Monday, May 23, 2016

Evangelism: never the first word in a conversation?

Words of wisdom from the ABofC
speaking at a reception for leaders of other faiths in the garden of Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop insisted Christians should not actively “proselytise” non-Christians.

Asked where he drew the line between evangelism and proselytism, he said: “I draw the line in terms of respect for the other; in starting by listening before you speak; in terms of love that is unconditional and not conditional to one iota, to one single element on how the person responds to your own declaration of faith; and of not speaking about faith unless you are asked about faith.
“That’s a shorthand but I could go on.

“I draw a pretty sharp line, it is all based around loving the person you are dealing with which means you seek their well-being and you respect their identity and their integrity.”

Nothing there that you wouldn't find in 1 Peter chapter 3, or indeed in Stephen Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There's an interesting contrast to the commentary on last years Talking Jesus survey, whose recommendations said a lot about talking but next to nothing about listening, despite the fact that far more people were put off becoming Christians by our efforts at evangelism than were attracted to it. 

Having said that, there's potential for a real double standard here. Imagine a world where people don't talk about football unless they're asked about football, or don't talk about their political views unless they're asked about them. How come that's fine (though pretty tedious) but starting a conversation about God isn't? 
PS sorry about the formatting, not quite sure what's happened there - you can read between the lines ;-) !

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

CofE Deprivation Map of UK, parish by parish

This is very clever, a new interactive map produced by the CofE, which shows the relative deprivation of every parish in the country. This snippet shows Yeovil (the bit with no colour coding to the left of centre is the mysteriously named 'Odcombe Without', which includes Yeovil FC. Committed fans usually feel a high sense of deprivation, but that's another story).

And if you're not CofE, it still gives quite a good idea of how your city/town/area looks. There are various labelling and map display options, including a colour coded dotting system for churches which tells you which are listed Grade 1, unlisted, demolished etc. Click on a specific parish and it gives you the population, and some basic info on age profile, ethnicity, and the percent who said they were 'Christian' at the 2011 census.

This has the potential to be a colossal timewaster for prevaricating clergy, as well as a very useful tool!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When was the last time you......?

Speaking about vocation is a bit like asking for more Sunday School teachers. The generalised notice at the front of church has pretty much no effect; a few face to face conversations along the ‘have you ever thought of…?’ lines is much more like it.

So two questions:
• When was the last time you seriously asked God what He wants from you and your life?
• When was the last time you asked someone else a question about their own vocation or call?

If the answer to either is ‘not recently’ then maybe you need to prayerfully ask God what He may be saying…

One of my favourite stories recently is about someone attending a vocations course. The course coordinator was not messing around. She made it very clear that vocation is a serious business, that understanding and feeling affirmed in God’s call on our lives is not something to be done lightly or hurriedly. Therefore the course members needed to get their heads in gear and commit to the whole course – no ifs or buts; no lame excuses about missing the odd session. They were here for the duration. And if this particular course coordinator says it’s Wednesday then you really do need to work on the assumption that it’s Wednesday.

So, imagine the fear and trembling of one course participant as she approached the coordinator explaining how she wanted to finish the course early. Nervously she came up at the end of an evening to say that she wasn’t intending to come back for the final two sessions.

There was some significant push back on this until the participant said: ‘Look. I came onto this course as a nurse. I am now absolutely certain that God is calling me to be a nurse. I am absolutely where God wants me to be. I’m sorted.’ Fabulous

Read the rest here

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Preacher or Jester?

from the Telegraph:

According to new research, churchgoers would far rather clergy stick to serious topics and leave the jokes to the comedians.

A survey of Christians found that they ranked weighty explanations of the Bible as 27 times as important in a sermon as humour and “practical application”, 42 times more highly than personal anecdote.

The findings come from research commission by the Christian resources Exhibition, a trade fair for all things clerical taking place at the ExCel centre in London next week. For the first time, organisers are running a “sermon of the year competition”.

A poll of almost 1,400 regular churchgoers commissioned for the event found a perhaps surprising appetite for longer sermons, with less than one per cent favouring a talk of under five minutes but 36 per cent favouring a monologue of between 20 and 30 minutes.

When asked to choose the most important element in a sermon from a list of choices, 44.3 per cent favoured “Biblical exposition” and only 1.6 per cent opted for a “sense of humour”.

Similarly, “practical application” was the second most popular choice – garnering 40 per cent of support – compared with just under one per cent for “personal anecdotes”.

There's nothing at the moment on the Christian Resources Exhibition website - it would be interesting to see the full survey results. The poll is heartening on one level - unpacking the Bible and applying it to everyday life would be my top two aims in a sermon. However there's a danger that 'people who like this sort of thing will find this sort of thing is what they like' - there may be very different results from people who have left the church.

There's also the question of whether delivering the sermon that people want is the best thing anyway. Jesus used a range of teaching styles: Q&A, storytelling, sermons, settling arguments, commenting on everyday things. If the goal of Sunday teaching is that people grow in Christian discipleship, in character, understanding and lifestyle, then the sermon is but one means to that end.

And sometimes the best points are made by a joke, rather than a monologue. For example:
Freely I confess my sins
for God has poured his grace in
But when another points them out
I want to smash his face in (Adrian Plass)

Which makes a point about taking criticism better than any exposition. A big piece of research on church growth found that the factor which most correlated with a growing church was 'we laugh a lot'. Last year the CRE press release before the event flagged up a 'comedy for clergy' workshop. What last year and this have in common is a desire to promote good communication - whether as preachers we tell jokes, tell stories, ask questions, or whatever, we just need to be really good at it, and continually learning our craft.

Update: Giles Fraser thinks vicars should stop telling jokes full stop, because church is a serious place. I disagree - there are several standup comics who can deal seriously with a serious subject and have the audience on the floor at the same time: Adam Hills current tour is about death and cancer, and Mark Steele, Marcus Brigstocke, Stewart Lee, Jeremy Hardy etc. etc. there are plenty of comics out there who, because they are one of the few people that the rest of us will listen to for more than 30 seconds, actually have the chance to develop an argument at length. Sure, a rubbish joke, badly delivered, for the sake of it, has no place in sermons, or indeed any form of communication. But that doesn't mean none at all.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

School tests create surge in new medical conditions

In recent weeks teachers have noticed a number of new illnesses among their students. Little is known about many of these diseases, but there is a strong suspicion they are linked to government testing. Here is the latest list of new disorders:

Adverbal diarrhoea

Burst apostrophe

Checking pox - spontanous outburst of pimples occurring when a student notices with 1 minute to go that they've misread the question

Compound fracture - inability to hold 2 parts of a word together. Most common in teenagers.


Consonantipation - usually due to a blockage in the vowels

Tense future - usually afflicts children the week before SATS tests

Homophonia - fear of words which sound the same. There is a related strain occurring in foreign languages, which is an irrational fear of two nouns of the same gender occurring too close to each other in a sentence.

Severe inflection: this could take the form of Phonemonia, or Pluralisy, which usually affects several parts of the body at once

Passive tense - the student is so stressed they are unable to get out of bed

Past tense - Ofsted was last week

Possessive Compulsive Disorder - someone who finds it difficult to share a pencil during an exam.

Prolapsed pronoun

Punctuated ulcer - in extreme cases, the patient ends up in a comma.

Many of these seem to be mutations of previously harmless bits of grammar. Kept in isolation, or small groups, grammar is benign, but large swarms of grammatical terms seem to exhibit different behaviour, and have a toxic effect on those using them. The misplaced apostrophe has always been capable, on it's own, of exciting high levels of stress and rage, but this is the first time we have seen such dramatic effects in other sections of the English language.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

It's our problem-free/ Academy/ Hakuna MATata

Under new freedoms given under the governments Academies programme, Hakuna MATata* (motto 'no worries for the rest of your grades'), has just been launched. The curriculum is based entirely on songs from well-known musicals, arranged into multi-disciplinary houses. For example

House of Bjorn and Benny: Languages and Life Skills
Does Your Mother Know?  - Internet Safety and Stranger Danger
Money, Money, Money - Counting and commerce
Take a Chance on Me/Winner Takes it All - The Dangers of Gambling
SOS - Using the emergency services
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do - Marriage and relationships
Voulez-Vous - French
Mamma Mia - Italian
Chiquitita - Mexican perhaps? anyone know?
Honey, Honey - Diet and Nutrition
I Believe in Angles - Trigonometry, Spelling

House of Javert - Teamwork, Health and Wellbeing, Spatial awareness
I Dreamed a Dream/Who Am I - Philosophy, Personal Vision Statement
Master of the House - Discipline, Leadership
Do You Hear the People Sing - Hearing Test (done annually)
At the End of the Day - Telling the time
Bring Him Home - Orienteering
Red and Black - Colours
Castle on a Cloud - Construction Skills
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables - Leaving the Classroom the way you found it

House of Simba - Science and Nature
Circle of Life - Biology
Shadowland - Light, Physics
Hakuna Matata - Managing Stress
I Just Can't Wait To Be King - optional for people who choose the 'being famous' subject stream

Sadly, plans for a House of Cats are on hold due to the tutors annoying habit of wandering off at all hours of day or night to teach at other schools. Old Deuteronomy will now be an introductory module to Jesus Christ Superstar, the RE stream.

These plans have been closely guarded by superinjunction, until the publication of the latest research on attainment in academies. As the above curriculum is likely to have no positive impact on attainment in SATS, it meets the academisation criteria for most schools.

*MAT = Multi Academy Trust. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Mammon FC wins Premiership, again.

Congratulations to Leicester for a remarkable triumph. The only disappointment is that it would have been nice for them to have claimed the moment of victory on the pitch, rather than in a bar. Back in the day, all the top division fixtures used to be played at the same time, on a Saturday afternoon, rather than spread like buckshot between Saturday lunchtime and Monday evening. The reason for the change is the same as the reasons for most things in the Premiership, money. Control of scheduling is one of the things the TV companies pay stupid amounts for. 
Ranieri agrees
England's rich clubs will dominate the Premier League for the next two decades following Leicester City's title win, says Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri.
Leicester's squad was assembled for £57m, the cheapest of any currently in the top half of the table.
"Big money makes big teams and usually big teams win. Now we can say only 99% of the time," said Ranieri.
"Next season will be the same and for the next 10 or 20 years, it will be the same."
which is a shame. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"My role as a church leader is to empty the church"

Great interview with Adam Dyer, from our own Yeovil Community Church, by the Evangelical Alliance:

So my role as church leader isn't to fill the church, but to empty the church – we run these projects not to get people in to the church but to get the church into the community. That idea that our neighbour is right there, that there's brokenness  right there, that we can share this journey with people. Jesus came bringing the kingdom one act of love at a time, and we as a Church are invited into this movement.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Suffer the children: Conservative Compassion Calculus

An attempt to offer sanctuary to 3,000 unaccompanied children was defeated yesterday in the House of Commons. Proposed as an amendment to the Immigration Bill by Labour, it was backed by everyone except the government. The main argument was, get this, that it was in the best interests of children not to help.
The minister said: "Our starting principle is that we must put the best interests of children first and avoid any policy that places children at additional risk or encourages them to place their lives in the hands of people traffickers and criminal gangs.
"In any response we need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, alone and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by attempting treacherous sea crossings to Europe."
The 'pull factor' argument, that if we take some children, more will be put at risk. That's the logic of taking refugees directly from camps around Syria, and there is a certain amount of truth to it. But only a bit, just imagine if we applied that logic to the rest of national life, the results could be spectacular:
 - Stop treating sports-related injuries in hospital. After all, it only encourages people to play sport, knowing that they'll be patched up by the NHS if they get a boot in the head. Result: fewer people playing sport, fewer sports related injuries, less pressure on the NHS. Sorted. 
 - Close down the stock market and commodities exchanges. We need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which traders see an advantage in speculation, alone and in the hands of performance-related bonuses, putting jobs and pensions at risk by attempting treacherous deals.
 - Close down all shops selling anything of any value. We need to be careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children in ahead, alone and in the hands of criminal gangs, putting their welfare at risk by attempting to steal the Beyonce CD.
 - Scrap Street Pastors, who create a situation where people feel safer going to nightclubs. It would be better and more compassionate to let the clubbers lie in their own vomit and find their own way home at 3am after getting separated from their friends. That would discourage other people from getting drunk, falling over, or going out after dark. 
 - Rewrite the Good Samaritan. Helping people by the roadside only encourages people to use a known dangerous route, and encourages the criminals who prey on them. Leaving the odd corpse will discourage people from travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and puts the best interests of travellers first. In the new story, the priest and the Levite are the compassionate Conservatives, who walk past proudly and confidently, knowing that by leaving the man to suffer they are, in fact, doing the right thing. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Holy Spirit turns up on Britains Got Talent

"I feel elated, I felt so uplifted I couldn't get it out of me quick enough"
"I just feel on an incredible high, I just wish I could be up there with you clapping and singing"
"There literally no words to describe that feeling that you gave everyone in this room, it is so powerful, everything about you, everything you represent is my idea of heaven."

I've not caught the show yet, so only spotted this on social media a couple of days ago, but as well as the inspired choir, it was the judges responses that really made me sit up.

It's fascinating to hear a group of non-Christian judges trying to describe in their own words an experience of the Holy Spirit. You sense there is a bit more going on here than the standard hyperbole. And boy, what a choir, can't wait to see what they do next time.

'a state of perpetual fear'

Making even the smallest decisions can be agonising. It can affect not just the mind but also the body – I start to stumble when I walk, or become unable to walk in a straight line. I am more clumsy and accident-prone. In depression you become, in your head, two-dimensional – like a drawing rather than a living, breathing creature. You cannot conjure your actual personality, which you can remember only vaguely, in a theoretical sense. You live in, or close to, a state of perpetual fear, although you are not sure what it is you are afraid of. The writer William Styron called it a “brainstorm”, which is much more accurate than “unhappiness”

There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you. You feel acutely alone. It is commonly described as being like viewing the world through a sheet of plate glass; it would be more accurate to say a sheet of thick, semi-opaque ice.

Read the rest of Tim Lotts powerful account of what depression is like here. It's Depression Awareness Week - there's a good chance you'll be working with, queueing with, even living with someone with depression today. The idea is not to get everybody down, it's to bring depression into the open so it's understood, accepted, and not treated as weird. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gearing Up

One reason blogging is a bit quiet here is that we've a little project on. It's 160 years since the last major refit of our church, when Preston Plucknett was a village of 250-300 people. Long since swallowed up by Yeovil, the church now serves a parish of 15,500, with 5000 people coming through the doors each year. Seating for 90 and a regular congregation of 110-120 is an issue - a nice issue, but still an issue!

We were encouraged this week by this story from a church near Nottingham. Having played cricket a few years back for 'Stabbo' as it was 'affectionately' known, the headline 'why is everyone turning to God in Stapleford' got my attention. It turns out that 8 years ago they went through exactly what we're going through - a refit of the church and then the vicar leaving. Since then the church has grown by 40%. I hope that's not just migration from other churches who don't have underfloor heating and comfy chairs.

If you're the praying sort, please pray for us - we're most of the way to the £350,000 we need, but are waiting on some major grants. Thankyou!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Governments EU Leaflet - is that it?

The EU leaflet from the Government has arrived. Here's an easy guide


  • Economy: remaining guarantees full access to the 'Single Market', which makes selling easier and cheaper. 
  • Cost of living: increased export costs.
  • No other country has managed to access the Single Market from outside the EU without having to follow EU rules, pay into the EU, and accept EU workers. 
  • Membership gives police access to EU intelligence, DNA and fingerprint information (but we don't know if non-membership doesn't). 
  • Guarantees right to live, work or study abroad in the other 27 countries, plus employment rights. 


  • Leaving creates 'uncertainty and risk' for companies. No idea how much, or what's at risk. There's no indication of how much trade or investment a change would cost us. 
  • 'Pressure' on the value of the pound
  • 'No guarantee' of keeping customer benefits (cheaper mobile charges, air fares, and free healthcare)
  • 'Risk' of higher prices
  • 'Potential' economic discuprtion
  • 'a vote to leave could mean a decade or more of uncertainty'

And to be honest that's about it. On the 'facts' above, there's no information about what we wouldn't have if we weren't members of the EU (e.g. would police co-operation stop?).

For £9m I expected better. I'd like to be convinced that we should stay in the EU. But is this the full and best case for staying? Really? That there might be some unquantifiable economic loss to not being in the EU? This almost looks like it was written to bear out the 'Project Fear' jibes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

The three things ticked on the back of the leaflet are 'protecting jobs' 'a stronger economy' 'providing security'. Lets have a little look at those:
Protecting Jobs: like when Britain voted against an anti-dumping law in the EU, which might have prevented the current crisis in the UK steel industry. Or when EU procurement laws prevent the government from buying British to support particular industries. Yes, that's working well.

A Stronger Economy: built on the backs of low wage foreign nationals coming to the UK to do the jobs we won't pay for, or don't train for. Workers from overseas prop up the NHS and care sectors, when many of them are needed much more in their own countries. And within the EU, the economic logic has led to the Euro, which is fine for the strong economies, and disastrous for Greece, which can't set interest rates or key aspects of economic policy because of Euro membership. History will thank Gordon Brown for keeping us out of the Euro with his constantly shape-shifting 'economic tests'. The jury is out on the EU and economic prosperity.

Providing Security: why should not being in the EU stop us sharing security information? We do it with the US. Having fewer people coming through the borders will make it easier to police and track people.

I worry when any argument is defined all or mostly in terms of economics. There are more important measures than money. I worry when a document like this does nothing to address the real concerns: why has the EU project resulted in bankrupt countries? What are the implications for the refugee crisis? I worry when we are fed speculation rather than facts: exactly how much more costly will it be to export to the EU, as a %? What EU laws will we keep on the statute book if we leave, and what will go? Will (for example) food companies and restaurants still be required to label for allergens (we have a coeliac in the family)? How much of a counterweight does the EU provide to the lobbying interests of the fuel and food sectors?

Maybe the problem is that the Conservatives are blinkered in their focus on the economics, whilst the strongest arguments for staying in are the ones better made by Labour. The working time directive and the social aspects of EU membership, the power of a collective of states to act against multinationals trying to ride roughshod over governments, the global leadership of the EU on climate change. These might be better selling points than 'we might be economically better off staying as we are, but we can't say how much, if at all'.

There's a reason CofE members are encouraged to pray for their governments and all in authority. There's a very real danger that the current government will preside over the disintegration of the EU, the UK, and the Conservative party.

I can't see this leaflet persuading any thoughtful person to vote 'Remain'.