THIRTY years after it was founded by the Revd Dr John Stott, the
London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) heard a new
vision from its executive director on Tuesday evening, at an event
to celebrate the anniversary.
More than 100 people came to the Institute's home at St Peter's,
Vere Street, to give thanks for an organisation that is dedicated
Mark Greene, who became the executive director in 1999, said on
Tuesday morning that it was "totally counter-intuitive" for Dr
Stott, renowned as a "great preacher, great public speaker, great
writer" to spend five months of every year with just 45 people in a
room, running disciple-making courses. Dr Stott had, like Jesus,
"held the micro and the macro together. . . He was engaged in
trying to help lay people and ordained people. . . to work out how
to live their whole life in the world."
The fruits of Dr Stott's legacy could be found "all over the
world" in the graduates of the courses, most of whom came from
outside the UK.
The current mission of the LICC had changed, Mr Greene said, in
response to a world that had "changed hugely. . . The question in
1982 was 'Do we have something to offer to people overseas to
resist the forces of modernity and post-modernity?' By the year
2000, the notion that we had resisted the forces of post-modernity,
consumerism, and so on, and made a radical stand in a Church that
was half the size it was ten years ago or 20 years ago is not
credible. You had to go into learning mode."
He told the audience on Tuesday night that the mission now was
to "equip the people of God for mission together in all of their
life". He quoted statistics that suggested that 98 per cent of
Christians had "neither been envisioned nor equipped for mission in
95 per cent of their waking lives".
Tackling the "sacred/secular divide" was an "enormously
difficult thing to do", he said, and fruitfulness had been defined
"very narrowly", so that, for some people, "if you haven't had a
conversation about Jesus to a colleague at work, why did you even
bother to get up?" In the wake of debate about whether Christians
were "marginalised" in the public space, he said that "there is no
way for a Christian not to be taking their faith to work," but that
this need not mean "verbal proclamation".
He gave the example of a young Christian woman working for one
of the big banks, who had helped to deliver a reduction of £500
million of "bad consumer debt" by getting call-centre staff to
spend more than 7.5 minutes speaking to indebted customers. She had
"seen things differently".
In his previous career in advertising, he had seen God do
"amazing things", he said, including healing people on the tenth
floor of a Madison Avenue agency.
He agreed, however, that "many of the people of God are
intimidated and fearful," and felt that "I have to be careful, that
these people think that because I'm a member of the Church I'm
homophobic." The "notion of being an alien" set out in 1 Peter was
relevant to our times, he said.
LICC still seeks to practise Dr Stott's concept of "double
listening" - listening to the Word of God, and listening to the
world. Asked about the perception that a clash existed between a
"biblical world-view" and societal values, Mr Greene said that it
was not "always easy" to discern what the Bible might teach on the
issues of the day, but that it gave a sense of God's
Sex, for example, "may be very, very important to
late-20th-century people, but it's not the be all and end all for
God". Women's liberation and gay rights were, however, the "key
cultural drivers" of the past 40 years. His predecessor as
executive director, Dr Elaine Storkey, had shown a "lot of courage"
in taking on the "issues of our time".
Asked about the perception of the Church by the public, Mr
Greene said that it had "failed to make our case", even though "a
massive amount of love - practical love - is disseminated by it."
The challenge was to use "a whole different set of communications"
to show the "glorious scope of the gospel" to people. Social media
could help, he said.
Asked what it would look like, were the vision of a Church of
"whole-life disciples" to be fulfilled, Mr Greene said that it
could be a "better economy", as the thousands of Christians working
in the City brought their faith to bear on their work. He quoted
the former chairman of Lazard Bank, Ken Costa, who, he said, had
suggested that Christians working in the City "didn't see" what was
happening before the financial crisis.
It was vital that "the Church of the next generation are not put
in the position where godly, Bible-believing, church-attending
people from all kinds of streams of the Church are in top law firms
and top banking insitutions, and they can't see."