In the last couple of articles I’ve been writing about issues to do with race (and a little about class) that we need to respond to if we are to see multi-cultural churches reaching multi-cultural communities.
Of course, it is easy to identify problems but how does change happen? We say that “The Church” or even “The Conservative Evangelical constituency” need to change. Agreed, but what does that look like in practice?
Here are perhaps some images in our minds.
1. A big conference where we all get together and come to agreement followed by a public statement
2. Our recognised leaders publicly stating repentance on behalf of the church/constituency
The problem is that things don’t work like that. Conservative Evangelicals tend to value a high level of independence. This means that churches operate independently and networks operate independently from each other too. When there was a recent controversy about inappropriate wording on a major conference flyer, one prominent leader commented to me that we simply do not have the accountability structures to enable wrong behaviour by people outside of our specific churches/networks to be disciplined.
Also, whilst there are networks with appointed directors or elected presidents, it does not follow through that they have necessarily been chosen, recognised and empowered to speak/act on behalf of the churches and believers in the network. This is perhaps different from The Catholic Church or even The Anglican Communion. If the Pope speaks, especially ex-cathedra, he speaks for the Roman Catholic Church. If john Stevens speaks, he really speaks for John Stevens. We may recognise his preaching and teaching gifts and FIEC churches may appreciate the organisational skills that their national team bring but I don’t think it is quite the same. This is potentially a point of confusion in two areas.
1. The outside media doesn’t get this. So for example, they treat Steve Chalke as speaking for the Evangelical Church even though he has not even holding to an evangelical position or organisationally part of the Evangelical Alliance or an equivalent.
2. I wonder if this view of autonomy and relationship isn’t itself to some extent specific to our culture. This may cause confusion for people from other cultures.
There may be some things to reflect on there – and please note that I’m not saying we need formal denominational unity but we do need to keep thinking about he balance between independence and interdependence.
The next question is about where we are in terms of agreement/consensus on what needs to change. It’s helpful to think at this stage about how any change happens. It’s worth noting two things.
First of all, when introducing change, I learnt from an early stage to think in terms of the 80/20 rule. In this context it means that 80% of people will not have stopped to think and come to a passionate conclusion about an issue. They are happy just to go along. 20% are likely to care passionately. 10% will be deeply committed to change and 10% deeply committed to opposing it. Those figures are of course not meant to be read legalistically!
So, don’t be surprised if the vast majority of evangelicals are not particularly talking about race and class and don’t worry too much if there isn’t a uniform agreement of what the problems and solution is among everyone. What matters is that those who have recognised the need for change and are committed to seeing it happen are in agreement.
Secondly, there is a process people tend to go through when moving to change. Eli Goldratt identified it as 7 levels of opposition. It went something along the following lines
0 “I don’t accept you or your agenda.”
1 “I accept you but I don’t think there is a problem”
2 “I agree there’s a problem but think you’ve defined it wrong”
3 “I agree with the problem but disagree with your solution”
4 “I agree with the solution but I don’t think we can achieve it”
5 “I agree with the solution but think the costs will outweigh the benefits”
6 “I say yes, but I don’t actually move.”
I think this is important because we often find that we come unstuck at level 6. We go through all the hard work of persuading but we leave it there and wonder why nothing happens. There’s still something stopping the change.
I suspect we have something of that issue here. I’m not really hearing (mainstream) people saying “You know what we think racism and classism is a good thing. I’m not also sensing much in the way of kick back with people saying “You are raising the wrong issues.” There’s no violent disagreement with the challenge that’s been raised. However, that doesn’t mean we are seeing real movement either.
With those things in mind, how do we see change happen? I want to suggest that it won’t happen (and isn’t happening) because of a top down agenda so much as from local grass roots events. We are seeing churches in London coming together to talk, we are seeing leaders from non-white and non-middle class backgrounds raised up. We are much further back in the Black Country but little things are happening.
I think that as true Gospel unity and passion is modelled that this will start to take off in other areas too.
And whilst there are the problems I mentioned above with the independent mindset, providing the grass roots stuff is happening, I still think that it is right for people to speak out nationally and publicly. There is a type of informal leadership which is not so much about formal structurers but the recognition of gifted preachers and teachers we look a lot to the States and Australia to people like John Piper, Tim Keller, Don Carson etc but there are also UK people like Vaughan Roberts, Jonathan Lamb, Steve Brady etc. Hearing Scripture applied to these types of issues at Keswick and Word Alive will contribute to change.
Finally, I do think that there’s a place for The FIEC and others to put this on the agenda when their members’ representatives gather for AGMs.