Monday, 29 April 2013

My problem with the word Contemporary

Our church here in the Aire Valley is now 5 years old with approximately 60 people in our congregation; it is in a small town in the heart of West Yorkshire. On our church website we like many churches today have used the word ‘Contemporary’. The use of contemporary is usually associated with a certain style of leadership, worship and teaching that want to express their relevance to today’s culture. This was why I began to have misgivings over the use of it on our website.

There is a great video clip (contemprovant) and I think you can see if you have watched it my misgiving with this word (It’s not really about the word it’s just a word like any other but words can take on a life of their own.) 

In a book recommended by my son-in-law Simon by Henri Nouwen ‘Reflections on Christian leadership’ chapter one is headed ‘The temptation to be relevant’, I was hooked, what was he going to tell us about this need we see present in most churches today.

Nouwen speaks of his journey from 20 years in upfront teaching and leadership to becoming a part of the L’abri community caring for profoundly handicapped people. In this community he was forced to discover his ‘true identity’. This was where he had to let go of those things that had previously defined him and learn to become truly vulnerable.

He says ‘I am telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love’.

I struggle to imagine many of todays ‘contemporary’ church leaders paying much heed to what Nouwen has to say on being ‘irrelevant’ being the way to build their churches.

I recently went to watch Rob Bell on his ‘What we talk about when we talk about God’ tour. The church that hosted the event was ‘big’ and definitely came into the category of a ‘contemporary’ church by today standards. To keep this structure and venue running takes an army of willing (and maybe on some days not so willing) volunteers

I have attended a mega church, I have served on the welcome team and I have watched these leaders preach and lead and work very hard, but irrelevant they ain’t! The leaders find themselves under immense pressure to have all the right things in place to attract and grow their churches.

The ‘in’ words you will hear from these platforms are ‘off the charts’, awesome, ‘best ever’, ‘epic’.  All the hype is about the extraordinary there seems to be no place for the ordinary or mundane or any sense of vulnerability that Nouwen suggests is a required to lead well.

We live in a society driven by the cult of celebrity and I feel that this has seeped into some churches today. These leaders often drive great cars; wear great clothes, at one ladies conference I was at the female leader spoke of having the hairdresser on site to do her hair and that of the visiting speakers. Now please hear me I have no problems with those who drive great cars, wear great clothes, and we all need to have our hair done, but what does this look like to those serving this church?

I know it is attractive to some witness the congregation sizes and I know leading our small congregation could look like ‘sour grapes’ but seriously it’s not. When we were at the mega church we served and gave and led a small group, we were all in, invested in growing this church. But we found it was not enough, behind the large the loud and the passionate the lack came in the form of disconnection with those who led their celebrity life’s overseeing their congregations from the position of their platforms.

You see we could not find the leaders ‘vulnerable self’ we were given the clean-cut, sharp designer image that we were meant to aspire to. You too could be like this if you attend, serve and of course give your tithe. The problem is it isn’t true, that place is not for most people it is for the few the key leaders and those seen to have usable talent. The rest of the congregation is there to serve the machine that has become large and the corporate.

This I feel does come at cost for these leaders, the pressure to produce the high powered, high impact services week in week out and then to also motivate their team and from there the church volunteers cannot be easy. I know from experience it leads to people not treated well, many leave these churches emotionally damaged.

I feel saddened by this I do not believe that is the aim of the leaders, their desire I am sure is to see people come to faith. But I ask again at what cost does that come at when the real cry of our hearts is to be known, wouldn’t it seem sensible for these leaders to choose to show their true selves to the congregation they are leading.

There is so much more to be said and I will address this in another blog but I want to finish this with a quote that I heard from the Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, ‘The job of the church is to create the space where people can discover that they have been found by God’.
I believe for this to happen we as leaders needs to present more and more our ‘vulnerable self’ to have any hope to truly reveal the love of Jesus to those we serve.























  1. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for writing this it's really thought provoking.



  2. Thanks Carole :-) its my blog thoughts it's connected to Al's . Glad you enjoyed these thoughts. Thanks for taking time to comment. Also this response from Bev not Al.