacy of the 1904 revival which saw a pietistic withdrawal into “holy huddles”.
There is still a long way to go of course. Just two weeks ago a local politician told me that she had no interest in church because it was “dreary” and “full of people who tell others how to live but are no different themselves”.
All of this begs the question: what are we doing to make our witness more credible in our particular situation? How can you help change how the world sees the Church?
Are you in a holy huddle or are you shining the light which cannot be hidden?
Photo: Andrew Dong