guest blog: worship, justice and politics (part 1)

Andy Flannagan describes himself as being “married to my lovely wife Jenny, living in central London trying to work out how to be downwardly mobile, and spending lots of time with neighbours, writing and singing songs, and leading people in worship. And part-time I work as the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement, seeking to be a prophetic voice to the left side of politics and encouraging people to get stuck in with seeing politics as mission

Andy has worked for Youth for Christ, led worship in a diverse range of settings including Spring Harvest and Greenbelt, and written challenging worship songs whose lyrics break the mould. We have long come to highly respect his journey and insights into many matters close to our hearts, and so we are delighted to publish some of our conversation with him about the relationships between worship, justice and politics in the first part of this guest blog.


Andy Flannagan

1. Why do you think worship so important?

I think it’s because it’s what we’re designed to do. We should be in a relationship with our creator. In the New Testament, the Greek word most often used for worship is “proskyneo” which means “to come towards and kiss” and expresses a beautiful combination of reverence and intimacy. The church swings like a pendulum from one extreme to the other, but the two are meant to come together.

Worship is not a means to an end – and that’s the real danger – we use it as a means to gather, or to talk about themes, or to sell worship music. But we’re called to worship because we’re created in the image of God; we’re created to know him and enjoy him.

There’s a story of two young men walking out of church on a Sunday morning…. they get into the outside world, and one of them says “I didn’t really get much out of the worship this morning”. The other thinks for a moment and then says, “Oh, I wasn’t aware it was for you”.

It’s a funny story, but it grabs me in the gut… in all the discussions we have amongst ourselves, you could, as an outside observer, be forgiven for believing it was for us.

But we worship because of the glory he is due. We need to regain a right orientation of who he is and who we are because that drives everything else: the decisions we make; what and who we value; how we ascribe worth – literally our “worthship”. Every decision we make from admin to buildings reveals our priorities.

That’s why worship is central. If that relationship is not at the spine of our lives, everything else falls apart.

2. What’s been your experience of discovering that worship and justice are so closely related?

Well, it’s very much a journey I’ve been on which I think has been thankfully much more about God than it has been about me.

Justice must come up as we worship because we worship all aspects of God’s character. If we’re not worshipping the ‘God of justice’ aspect, we’re getting a skewed view of him. There’s been a lot of focus in modern worship songs on the more romantic or beautiful sides of God’s character. These are true and wonderful but they are not the full story.

And justice and righteousness are twin pillars of his kingdom. Hopefully, as I’ve got to know him more, I’ve got more passionate about justice because he is the God of justice.

I have been very blessed to meet amazing people and read helpful books which have helped me encounter the heart of God.  When I was a student, I took part in two or three of Tearfund’s summer programmes and these submerged a white Northern Irish boy into Plaistow, a part of east London, where at the time, there were forty different ethnic groups.

As well as these programmes opening my eyes to poverty and injustice in the UK, various people came and talked to us about global economics and explained to us how some nations were locked in poverty because of the way the global economic system is rigged in favour of the rich.

Crucially, the Bible, and passages such as Isaiah 61 came alive in these situations. At one point, everywhere I went Luke 4, where Jesus quotes Isaiah 61, seemed to appear, and I really felt God challenging me for that to be true in my life. I felt led to use my voice to free captives, see people healed, and encourage others to do the same.

Another key moment was when I spent the summer helping some people who were working in the centre of Cairo with people living on a rubbish dump which the government denied existed. I was still a medical student at this point, but I came back with songs and poems… and thought “how can this all fit together

Soon after I heard the then Director of Operation Mobilisation say that what was most needed was not more missionaries, but more senders – people who have a heart for ‘away’ but who are gifted in communicating it to others at home.  It landed in my gut – and I knew “that’s what I’m called to do”. 

A lot of people were, like me, making that transition in the 1990s, as an awareness of issues such as debt and trade began to increase. A lot of us started to see that the compassionate Good Samaritan response alone is just not enough.

There’s a Martin Luther King quote about someone needing to go back and improve the security on the road to Jericho. It will probably mean boring discussions on structure and legislation – which are so much less exciting than helping people directly – but I believe that more and more of us are called to be called in committee rooms.

And this all connects with prayer and worship. As we realise that it’s the systems we need to change, we also become aware of just how huge and immobile the structures that we want to see changed are – and we’re aware of our smallness, and our desperate need for God’s bigness.

Anything we do needs to be coupled with intense times on our knees in prayer.  And when we pray we start to see what is behind the practicalities. We stop focusing on flesh and blood and labelling some people as “good” and others as “bad”, and instead we start coming up against consumerism; materialism; self-promotion; laziness; greed. We are called to tear down these strongholds, and seeing them as such keeps our focus on a spiritual battle.

As a campaigner, it’s easy to get focused on particular personalities or companies, and that’s why worship and justice together keep us in a good rhythm. Then we can see and speak out the truth, but we miss this stuff when we’re not in constant prayer. Ephesians 6:18 rings very true.

3. And how does this all relate to your heart for politics?

It all comes back to the importance of us being involved. We govern because God governs. We are called to lead, and govern. It’s not an option to just stay on the sidelines and pray… we’re called to be involved in leadership

Also for me personally, there’s a very pragmatic point. If you look at the distribution of kingdom resources in the UK and United States – though I’m not saying for a second that what I’m doing is more important than anything else – there is a lot more resource focused on shouting from sidelines and sending postcards, than on working for transformation on the inside. We need both.

I want to be encouraging lots more people to get stuck in and be salt and light… for most of the last thirty years, many of us have opted out and created another sub-culture, and I’m not sure it has worked. There has been a silo-ing of society and in the church we’ve become like that. Just as mainstream society has decided that it’s only people who are in economics who are qualified to talk about economics, we’ve decided if we don’t like some of what’s going on, we’ll separate.

There’s been some thinking recently about there being seven spheres of culture which various writers have examined. For example politics; the media and religion. But so much of the church’s teaching and training has been exclusively focused on growing better church leaders and worshippers, training people for the religious sphere, instead of developing Christians to be better in all seven spheres.

We need to grow people to be salt and light in those places and see them transformed too. We need to be present and to be in prayer – intelligent prayer – the kind of prayer that comes from understanding situations, sectors and the people in them.

Politics is not more important than the other spheres, but it is an incredible missional opportunity. If you bring creativity and optimism; if you turn up; if you do what you say you will do – it’s not hard to make an impact.

I think it’s all about ordinary people standing up and being counted, rather than just following heroes. Sure we can look back and be inspired by the stories of people like Wilberforce – for me there’s a scene in the film where he says he’s torn between whether to serve religion or politics and he’s challenged that perhaps he could do both.

But I think a lot more of us are called to that kind of straddling role – to help provide translation and make sure whole sections of society don’t float off separately, like the world of high finance did.

Look out for the second part of Andy’s blog, being published later today, which explores the work of the CSM more fully, and poses a challenge to us all to get more involved. (You may also be interested to visit the website of Conservative Christian Fellowship, which undertakes similar work in and for the Conservative Party.)

And if you’ve found Andy’s perspective on worship and justice particularly helpful, you might be interested to read this article that the Sanctuary published from him last year, based on an interview given to a masters student.

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