Saturday, 4 October 2008

Why I hate the C**** word and don’t use E’s

As practically anyone who knows me will attest, the first maxim of Engage for me is – never use the C*** word. It is not a church, never will be a church, don’t want it to be a church…

…Of course, I hope it will, in time, be a place of action, spiritual reflection, worship, prayer, Biblical engagement – but it is not a church – don’t use that word! Whatever idea enters your head when you hear the word ‘church’ – rest assured, Engage will not be it!

And just in case you are one of those people who never thought for one minute that it was a church until now – banish the thought from your head forever – it never will be!!

This, for those who know me, is pretty standard stuff but I’ve also been wondering about the ‘E’ word too. Should we even use the ‘Engage’ word?

Of course, I understand the practical difficulties I am creating for many people – banning almost any name for what we are and what we do! I also understand that it goes against the branding instincts of our culture. But, please hear me out. Here’s my reason: I really don’t want anyone to serve or be loyal to, or show commitment to Engage. But I do want people to be loyal to, show commitment to God, each other and God’s kingdom. However, no sooner do you set up a group and give it a name – be it Engage, a church or something else – it takes on an identity of its own. It becomes one to whom loyalty is shown and commitment is made. In the process, we become a group of people (almost trapped) in a commitment to keeping the thing going, but are not really serving the gospel – our energy and time goes into propping it up and much of its original life is lost as we settle for routine and structure.

I think it is similar to what Weber called “the routinization of charisma” in which he describes the process whereby the original charisma is lost in the routinization process and as a passivity sets in a subversive gospel becomes status quo.

So, my suggestion is that we do not talk about Engage events, but we talk in terms of actually describing what we are doing – eg. An event to raise awareness and take action on Guantanamo.

Please, please don’t mishear me - I really, really, really don’t want to start setting up rules about what people say and don’t say. Please hear this in the spirit that is meant – a provocation to stop Engage becoming something we maintain, and an encouragement to keep it fresh and dynamic.

My hope is that sometimes someone will suggest going for a drink together or eating together, sometimes someone will suggest reading a part of the Bible together, or worshipping together or doing an event like the Guantanamo one. But we don’t do anything out of routine. We make every effort to ensure that what we do is always and only functional – Engage serves us, we don’t serve it.


Kick Ass Heather said...

I love you Mark, but just to point out that (in my not very humble opinion!) Engage is a church! :)

mark said...

Thank you, Kiss Ass, but in my (not very humble opinion) it is NOT a church! But I bend to Kiss Ass's superior wisdom and insight on this (mostly out of fear!)

In all seriousness I still think the most important question is not what it IS, but what do we WANT it to be? Engage is still in enough of a state of flux about its identity to mean that this is really the relevant question. Whenever anything is in a state of flux it tries different things on to see how they look. I think Engage is doing just that.

A constructive conversation about what gaps (if any) Engage might fill, that aren't provided elsewhere, I think would be useful.

I'm pretty sure it does fill some gaps for me - Christian action and engagement with like-minded and trusted friends - and I'm even more persuaded that it is important for Schof and I guess if it is important for him that is a good enough reason for me to want to continue with it. But it is clearly not everyone's cup of tea and I'm fine with that. Are there any gaps in your church/faith experience that Engage could fill? No, is a quite reasonable answer.