I’m reading Steve Taylor’s the out of bounds church? – a book that has been on my wish-list for ages now, and which I’ve been bought at last. I’ve never met Steve face-to-face, but he’s a guy I like and admire; and I really appreciate the way in which he shares the ideas that come out of his community.
I’m not too far in yet, but I’m really enjoying it. One of the insights that struck me is the idea – taken from the work of French Jesuit Michel de Certeau – of “strategy” and “tactics.”
One of the criticisms regularly levelled against the kinds of communities that get labelled, variously, “emerging churches” or “fresh expressions” of church or “that’s not really church at all…” is that they pander to consumer culture; they conform to society, rather than seek to prophetically transform society. (See John M. Hull’s Mission-shaped Church: A Theological Response for the latest incarnation of this criticism.) And one of the answers regularly given is that we live in a consumer culture, whether we like it or not; that we are called to embody the gospel in that context; and that such communities offer multiple entry/access-points to the church for a multi-cultural population. (See Mission-shaped Church: church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context as an example.)
But – in typical French fashion – de Certeau’s work deconstructs this simple picture. Yes, as physical beings we all consume; but as creatures made in the image of a Creator God, we also create. And increasingly, culture – or the meaning attributed to cultural forms – are not being generated by an elite few, but by everybody; culture by democracy, not oligarchy. We do not simply choose between option a), option b), or option c) – in church terms, perhaps between the local Anglican church, Presbyterian church, and Baptist church; or between 1880s hymns or 1980s choruses. Alongside the consumer culture – and growing fast – the co-author culture re-uses and re-combines available material to create something new. It is the philosophy of recycling, applied to cultural forms.
So, de Certeau’s strategies and tactics: in a context of cultural shift,
“Strategies are the ways institutions seek to organise a stable reality. Tactics are what people do with these external strategies in everyday life.” [Taylor, p. 37]
Taylor gives the example of a Baptist church that ran a second-hand clothes shop as a means of engaging with the local community; and his hairdresser, who used the shop to engage with personalised fashion.
The Church of England is currently engaged in a conversation about strategies for mission and growth in our shifting cultural context. Strategies have been proposed; and criticised. The thing that makes me smile, reading Taylor, is the realisation that whatever comes out of the conversation will be taken up and re-written. Critics of Mission-shaped Church should recognise that their fears of a shallow un-thinking consumer church are unlikely to materialise. Champions of Mission-shaped Church should recognise that their hopes of entry/access-points will further change the communal spaces beyond them, in ways in which the institution will have no control over...