Yesterday’s post discussed annual pledging in the Church of England and The Episcopal Church.

The Revd David Keen, the Opinionated Vicar, has his ministry in Yeovil, Somerset. Recently he wrote on the future of the parish system in the Church of England.

Our English dioceses are large, probably because we have an established (state) church. With declining membership and worship attendance, some will no doubt have to close. This brings the inevitable solution of closing churches and, possibly, holding services in people’s homes. After all, the reasoning goes, we are the Church. It’s not a building.

However, that seems to be part of the problem, as I see it, with the Church of England. If our bishops and priests preached and taught the Bible the way John MacArthur does at his church, our houses of worship would be filled to the rafters. Money would be no problem.

The comments following Keen’s post were many and varied. David Shepherd had the best suggestions. Would that our bishops — and priests — contemplate the following and bring them to fruition. Below are excerpts from Shepherd’s detailed thoughts on the matter. Emphases mine below.

The parish share needs rethinking:

I’ve spent some time looking at not only how the Parish Share is calculated, but also where it goes. For instance, the kinds of projects that gain Mission Development Fund grants may well engage with the community on some level, but they typically lack any evangelistic engagement. £1000 here for the Ukelele club. £9000 there for setting up community choirs. It all adds up. Meanwhile precious little is put towards intentional evangelism because it’s far too direct and is deemed to lack ‘incarnational’ halllmarks.

What those running these projects lack is the sort of charism and conviction of a divine encounter with Christ that characterised the early church. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but, to the public, they’re just another bunch of well-meaning unpersuasive ‘pillars of convention’.

You look at the New Churches and they’re full of anticipation that life-transforming encounters with Jesus can and do still happen every day. They aren’t steeped in recitations and rituals too mysterious for outsiders to unravel. They anticipate that they will be part of the great things that God will do. Even their laity have a better grasp of scripture than many CofE clergy. Most members can deliver a meaningful testimony about God’s practical goodness in their lives. And their congregations are growing.

More evangelical engagement is needed:

My belief is that, in every aspect of church life, form and ceremony don’t connect with ordinary lives, however they are re-packaged, sorry, re-imagined by a plethora of Task Groups.

People empathise with stories of change and transformation. They’re all over YouTube. Honest testimony about how God has broken the power of addiction, instilled the discipline to pay off and stay out of consumer debt, transformed a failing marriage. People want to see the before and after. Most of the visioning in church is about the ‘after’ with no transparency about what any of us were like before. In contrast, the gospels present a ‘warts and all’ image of real discipleship, about how they learned to overcome rivalry, selfishness, and betrayal to serve a common purpose.

Return to Pauline values:

Notice that St.Paul encouraged giving, but only to alleviate genuine hardship and to support those of good reputation in ministry, especially in furtherance of evangelism and doctrine.

He wrote to the Ephesian bishop, Timothy: ‘Honour widows that are widows indeed, Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work…Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Tim 5:3, 17)

So, why is it that Mission Development is run along completely secular lines, like a Local Authority Community Development effort? Why do so many churches do little more than incidental public evangelism.

It may be right for dioceses to encourage giving. However, there should be more emphasis on evangelism accountability and financial prioritisation of teaching and preaching the gospel to adults, instead of just targeting measures aimed at reversing the CofE’s demographic time-bomb.

Of course, clergy stipends, parish staff, maintenance and running costs all have to be paid. However, I am gravely disappointed when any hobby that might engage a sector of the community can gain funding as mission.

This is why I and many others are hesitant about pledging when a goodly sum of our money will go to secular concerns instead of faithfully furthering the Gospel.

My other concern is the amount of money funding missionary activity outside of our local area. Ten years ago our vicar printed out how our parish church’s donations are used. Much of it went to the diocese which then sent a surprising amount to various ‘missions’. The names did not look familiar and few were operating within our parish. What were they? More information was needed.

I don’t have the sheet of paper, because on the back was a survey asking if we agreed with how our money was being apportioned. I suggested that most of what we pledge should stay within our parishes. I gave with the expectation that the majority of my donation maintained the local church of which I am a member. Seeing those figures in 2005 made me reconsider how much to give each year.

It seems to me, that with regard to missions, a better plan would be to have a special collection one or two Sundays a year during the service. People would then be able to donate what they wish.

I also agree with David Shepherd’s thoughts above. The Church of England should function as a church, not as another secular outreach vehicle. Unfortunately, I doubt many of our clergy have the faith in Christ to make that happen.

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