"Do not despise the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good”.
1 Thessalonians 5:20
Recently I participated in some management training, along with many other NHS managers. There is a serious point to this training, but it is sometimes hard to move past the frequent use of management speak by those leading the sessions. So, at different times, we were challenged to ‘source yourself in the future’ and ‘stand in the result’.
It’s no wonder the BBC and others find it so easy to parody this kind of language in comedy shows. It was done to amusing effect in the TV series “2012” about the delivery of the Olympic Games.
Perhaps more surprising is that the Church of England itself appears to have bought into this strange world of management speak. The recently released Green Report is set to put the C of E on track for a management make-over with leadership talent spotting and various kinds of secular training. Sadly, all too often the Church is dazzled by the secular world and swallows uncritically the fashionable ideas of the time. Tellingly, when it came to women finding an equal place in leadership, the proposal was met with rigorous theological scrutiny and a 20 year process of debate and discernment. Contrastingly when it comes to changing our ideas of management theory for all clergy no theological input has been required and the whole plan is blind to any of its own weaknesses or shortcomings.
The Church is meant to be a different kind of society. Advent reminds us of alternative futures, one of which calls Christians to live a different kind of life today. That will never succeed simply by efficient management. We are invited in 1 Thessalonians to “test everything” and hold on to the things that belong to God’s Kingdom. Sound-bites and slogans don’t achieve the kind of radical transformation we are called to in the life of Christ. In Advent the prophets embody their message with lives devoted to the task of communicating God’s word. They aren’t just standing in the result of an imagined future- they are living it already, changing the world by their lives, and inviting us to begin our life in the Kingdom with them today.
Whenever we come to share in Holy Communion we taste something of that future to which we are called. We digest it—it becomes part of us. Fed on the food of God’s Kingdom we are sent out to live the truth of our new relationship with God. It is simply by living that life that we became salt and light in our communities, changing the world in small but decisive ways. Like John the Baptist we are preparing the way for God’s arrival, amending our lives and encouraging others: the true task of the Advent season.