Being Radical church; a Church of prophetic improvisation

In Church, the world and The Christian Life, Nicholas Healy makes the point that the church should define itself through its actions – rather than through its being- (see my previous blog here, on developing a practical and prophetic Youth Ministry) and by doing so suggests that the church should not only consider itself as being both practical and prophetic – it could also view itself as being part of an ongoing drama – one in which it is improvising its way in its current contemporary , and local, culture, where it acts both practically and prophetically in it. Consequently, He suggests that church is an ongoing experiment. And so, i wonder what might be actions of the church that cause it act in an experimental way, that is both practical and prophetic during its week ahead.

Earlier this afternoon i was listening to an interview with Adam Curtis on BBC 6 Music, in which he was talking about the normalization of the Internet, what it offers, what it doesnt offer, and what would it mean to be truly Radical today. His response that to be truly radical, it would mean gathering a community to respond to the crisis in Alleppo by resourcing food, water, aid and a lorry, driving all that way, unloading all the equipment, and then returning. Without tweeting, live blogging, instagramming the ferry crossing, facebook ‘live-ing’ it and keeping it an underground movement not exposed to what he described as the restrictive and creative hindering domain of the internet, and its craving for story, comment and recognition. I havent watched the documentary which is right now being played on BBC, but it should be on iplayer.

What he said , whilst i was making the tea this afternoon, did cause me to think and reflect further on the above question:

What would it mean for the church to be actually radical today?

So in the best of traditions i opened this up to twitter; here were some of the responses, arriving back to me in chronological order:

  1. “Get rid of ALL the buildings. Such a drain of time, money, energy and life. Such a distraction from living out the gospel”
  2. Ordain thousands called and endorsed from their own communities.
  3. Become truly inclusive
  4. Collectively, fundraise to buy The Sun from News International. Take over editorial control & speak truth to the nation.
  5. Cancel most (all?) mid-week groups/activities. They mainly just mean church folk spend all their time with other church folk.
  6. Stop worrying. Focus on 2 commandments. Trust God. See mission as sacramental. Disestablish.
  7. Make meetings for worship longer, richer, foodier, to deepen faith/build relationships, then all go out and do non-church stuff
  8. Sell a cathedral or 2. Buy many houses when councils sell them for £10 or so. Move in, build community, renovate, grow stuff.
  9. Offer daily prayer/a v simple monastic rule of life, to those who would like that stuff. Learn and teach skills.
  10. Stop meeting on Sundays and go out and meet people at car boots / sports meets / shopping centres / wherever people are!
  11. Families share homes and give other homes to refugees.
  12. Give up its buildings and structures, and get involved in the community instead.
  13. Become one body in Christ. No more divisions, factions, walls.

Thank you to all who contributed to this most unscientific of polling, and feedback. There would be plenty to agree, disagree with and discuss further.

I wonder in addition, if the call is to be prophetic and practical – this might be distinctive to being radical- though being radical is only relative to local context, as might prophetic and practical also. If being part of an ongoing drama of the acts of God in the world (according to Healy above), is about a multiplicity of improvised experiments that are practical and prophecy to and in the world, of a Kingdom that is in the now and not yet – not only will each local context need different improvised actions, every week might do to.  Many actions the church does could be considered both practical and prophetic, but what might make them culturally or socially radical as well? Is this a place the church needs to be also?

Yet amongst this, as was suggested above – this call to be practical and prophetic becomes more radical as the church interacts more closely in the world. As Baltasar recognises, the church is in and amongst the weeds in the drama, not in some perfect field aloof from the nasty bits, its in amongst the reality of the world where God is at work and involved in the so called, but horribly determined, ‘margins’.

It isn’t enough to be practical and prophetic within its own walls, those walls need to be bulldozed, and the performance of the church as practical and prophetic is to involve new guests into a performance that connects them with, as what Ricouer argues, is the sacred, in a world where technology now dominates.  Maybe ‘the church’ needs to stop internetting for a while…

And maybe, the church does all this without live tweeting, blogging or facebooking it all. Its new movement is prophetic and maybe doesn’t actually exist on the internet. It might be how it does what it does in as an improvised action of prophetic radicalness- not just what it does.

A church of radical prophetic improvisation… now wouldnt that be fun.



Healy N, Church, the world and the Christian life, 2000

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theodrama II , 1988

Ricouer, P – Figuring the Sacred, 1995.


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust ( and Communities Together Durham ( and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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