The disruptive church

5610344108_0e88ff2bea_oAs a small boy I once went to church with my new cowboy hat and gun and all was fine until during a prayer or a reading or something, stood up on my chair and shouted ‘bang.’ Cue frowns and a quick pull down from my embarrassed mother. Apparently it’s not good for the pastor’s son to be disruptive.

Churches, at least the churches I grew up in, were known for their love of order. Sunday best, quiet in church, somber, respectful, ordered. These churches voted conservative, were conservative; honouring and largely trusting authority and prizing a quiet life above all else.

The idea, then, of the disruptive church would be a profoundly uncomfortable one. Likely, in fact, to be treated as an unbiblical one. ‘God is a god of order and not of chaos’ would be the refrain.

Yet, today, it is critical that the church learns again how to be disruptive. I say again, because throughout history and especially in its origins the church was a profoundly disruptive body. However, before we think briefly of the disruptive nature of the church and its founder, let’s ask why? Why should the church be disruptive today.

The idea of disruptive innovation or technology is well-known in business. As large companies succeed they tended to focus on high-end, high profit products and ignore the bottom end of the market. Along would come a small company with an idea and focus on the low margin end of the market and by their low-cost appeal would slowly, surely and inevitably take the market from the previously unassailable giants.

Some examples would be: Amazon – for years loss making the internet retailer has completely disrupted the whole industry of publishing and bookselling and now other areas of retail too. The internet is completely disrupting journalism, advertising and probably education. Why pay thousands to learn at a university when you can learn on the internet for free? It is the focus of many entrepreneurs for their business to become the next disruptor.

So how does this apply to the church? In the western world there is a very modern narrative still at work – religion is dying, religious ethics are at worst bigoted and evil, at best old-fashioned and quaint. The supernatural doesn’t exist, faith is a killer and not a force for good in the world. There is a dominant narrative that runs through media & government and most forms of institution in western europe. It’s not a conspiracy but it’s just a prevalent, dominating worldview from the top down.

The church in the West has often been full of angst and unease about this state of affairs, and sometimes due to its own internal bickering or fragmentary nature or the generally anemic ability of umbrella organisations to act creatively the church has been anything but disruptive and has often been irrelevant.

Alpha is a good example of the church being disruptive, to the extent that it’s influence on the Church of England is questioned in the national newspapers, foodbanks and debt advice centres could be. The Campaign for Marriage is not and instead reinforces the national narrative rather than disrupting it.

What we need today are churches that tell compelling stories that challenge the ruling narrative, we need churches that act in such a way as to challenge long-held notions of the church, what it is and it’s power (or lack thereof) but that needs innovation and creativity.

Jesus was incredibly disruptive, he declared himself as bringing a sword that would divide families (Mt 10:34-35), disrupt notions of the use of wealth (Lk 12:20), extend grace to the radically wasteful (Lk 15:14). Long held laws were thrown on their heads (Mk 2:27), the exercise of supernatural power disrupting religious sensibilities (Lk 6:7-11). Jesus’ parables were often shocking, unnerving and disarming. Within Judaism a new story was disrupting the old.

This new story then began to disrupt other stories, the much bigger one of polytheism throughout the Roman Empire and challenge the supremacy of the empire itself through it’s conviction that ‘Jesus was Lord’ and there was no God but the God of Jesus (Acts 19:23-29).

We must learn again how to shape the church in such a way that it disrupts lives and ultimately changes the story. We must become a disruptive church.

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