Radical, not respectable

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We’re back from another great Castlewellan Holiday Week – well, by ‘back’ I mean ‘still here’ because we stayed in our own home for the second year running. Perhaps “camping with benefits” is the way to describe it, living on-site during the day but sleeping in our own beds at night. It’s a perk that comes with our current station!

And by ‘another’ I do mean that many of the CHWs that I’ve attended since first encouraged to participate in the Youth and Children’s Team in 1994 have been absolutely wonderful. Of course, some have had their tensions and stresses, but God so often works in so many people’s hearts and lives that the occasional bumps and strains are worth it.

And by ‘Holiday’ I mean, ‘Work’ – our circuit agreed before our arrival that CHW would form part of my responsibilities, and to them I’m very grateful. While it is physically and spiritually demanding to practice with the band and then lead worship for ten sessions over a week, it is also energising and uplifting, hope-building and transforming. This year was no exception and while it’s taking a few days to recover (not helped by developing a minor case of shingles and catching Son #2’s cold), I was hugely blessed to see our prayerful preparation of song selection and arrangements facilitate the CHW family in connecting with God.

There were many words of encouragement and challenge offered throughout the week, both to us as a couple and to the wider church, many of which flowed in a stream of prophecy on the Thursday morning – “Trust in me, I am with you.” But the words that have spurred me to write today were offered in the closing minutes of the event on Friday night: a call to the Methodist Church in Ireland to be radical, not respectable.

Those words have resonated with me because, having studied Martin Atkins’ book Discipleship and the people called Methodists (click the link to download it) as a circuit last Winter, I am increasingly convinced that our role as a movement within the wider Church is to intentionally make disciples of Jesus Christ. And while Jesus did many things that gained him respect, he was entirely different to the people who demanded it. Paul writes to Timothy that leaders should be worthy of respect; but in Thessalonians he suggests that the respect should be coming from outsiders rather than the people who are already ‘in’. [1 Tim 3:4,8,11; 1 Thess 4:12]

Jesus was a truly radical figure, He challenged so many social norms of ‘respectable’ people in order to bring good news to the least and the lost. Touching a leper, speaking with loose women, healing on the Sabbath, feasting with sinners. This is what gained him respect from the outsider – and the ire of the establishment. Is it possible that 80% of what we do as church is derived from our culture instead of the Bible? Have we – have I – become the respectable establishment, respected because we dress nicely, speak quietly, smile a lot and go along with the flow of society?

Let us instead be God’s radical people, willing to be made uncomfortable for the sake of the Gospel, ready to do the unimagineable should our Lord demand it. Above all, let’s stop this nonsense of making decisions based on what people will think, and start praying more together and reading our Bibles intently so we’ll know what God thinks.

An ’80s pop song was referred to last Friday, introduced prophetically to those of us gathered who call the Methodist Church home. Here are some of the words: [full lyrics and copyright here]

Take or leave us, only please believe us – [we have a gospel to proclaim]
We ain’t never gonna be respectable.

It’s our occupation, we’re a dancing nation, [there have been references recently re MCI to Ezekiel’s dry bones being pulled together, receiving breath and dancing]
We keep the pressure on every night. [a praying people, night and day]

Taking chances, bold advances, [risk-takers for the Kingdom]
Don’t care if you think we’re out of line. [if God wants us to do something, tested by scripture and wise believers, we’re going to do it]
Conservation is interrogation, [tradition is the foundation for today’s action, not our everything]
Get out of here, we just don’t have the time. [today is the day…]

Like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us, [we are all about Jesus]
We ain’t never gonna be respectable.

We like to put ourselves on the line. [because that’s where contact with the ‘outside’ happens]

Recreation (re-creation?) is our destination… [our ultimate desire is for more people to be come new creations in Christ]

This is a big challenge to me in the first instance, but also to our people. How do you respond?

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