Saturday, February 24, 2007
From Susan Hope 'Mission Shaped Spirituality'
"If we are to 'go' in mission, where is the energy to come from? What powers the mission? What kicki-starts it? What massive implulse can propel us from being a setteled community into being a community on the move? And what will keep us going when we find ourselves in for the long haul?"
"The spirituality of the Anglican Church is that of a settled community: it's liturgies, its way of organising itself, its buildlings, its committees... have been formed and shaped through a long time of settlement.... what will the journey of mission do to the spirituality of the Church?"
"Discovering that we are deeply loved is a lifetimes work."
"14 eldery ladies in a small church discovered that many of the children attending the school next door began the day without breakfast. They started cooking and serving breakfasts in the church hall. After a while concentration levels among children in the school improved, and so did relations between church and school. The head teacher became seriously interested and she and her husband eventually became Christians because of it."
"Fear leads to accumulation (of money)... it is impossible with integrity to proclaim Christ's salvagtion if he has evidently not saved us from greed, or his lordship if we are not good stewards of our possessions, or of his love if we close our hearts agains the needy."
(from Vincent Donovan) "Church planting... can be misleading (as a description of the missionary's task) since it implies a kind of fixed and predetermined outcome to the preaching of the gospel. The missionary's job is to preach, not the Church, but Christ. If s/he preaches Christ, the church may well result, but it might not be the church s/he had in mind."
"Christians have a right, in the name of Christ, to intrude into what has been called elsewhere 'the worlds settled arrangements'." I like this: we're so used to thinking about 'rights' in terms dictated by secular politics, what 'rights' do we have as followers of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom? Discuss.....!
"What the Church of England could do with possibly more than anything else at present is an adventure. Settlement may have brought many blessings, but it has left us bored. And bored churches become boring churches. Western secular culture is also bored - when you've got everything, there's not a lot more to do, except to get more."
Hope makes the point that adventure grows us up faster than anything else. You can't have a learning experience if you don't have any experiences. Jesus had disciples: he taught through an apprenticeship & reflection model. It's not enough for churches to teach the same message as Jesus, we need to teach it in the same way as Jesus. How many so-called Bible-believing churches are one-eyed on this? Do we not think that Jesus was smart enough to know the best teaching methods? Yet 99% of our teaching is delivered as verbal communication. Can we develop a way of being church which looks more like Jesus way of being with the disciples?
1. Get uncomfortable: Nehemiah has a steady job in the royal court, but hears a report of the dreadful state of Jerusalem and its people, which cuts him to the heart. Change doesn't happen unless we're not happy with the status quo
2. Get praying: N takes his grief to God, rather than just bathing in his own misery, and in prayer is taken through repentance to a point of action.
3. Get the facts: N surveys what needs to be done to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He can only develop a workable vision if the vision has its feet on the earth. A lot of the literature on evangelism, new forms of church etc. has the same message: don't just copy what is succesful for other people, get the facts of your own situation and respond to those. A lot of Christian outreach is done in hope that it will appeal to people, rather than actually getting the facts of where people are at, and where they are itching.
4. Get a vision: the facts can be depressing. In fact, if they are going to stir us to action they probably will be depressing (see 1), Nehemiah gets together with the Jerusalem leaders and says 'lets build the wall'. His vision has credibility because a) it's based on reality b) N has identified new resources which can help the vision become reality c) there is committed leadership behind it.
5. Get started and keep going: there's no point having a vision if it stays on the drawing board. Nehemiah is not just a visionary, he is a great organiser too. In most cases this would be different individuals: one who has the vision, another who breaks it down into manageable steps and identifies who's going to do what. There is a clear action plan, which adapts to circumstances (opposition from without, and grumbling from within) and a clear vision which N keeps on restating. Sharing a vision once is no good, it needs to keep on being affirmed, otherwise energy and focus will drift. There are other issues for N to deal with: scandalmongering by his opponents, internal wrangling over fair distribution of food, but to his credit he keeps the people focused on their task, whilst dealing with these issues.
6. Get partying: once the wall is finished, there is a celebration. But it's not just a 'thank goodness that's all over' celebration. In it, the people are reminded of the Law, and called to renew their obedience to God. Every vision, if it's from God, is part of a bigger vision called the Kingdom of God, and so the story doesn't end when the vision is realised. How many churches have gone into 'drift' mode after completing some major building project? The final section of Nehemiah is concerned with how the people of Jerusalem are going to serve God, and whether they will be faithful and obedient. Does it take a different kind of leadership to keep people faithful during 'normal' time, compared to the leadership required to lift people to achieve a vision?
Two of the repeated refrains in current books on mission are vision and leadership. We need leadership that not only helps our churches discern a vision, but that will help the church to see it through. The road to Hell is paved with mission statements that never got beyond being framed and put on the wall.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
1. Keep a list of what I'm praying for, and make notes of what happens (inspired by George Muller, great man of faith and opener of Bristol orphanages 100 years ago, my wife's currently reading his autobiography). Had a practice today and the two things I prayed for both happened, so that's encouraging!
2. Alcohol only on feast days (i.e. Sundays - with Ash Weds to Easter being 46 days long, I go for breaking the fast every Sunday, rather than keeping it for 40 days at a stretch up to Palm Sunday. Call me weak willed..)
3. Have a morning a week to pray and be with God.
4. Blog just once a week: probably Saturdays, also cutting down my surfing of other blogs etc. to once a week. It's easy to get into the habit of spending time every day looking for an argument to join, or a thread to make a comment on, or just browsing for information. I'd like to get out of the habit for a bit.
5. Try to get back into fasting, which in my head I see as part of normal Christian discipleship, but the rest of my body isn't quite so keen. I don't know what my feet think because I've not seen them for a while.
6. Get in touch with friends who I've not spoken to for a while. Easy to write, harder to do, as I'm bobbins at keeping up friendships, then complain that I've nobody to go for a pint with.
7 is the Biblical number of perfection, 6 the number of humanity, so I'll stick with 6. Legend has it that the rug makers of north Africa put a deliberate mistake into every piece of work, because only God is perfect.
Begin the fast with joy
Prepare for spiritual battle
Cleanse the soul
Purify the body
Abstain, as from food
from every destructive habit,
indulging only in the Spirit's virtues.
Persevere in these wihth all passion
so shall we be fit, rejoicing in spirit
to witness the passion and death of Christ our god,
and his passing over from death to life.
(Ray Simpson, The Celtic Prayer Book Vol. 1)
Monday, February 19, 2007
You wait weeks for a good punchline then all of a sudden three come along at once....
The BBC website reports a new Christian run comedy club in Birmingham, promising clean humour. Almost makes me want to live in Birmingham. But not quite.
My deep and profound book of the moment is Peter Kay's autobiography. It's pretty funny, and reminds me a lot of my own schooldays and experience of discos as a teenager.
There is one point at which the book goes all serious, and it's where he talks about his Catholic upbringing, and the irrelevance of most of the religion he experienced at church and at school. I've got so used to hearing the 'had enough religion as a kid to put me off for life' stories from people twice my age that it's quite a shock to hear it from someone in their 30's. It's pretty damning as well, there's clearly a vague faith there but the church seems to have done more to quench it than to encourage it. Fair play to Peter Kay that he doesn't just crack some snide jokes at the church and walk away, but tries to engage with what was going on.
Third story: some vicars in, I think it was Leicester, have been having sessions with a stand up comic to learn about preaching better sermons. About time too. The only people who will get an audience to listen to them speak for more than 5 minutes at a time are the comedians. Increasingly, they're the only effective political commentators: Rory Bremner and Ian Hislop have been a more effective opposition to New Labour than most opposition politicians. As Jesus once said 'did you hear the one about the man with a plank in his eye'.
To see the classic John Smiths ad with Peter Kay and the football, click here
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Strange how you can form a view of how something is going to be, and then reality is very different. Maybe some of that is happening in Tanzania this weekend at the Archbishops meeting. A lot of fairly hardline things have been said and done whilst the various parties were on opposite sides of the globe, but now that they are face to face, reading the Bible and praying together, this is reality time. Whatever impression people had of each other, whatever words they said, now they have to speak face to face. It's often much easier to be uncompromising when you don't have to talk to the people you're not compromising with. That's how Ian Paisley has managed it for so long, 'cos he refuses to talk to his opponents.
There's a bit of wisdom here: only face to face communication is the real thing, and every other form of communication is a lesser form. God's early communication with humanity is walking with us in the garden, which falls apart once we start to hide and shout messages from behind trees, and only with the incarnation of Jesus is face to face communication with God opened up again. All other, lesser communication between Eden and Bethlehem - through law, messengers, acts in history etc., is fulfilled in the face of Christ.
We email, phone, write and blog in a glass darkly, but then face to face. One reason why, for Lent, I'll be blogging just once a week. Less time looking at this screen, more time seeing people's faces. Reality check.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
there are another 9 cartoons here which make everything crystal clear.
There's a decent summary of what's going on at the BBC website, for more details there are plenty of folk giving a blow by blow account, including Ruth Gledhill and Thinking Anglicans and Anglican Mainstream . That's if you have too much time on your hands. Otherwise just pray. I can't imagine what God thinks of all this.
I was reminded today of Matthew Fox. Not the Lost actor, but a former Dominican who created a blend of New Age and Christian thinking and was the favoured theologian of the fated Nine O Clock Service in Sheffield. I spent 2 years studying his work in the 90s and concluded he was effectively a pagan thinker who used Christian terminology to make his message more appealing (there's a summary of the thesis here) . The RC church threw him out for heresy and disobedience to his vows, and shortly after guess who ordained him? The Episcopal Church of the USA. So if the Anglican Communion splits, it will be sad, but there is a limit to how far a church can stray from the gospel and the revelation of God in Jesus and still be the church of Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The UNICEF report on childhood in Britain, putting us bottom of 21 nations in terms of childrens well being (a composite of poverty, health, safety, education, family, risk behaviour and happiness), is grim reading. It's reported in various places, including the Independent, and BBC
Everyone will be piling in with answers. The Independent, true to its libertarian principles, cites Holland (top of the league), and focuses on the amount of freedom Dutch children are given. Experts in childcare point to the way the government has encouraged parents to contract out childcare to other paid adults so that we can all do more work, and the way this destroys family bonds. Ironically, I'm hoping to chat to the local school soon about the 'extended schools' agenda, which is basically the government trying to use schools for wraparound childcare to enable parents to see less of their children, and to do so more easily. That's a slightly warped view I know, but possibly a fair summary.
There are loads of other factors. Our culture is massively toxic to children. Everything has sold out to the 'market' - my kids watch 'Milkshake' on Channel 5, as it has their favourite programmes, and we mute the sound during the adverts - of which there are about 10 every 10 minutes. If the kids just watch 5 hours of morning TV a week that's 300 adverts. Can I say 'I love you just as you are' to my children as often as the TV says 'you need more stuff'? And can parents get out of the cycle of giving their children more stuff instead of love and quality time? ?Our houses don't help - one of the findings of the report is that families don't eat together very often. 24/7 work and an epidemic divorce rate must play a big part in this, but we also have houses designed around building firms profits rather than the needs of families, where there is no decent sized space for a family meal, or where there is a decent sized space its' designed to fit a wide screen TV. Someone mentioned the other day that Italy doesn't have many big out of town supermarkets, that you shop by going from 1 specialist store in town to another. If the Italians can manage their planning regime to preserve the character of their communities, then why can't we?
The whole education agenda seems to have backfired - by trying to OFSTED and test everything we've stressed our kids out with exams and coursework and a constant pressure to perform. What values will they pass on to their children? Blairs 'education education education' mantra may be the gospel according to new Labour, but it doesn't seem to have the power to transform lives that the original Gospel has. One thing which keeps me out of depression today is what happened on Monday night, where we heard about the work Urban Warriors are doing with Yeovil young people, seeing kids becoming Christians, lives changed, all sorts of local state and secular agencies asking this Christian youth ministry for help on how to engage with young people. As Bill Hybels put it, the local church is the hope of the world, because the only thing which can make us fully whole is Jesus, and the message of Jesus has been given to the church. (I just wish we'd act more like the hope of the world - the same day as the UNICEF report, the only headline about the church is of an imminent split in worldwide Anglicanism! Aaaaaaargh! Will you people just sort yourselves out!!!!!!!)
Final bit, before I start ranting. Worth reading alongside the UNICEF findings is some research here on the Civitas website, which has been around for a while, on the effects on children of absent fathers. All the indicators on the UNICEF list are affected by having an absent father, and it's sobering to see two of the countries with the highest divorce rate - the USA and the UK - in the bottom 2 places on the league table, and by some distance. Perhaps in the church we've not spoken up for marriage and conventional families because we don't want lone parents to feel stigmatised. I agree with the objective, but the tactics are backfiring badly.
Finally, (really finally), if anyone knows some good marriage preparation/parenting course material, please send in a comment. One of the best practical responses we can make as a local church is to provide decent marriage prep and parenting support.
At our Alpha course last night we were talking about London culture, and what a grave sin it was to talk to strangers on the Tube, or in fact anywhere. The auto checkouts at Tesco are trying to put us in touch with our inner Londoner - minimise human interaction, do things faster, stay in control. Meanwhile Tesco lay off staff and we all have a couple less conversations a day, becoming slightly less human in the process.
Monday, February 12, 2007
offering aerial views, in stunning detail, of all sorts of places. I centred on Yeovil, and discovered that their photo predated the building of our house, it's quite strange to look at our estate and see pretty much fields everywhere.
It strikes me that this site is the ideal solution for people like me who like to find somewhere high up to pray for places, so that you can look out over the community/area you're praying for. Now you can do it without leaving your computer, as long as you don't mind praying for events in 1998.
Jonny Bakers blog, one of the pioneers of alternative/creative worship in the UK, he helpfully collects ideas for worship in this part of his blog. I particularly like the idea from the wedding. (you'll have to go and look now....!)
Good collection of resources from my Diocese, for those who can't be bothered to open their prayer books it has a live link to daily prayers and daily readings each day.
Interesting to see how this site has developed - a few years ago it was all words, lots of American preachers sending in their sermons on obscure OT passages. There's still plenty of that, but it's catching up with multimedia resources as well now. You can do a search for a sermon by Bible reference, and it will normally give you a decent list. I've never cribbed a whole sermon (honest!), but sometimes there's a good story, illustration or insight lurking in there.
this was the original pioneer website for uk alternative worship, haven't explored it much recently, but this is a good directory for creative worship ideas and resources. It also has links to blogs on the emerging church, online churches, and lots of other good stuff. Needs a free afternoon to explore the whole thing!
Worship and prayer resources aimed at a rural setting, around festivals, rural issues etc. For those thinking ahead a next few weeks, you'll find resources for Mothering Sunday.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
On second thoughts, no, it was taking too long to upload and my beer's getting warm.
There seem to be lots of interesting conversations about leadership going round at the moment. There seem to be a number of tensions in church life which they revolve around:
Tension 1: between being a gathered church with a town-wide ministry, and trying to help people live their Christian lives in their neighbourhood.
Tension 2: between having a plan and a sense of direction, and being open to God's surprises
Tension 3: between letting the lovely building you have inherited shape the ministry and outreach of the church, and letting the mission and ministry you want to have shape the way you use (or don't use) the building.
Tension 4: between the style of leadership that leaders are comfortable with, and the style the church needs.
Tension 5: between the nature of the church as a body, in which all exercise gifts in free response to God's grace, and the nature of the church as an organisation which deals with other organisations in real time, where sometimes paid staff seem to be the best way forward.
Tension 6: between the urgency of the gospel and the peace of God, and how to abide in the peace of Jesus and be enthusiastic and energised at the same time.
Tension 7: between working primarily for my own church/denomination and trying to build up what they do, and recognising that perhaps other churches are in a better position to do certain things than we are. Do we leave most of the youth work up to the community church? Is it ok to have several churches working on one estate, on different projects, or do we need to organise and co-ordinate it all under a single leadership? I find this one tough because the CofE trains you to think territorially, so every inch of ground is in someone's parish. When we make the Kingdom of God co-extensive with our own church activites , we're in trouble.
biblically speaking, 7 is a complete number, so that's enough tension for now. Need a beer just to unwind....
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Cricket (stay with me here). England have had, until the last week, a dreadful tour of Australia. Somehow they've managed to qualify for the final of the one-day cricket series. Key factor in this is Michael Vaughan getting fit enough to take over from Andy Flintoff as captain. Vaughan has hardly scored a run, but he's been able to get the best out of his players
- folk who probably wanted to go home a week ago have found the motivation to stick to the task and to win
- Flintoff has raised his game, is bowling well again, and is playing more to his full potential
- another bowler, Panesar, has been more effective because of the way Vaughan has handled him. As a spinner, Vaughan has taken the risk of putting lots of fielders close in, trusting the bowler to bowl well, rather than putting them all round the boundary.
Lots of stuff about leadership there:
- trust often gets the best out of people, and on average gets better results than mistrust. If your skipper trusts you then you'll be more confident in yourself. Where Christians are involved in tougher work: leading change, engaging in mission, pioneering new work etc., they will do better if they have more confidence in what they're doing, and they'll have more confidence in what they are doing if they are trusted by their leaders. And this is not the 'we trust you to get on with it, we're here if you need us' laissez faire leadership which comes naturally to the CofE, but the active, supportive, encouraging trust of one who takes an interest and knows you well enough to know how to help you perform at your peak.
- some people may look like leaders, but will do better if they're freed from leadership to get on with the work. Flintoff is a case in point. There are probably people in church who, because we're short of leaders, get pressed into service, when in fact they're better with burdens of decision making being taken off them so they can do the work of ministry, and do it really well.
- leaders don't have to be really good at the things they're leading. But you do have to be good at helping other people be good at what they're doing. I'm probably not great with finance, or with childrens work, but in the last week have met with people responsible for both in the church to try to set a direction for these things and to help us do them better. I'm probably not that good with people either, but seem to have found myself in the role of 'Mr Action Plan', at a time when our church has needed to work on some specific issues. If I can help other people be excellent at what they do, then I think that's good leadership. And much better than me trying to do it and being rubbish (and getting very tired, and getting less effective at the things I'm good at)
- leaders sometimes just have to keep people on board long enough for them to see the tide turn (sorry to mix metaphors). Sometimes it's easier just to let those people who ask awkward questions go somewhere else with those questions, but that's not what being the body of Christ means. Things like patience, love, self-control, grace mean that I stick with my discouraged and demoralised brothers and sisters and keep reminding them that Jesus is risen, that the resurrection follows the cross, and that we're the body of Christ, not a club where people just opt in and out of membership as they see fit.
In a sense the cricket touring party is a good metaphor for the church: they are strangers in a foreign land, they are there together, they are there for a common purpose, and you can't opt out or change the game or join a different team (though if you're injured we'll take you off the front line so you can be cared for and come back to full health). And whether you win or lose, you keep on going.
And the leaders need support too: Vaughan is a confident guy, but he's blessed by the confidence that others put in him, and their willinginess to take flak for him. And he gets injured too, and when he does others have to be prepared to step up and lead.
That'll do for now, my daughter wants me to help her do some sticking. Far more important than any of this stuff.....
Monday, February 05, 2007
- A deceased geographer, expert in the Quaternary era (the most recent 2m years of the Earth's existence)
- A Reader in Complex Emergencies at the London School of Economics
- Dave 'the Machine' Keen, a drummer who seems to have lots of friends with interesting hairstyles. Some posts on his blog suggest he's dead too, though if that's the case he's doing pretty well to keep his blog up to date.
If we met, would we have anything apart from a name in common?
The most worrying fact here is that people with my name display a worrying tendency to die. Wonder if they went for an Angel of the North coffin? (see last weeks entry)
Sunday, February 04, 2007
To put that in perspective, Maggi Dawns blog, which is one which seems to get a lot of respect from fellow Christian bloggers, stands at 355,000 hits and counting. It's also really good, there's an excellent post on 'Slow priesthood' which challenges my style of doing ministry, and also quotes another of the most stimulating Christian blogs, MadPriest. I don't agree with most of what he says, but it's creative, provocative and at times very funny.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
The other day I was reading an article by an American Church leader who said: “Little people with little vision attack big people with big vision”.
Here’s an observation that I’ve made over the years: the person who is sold out to God convicts everyone around them! But it’s a holy conviction. And there are one of two responses: either people criticise the one who convicts them to justify their complacency or they accept the challenge and sell out to God themselves!
I’ve recently been reading Nehemiah again, and that’s what’s happening in Nehemiah 4:14. Nehemiah has a God-sized vision. But a couple of negative people named Tobiah and Sanballat try to discourage Nehemiah. But Nehemiah, some people say, “tuned them out”. The reality is, if you listen to the wrong people that undoubtedly will sway your vision.
Here’s a discovery I’ve made over 13 years of pastoring at Trinity: most of the people who come to your church from another church, want your church to conform to the church they came from – (you might need to read that twice!). Unchurched people don’t have an agenda, that’s why they don’t cause the same sort of problems. Church people often want your church to conform to ‘their’ church – it’s natural, it’s subconscious.
I just want to say, as we begin a new year and lean into leadership and ministry, please don’t let anyone keep you from being you! I’m more and more convinced that part of spiritual maturity is resisting conformity and moving towards originality. It’s about becoming more and more comfortable in your own unique skin. We’re all called to conform to Christ. We’re also called to become unlike anyone else who’s ever lived! It’s not too late to make new year’s resolutions! Why don’t you resolve to make sure that you be you.
I heard somebody else say recently as well: “I don’t want to rise and fall based on the opinions of people”.
This same pastor, for what it’s worth, has someone screen his mail and email and he doesn’t read unsigned letters! Of course we need constructive criticism, but that ought to come from the people who are closest to us. If you listen to the wrong people, you can become like them.
It seems to me that Nehemiah stayed above the fray!
And here’s a thought that really challenges me: “Leaders don’t take people where they want to go. Leaders take people where they need to go”. It’s so easy for churches to become ingrown. It’s so easy for us just to gaze at one another’s navels if we’re not careful. And it’s so easy to end up singing ‘Kumbaya’! I’m increasingly convinced that, if someone isn’t 100% on board with the vision of your church, then no matter how much they give, you need their seat. The truth is that, as we go into 2007, I know that I don’t want people who are for me; I want people who are with me.
I pray that you might find those people in your own churches and fellowships and ministries as we journey together in the work of the Kingdom.
There's probably an unspoken rule in blogland about not combining 2 separate topics in 1 posting, but hey, I'm an Anglican so I'm used to breaking the rules.....
Northern readers will be delighted to find that they can be buried in a coffin shaped like the Angel of the North. Original story here , thanks to MadPriests blog for pointing me in this direction. (I also seem to have been added to his 'heroes of the blogosphere' list, not really sure what I've done to deserve that but it's nice to be noticed.) I like the idea, it's just that the coffin looks like the kind of thing you put people in to stop them getting out. Or a Doctor Who baddie...
Casinos, it's all been said by others and the Cartoon Blog has a nice summary of what people have to say about it, together with this cartoon, which just about sums it up.
The great thing for the government about creating addictions and then taxing them is that you've got a pretty much guaranteed income stream. You've also got a guaranteed stream of extra debt, bankruptcy, divorce, domestic violence, suicide, organised crime, addictive behaviour and a host of other things, but hey, we've got so much of these already who's going to notice a bit more? And Manchester, why do you need it? The home of The Smiths, New Order, the Message Trust/Eden Project and Freddie Flintoff, why sell your image for a slot machine? Something else to numb our senses on the road to destruction.