Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Three Phases of Church Engagement

Three Phases of Church Engagement

'Without a vision the people perish' so goes the oft quoted biblical proverb. In our church experience it has been used by leaders to suggest that 'the' vision of the church leader(s), and therefore the church, is worth fighting for; it is possibly even more important than the hopes, dreams, and lives of the individual church members. 

Paul Scanlon (44) , who for many years headed up the Abundant Life Church in Bradford, England, wrote in his book 'Crossing Over' about his vision of moving from their existing building to a larger complex built on their campus site. He spoke in a sermon about those who left the church during this period and used the phrase 'we lost them in the car park'. 

Paul isn't alone in finding it preferable to overlook the stories of those who seem resistant to change. There are countless times that my wife and I have been at leaders' meetings and felt the surge of power invested in the delegates to return to their pulpits and join Isaiah in setting their faces 'like flint' (45) to ignore the dissenting voices in our congregations in order to fulfil our destiny: the metaphors and narratives might change but the meanings don't. 

Over time we became increasingly weary of such teaching as we realised that it didn't really resonate with the picture we see in Jesus who would not only 'lay down his life' for his sheep but would also willingly leave the ninety-nine, to find the individual who had become lost. 

On considering our own experiences and the stories told to us by others, we have begun to see several patterns emerge in many of the scenarios where the vision has been held up as the highest reference point for success. 

Church engagement is not a single entity; it is certainly not an upward journey of increased adherence. This is, of course, true of all human organisations; I use the same model when I train business leaders, but it has particular resonance for our church context.

I would like to suggest that there exists an organisational entropy when it comes to a person's engagement to a group, community, or vision. Most of the models that I have seen explaining how to secure human engagement tend to paint a picture of an onward and upward journey towards increased adherence. I am not sure that this is either possible, or even perhaps desirable. (Fig 2. Three Phases)

I suggest that there is a three phased journey experienced within a community; as set out below. 

1) Enthusiastic
2) Realistic
3) Apathetic

Each of these phases have particular narratives, drivers, and feelings associated with them.

1) Enthusiastic 

In this phase the church members tend to believe in the vision expressed by the leaders. They are immune to, or choose to ignore, many of the ways in which the leaders act that cause disengagement in the other phases. 

When leaders speak in hyperbole, they choose to nod in agreement and repeat the messages to new people. When they are asked 'What's not to like about this?' they cannot think of anything but a positive response. 

In churches that have a tendency to be highly driven by vision there is often little room for doubt to be expressed. Sermons often contain conversation halting statements like 'You cannot out give God'. In this context any questions raised about the church tithing policy are painted as representing a lack of faith. 

In addition membership, or commitment to the church vision, is conflated with faithfulness to God and so it is not rare to hear statements like 'If you are not in church you are not in the will of God'. Again this stops honesty and further discussion by placing a heavy weight on disagreement. Now you are not just disagreeing with the church, you are disagreeing with God. (See Dr. Robert J. Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform (46) for more on this). I will mention more on this later.

There are several possible reasons why those in phase 1 find it easy to ignore what seems obvious to others. Sometimes it is because of the promise of perceived benefits to be found within churches that adopt an aspirational model. It will likely be suggested that adherence to the vision will result in the possibility of the individual's personal vision or goal being fulfilled; leading a team, speaking from a platform, playing in the worship band, or the like. The model often fails because it tends to adopt the same numbers game model used by TV talent shows. That is promise enough people personal fulfilment and a few will have the talent or gifts to make the dream a reality. These then become the trophies of success that encourage others to believe in the process. 

In addition to this are other motivational factors such as the need to belong or the desire to be part of something successful. It is hard to resist the comparison with pyramid selling schemes at this point. 

Whilst the individual's journey is progressing towards the aspirational goal it will be relatively easy to ignore what those in other phases have difficulty with. 

Enthusiasm and adherence are fuelled, because leaders will encourage those who appear to be in phase 1 by including them in conversations, valuing their input, and involving them in what appears to be an inner circle; at least at a superficial level. 

2) Realistic

I would suggest that it is almost impossible to remain in phase 1 for an extended period of time. In fact, most leaders do not reside in the enthusiastic phase even if they appear to do so. 

Pete Rollins (47) speaks of this when he highlights the presence of twin, competing narratives within organisations. The headline narrative of a church, he says, might be 'God heals' but the unspoken, or hidden narrative, that most people, including the leaders, really live by is 'God heals, but if you are really sick go to the hospital'.

In the realistic stage there is a greater influence placed upon the individual from this unspoken narrative than the headline narrative. The dissonance between the message from the platform and what people see in practice becomes harder to ignore. The outward behaviour of people in this phase may at times still look like that of the inhabitants of Phase 1 but internally questions are being raised and the process of disengagement has begun. 

Even so, people in this stage will still likely stay in the church. This is driven by a variety of factors. It might be that fear of rejection might hold them to the group. This in turn is fuelled by the leadership's well-defined descriptions of what is 'in' and what is 'out'. Added to this are the often pejorative descriptions of what the 'other' looks like. The implication is that other churches are not where the real blessing is to be found. 

Sometimes people stay because of the possible effects upon other family members or because they may well be on church staff and so are tied financially to the vision. 

Leaders, if they perceive this is happening, will tend to treat this group differently from those in the previous phase. Rather than people feeling included, they will have a sense of being 'used' to fulfil the vision. Their value is therefore linked with their usefulness to the ultimate goal. 

Any signs of dissension will be tolerated because it is likely to be hinted at rather than overtly stated. Behaviour that does not fit with the standard set as the norm will be challenged from the platform. 

We were in a large church a while ago and the senior leader announced from the platform that 161 people had arrived at least 2 minutes late for church that morning. The congregation were then 'encouraged' to give their full commitment to God; in essence conflating church attendance with obedience to God. 

3) Apathetic

With an increasing sense of awareness of the narrative dissonance described above it is almost certain that people will find the need to disconnect emotionally from the central vision of the church. 

People will have a greater awareness of feeling like a commodity in the process of moving towards the vision. Seeing others being 'lost in the car park' tends to make those who remain feel used too: How you treat those who leave has a direct effect upon those who stay. 

Leaders will often ignore or even demonise those who are in Phase 3 in an attempt to create a narrative that undermines any complaints that they might raise. Once someone is painted in a bad light it is easier to ignore their voice. 

Eventually, if employed, they will be dismissed. If they are a lay member, they will be discouraged from having a voice, thus making it almost impossible for them to stay. In a sense this is like the ecclesiological version of constructive dismissal in the business world. The only two choices for these people is to remain silent, but internally disconnected or to leave the church altogether. 

I am not suggesting that the motives of the leaders are always in question. My wife and I have been both hurt by the construct and been part of the group doing the building. I think the wider culture of theological training, denominational fervour, and leadership teaching encourages the behaviour described. 

Whether fair motives or foul, however, the result is that individuals and families are sometimes sacrificed on the altar of achieving the vision, even if we just call it 'losing them in the car park'. 

Commitment to a church vision is not necessarily the same as faithfulness to God

Monday, 13 June 2016

Leadership and the Danger of Single Focus

It could be said that each of us incaranate the message of the gospel whether we intend to or not. Our thoughts and actions become a hermeneutic for our understanding of the work of God in Christ. This is particularly true for those in leadership; we bring to our teaching and leadership a worldview that shaped by our beliefs.

The problem is that this relationship, between the incarnation and our worldview, is also affected by other factors that might not seem obvious. Such things as often revealed in the culture wars that take place when our way of life seems threatened. What we are then presented with is a message that has all of the outward appearance of being connected with the gospel but is more a push back against the pace of change.

For example, in his book 'Why Men Hate Going to Church', David Murrow (23) sets out a view that has gained popularity in many aspirational churches. He uses statistics and stories to suggest that the over feminisation of the church has meant that men are not interested in attending. He lands the ultimate blow in his thesis with the phrase, “The religion that wins men, wins”.

There are so many things that I could say about the damage that this book, and others like it, have done, but I will focus on a few aspects that I think are useful to us here. 

Firstly, I object to the idea that is created by such books that men are defined as male by 'not' being women; or at least by not displaying characteristics typically associated with being female. This places women in the position of the 'other', that men are to not be. There is a tendency in both the media, and by implication the church, to over genderise issues of personhood. This is the 'Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus' effect that I see so often in the management training sessions I run. The concepts that women can multitask and men can't; women love detail and men don't; and women are emotional and men are not, all present ideas about the differences in the gender that are open to question.

Even if we sometimes see representations of such things, it is highly likely that they are culturally conditioned and not an ontological predisposition. I challenge you, as I do in the training sessions, to consider you own group of friends and you will likely find men who cry and love detail, and women who are more stoical and straight to the point. The gender stereotypes might offer a bit of amusement among family members, but they are not something on which to build a belief system. 

Men are not more male if they show fewer seemingly female characteristics: the cultural loading here is almost palpable but Murrow, and those who have used his material, are falling into the trap of not seeing the 'wood for the trees' when it comes to understanding humanity. I would suggest that human beings, both women and men, share a very high proportion of common characteristics.

Gender differences do exist, but that we should not allow popular culture to be the loudest voice in influencing our view; thus leading us towards an over simplified position. We certainly should not stoop to producing our own version of the call for people to 'man up' as if maleness was a call to some kind of bravado or aggression.

Second, as stated earlier, ideas that are based on revisionist views of history simply will not do. There has not been a time when, en masse, men have been so distinctly excited about church attendance. Murrow's idea only works if such a time had existed. Only in this context can he assign the cause of the downfall to the over feminisation of the church. Of more importance, particularly given the vastly out weighted statistics of male leadership compared with female leadership within the church, is Murrow's over simplification of what it means to be a man.

I heard a keynote speaker referencing Murrow's work at a men's conference a few years ago, I was staggered that intelligent people allowed such ideas to go unchallenged, let alone that such conferences have testosterone invoking names such as: Brotherhood, Brave, Xcel, Mighty Men, Courageous Men, Iron Sharpens Iron, Call to Arms, and Act Like Men.

I am just waiting for someone like Mark Driscoll to bring out the 'Grow a Pair' men's conference and I think we will have had all the various shades of culturally laden names available. It is worth noting that in popular culture males are encouraged to become more 'manly' with phrases like 'grow a pair', 'man up', and 'don't be such a girl'. The fact that some parts of the church not only do not see these are offensive but mimic popular culture by using them is more than worrying.

During the above mentioned conference, the one in which Murrow's book was lauded, I looked down the row at the group of men with whom I had attended and saw in that small picture why such teaching is wrong. None of us fitted the stereotype. I don't even think the speaker fitted the stereotype. I didn't fit it either. I am a six foot, eighteen stone, ex rugby playing Northerner, who likes meat from a barbecue: yes, I would fit the stereotype here. But I also cry at sad films, like art and poetry, hate fighting, and don't like Harley Davidson motorcycles. I probably need to grow a pair.

As I said, the rest of the men on my row failed to fit the brief. They were a fine collection of what it means to be men; complex and different. They may have laughed at the funny stories of how men like to shoot, ride, fight, eat road kill, and give firm handshakes (never hugs) but the truth is that the oversimplification was not our experience. As a mark of our male solidarity we had a group hug at the end and went off to a salad bar, it seemed only right.

Our understanding of gender is important when considering the incarnation as a model for the church. God did not come primarily to be a man but to be a human being. Churches, and authors, that present well defined parameters for what it means to be female or male, without acknowledging the cultural conditioning that our views are laden with, will have a tendency to create an incarnation in their own image.

Add to this, if you will, the idea that evangelical churches have typically followed a one ‘man’ ministry model of church leadership. In addition we might say that larger churches have tended to adopt the 'senior person as the CEO' model, we can see how Murrow's words become both dangerous and misleading. If the 'religion that wins men, wins' is in any way true, it is probably because the conditions that allow men to be in positions of power over women have not been sufficiently challenged.

So we have a high proportion of male leaders heading up congregations that generally contain more female members. At the same time the world is changing and male leadership as the norm is being questioned. It's no wonder that we have a tendency to highlight the male stereotypes; even if Murrow and conference leaders think the opposite.

Again the incarnation is not about God becoming male; it is about God becoming human. Once we have cleared this in our minds we can consider what the model might mean for us. Now before you think that this overemphasising of maleness only affects men it is worth noting that many women, in business, church, and politics, feel they have to demonstrate characteristics associated with being male in order to succeed.

It also places in the minds of our congregations ideas that suggest that maleness is more associated with God than attributes traditionally associated with being female.

Our goal in Christ is to become fully human; not to look for ways to display our masculinity or femininity

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Ends can Never Justify the Means

The Ends can Never Justify the Means

Having been involved in church leadership for the best part of three decades my wife and I have seen our fair share of debate and controversy. Not too long ago such discussions took place in colleges, conferences, and the letters section of journals, but now we have a greater level of access to the various opinions on offer through the internet.

Even with these changes there is an aspect of debate that seems ever so familiar: when the discussion is in full flow it seems that some people are all too ready to suggest that the good that is done by a particular church, preacher, or ministry should somehow protect them from criticism; it seems that, for some, the ends justifies the means. This can take many forms but most recently Beverley and I came across it when debating on the internet the relative merits of a particular mega church pastor's teaching and the possible negative effect upon the lives of many people.

"But just look how big his church is!" we were offered, followed by "But what about all of the people who have been saved through his ministry?" 

For most well meaning Christians it almost seems churlish to argue with such reasoning; as if the call for peace reflects some well quoted passage from Corinthians. Perhaps such an idea, however, requires further scrutiny. 

How much good needs to be done by the preacher for them to reach the point of being free from criticism? Is there a formula we can use to deduce that the correct level of positive outcome has been achieved, thus rendering any damage done as no longer significant? If so, what would such an equation look like? If more people are helped than hindered should we just remain silent?

Perhaps I could suggest this to be an accurate assessment of the way we often view such things:

(Number of people helped) divided by (Number of people hurt) multiplied by (the number of the preacher's books we own)

(Note - I wonder whether our investment in product makes it more difficult to be critical for fear of being wrong.)

Unfortunately, I haven't found anyone to offer such help when questioned further on the idea of the ends justifying the means. It seems that if good can be found, however anecdotally it is offered, then the rest of us should just remain silent for fear of rocking the boat.

Professor John Kay (11) of Warwick University said 'The pursuit of our goals is inextricable from the mechanism by which we achieve them.'

His comments were aimed at the business world in order to suggest that the pursuit of profit at all cost is not always productive. He goes on to suggest that it is more often the oblique approach that produces the best results. 

What does this mean for the church in regard to the way we both understand success and offer a critique of bad practice and theology?

The evangelical church has had a long history of being crucicentric, with the cross being emphasised almost to the exclusion of other parts of the gospel story. We have therefore had to import ideas about the incarnation from other traditions in order to flesh out our understanding. Perhaps this narrowness of view has led us towards the idea that the cross is more important than any other part of the work of Christ; as if everything else is incidental. In this regard we could be forgiven for thinking that the incarnation is little more than a convenient means to a soteriological end.

Surely this cannot be the case. We see how purposeful God was, in Christ, in announcing and bringing in the kingdom. We must conclude that every encounter that Jesus made was more than an incidental subplot to the main narrative of the cross and the resurrection. The teaching of Jesus confirms this idea when he speaks of leaving the ninety-nine (12) in order to find the one. This imperative to search for the 'one' offers a radical questioning of both the cultural values of first century Palestine and of our own highly corporatised world.

In this teaching Jesus shows his followers that not only is the 'one' highly esteemed, but that any value the ninety-nine might claim for themselves is only of significance in relation to the 'one' who remains lost. In a sense the 'lostness' is transferred to them by the actions of the shepherd.

Now compare this to a notion that suggests we should not critique the shepherds (church leaders) when they have taken care of their own constituency (a metaphorical ninety-nine) rather than looking out for the 'one' who is in need. It just doesn't hold together.

In the kingdom of God, where the cross sits like a jewel immovable from its setting in the incarnation, the ends can never justify the means. Having said the above I realise that even when we are forced into extreme measures in order to offer hope to the downtrodden, we can never allow the result to free us from the need for self-reflection and to analyse whether we may have crossed the line from defender to attacker. 

Indeed, given a different set of circumstances and another context, the preacher we choose to critique may so easily be the one that we need to aid.

This does not mean that our voices should be silent when we see those who have the responsibility to look after the 'one' who is lost choose the safety of the applause given by the ninety-nine. 

It is worth noting that in the teaching of Christ it seems the direction of his challenge is of vital importance. Towards those already downtrodden and vulnerable he offers grace and hope; to those who occupy the seats of power he reveals both their advantage and their responsibility to care for those who are lost.

After several decades in leadership I find this call to inhabit the place of tension between leading the crowd and leaving them to be an awesome challenge. If we don't take seriously the call to offer a critique on behalf of those who are most hurt by the church, we are possibly in danger of:

(i) Allowing leaders to raise funds without any need to declare how the money is spent.

(ii) Letting churches and leaders cover up abuse in the name of church unity. 

(iii) Leaving vulnerable people to the mercy of leaders who extract personal stories only to use them against those in most need.

(iv) Making church members believe that leaving an unhealthy church is the same as disobeying God.

(v) Supporting, by our silence, theology that dehumanises those who are already treated as second class in society. 

If you care to look, you will soon realise that all of these things exist; sometimes in even the most successful looking churches and movements. We can chose to remain silent in the hope that the good done will outweigh any harm, but we need to be aware that in the kingdom of God the ends can never justify the means.

The God who humbled himself is not glorified by leaders who promote themselves

Monday, 6 June 2016

Forest Gardens and the Unexpected Church

Forest Gardens and the Unexpected Church

Some time ago, I was driving home in our new car after leading a training session in the North East of England. Hoping to listen to some music on the radio I switched on the stereo system.

Having only collected the vehicle that morning, I hadn’t worked out how to change radio channels and was reluctant to be distracted from driving, by trying to read the microscopic letters that my middle-aged eyes refuse to acknowledge these days.

I had to settle for listening to whatever show happened to come on during my two-hour journey home. Towards the middle of my journey I was treated to an episode of the BBC radio programme Gardeners’ Question Time, during which all manner of aphid related advice seemed to be on offer.

Now I am not a gardener and I have to confess that I zoned out much of what they said as my mind wandered to other things. Then, in the middle of the show, my attention was grabbed by a contributor speaking about what she called ‘Forest Gardens’.

She explained that these were areas of garden that had been encouraged to grow in a free and more natural way. To be honest, if I hadn’t been forced to listen by my inability, to use a new radio and drive at the same time, I would have changed channels a long time before. Yet here was a moment when I realised this truth about gardening could be used to help me understand the church in a fresh way.

British gardening habits are still highly influenced by Victorian sensibilities and the need for order. Mirroring the new ordered approach to life, gardens (at least for the wealthy) became expressions of control and dominion with the Lord of the manor being congratulated for the work done by his underpaid workforce. In years to come slum terraces would be demolished to be replaced by modern houses with small amounts of land in which inhabitants could mirror this need for order; with close cut lawns and well stocked flower beds.

During this period you would be forgiven for thinking that such landscaping was the definitive standard for all gardens everywhere. Indeed there are examples of this view all around the former British Empire. The benefits of this style of gardening are obvious in that it allows for clarity with well-defined borders between flowers and lawn.

Forest Gardens, however, offer the possibility of seeing new flowers and wildlife that would not be welcomed in the ordered world of Victoriana. The radio expert was asked whether it was easier to cultivate this freer expression of horticulture and she, somewhat counter-intuitively, responded ‘No!’. Going on to explain her views she said:

‘….you need a different eye to even want to begin the journey. '

Setting up a contrast with the more traditional approach she continued 

‘You are less hands on, but you have to notice different things.’

In an instant I saw a comparison between the conservative evangelicalism that I had been brought into and our newly found emergent expression of church. The old offers the comfort of clear lines and a definition that allows us to believe that we are immune from the world outside of our fences.

The new, however, looks messy and doesn’t seem to provide the clarity that we think should be an integral part of the church and the gospel. There are many terms used to describe this ecclesiological expression but I have chosen to use Evangelical Morphodoxy. It is a way of describing the tension felt between being rooted in an ancient faith but being open to find new ways to shape it in every new context. The incarnational idea of morphing into the most appropriate expression of the good news seems to best show how God was revealed in Jesus Christ.

I am sure that some will equate our messiness in doing church with a lack of vision: but they would be mistaken in this view. We do have a vision but the signifiers are different from the ones that Christians have often been taught to expect. 

The reward for producing a Forest Garden is that you get to see different plants and wildlife that are not always welcome in the perfectly ordered Victorian influenced garden. The reward of having an Evangelical Morphodoxy approach is that we get to see new fruit and new life that at times is unexpected.

To start this we need to accept that we perhaps need to be ‘….less hands on’ and ‘…notice different things.’

Let the gardening begin………

This is an excerpt from my book 'Sea and Islands'. To receive a copy please send your postal address to ajm@alanmolineaux.com

Sunday, 29 November 2015

ISIS, The West, and Chronological Snobbery

In the wake of the Paris bombing the west is looking for a suitable response to such despicable violence.  The USA, France, and now Russia are engaged in bombing raids in Syria,  Australia and Canada have withdrawn, and the UK is moving towards a vote on whether to join in with such action. Several British politicians seem to be adopting an all too familiar stance when addressing issues to do with Islamic extremist; that of chronological snobbery. 

Essentially the view is that we in the west have developed in our culture to a point beyond that of Muslim majority nations. We, it seems, are civilised. We have become more cultured and now, through our democracies, have brought freedom to millions.

Now, whilst I both fully support democracy (at least the representative version we tend to have) and am always ready to criticise any system of belief that limits an individual's freedom, I am not completely convinced that we are as civilised as we would hope to believe.

The popular view is that the 'other' is uncivilised because they use different abattoir techniques or they dispense punishment in ways that we find objectionable or limit the freedoms of some sections of society because of gender, race, or sexuality. I wonder whether there is another way of looking at this.

It could be said that, rather than the West being free from violence, cruelty, and the mistreatment of animals, we have simply outsourced such endeavours. In English speaking countries we have linguistic ways of creating this distance between us and activities that we might find uncomfortable. 

An animal may be called a pig in the field, but by the time it reaches our plates it has been advertised as pork. In a similar way the cow becomes beef and the lovable 'Bambi' becomes venison. 

We have done similar linguistic gymnastics with the outsourcing of our warfare. Civilian children killed in war become 'collateral damage', and we distance our armed forces personnel from direct warfare by employing drones to kill our enemies in a style not dissimilar from the average computer game.

In light of this perhaps we are fooling ourselves by suggesting that we are more civilised than other nations. The USA might be rightly appalled at the sight of a 'criminal' being beheaded by a middle-eastern nation, but is this any less of a violent act than injecting a convict with a lethal mixture of drugs. Some would suggest that the former is likely to be quicker, and therefore more humane, than the latter.

Now, I am against all forms of capital punishment but I think the point is made that every tribe tends to describe its own activities in ways that appear more palatable, whilst using more pejorative terms for the actions of the 'other'.

There has been a long history of such methods. After the second world war the allies rightly took Nazi Germany to task for what were considered to be war crime.s. A particular focus was made upon the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps. What is not often mentioned is that some of these camps were remarkably similar to methods used by the British in South Africa during the nineteenth century.

Hence we see that the idea of being 'civilised' is something of a social construct that allows us to feel revulsion at the actions of others whilst minimising the horror that we may have inflicted.

So when we come to look at ISIS we can rightly denounce their activities as shameful acts of violence. If, however, we fail to see that some of our own 'outsourced' acts of aggression could equally be seen as shameful, we fool ourselves in to a false sense of security. 

Evil and violence are not the marks of any single nation. They are the worst representations of human behaviour and unfortunately they happen everywhere on this planet. 

Alan Molineaux's book 'Sea and Islands' is available by emailing alan@rootedtraining.com

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

In, out, shaKe it all about

For those who have received their theological upbringing in an evangelical church, disagreement from the norm can be painful. When a church defines 'in' and 'out' by such precise terms it invests in adherents a distinctly 'two-worlds' view of life.

When it comes to facing the doubts that one will inevitably have with the church construct, it seems that the only alternative to being 'in' is to declare oneself as being 'out'.

No wonder that some move from a declaration of faith to an embracing of atheism. 'In' and 'out' theology is likely to make it seem as these are the only two alternatives.

Well, they are not. There are many people who have questioned some of the theology and practices of the church and still hold to a belief in God. Doubting the church should never be conflated with doubting God. Sometimes there is a need to 'shake it all about'.

For more information see my book 'Sea and Islands'

Friday, 9 October 2015

Do evangelicals recognise their Internal Emotional Posture

Following Tony Campolo's statement about the churches response to the LGBTQ community the Christian press was typically dismissive. According to one source Tony has finally 'capitulated' on this issue. 

Given the ease at which some leaders accuse other churches and ministries of heresy it could be said that orthodoxy is a huge deal in the evangelical church; at least when it comes to some subjects. The problem we face is that when we approach the themes represented as orthodox and our own internal need for change, we are already at a disadvantage. Essentially we do not approach ideas or internal development free from the influence of our spiritual heritage.

In spoken English, for example, we have two sounds made by the use of our tongue at the front of our mouth that cause trouble for other language speakers. The difference between the 'T' sound used in word like 'today' (where the tongue touches the roof of the mouth behind the teeth) and 'Th' sound of word like 'them' (where the tongue moves in front of the teeth) can be complicated for some native English speakers too; those who say 'free' instead of 'three'. It must be difficult for other people groups to work this out when we cannot agree amongst ourselves on pronunciation. 

It is said of Hindi speakers that they have another sound to add to this collection that is not usually experienced by English speakers. In addition to 'T' and 'Th' they have a sound made by the tongue curling backwards and touching the soft pallet in the roof of the mouth.

Apparently this is not primarily an issue of pronunciation but a cultural default setting in the muscles and sinews used in the formation of sounds. English speakers tend to hold their tongue flat and relaxed at the bottom of their mouths near to their front teeth. When they begin to speak their tongue is ready for action to produce the kind of sounds that are most readily used in their common language, in a sense, programmed by our culture and use of language from birth. 

Hindi speakers' tongues are programmed by their culture to be ready to curl backwards to touch the soft pallet. If English is your first language try this for yourself. Curl your tongue upwards and backwards towards the soft pallet and speak out loud. You will find that it will sound more like a Hindi speaker.

It needs to be said that neither way is right or wrong. Indeed, considering the way in which language develops, it could be that in the future, English will sound less and less like the way we are accustomed to hearing it. This is nothing new. Language has always changed. 

This is an important example of something that we are not generally aware of, yet it does contribute to the way in which we make value judgements.

In essence, however, this is not about communication: people who say 'free' instead of 'three' can be perfectly understood by the context and sentence constructruction. The same is true of both regional and international accents. It is also not about the making of sounds in and of itself. It is more to do with the position of our muscles that is controlled by our cultural conditioning; something we don't even know is happening. It is to do with posture.

I want to suggest that something similar takes place when discussing politics, worldviews, theology, religion, and other similarly controversial issues. In a sense we have an 'internal emotional posture' that readies us for our response to any given situation. Although it is hidden, it informs our value judgements about others, the world around us, and what is deemed as correct.

During debates about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict I have been accused of anti-Semitism. I don't take this lightly. We are all capable of racist behaviour and thought given the right, or the wrong set of circumstances. In response to these accusations I read some more, self reflect, pray, and consider whether my words are motivated by my own shadows.

In addition, I am often accused of being biased: this seems less culturally offensive, but also needs to be considered. To some degree I am probably guilty of this: we all are. It is hard not to feel drawn towards the cries of hurting people. I have written before about why I feel that the powerful have more responsibility to work for peace and why I believe that God sides with the oppressed.

Having said this bias and partiality are a blight on human history and we must try constantly to find ways of communicating more of what might be called the truth.

Now let me speak of the bias of the group that I have been part of for many decades: evangelical Christianity. Much of it has been profoundly pro-Israel for as long as I can remember. We read their history on the pages of our shared sacred text. We feel like part of the family. 

Then we have the pseudo-apocalyptic theology of J.N. Derby that was popularised by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B Jenkins in the Left Behind series of books. This was taken as almost unquestioned truth in my part of evangelicalism. We were told that the end times are coming and Israel is the major player. Many of the dates of this end time were changed to cover for the embarrassment of failed prophecy. Some of the key players were rearranged: before an eleventh nation joined the common market it was said that the EU was the ten horns of the antichrist. 

What matters here is that all of this served to create an internal emotional posture within some parts of the church. We can see it now in the debates about Israel and Gaza.

As soon as you show images of children being killed by this disproportionate military action to some evangelicals, they curl their metaphorical tongues to the position that most fits with their cultural worldview and tell us that they have found a verse in the Bible that says Israel is the apple of God's eye or that he has promised to return them to the land. 

So accuse me of bias and I will try to consider my words more carefully. I will suggest, however, that the is no worse partiality than the fundamentalist, who has a verse from a sacred text and doesn't realise that they have an internal emotional posture, no matter what their religious affiliation.

Now add to this idea that we have the preaching of 'Christ' on the one hand and the preaching of social issues on the other. This idea was largely driven by a dualist view that has prevailed within evangelicalism. This practice could be taken further by suggesting that the 'renewing of your mind' is essentially christocentric whilst psychiatry, on the other hand, is a 'worldly' exercise.

In this environment, a binary position is set and the work of the church in general, and preaching in particular, are easily judged as either falling into one camp or another. Similar binaries can be set up between God being our 'great physician' and healthcare, or the kingdom of God and the politics of the world.

In my lifetime, I have heard of churches encouraging people to refrain from taking medicine whilst trusting God for a 'promised' miracle healing. I have been part of a community that has ignored the plight of other people groups in places like South Africa because the church is not to 'do' politics. 

The binary position presented makes the church, and its leaders think that one can either preach the Bible or preach social/political issues. There is a hallowed position of preaching 'Christ crucified' without any implied or overt reference to other areas of life.

When Karl Barth wrote "We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other" he showed this for what it is. 

When Desmond Tutu preached that 'Anyone who says that the church shouldn't be involved in politics, hasn't read the gospels' he revealed the paucity of our knowledge of the teachings of Jesus.

When C.S. Lewis wrote that 'He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which belongs to God', he showed that even inactivity is in fact to be actively engaged in the political power-base of the world.

The dualist view offering binary options to complicated issues tends to lead the church to become inert. On the other hand, the love of God that drove the Son to willingly enter the human story reflects an almost seamless engagement with all parts of the creation. One could suggest that doing nothing whilst saying much is the sounding gong that is suggested in 1 Corinthians 13.

Dualism is a convenient way of creating distance between ourselves and others

So the church is either seen as being complicit in the ruling power-base, or at least arriving late to the party, when it comes to providing a necessary critique. 

When an issue takes place in a business setting there are mechanisms in place for resolving problems with systems and processes. Often one will raise a ticket with the technical help desk who will provide the necessary backup. Each ticket is graded according to its importance with the highest grade being 'business critical'. When such a ticket is raised, all of the appropriate senior management team and directors will be made aware of it and the full resources of the support department are employed to resolving the issues.

In practice, however, such situations very rarely arrive without prior warning. Often weeks before the crucial moment, suspicions will have been vocalised and tickets will have been raised about a variety of seemingly smaller issues, which will ultimately lead to the need to press the 'business critical' button.

There are many cultural reasons for an employee to resist raising a business critical ticket; some of them are to do with their own insecurities, some are due to the treatment they have received when doing so on previous occasions.

It is highly likely, however, that had some of the smaller issues been addressed earlier on, the later problem might not have occurred.

So it seems with the churches' response to some issues that might be called 'political'. Responding when the need is highly visible and lives are actually in danger may well be seen as noble in many circles. Speaking up about the conditions that might lead to such dangers is often dismissed as 'political' by those same churches. 'We preach Christ crucified and not politics' is the cry. Little comfort for those who go hungry, who are abused, displaced, or even killed.

In his writings on the idea of peaceful resistance, Gandhi draws a contrast between those of a religious disposition who, when faced with the call to fight for one's country, choose to become conscientious objectors, and those who take part in peaceful resistance, before the war actually takes place. In essence he is saying that by the time an individual makes the decision to refuse to take up arms, it is usually too late to make a significant difference. One wonders what would have happened, had the churches that represented the many thousands of conscientious objectors in the Second World War, spoken politically about peace in the name of Christ before the conflict had begun.

Following the First World War the allies placed such a heavy financial burden upon the German people (94) that it made it all the more likely that they would elect someone like Hitler (Treaty of Versailles). If churches had raised their voices for a response to our German 'enemies' that was more about reconciliation and less about punishment, one can only speculate what might have happened.

When the church, however, creates for itself a false construct of duality, preaching Christ and speaking about politics seem mutually exclusive. It doesn't seem to matter that Acts 17 records the Apostle Paul saying to the influential people of Athens that 'in him we live and move and have our being'. He includes his unregenerate audience in this and suggests that there is nothing that exists outside of God. Now if my earlier inclusion of the words of Gandhi offend you because he is not part of the Christian tribe it is worth noting that Paul is quoting an Epicurean poem.

In our goal to respond to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 to be salt and light to the world we need to see that the duality through which we have viewed this passage has led us to a separatist mentality, which allows us to preach a version of the gospel, whilst acting in ways that are very bad news for many people in the world.

In response to these words of Jesus, John Stott said that we should 'halt decay' and 'reveal the truth'. There is very little chance this can be done when our endeavours are to be so theologically bound that we allow no hint of political edge into our words.

A seemingly 'pure' gospel that dances with the ideas of Jesus Christ, and his crucifixion, in a way that does not engage with the real issues of people seems to be no gospel at all.

Having been brought up on a 'whosoever will, may come' gospel that suggests everybody is free to choose to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, our internal posture will understandably be suspicious of ideas that suggest that this might not be the case.

Revelation 22 may well record both the Spirit and the Bride calling the 'one who is thirsty come' and take the 'free gift of the water of life' but this invitation is given after the formation of the new Jerusalem. This surely has implications for evangelicalism in that we tend to limit the offer of redemption to this life. In addition there is evidence in the gospels that God recognises the constraints that some people's experiences have upon their ability to respond to this offer.

In our preaching of 'whosoever will may come', we have ignored that there exists 'whosoever can't people'.

Gandhi puts it this way, 'There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.'

I have been given an immense privilege of having the freedom to have access to a church, a Bible, and people who can explain the good news story. In addition my life has been relatively free of the emotional scars suffered by others. When someone tells me that Jesus is the way to the Father I can make some level of a response to this that leads me to find hope. However, there are some in our communities whose example of parental care means that the very notion of God being a father has the possibility of pushing them away rather than drawing them in.

There are parts of our world that have been ravaged by weapons made in, what to them are, Christian countries. Invite people from those parts of the world to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour and it should not surprise us to see that they see him as a cruel and unjust God.

So, the declaration that the kingdom of God is at hand is not simply to offer people personal eternal assurance, but to challenge the very things that might paint the Christian God that we proclaim as thoroughly dislikeable.

I delight in declaring that 'whosoever will, may come' but I do see this as being separated from the constructs that create 'whosoever can't people'.

In the same way that we are not usually aware of our own accent we are often blind to our prejudices.

(This article is taken from Alan Molineaux's book 'Sea and Islands' available by emailing alan@rootedtraining.com)