Broadbent rounds on critics of renewal policy

24 April 2015

stefano cagnoni

Out-of-date- body experi­ence: Bishop Broadbent speaks in the General Synod in February

Out-of-date- body experi­ence: Bishop Broadbent speaks in the General Synod in February

A ROBUST defence of the Archbishops' programme Reform and Renewal was made at a gathering of Evangelicals last week, after critics questioned its theology and methodology.

Organised by the Evangelical group Fulcrum, the event, which asked whether the Church of England was "drinking in the last-chance saloon", was addressed by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, and the Revd Dr Ian Paul, associate minister of St Nicholas's, Nottingham, and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham

"A lot of the pushback that we got was about the fact that Bishops suddenly started giving leadership," Bishop Broadbent said. "And people said, 'Oh you can't do that: you haven't got the Synod behind you; you haven't got this, that, and the other' - because we have this democratic understanding of the Church which is synodically governed and episcopally led, which is a phrase that we trot off without ever really working out what that means.

"When someone starts actually giving leadership, that gets questioned. Now I am unashamed. I think we have to give leadership because that's what our episcope entails." The Synod was "very out of date. . . It's based on a 1980s or 1970s representative-democracy thing, which really doesn't work."

Several strands of criticism were addressed, including that put forward by the Revd Dr Mark Hart, Rector of Plemstall and Guilden Sutton (News, 17 April). Dr Hart's paper, From Delusion to Reality, looks critically at From Anecdote to Evidence, the 2014 report that examines causes of church growth. The Reform and Renewal programme was based on this report.

Whether the research basis was reliable was "obviously an important question", Bishop Broadbent said. "But actually those characteristics are things that come back time and again in English and German and American research on church growth."

Dr Paul said that Dr Hart had suggested that "statistically, there is not clear evidence that changing all the levers that we can change is going to reverse the decline in the way we need to do it. Well, we haven't got any other levers; so let's pull the ones we have."

There were, Dr Paul said, "limits to statistical research. God can't be measured. Actually, human life is sufficiently complex that it can't be measured in that kind of tied-down way, either. And my reflection . . . is there is lots of anecdotal evidence. I don't think I've ever been in a ministry situation where it hasn't been possible, relatively straightforwardly, to identify stuff that people are doing and the impact that's having on whether people are coming to church on a Sunday."

He was asked about Dr Hart's contention that the research had shown not causation of growth but correlation, and whether it as possible to prove causation.

"From a mathematical point of view, statistical analysis will never demonstrate causation," he said. "When you are only measuring two things, you are not looking for causation. Your research technique isn't able to do that. If you are statistically measuring two things, you have to do a different kind of analysis to see the link between them."

He then reiterated his view that the anecdotal evidence was strong.

"What do you want to happen? You want people to gather together. You want to form a sense of community. You want to have a sense that people encounter God. You want them to grow in understanding. You want that they will learn something which feeds them, heals them, and equips them to go out to be faithful disciples in the world. Isn't that what you want? Well, my experience is, whenever I have been in a context where we've been able to do that, people have come."

As a "Healthy Churches" consultant in Salisbury, he had seen that it was possible to "change some simple stuff that actually would have an effect. I think it's amazing how quickly you can make a difference."

Both speakers were highly critical of those who had questioned the importance of discipleship (Comment, 30 January). They must be "reading a different New Testament from the one I'm reading", Bishop Broadbent said. He was "not ashamed of numerical growth as a measure", although he always spoke of growth in a much broader sense.

Critics of the report Resourcing Ministerial Education (News, 27 March) had "a fair amount of vested interest in opposing some of the changes", Bishop Broadbent suggested, and "misrepresent the commitment to leadership as an undermining of ministry that is prayerful and dedicated and spiritual and priestly".

Here Dr Paul disagreed, arguing that the report's recommendations could spell "disaster" for residential training. The Reform and Renewal reports were "a mixed bag", he said. A number were "unhelpful and heading in the wrong direction", including the Green report, which "did appropriate, in an uncritical way, management speak".

But he stood by the commitment to numerical growth. "In the end, we count people because people count," Dr Paul said.

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