If having visited the toilet at church you walked back into the main worship area with your flies undone or with your skirt tucked into your pants, would anyone tell you, or would they pretend nothing was wrong? What if you were so absent minded that you did this on more than one occasion - but still no one said anything. Would that be a sign of their friendship – that they didn’t want to hurt your feelings? Well, maybe, yes. But wouldn’t it also suggest a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude – a form of neglect? Sure it’s difficult and potentially embarrassing to point out the social faux pas – but how could your friends claim to care if they kept quiet?
Genuine friends care enough to point out the skirt tucked into pants, bad breath or BO. Which hopefully means the authors of a less than complimentary report on the Methodist church won’t get shot for delivering an embarrassing ‘flies undone’ message.
Anglican priest, theology professor and respected statistician, Leslie J Francis and Methodist minister and research assistant, John M Haley, have recently written up the results of a survey conducted among Methodist ministers. It makes cringe-worthy reading – for example Methodist ministers regard their own worship services as boring! They also have a negative opinion about the typical sermon in their churches and many say they are struggling with stress and burnout. Read the news story on page 9 for more grisly details.
And lest you think I have it in for Methodists –– my eldest son’s middle name is Wesley – a sign of my huge regard for the man who ushered in a massive revival in England and helped avert the French revolution and its resulting bloodshed from spreading to our shores. I love and respect the Methodist church and, like the survey authors, take no pleasure in reporting on its decline.
Methodists: don’t shoot the messenger. Zip up your flies and straighten your skirts – because things need to change. The report; ‘British Methodism – What circuit ministers really think’ is a labour of love conducted by the authors in their own time at their own expense. This delayed its publication for several years – so the ills it highlights may have become even worse since the ministers were asked for their views at the end of the 1990s.
And if you are not a Methodist and are tempted to feel smug, don’t. Ask yourself what the ministers of Baptist, Anglican, BMC, Catholic, Elim, Newfrontiers or whatever denomination or stream you belong to – would really say if they were asked the same pithy questions – in complete confidence? Would they say their worship services were relevant or repetitive? Would they describe their governmental structures as a blessing or a curse? And would they claim their church growth strategies were boom or bust?
Despite some pockets of growth, life and renewal – overall the British church is going through difficult times – the latest English Churches survey is due to be released in September and I suspect Peter Brierley of Christian Research will report a further drop in attendance and membership. The picture in Scotland, Ireland and Wales is no better.
I hope the article by Andy Peck (page 12) which asks leaders to consider what shape the UK church will be in by 2020, will be a trigger to thoughtful consideration. Anyone who cares about the body of Christ within the UK needs to stop, look around, pray and plan for the future – to help ensure the church for the next generation is vibrant, relevant, outward looking, growing, worshipful, faithful to scripture and serving our communities.
And for where we fall short – lets speak the truth in love and zip up our flies.
John Buckeridge is the senior editor of Christianity magazine.