The imperfect church

How people can become a community by overcoming their differences and worshipping together

No matter how much Christians might wish it were otherwise, all Christian communities are imperfect. All over the world, hundreds of denominations carry out their collective faith in Jesus Christ in good conscience, but in ways which draw varying degrees of scorn from the outside world, from rest of the worldwide church and even from their own members.

Some churches are highly ritualised and steeped in tradition, offering a reliable format for worshippers to follow whenever and wherever. Some prefer to exist on the other end of the spectrum where meetings are highly informal and unstructured. Some focus heavily on the incredible love of the Father, some more on Scripture and Christ and the sinfulness of man and some emphasise the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, networks or denominations of churches occasionally fracture, divisions occur within single congregations or individuals become dissatisfied with a particular aspect of one congregation, and leave in search of another church that does things differently.

The question of how to “do” church has been around since the resurrected Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” [Mat 28:19; NIV]. This command stood out for me as a teenager attending Mass. It was one I found hard to dismiss as anything other than a straight-up call for the whole congregation to become missionaries. Perhaps as a toned down answer to this call, I eventually joined a group of people within City Gates Church, Soho, who had a vision to plant a church on an estate in Islington and to serve and to share the Gospel with the community there.

Not a splinter from CGC, New River Church is more like a cutting from her. After four years, we resemble her and remain united with her, accountable and receiving her full support and encouragement. A small, non-denominational cell church, we are a body of believers who meet together in a hall on Sunday mornings. Smaller groups, cells, meet up in homes during the week to encourage one another as we live out our faith. I like to call cell groups mini-church where you can ask questions.

Each of us has come from a different background, either within the worldwide church or outside of it. As individuals, we have each repented, put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and committed ourselves to living our lives according to his will rather than our own. We also share a desire to see new people find out about Jesus and begin to follow him. We are not perfect.

At the heart of the Christian message is the response Jesus gave to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, who visited him one night to question him about his teaching and healing ministry. Talking about himself, Jesus answered: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16; NIV] He answered that God hadn’t sent his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it through him.

Christianity is a response to this offer of salvation – it revolves around Jesus. It hinges on what we think about him, on whether or not we believe in him, know him, obey him, love him. And so, I will not claim any high ground on the basis of the particular flavour of church that I go to. But while I continue to pray for greater unity between all churches, and for us all to “do” church better and better, I am comforted that those who believe in Jesus shall not perish.

Adam is a worship leader at New River Church, Islington, a non-denominational, charismatic Christian church of about 40 people. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in neuroimaging and is a member of the electro-indie rock band Personal Space Invaders.
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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.