Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Centres and margins

Last year I began in ministry at Opawa Baptist Church. Called as change agent, it was in many ways a surprising move, both for me and for the church. It was a very stretching, but a hugely exciting year.

Looking back, it felt like some sort of move from margin to centre. (Not totally, but that is for another post). My first 9 years of ministry were planting an emerging church. It was lonely. There were very few models. I was often treated with suspicion by other church leaders. I felt on the margins. It was hard. But it was fantastic. I learnt so much. So much of what God has blessed in my new context has been ministry patterns, ministry ideas, forged on the margins.

Ironically, I wonder if my move from margin to some sort of centre is a moving in the opposite direction to the church in wider society. While I move from margin to centre, the church generally is moving from centre to margin. Church in the West is in decline.

And now, suddenly, I find myself at some sort of the centre. After 25 years of decline, the place where I minister has found new life. New faces, new gifts, new worship. And at this centre I get love. Lots of love. There is something hypnotic about speaking to lots of people. To seeing a place grow, to be part of energy and momentum, is a wonderful thing.

It would be very easy to settle for the drug of the centre. To imbibe the love. Yet all my instincts tell me the margin is the place of creativity. A theology of exile finds God in the wasteland. And my call to this place was as a change agent. It was to lead this group from attraction to mission. It was to clear space for the margins, to tend new life among the dispossessed in the wasteland.

I wonder if accepting a changing culture, accepting the marginality of the church, is hardest for pastors of growing, attractional churches. How to hear the margins when one stands at what seems a centre?

At the centre is where I am called to be for this season. So are their disciplines of marginality that need to be practised by those at the centre?

Posted by steve at 11:00 PM


  1. An interesting thought – if we’re called to be at the centre, how do we stay decentred enough to listen to the voices at the margins? Does being centred mean we automatically lose the creativity of the margins? Although highly missional and quite creative at times my church can have narrow definitions of acceptable creativity – I feel for those whose creative gifts don’t fit within those margins.

    Comment by Chris — January 19, 2005 @ 10:14 pm

  2. It’s too bad in our modern mindset that we have created this false center of the church as building to which the world is supposed to be drawn to. When the reality is the center is dispersed into the world through out the week. If we could only grasp the reality that we have na expanding moving center…instead of a shrinking stationary center.

    Comment by ron cole — January 20, 2005 @ 3:30 am

  3. Ron, I really like this idea of a distributed centre. Makes heaps of sense.

    Not sure how it works for a pastor though – one of my mentors once said that pastors are the only people that think about church all week.

    So is it easier for punters to be distributed centres?

    Comment by steve — January 25, 2005 @ 8:50 pm

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