Thursday, July 9, 2009

Communities of sinners

Speaking of "Oh those interwebs:"

Some fellow I've never heard of, Eugene Peterson, wrote a book in 1987 called Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. My online friend the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, quoted the book on his blog, and then my online friend Tim Chesterton posted the same quote on his blog.

I'm not going to post the whole quote - just the part I found particularly striking.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God...


I've said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that's all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they're telling isn't always clear. And even when it's clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.


Erika Baker said...

Why do we need a statistical way of discerning the work of the Holy Spirit? I thought that by their fruits can you tell them.

Malcolm+ said...

ah, but the fruits of the Spirit are not abjectively measured.

Seeker said...

We're beginning to use the Natural Church Development process in our congregation to grow the health and vitality of our church. NCD does not measure attendance, but instead eight factors like "passionate spirituality" and "loving relationships". It focuses on 'quality'.

It is still early days but it seems very promising. NCD is being used with success in about 50 parishes in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, and in thousands churches of all denominations around the world.

It may not measure the presence of Holy Spirit, but it seems much better than attendance figures.

See or

Country Parson said...

The very same who authored The Message and taught for over twenty years at Regent in Vancover.

Erika Baker said...

I agree. But why would we need to measure them?

Malcolm+ said...

In most endeavours, it is possible to get get some objective measure of how effective one's efforts are. The measures that we tend to use to assess the effectiveness of churches and clergy may or may not give an accurate picture.

Average Sunday Attendance (not, in itself, a bad thing to measure) may indicate a parish that comforts the afflicted - or it may indicate a church that is careful never to afflict the comfortable.