Ministry in a Post-Christendom Context: An Interview with Barry Parker
Barry Parker serves as rector of St. Paul’s Bloor Street in downtown Toronto. He’s a capable preacher and leader, and a careful thinker. On top of that, he’s a really fun guy to be around.
Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Barry. I always walk away from our meetings sharpened and grateful for our time together.
Barry has been kind enough to answer some questions about ministry in a post-Christendom context.
The Church is no longer a significant cultural influence. This is often seen as bad news, but is there a bright side to this?
If the Church is busy seeking to influence culture as an end unto itself, it gets distracted from the essential focus of its existence—obedience to the call of Jesus Christ and following Him. Following Jesus (versus following culture) issues in both individual (the believer) and the community (the Body of Christ) transformation. Perhaps there will be collateral impact on the culture, a good thing. I do not believe it is the primary objective of discipleship formation. Without worrying about cultural or societal affirmation, which is a historic cornerstone of Christendom, then the Church doesn’t have to conform to external, secular and ideological agenda’s. It allows the Church to be the Church—a good thing.
What do we need to unlearn in a post-Christendom context?
- Our self-focus and self-regulating engagement with the world.
- Our innate love (hence very difficult to see, let alone part with) of power, preferment and entitlement.
- Our myopic worldview that the culture is waiting with bated breath to be “Christian”.
What new skills do we need to learn?
- A radical love of the other, no matter who or what the other is.
- Learning to listen carefully and wisely to others all the while letting go what we once gave us meaning, stability and security; i.e. buildings, polity, tribalism, etc
- A radical humility that is grounded in the Saviour of the World because we are not the saviour of anything.
How is reaching the un-churched (people with no church background) different from reaching the de-churched (people with some church memory)?
The closed de-churched, usually those burned by an experience in churchland, need a lot of time and a genuine apology from Christians and the Church. However, I do not think the un-churched and open de-churched require different approaches as both groups, all groups at minimum, need to experience the Gospel and encounter Jesus. Both groups, as loosely defined and boundary-less as they are—operate out of stereotypes of faith, Jesus, the Church and Christians. Both need listening and humble witness that is grounded in a genuine love for them and not for our agenda.
- listening without advice,
- community without conformity,
- hospitality that is relational, not positional,
- service without expectation or exception
- learning opportunities that encourage active questioning and identity formation.
How can we pray for you in your role as Rector of St. Paul’s?
That I stay close to Jesus in obedience and that we as a particular faith community pay attention to all that is mentioned above.