Friday, 11 March 2011

Evangelists Summit 2011: Richard Cunningham, UCCF

If you had told me ten years ago that the head of the UCCF would come to a newfrontiers conference I would not have believed you. I may even have contacted your psychiatrist.

If you have read this blog over time you will know of my mixed experiences in the university days that left me both greatly blessed and carrying bitterness, which I have had to repent of.

He started with an excellent session looking at Paul's intereactions through the book of Acts and how that can help equip us to make our message relevant to those we encounter. It was meaty, funny, and relevant. Then came the big moment, an open Q&A.

It is fair to say that newfrontiers with its very high regard for the local Church has not always found it's interaction with the CU movement on the ground very easy due to the level of time pressure the Christian Union can put on students, alongside it's role as the "only" missional group on campus. Add in the charismatic / non charismatic dynamic and attempted shared witness, and sometimes it can be hard.

Nor have newfrontiers Churches always got it right from our end, at all. Richard's clear definition of why UCCF is not actually a "parachurch" movement was deliberate, and required.

It also appears that through Terry Virgo's attendance at New Word Alive and becoming part of the advisory council of UCCF, that things might be changing.

So the first thing I want to say about Richard Cunningham is that I think the guy has got guts and I respect him for that. Yet as he came, he was not coming into the lion's den to be quizzed on this and that, what he found was a group of evangelical, conservative, missional Churches wanting to know how best to make it work.

The questions flowed, the answers flowed, all very straight, full of grace and a seminal moment in the ongoing relationship between these two bodies, a line was being drawn in the sand and new opportunity opening up.

And then I asked my question. I had been considering it well in advance. I had the paragraph that had so offended me printed out should I need it. I wanted closure. The hands continued to rise and so I waited, and waited, then he pointed at me and said "I will finish with this one".

Oh no; you don't want to be the angry guy at the end who throws in a googly when everything thus far has been brilliant. Ah well, I am here now. The time has come.

My question was fairly straightforward: my time in the CU movement was good at a local level but the UCCF stuff I experienced was very difficult because of the opposition I faced as a Charismatic. When my wife went to Uni the situation there was even more of a war zone and I had to counsel several people who had been caught in the cross fire. Now a girl from our Church is going to that university and asked me about the CU and I felt I had to tell her to not get involved but to just find a Church for her own protection. I don't want that to be the case, so I am asking have things really changed and can I recommend the CU movement to people.

It was one of those agonising moments when you realise that your question says more about you than it does about anything else, and my voice went half way through, meaning I sounded both confused and emotionally vulnerable. At least there was a level of authenticity in that because I was confused and emotionally vulnerable!

And then he answered.

Firstly, he did not fudge anything. It does not always work out and he cannot do a "Tony Blair" and offer to solve everything.

Secondly things are changing, several UCCF relay workers are based in newfrontiers Churches, as an example.

Thirdly, he expressed his own opinions on certain things which resonated greatly with how I felt.

So he did not blag an answer. He did not apologise for something which is nothing to do with him. He just shared his heart. Of what it could look like if it did work. We all want it to work.

And then just slipped into a sentence, while looking at me, referring directly to me, in answer to my question, he said "brother".

That was the head of UCCF calling me brother.

That was my answer.

In the documentary about Take That getting back together Robbie Williams makes an astonishing admission when discussing the ongoing difficulties between him and Gary Barlow. He basically said; all the hurt and rejection he had held onto, and the way he allowed it to shape him negatively, was basically because above all else he just wanted his approval. He wanted to know he respected his contribution. He wanted to make him proud. And feeling the lack of that was what pushed them apart.

That resonates with me.

I don't want a political answer. I don't want an apology, or a false promise. I just want to know I am not left on this side of the drawbridge and that you approve of me.

He called me brother. And so it is as brothers that we will face the future.

And that changes everything.

Without wishing to plagiarise Rob Bell, love wins.


Charles said...

Great post Dave and glad you were able to ask the question!
It may not be evident everywhere but there does seem to be a real willingness amongst most UK evangelicals to reflect on the past, where necessary repent of the past, and move on which is very encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I found this quite interesting as someone who attends a Newfrontiers Church as a Baptist church member. My experience is fairly frequently meeting or listening to people with unhelpful negative attitudes to other churches, often based on ignorance but some gratuitous (e.g. an apostle who half way through this talk indicated that Baptist Church treasurers were like Judas Iscariot). Your comments make me think that in reality there is something 'tribal' going on and the animosity isn't really about the theological differences, but personal prejudices, based perhaps on previous bad experiences or hurts. In other words, it is about relationships. Efforts like that of Richard Cunningham can break down prejudices and heal wounds and there much to be done, so I salute your thoughtful website.