Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Discipleship - A General Synod Debate

Below is my speech to the General Synod this afternoon.

The speech was to support two amendments:
1. Add "(b) invites the laity and clergy of the Church of England:
(i) to commit themselves to learn, pray, worship and proclaim the Gospel together;
(ii) to suggest what the Church of England and its leadership could do to help them deepen their discipleship; and"

2.  Add at the end:
"(iii) to engage in a wide consultation with all people in England, of all faiths and none, to discern how the Church of England could deepen its discipleship to enable it to better work to serve the common good of this nation"

The amendments fell, but the reason for putting them was to register that a much wider variety of voices is needed in the way in which we are approaching this as a Church.

Synod, let me begin by saying that I am excited by the package that is before us today.  And that the whole thing is founded upon discipleship, upon our following of Jesus is one of the most exciting things.  Founding our work for the next period of the church's history on the costly grace of being formed by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ to the glory of the Father is indeed exciting.  This is a programme that should engage the whole people of God, in all their beauty and diversity.

But there are warnings in the paper before us today.  GS 1977 notes that "the biggest obstacle in lay development is the clericalised culture of church and ministry" and warns that without a breadth of vision for discipleship we will restrict our understanding of service to the church, create a lopsided view of ministry and impoverish the mission and ministry of the whole church.

Given the exciting nature of this programme and the breadth of its application, it was then a little disappointing to come to the motion before us which gives one action to dioceses and two to bishops.  These actions are important and valuable.

However my first amendment seeks to involve the whole church, lay and ordained, in committing ourselves to learning, praying, worshipping and proclaiming together.  And it asks all the disciples of the Church of England to take responsibility for our own lives in Christ and to communicate what would be the greatest support to discipleship.

My second amendment seeks to broaden the conversation further and to involve the people that we seek to serve and to work with in the service of the common good of this nation.  There are people of good will who long to partner with us, we need to listen to them.  It is not, as one colleague has already suggested to me, to turn following Jesus into doing what the world tells us.  I hope the wording of the amendment is clear that it is a contribution to our discernment of what our discipleship could be, where the Lord is calling us, as we seek to serve the common good.  But if it is the common good that we serve, then we have to listen to those with whom we will work and who we seek to serve.

It is really important that we hear as many voices as we can as we seek to reform and renew the church.  Yesterday we had two apologies for the lack of diversity in the task groups.  This is not a matter of quotas for different groups of people.  It is because the lack of diversity means that we have a lack of ideas, a lack of godly insight, a lack of the fullness of what God is saying to us at this point in our life together.  We are impoverished by the limited range of voices that contribute to our discussions.

After Synod's mood yesterday, I hesitate to invoke a piece of leadership theory. But I think there is a very relevant piece of thinking.  The challenges that face us, that were so eloquently set out by Canon Spence yesterday evening, are not business as usual.  They are not tame problems that can be addressed through the application of good process.  Rather, they are to use the jargon "wicked" problems that need adaptive leadership.  One of the features of addressing wicked problems well is encouraging experimentation and listening to everyone, as addressing the problems need to involve everyone and indeed the solutions could be found anywhere.  Addressing wicked problems well involves listening to the voices of everyone, because anyone has the potential to offer insight and wisdom that could transform how we approach the challenges that face us.

However, if leadership theory is not something that should be discussed on the floor of Synod today, then let me also offer you an image from the Rule of St Benedict.  Benedict teaches that all should be called to the council, because "the Lord often revealeth to the younger what is best".  It is the Lord who renews his church.  We need to listen for where he is revealing to us what is best for the Church of England.

Synod, we face "wicked" problems that need everyone to contribute to their solution.  We need to listen for the voice of God, whomever God is speaking through.  We need to broaden the range of voices that are contributing to our discussions so that they involve the whole church and beyond.  I ask you to support the amendments that stand in my name.

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