rev: ev(en)angelical angst

6 08 2010

When a builder has a crisis of faith in building, it is not the end of the world. Just the building. When a banker has a crisis of faith in banking, it is not the end of the world. Just the banking. Building still exists. Banking still exists. Life goes on.

The final episode of Rev. highlighted one of the challenges for vicars/ministers. I found it deeply moving. What happens when we have a crisis of faith? What happens when we want to explore, express and question our faith, when people rely on us to be stable, solid and unwavering in faith and conviction? So many people think that church leaders are the solid types, the strong ones, that we are leaders because we are sorted. Some leaders like that. And some may well be. Many are not.

In fact, many are called because they are not – it was their sensitivity, thoughtfulness, depth and angst that was part of their calling and the very thing that makes them good at their job. And the very thing that makes it so hard, that threatens to pull at the very seams of life and faith and unravel the whole thing in a very public kind of way. Without faith, there is nothing left – no job, no home, no foundation on which your whole life and reputation has been built.

How would you respond to your (even evangelical!) church leader telling you they sometimes questioned everything? How would you respond to your church leader having some sort of meltdown like Adam Smallbone did? Is it just another ‘bi-annual wobble’ to walk through like getting caught in some unseasonal drizzle without an umbrella, or is it actually serious, a real questioning, a real doubt like an overwhelming flood? Is it ok to preach if you are doubting? If not, why not? Is our faith based on the strength of faith of our leader, or on the strength of our own faith, Jesus living in us and God mediated to us not through our leaders but through our own interaction with the Holy Spirit?


Vicars and leaders need people who they can be honest with, who won’t panic, who won’t try to fix them, who won’t pray for deliverance from the demons of doubt, and who won’t send it round the prayer chain that they are having a wobble.  Most of us are incredibly sensitive and spend a lot of energy treading carefully around the sensitivities of others, yet as Rev. exposed, not always feeling the same sensitivity coming back.  And so sometimes we end up shooting our mouth off at someone like Colin or Alex who really don’t need it or deserve it, however satisfactory it seems at the time.

Watching Adam unravelling was disturbing, because I know how close to that some of us are sometimes; and it showed the consequences of allowing yourself to behave in an un-Jesus-like way. God bless Alex and vicar’s partners and friends everywhere for being so long-suffering, so patient, and sometimes giving us the (metaphorical) slap in the face we need. And sometimes the hug, the tea, and making us laugh when we disappear into our own navels.

They’d better commission another series of Rev. or I’ll lose all my (already slim) faith in intelligent telly.

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12 responses

6 08 2010
Ali Campbell

hey mate, I don’t know any “Sorted” leaders. I love what Nouwen says about the leaders we will require in the future (and, considering when he wrote it, that would be now . . . “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”. If we believe the gospel is transformative – our most powerful text, comes not from scripture, but what is written in our own day to day lives . . . how vulnerable are we willing to be as “leaders”? When we demonstrate that we are wholly dependent on God, when all that we say and do that brings hopes is because God is GOOD and not because we are GIFTED – we might just convince people there is more to Christian faith than religious practices – that is, an amazing relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, saviour, best friend . . . all we need in this world.

8 08 2010

I love that idea of our most powerful text coming from what is written in our lives! I might have to claim that as my own. ‘Sorted’ leaders is interesting isn’t – most leaders know they’re not but feel they have to pretend they are because people think they are because they pretend they are so expect them to be…
thanks Ali

6 08 2010

What parishioners need to realise is… vicars, ministers or whatever title you want to give them, are firstly human! They are not God and do not need to be on a pedestal. They have a faith and a calling and understanding of the teachings of the Bible that they want to share.
For those with a genuine calling, God works through them to help us understand those teachings, they don’t always reach everyone – there are those in the congregation who believe their way of interpreting the Bible is correct and therefore only want to hear that version from their Minister. The Minister is there for them as a figurehead, they don’t need new teaching – the Minister knows all the familiar answers – dont they!!! Is it any wonder that a Minister will get a faith wobble, when they look around their parishes and see no apparent progress, because people only hear what they want to hear, they are not open to any ‘new’ message from God. A Minister must surely have times when they feel God is ‘leaving them to it’ or worse doesn’t see their need – how hard must it be to pull themselves back from the brink, knowing they cannot share these thoughts with the people who are supposed to be their support – a Minister is part of the worship of God, we are the other part that makes the Church whole. Ministers need our support, just as much as we need theirs – of course they wont open up fully to every member of a congregation – then neither would we trust a whole group of people to share our deepest thoughts with. Our Ministers are sensitive to our needs, let us be sensitive to theirs.

6 08 2010

I have loved watching Rev. It has seemed very real and honest to me. How good to see Christians – and even ministers – shown as normal people who drink and smoke and swear and have sex. Because being good and well-behaved isn’t what being a Christian is about and I think often people think it is. It’s about love. In sitting on the bench with Colin, smoking and drinking, it seems to me that Adam behaves like Jesus.

The final episode was very good indeed. It continued the honesty very painfully. Three cheers for Alex for being such a sensible wife and fingers crossed that Adam comes safely through this time and can look back on it as being an important part of his journey with God.

I enjoy reading your blog very much Kevin. Thank you.

Mary x

6 08 2010

Good blog Kevin. I remember the first time you introduced this concept of vicars having doubts to me at a sermon you did at St. Mary’s… I expected it to worry me… but it actually was very refreshing. A bit like being on a continuous voyage with a knowledgeable but not know-it-all tour guide… makes the journey all the more interesting and real.

6 08 2010

If a mother has a baby, we expect the child to be limited in many ways, but we also expect it to grow. If the same baby in a year’s time has shown no signs of development, there is something seriously wrong with it. Because all healthy things grow.
If a person becomes a vicar, we should expect them to be limited in many ways. And we should also expect them to grow. Which means we should expect them to explore and expand and test and think and question everything around them occasionally. Because all healthy things grow.
If congregations inhibit their vicars from exploring their boundaries and testing / re-evaluating their foundations; or if vicars allow themselves to be inhibited from doing so because of the fear of what other people may think, or where it might lead; then that seems very unhealthy to me.
But it is still a brave vicar who might dare to break free of these shackles and dance with their doubts out into the open. The stakes are high. The risk is that ‘church people’ can’t take that sort of openness and vulnerability. Or maybe the vicar’s faith will prove to be a veritable house-of-cards construction and come tumbling down around them under intelligent questioning.
I know one thing: a vicar with questions is much more interesting than a vicar with answers.
I know something else too: I’m glad I’m not a vicar!

6 08 2010
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7 08 2010

Lets be honest everyone of us has doubts, everyone of us has areas of vunerability…surely this is God’s challenge…His way of faith at work… in the midst of our stumbling…being stretched further than we want to be… God taking us outside our comfort zones…outside of the boxes which we construct …into His creativity…gained not without pain.
Surely being real and vunerable is part of the Good News of the Gospel…that we don’t have to pretend……to God…or to each other.

8 08 2010

It seems the general feeling here is that we must allow our leaders space to breathe, to think, to develop. To allow them to say “what I believe tomorrow may be different from what I believe today”, instead of thinking that what we believe on day 1 we must always believe. Change and flux is unsettling and liberating, it is part of maturing… and we want mature leaders, don’t we?!

Whether it’s Pete’s image of the tour guide who is still exploring and learning, Edge’s of the growth and development of people, or Carol’s of us being stretched – and there are so many other images we could use! – we need to hold loosely and allow space for each other to think, not just our leaders.

That way we continue to be radical, to be dangerous, to be pushing the boundaries rather than becoming staid and boring and dull. We may be wrong sometimes, but because we are loved, we will be forgiven…!

8 08 2010

I have twice had the privilige of ministers sharing with me the deep anxieties and doubts of their spiritual journey. I felt really priviliged to be trusted with this responsibility. I believe the people concerned felt a real release from a burden and went on to grow. In one case I worked and prayed with them over a period, in the other we never found it necesary to return to the subject. I didn’t sit in their sermons thinking worse of them, quite the opposite and there was never any embarrassment.

However I think you have to be very careful with whom you share these things. We all travel different paths and to some it would undermine a simple faith. The trouble is that even as I write this I realise that it would also help many more to know some of the struggle. Maybe we need more honest biographies of past Christian leaders that will help us create a context in which to put this.

8 08 2010

I think this problematical tension between Christian leaders being able to be honest and transparent without causing some in their flock to stumble is holy ground somehow. Our instincts are always too diffuse tension, but sometimes the tension is the fertile place and it should be embraced and lived with.
Tactically, as has already been said, this is an area of high risk for authority figures where pragmatic prudence usually wins out over revelatory truth. I understand why that should be. Not many of us are brave enough to take our masks off in public, especially those whose livelihoods may depend upon not being ‘found out’ by those who have the ability to undermine them. Most of the vicars I know are also the most honest people I know. But there is this conspiracy of ‘dis-honesty’ between vicars and congregations which seems to have become the established way in which we do church. And it feels false. Because it lacks reality.
A recurring frustration of mine is how little our Christian leaders are prepared to trust their Sunday morning congregations with any of that head-shredding Biblically problematical stuff they all learned at theology college. They don’t think we could handle it. So is it any wonder they can’t bring themselves to share the reality of their personal off-piste faith forays?
On a practical note, maybe leaders should be teaching their congregations more about the struggles of leadership as part of their responsibility to develop and grow better-equipped Christians. Then, if and when a leader finds themselves struggling on a personal basis with some aspect of their faith, their congregation might not be so shocked or ill-equipped to handle it?
I’m sure we could use more honest biographies, as c2drl suggests. Jesus’ biographers seemed to think it was okay to show Him wrestling with the big questions sometimes and His congregation seemed to grow okay. My theology isn’t up to much so this is probably a good example of me taking a Jesus quote completely out of context and mis-applying it, but I wonder what difference it might have made if Jesus hadn’t said: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” but instead had said something akin to: “Stick the kettle on Father, I won’t be long now.”
We don’t buy pat answers from Jesus do we? And I don’t think Jesus was too concerned with keeping up appearances, or insulating His followers from reality. So how did we all get so afraid?

9 08 2010

Well said Edge. Somewhere along the way we have lost the point of Christians being “people of the way” on a spiritual pilgrimage and instead created the myth we are people with the complete answer who have discovered the complete and unimpeacheable spiritual truth and no longer need to face up to the messy bits.

What that does is leave congregations feeling failures, because they know they are not living up to that vision. Of course maybe Vicars like congregations who feel they are failures because then they need Vicars, who of course know all the spiritual truth, and won’t argue with them.

On the other side of the coin I don’t know too many Vicars (is it possible to know too many vicars?) who have not been hurt by congregations. Christians do seem to be very spiteful and destructive on occasions. Maybe it is necessary to develop a hard shell to survive as a Vicar, a bit like a tortoise. See how these Christians love one another, sometimes.

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