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.