I’ve got a problem, and I think it is particularly with the United Reformed Church
As a church leader I think I manage conflict OK (I daren’t boast “well”) – I am sure I don’t relish it, especially when folk hurt each other. I don’t go around with an attitude of “Bring it On!” But I do believe that any change goes through a stage of “storming” before you ever get to the “norming”, and anyway, conflict handled well, should be creative and transformative, as we see things from different perspectives. Conflict is not my problem.
As a church leader, our model is Christ’s servant leadership. I don’t want my own way. I often have bright ideas, but when I offer them to a meeting, I don’t expect them to be accepted as they are, and by the end of the meeting I rejoice when they have been tested, rejected, accepted, refined, and everyone has contributed to get us where God wants us. So, getting my own way is not a problem. So, what is?
(Picture with thanks to Wessex synod)
The problem is not following Jesus Christ where he is! As a denomination we are actually very good at hearing the prophetic voice, whether that is speaking out into the world, or how to respond in new ways to be God’s Church today. We hear that challenge in so many places, whether it be a conversation with one of our oldest members over coffee after church (as I did this Sunday), someone outside church-life reflecting on our organisation (as I hear from my own children, and many comments in the community – and the most profound from Muslim taxi-drivers!), the free-thinkers within our denomination, whose contributions can be whacky enough to be of God, as well as the measured debate within our councils, praying together (O what testimonies I could share), the wisdom and experience of church leaders (leave you to self-define!) and even the voice of God through scripture (now should I have put that first?). I am sure all of that is going on, as I am sure that we hear and discern well what God is saying, where we need to be, and how to get there. The URC can be radical, open and embracing of God and of our sisters and brothers. But that’s when I feel the problem starts!
It seems we often get to the point where we agree as to where we need to be, and sometimes how to get there. Then comes an almighty brick wall. We get stuck on the delivery. I think it is because our strength of conciliar government becomes our weakness. Yes, we have a super system that through church meetings, synods and assembly, and their relevant committees, we recognise the local, regional and national dimensions, all necessary for the right stewardship of God’s resources for mission. But they seem to act independent of each other, and I often hear language used, that suggests at best they don’t trust each other, and worse, work against each other. Is this why we have had such visionary programmes from the URC, which in the end have literally been shelved? Is this why amazing local projects and synod initiatives, which could show us new ways are ignored in the rush to decline? Are we so obsessed at preserving local parochial independency that we are prepared to let the Church die? Are we obsessed at the mantra of “we should never have got rid of districts” that synods are now irrelevant necessities? Are we obsessed at trying to force a national identity and structure into contexts that just don’t fit? It is time to start some serious listening.
Conflict is not my problem, but I do also passionately believe that once a way forward has been agreed, however reluctantly, then we are all committed to each other to make it work, and get us there. And though I don’t want my own way, I expect as a church leader to model my obedience to Christ and expect the same from us all. Jesus Christ is waiting….