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5. Risk

Posted by Carmel Murphy
Carmel Murphy
Carmel Murphy is in her final year of ministerial training at Bristol Baptist Co
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on 26 January 2012
in 40 Baptist Voices

“Organisations, the Church included, are built to administer, maintain and protect from harm that which already exists; in contrast creative or dissenting people are designed to give birth to that which has never been in existence before. The dissenters threaten the well-oiled structures of an organisation's process.” (Gerald Arbuckle – Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership, p1)

Dissension will always be a risky endeavour because going against the flow is never easy.  But what if the direction of the flow has remained laregly unchallenged for years?  How do we redeem a robust theology of risk in an environment where radical change is perceived as unnecessary by some and unimaginable by most?

In an age of growing hype around risk assessment, we are continually taught how to measure, manage and most importantly, minimise risk in almost every area of our lives; the Church being no exception.  In my opinion, we have been greatly influenced by this aspect of our culture which has reinforced our ‘protection reflex’, contributing towards the position we, like many others, find ourselves in at this time.  In the words of Robert Capon, “What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside down?  What happened to the smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous?” (Quoted by Simon Guillebaud in ‘For What it’s Worth’, pg 43)

Thankfully, throughout our history there have been those who have found themselves asking these same questions; those who have taken the risk, dared disdain and dissented in the hope of rediscovering something of this radical Christianity.  So now, is it our turn?  How do we ditch the safe structures and cosy comforts of church going in favour of the anxiety inducing adventure of following Jesus?  What will this require of us and are we willing to take the risk?

Like many, I suspect that the role of the artist, prophet, poet, storyteller and song writer will play a key part in our transformation.  This is not merely because they are able to produce something aesthetically pleasing to wow us all (although they may do that too) but because they seem to have the capacity both to articulate what is and imagine what is not.  They have a gift of accessing or occupying liminal space and in that way, are able to unveil the pain of the present while gently whispering hope to us in the form of newly imagined horizons.  They remind us that another world is possible and beckon us to come, but not without warning!   The journey is rarely smooth, convenient or comfortable; in fact the very invitation may be disturbing and the outcome may at first seem entirely improbable.  But everything now familiar was once new, birthing is always painful and innovation is not possible without it. 

So how do we empower these creative folk, truly recognise the gift that they are to the Church and seek to honour what they have to offer?  Firstly, I believe we need to create space and make time.  Our current structures support activity but can suppress creativity; so let’s intentionally release people from them to dream.  The creative process is slow, unpredictable and difficult to do on demand, so let’s alter our expectations and create an environment that is conducive to a different way of doing things. 

Secondly, I believe we need to recognise the risks that those engaged in these creative processes take.  There is a vulnerability that accompanies creativity which we need to be mindful of and seek to respect.  In presenting their work people are offering something of themselves.  They risk rejection as others don’t ‘get it’, misinterpret it or discern that it’s wrong, so we need to tread lightly and with grace, allowing room for failure. 

Finally, I believe we all need to ‘dare more boldly and venture on wider seas’ (from Francis Drake’s poem ‘Disturb us, Lord’).  It would be easy to tweak the model, re jig the structures and throw ourselves back into the activities – many of which are good, worthy projects.  But my sense is the call goes deeper and the opportunity is bigger - what do you think?

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Carmel Murphy is in her final year of ministerial training at Bristol Baptist College.  She lives in the Forest of Dean and works part time for Lydney Baptist Church.

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