Paul Scanlon is the senior pastor at Abundant Life Ministries in Bradford. He's a familiar face through his conference speaking and live TV broadcasts of the meetings at his church.
You have talked about 'a new breed of church'. What does that mean?
"I think the new breed of church across the world is a breed characterised by having no adherence or loyalty to dead tradition, and 'religious' structures and 'religious' forms of communication. I don't think people are adverse to the message of the Gospel but people ARE adverse to the Church. I believe people are open to God. When I talk about a new breed of church, it's a breed of church that is non-religious, they're down-to-earth, they're practical, they're contemporary, they're relevant. They therefore have credibility. I've always said I believe the problem is the packaging not the message. I think the Word of God, the Bible, is the oldest story ever told, but we're still telling it and we're still packaging it like the first day it was told. I feel what we have got to do is take an old product that's as powerful as it's ever been, but we've got to find a way to communicate it to people out there that just don't know how good it can be."
But surely you're just doing what everybody else is doing. You're preaching. It's just that you're preaching on telly.
"Well, I like to talk about communication rather than preaching. I've no problem with people calling it preaching but I want to make sure whatever else it is, it MUST be communication. We must touch people and people must understand what we're saying. I believe the communication must be successful in making clear what's being asked for, calling for change, helping people lift their game. I think if it's packaged well, if it's communicated with language that is understandable in an atmosphere that is comfortable, where the chairs are comfortable and the atmosphere is good, I don't think people have a problem. "People have said to me over the years, as we've become a new breed of church, 'People will not sit and listen, especially young people, to anybody waffling on for an hour!' Well I agree, neither would I! But we're not waffling on. Two of our young people just said to me now in the coffee shop as we finished the service, 'That were wicked tonight!' which of course as we know means 'good'! Which again is what the new breed of church understands, that 'wicked' is 'good' and that 'bad' is 'good' and 'phat' is 'good' and 'dark' is 'good'.so all these terms we're now using. If somebody said, 'That was rude! The worship was rude today!' which someone said to me last week, that apparently means 'good'. So we had 'rude worship' and 'wicked preaching'! So all that's good by the way for our readers to understand and get in the flow! This is the jive on the street. So this young person said to me, 'It was awesome tonight! It was wicked but it was just too short. Did you finish too soon?' Now I spoke for a good 50 minutes plus tonight, maybe an hour, but that is the feel with our young people."
The image of the church is built very strongly around you, isn't it?
"In crossing over our church, God spoke to me from the life of Joshua and Moses as a model for crossing over the Jordan. One of the things God said to Joshua was that he had to be strong and courageous and that God would promote him in the eyes of the people. It would be something God would HAVE to do, for the people to see him differently. Over the last few years, I realised I would have to become a Joshua type leader, in terms of being willing to stick my head above the parapet and to be willing to be the personification of the new breed we were becoming. I would have to be the primary articulator of the vision and the dream in my heart. I would have to say that and say it and say it and say it until everybody understood. It's not a rehash of the old church, it's not a bit of the new and a bit of the old. We're not building Frankenstein here! It IS a brand new church.
"I knew I would have to personify the change that I was looking for, first in me and then in us, that I could not be a shrinking violet in this transition of our church. I couldn't be in the background, I couldn't be part of a committee, I couldn't be one voice that added my contribution to the many. I knew for the first part of this crossing over, I would have to become predominant in a way that I had to live with. So I did.
"Over the years we've never had this conversation about image and how it looks like it's all about me, except with a British person! I do think it's part of the British cultural resistance and fear of some American personality deal, that people are going to get disappointed because I'm going to fall and if I fall everything falls. I understand people's fear but I don't think it's valid. Look at Richard Branson with Virgin. He's synonymous with the company. You mention Virgin and you think of him. You mention the pop industry and you think of certain individuals, or the movies. There's a lot more to that product, or the movie, or the album or the business than that individual. However, I think they've understood that the best way to market your product in many of these companies that are very successful, is that you can't personify that in a committee or a group of people. I realised the new church we were becoming would need fronting and I had an option to front it. I had to get over this with TV. When we built our 2000 seater building, some people that left this church said, 'I'm not going to be a part of that! It's just a glorified TV studio to yourself!' Again I knew that was part of the British mindset that is stopping a lot of churches. One of the reasons I believe that we don't have a lot of mega churches in our country is this problem. People are afraid to commit and to follow the vision of a visionary, entrepreneurial, publicly gifted person that they wouldn't hesitate to follow if it was in business, or in politics, or in some other expression of life. But in the Church, we can't have anybody like that. So I have had to deal with that. I've got a programme on TV.get over it. My face may be on a poster, I've had to deal with that. Am I in love with myself? Do I have an ego trip? No. Will people think so? Yes, but I've got to live with that. But it's worked for us and it's working for a lot of other people. I think some of us have had the courage to risk people misunderstanding us."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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