October 06 - Church Army
Mark Russell becomes Church Army's youngest ever Chief Executive at 32 this autumn. It's a major break with a tradition that has seen either an ordained clergyman or a CA evangelist hold the post. RUSS BRAVO asks the questions...
What attracted you to the post with Church Army?
Church Army is one of the most respected home mission agencies in the UK, and I feel deeply privileged to have been invited by the board to lead it. I am attracted to the pioneering record of the Society, and by the excellent work that many evangelists are doing, often in tough situations. I want to help the organisation grow and evolve, as together we seek to impact the nation with the good news of Jesus Christ.
How do you see the organisation's role in the Christian community over the next 10 years?
The role is the same as it’s always been, since Wilson Carlile founded it almost 125 years ago. The challenge to reach out with the good news, to see lives transformed, and to enable our evangelists to be salt and light in local communities. I also see our role to challenge the Church to Get Out More, the theme of CA Sunday, and to help resource the Church to do mission.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Church in contemporary society?
The biggest is to help communicate the unchanging message of an unchanging God to a fast changing culture. The Church often shouts 'Jesus Christ is the answer' to a society that is not asking us any questions. Church Army is about working in local communities, serving and loving and therefore provoking the question why?
Another challenge is to help develop the mixed economy church that the Archbishop of Canterbury talks about, where inherited Church and fresh expressions together seek to impact the nation with the Gospel.
What are the biggest opportunities?
The biggest challenge I think is our biggest opportunity The fact that so many people know so little about Jesus, means we can tell them! It means the Gospel gets to become literally good news for people, and never boring. We get to present the Jesus of the Bible, bold, exciting, radical – and let him speak for himself.
Has the Church lost confidence in the Gospel?
No, but I suspect many Christians have, though. Our job is to re-inspire and energise Christians all over the UK, to get excited about Jesus, excited about his love in their lives and to see the fields are ripe for harvest. To help equip them to live authentic lives of Christian discipleship.
In a post 9/11 world, how can Christians help build a better society, while remaining distinctive and faithful to Christ?
By asking 'What would Jesus do?' If the Church, and Christians ask themselves this in every situation, then we get to live authentic lives that witness to God's love and power. I guess I am a little fed up with what I call ‘Chameleon Christians’. In his excellent book The scandal of the evangelical conscience, Ronald Sider asks why Christians say they believe in biblical standards - yet live just like the rest of the world. He argues there is a big gap between who we are and who God calls us to be. The challenge is as Paul puts it in Romans 12, not to be a conformer, but a transformer.
How different do you think the Church will be in 10 years' time?
I hope the Church will in some ways not change at all. The Church is the Body of Christ and not an institution. So I hope we will still be focused on Jesus, and on God's mission for his world. I hope we will still be keeping the Gospel and building the Kingdom at the centre of all we are about. But I hope we will have continued to develop our thinking about what the Church itself will look like. In the Church of England, I hope we will have implemented "Mission Shaped Church" and what Rowan Williams calls, a "principled loosening of our structures". I relish the challenge of helping the Church reinvent itself in a new generation, to be more real, relevant, radical, dangerous – and I hope, more fun!
* For more information on Mark Russell, call Church Army on 020 8309 3519 or check out www.churcharmy.org.uk/markrussell
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