Thursday, 31 July 2008

An Entertaining Church?

It's Tuesday evening; the cinema is almost packed; most of the people there are women, with a few men. For some of those who are there, this is not their first time; they have been before and have come back for more! What is it? Mama Mia of course!

The critics slated the film and especially Meryl Streep for playing the lead. "What on earth was she doing in a film like this? Surely she would not like this in her portfolio of serious work!" But most of the critics missed the point: Mama Mia is simply good fun and the cast obviously had good fun making it; they are having a ball! If you can get past Pierce Brosnan's singing (and there were some audience members who didn't care about his singing; they just drooled over him every time he appeared on screen!) then this film is simply good fun. The only problem is - the songs get into your head and stay there for days!

"People today go to church to be entertained, and the cinema to be challenged." I found this quote a while back; it has been said by a number of people, in a variety of ways, this one attributed to Gerald Coates, a leader of the New Church movement in England and a regular radio contributor. No-one would be challenged by Mama Mia; it's just not that kind of film. There is, however, this criticism of Church. "Church services are boring!" is a criticism we hear so often. What does that ciriticism suggest? That Church should be entertaining? Someone came late to our Church one Sunday and was in the vestiuble during the children's address; it made him glad to hear people laughing in Church because he had been brought up to a very different attitude to Church!

Why do you come to Church? To be entertained by the fun part of the children's talk? To be entertained by the music, the singing of the choir or the music of our organist and young people? To be entertained by the visual images on the screen at the beginning of the sermon? Or do you come to Church to be challenged by the Word of God?

All that we do in Church - music, singing, verbal and visual presentation - should be first class, the very best. It often is! We should also be able to use humour as part of that; humour can help us understand and grasp a profound message. I spoke at the welcome social for Lezley Kennedy at Currie last week and tried to be light-hearted and funny then; I'm not sure that that would work on a Sunday morning; it might well detract from the thing of first importance which is the challenge of the Word.

I was spotted at Mama Mia! There was a whole row of people from Juniper Green sitting behind us. One suggested that Tuesday evening might have an impact on Sunday morning's service - what can she mean?

Friday, 25 July 2008

Who'd be a leader?

How does Gordon Brown feel this morning? He's had this ambition for years to become Prime Minister because he wants to make a difference, yet in the year since he took office very little has gone right for him. Will Glasgow East be the last straw? Probably not, but he must see his world collapse around him.

What about Rowan Williams? Are Church leaders supposed to be ambitious? In some ways, it's OK; I've certainly known people in the Church of Scotland whose ambition to be in high Church circles has been obvious. I've no way of knowing whether Rowan Williams had ambitions to be Archbishop of Canterbury, but he's there; he's the leader of the Anglican Church across the world. How does he feel today with the prospect of the Anglican Church splitting massively? It's not his fault, but it is happening on his watch!

There are some people in the Church who think leadership is a great thing, because you get to be 'at the front'. That's where they want to be because people will look up to them and they want to be looked up to! That's their ambition! There is no doubt that being at the front is a great adrenalin rush - how must Barak Obama have loved being the centre of attention for 200,000 Germans in Berlin yesterday!

Christian leadership has another model, though. The model for Christian leaders has to be Jesus; the symbols of leadership as modelled by Jesus are the basin and the towel. Leadership modelled by Jesus is about service to others, caring for the needs of others. That service comes in all kinds of forms - for some it is a calling to be a preacher, a Church leader full-time; for others it is giving some of your time and energy to serve Christ and His Church in other ways.

It doesn't matter the way in which we lead, or the kind of leadeship we offer, it always costs. There is always a cost. Your great ideas are discarded by your group; the ideas you do put into practice don't work; you've done this for 30 years and struggle to find new energy to keep going; the people with whom you work are really awkward and hard to get on with. There is always a cost.

But, those whom God calls He also equips. We need to pray for Gordon Brown and Rowan Williams, for everyone you know who is a leader in Church or society; pray for energy, strength, wisdom, stickability. Good leaders are valuable beyond price; we need to value them, support them, above all pray for them.