Tuesday, May 09, 2006


From chapter 2 of Ecclesion: the small church with a vision, by Dave Mullan, published by ColCom Press 1990.

Congregations who have a tenacious grip on the status quo are also alive and well – if that is the right metaphor – in this country. They have lost a rational belief in their own existence as part of the Body of Christ and the fellowship of the people called Methodists and have retained only a mindless commitment to the local setting and, usually, the local buildings. In respect of their belief that the buildings they have offer the only setting in which they can possibly worship Colin Williams once called them Morphological Fundamentalists; in respect of their commitment to their present styles of congregational life I once described them as Ecclesiological Fundamentalists.

The labels are unkind. But they are both part of the scenario of the future that means holding onto whatever you have got at all costs because there isn’t any other possibility that works. "Tenestas’ congregations believe they have the right medicine and in the face of all the evidence that it is actually killing the patient they continue to administer it. But they are the patient and the disease is terminal.

A difficulty with this scenario is that it is a temptation to confuse good and evil. Tenestas, as simply hoping that all will be well, is easily confused with Christian faith and hope. It can be like trusting God and then holding onto that trust at all costs and refusing to consider any other possibilities but the one sure foundation in which one is grounded. There is a perilously fine margin between continuing a congregation because it serves a legitimate need of an ageing community and refusing to change the style of worship and church life in a congregation which consists of aged people who do not, in fact, reflect the age groups and interests of the community in which they live.

This latter is the Tenestas congregation at its worst. It has closed its mind to the needs and the possibilities and hardened its heart and may have little place in any significant recovery of mission and ministry to a needy world.

What is wrong with the Tenestas congregation is not that it is dying but that it continues to act as if it were not when all the evidence is that a new scenario might get some kind of results. It is the avoiding of opportunities to make meaningful change that characterises these communities. This is a sad and desperate scenario because it is capable of change. All too many of our congregations have the potential to move but do not do so. There are still new areas of housing redevelopment, growing suburbs, new interest in a style of religion that invites the discipline of thought rather than unthinking obedience to a certain kind of ‘simple faith.’ All these factors will produce new growth opportunities for many local churches with a ‘Methodist’ style. But a Tenestas scenario will not be able to respond to these opportunities.
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