Somehow it has happened again, it does so every four years. Despite our best efforts we collectively as a nation raise our hopes to believe in the seemingly impossible, winning the World Cup. Some of you reading this will already be groaning internally, possibly externally, complaining that you began reading this piece trying to escape World Cup fever but that just proves my point, doesn’t it? You can’t escape hope, even if you try to.
The other night I was one of reportedly 23.5 million people who watched the penalty shoot-out against Columbia, hoping against hope that it would not end as I and so many millions of others had seen them end before. (Cue images of a young Gareth Southgate, head hung low with a look of despair on his face.) Thankfully, for the English, it did not. (Cue images of an older, wiser and infinitely more elated Gareth Southgate celebrating with his team and commiserating with the Columbian player who missed his penalty to enable the English victory.)
However, I did not set out to write about hope, perhaps another time. What I wanted to record was what I noticed in the match regarding culture. That evening I, along with my 23.5 million others, witnessed a clash of cultures. One match, one sport, one set of rules, one referee, two teams, two cultures.
One of them was familiar to us, it was demonstrated by the English team who played hard and with a great passion to win but with an understanding that they operated within the constraints of the rules and the ethos of the game that many call ‘beautiful’. That is the culture that they have, by and large, grown up with and learned to operate from.
The Columbian team clearly demonstrated the values and the practices of a different culture altogether. In their football culture things are acceptable, even expected, that on the night were so unacceptable to our football culture that it led to tension, frustration, anger and even retaliation. This, of course, was the whole purpose of the exercise from the perspective of that culture. I expect that the Columbians themselves had grown up with that culture and to them it was normal. It was achieving what they hoped for.
All of this is without any judgement as to which is better of course. From our position that’s a fairly straightforward question because we see the disadvantages of a culture that promotes what we view as negative, destructive and unprofitable values.
Churches have cultures too. It is perfectly possible, even within one town, to discover very different cultures in church life. One God, one church, one bible, one Kingdom, many cultures.
We have been talking more about culture in CCW in recent years than we have in the past and with good reason, our culture is changing. This is not an accident, it is the result of decisions we are taking based on convictions drawn from God’s written word and the way His Spirit helps us to understand the application of that to our situation. It is not that we have discarded anything from the past, rather we are building from the past, for the future and the motivation for that comes from a different cultural understanding. So, what are building?
When Steve and Wendy Backlund visited last year they brought us a prophecy about us being ‘a place where God could experiment’. That takes a bit of thinking about and involves a discussion far beyond the scope of this little written offering but one of the implications is that perhaps we should be bold enough to try new things. Things that seem a bit radical, are untested, may even seem a bit risky and could fail.
Care needs to be taken here of course, as with all risks but if the context for those risks is one of God encouraging us to step into new things, new cultural norms, new ventures then there is a safety net of His love and encouragement to catch us if it goes wrong. In fact, making mistakes and failing a few times is how we grow and improve. None of us learned to walk without falling down a few times after all.
Characteristics of our developing culture include, I think, a deeper understanding of how the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher work together (Eph 4:11-13), a greater understanding of how the church in a city is called to serve that city and how our heartfelt search for and pursuit of God’s presence is the very thing that attracts Him to us all the more, so that in pursuing Him harder we find Him more easily.
In a few days we have the visit from Paul and Sue Manwaring. Their perspective on the culture of God’s Kingdom and apostolic families is a very creative and insightful one which I believe will benefit us in CCW greatly, enabling us to step further forward. If you have any opportunity at all, I strongly recommend you to get along to hear them and to discover if you hear God through them regarding our future direction in CCW.
So, as our culture changes, let’s continue to try some new things, take risks in God’s Kingdom, have a go, make mistakes, learn from them and grow more in love with Jesus as a result.
Meanwhile, come on England!