Tuesday, 30 December 2008

carols... the sequel

Had a chat with Ben over Christmas something like this:

‘Practically everyone I knew came to the CU carol service at Christmas.’

‘Great, how did it go?’


- basically everyone came out saying ‘why didn’t that guy like Christmas?’ It sounds a classic case of someone answering the questions those outside the church are not asking, or just choosing the worst time imaginable. Why are Christians so stupid? I can’t answer that one, but I’ve certainly asked it myself a time or two. I also have heard a few Christmas talks/sermons/ramblings. We came out of one (not at our church  for those who know) and everyone wondered what the guy was on about. It’s Christmas for goodness sake, there’s no shortage of decent material, even if as a preacher you feel everyone’s heard it all before. I’ve got news for you: they haven’t (if hearing = what I think it’s supposed to mean). Some would argue the style is appropriate for today – more conversational than structured, more story than concept. With the example I’m thinking about, you’d struggle to make such a claim, but I'm also conscious most story writers never get published and I’m wondering whether preachers today should be vetted in the same way!

Oh, the only good thing which came out of Ben’s experience was some good conversations, but preacher guy – it’s no excuse! 

Monday, 29 December 2008

anyone for a round of golf?

'back to work today?' - 'yeah, are you?' = conversation with a neighbour. I always find it weird talking about what I do as work - as do my children!
'have a good Christmas?' - 'great thanks, did you?' What is a good Christmas in most people's eyes? - always worth a thought or two. Maggie was struggling with flu throughout & her dad, who's always seemed invincible, had a stroke on boxing day evening, so that clearly affects my emotional response. We saw him up in Kettering saturday and sunday, and although he can't speak yet, there was a clear improvement over 24 hours, so we're praying he'll recover well.
In terms of presents it was great - there have always been pros and cons to having a boxing day birthday, but one of the pluses is the presents (the downfall is the year long wait). I've been pro-crastinating over starting to play golf for ages. It began with 'I'll take up golf when I retire', then my colleague Geoff gave me an old sets of his clubs, but that was nearly two years ago and I've barely swing a club in anger. Now, my children have bought me some golf lessons for my 50th., so no more excuses - all in the name of mission you understand.
In terms of family it was great - it must be a sign of age! However, when Ben drove up behind me on Christmas morning just in time for church, having been up since some ridiculous hour to muck out six horses and then the three hour drive down from the beloved city, it brought a tear to my eye. Not because Ben is any more precious than our other two children, but it just represented something about us all being together, which was very precious. I wonder whether, as the church, we appreciate what Christmas means to those who don't get it the way we do?
However, perhaps because I incurred rather more Christmas stress than usual - Maggie supervised, I was chief(?) cook and bottle washer, perhaps because we had rather more anxiety than usual over Maggie's dad, the sense of 'God with us' was more real than many others - so yes thanks, great Christmas.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

medicine man, chief

At last … a day to catch up with a few things – always eagerly anticipated, but so far, I’ve had Maggie go down with flu and had to collect Emily from work, also unwell!  So, a few letters, which were desperately overdue and an attack on the e-mail in-box: to little effect, so I’ve retreated and will attack it from a different angle tomorrow – maybe the element of surprise will work. 

One of the things I’ve been wanting to find more about is a book called ‘Medicine Man Chief’ Mike Frost spoke about when he was over here – basically I can’t locate a copy which doesn’t cost the earth yet, but found this on a blog by Tash McGill, which whets my appetite:

There are certain ways that societies organise and arrange themselves .. here’s something of what Renier Greef, co-author of ‘Medicine Man Chief’ says: 

Tribes arrange themselves around chiefs. The stronger the chief, the bigger the tribe. Chiefs have mini-chiefs. They are found at the centre of the tribe - the Chieftains house is always in the centre - the focal point of the tribe's direction and leadership. Tribespeople need a chief, and chiefs need tribespeople in order to be a chief at all. The loyalty is chief to tribe, tribe to chief. They are dependant on one another for security. 

Chiefs are good or bad, sometimes good and bad. They have a job to do - which is leading people, leading the tribe. 

But there is another crucial and necessary person in the life of any people group - the Medicine Man. The medicine man never lives within the tribe. He lives on the outskirts, outside the city gates or simply travels in a nomadic fashion between tribes that require his services. 

The medicine man isn't loyal to the tribe or to the chief. He's loyal to the Higher Truth. His is the business of healing. Of bringing truth to the tribe. As such, he has great influence and power. He can be magnetic and charismatic, just like a chief, but his loyalty to truth (which is ultimately for the sake and care of the tribespeople) will always be his highest priority.

But tell a story... where a chief, with a big tribe and lots of mini-chiefs all of a sudden discovers an illness within the tribe. A sickness that needs the services of a medicine man. An inground misbelief that needs truth spoken to it. He puts out the call to the medicine man, who comes, with all his knowledge and healing ability, all his concern for the tribespeople. 

He sets to work bringing truth and light. Healing returns to the tribe, health comes forth in new and powerful ways. The medicine man operates outside of the usual systems. At first the chief is grateful for the good work of the medicine man. But eventually, the people come to recognize the skill of the medicine man. They begin to trust his ability to bring healing and wisdom to the way of the tribe. 

Now the chief has a choice. A good chief will recognise the value of having a good medicine man in the tribe. He'll work with him, forging trust. See, the medicine man doesn't want to be the chief - he's firstly loyal to the Higher Truth, then the people. The chief is loyal to the cause of the tribe, it's strength and health. That's where his prowess and manna as a chief comes from. 

A good chief will work in healthy tension and trust with the medicine man, allowing him to do his work. The medicine man most wants recognition of his particular skill, the chief wants recognition as leader of the tribe, he wants loyalty.

A moderate chief will send the medicine man on his way, ensuring that his position of leadership within the tribe remains unthreatened, only to call on the medicine man again in the future. 

A bad chief, simply sees the threat to his leadership and kills the medicine man. 

When the chief kills the medicine man, everyone loses. At least when the medicine man is sent on his way, the knowledge of the medicine man remains accessible when it's next needed. But when you kill the medicine man, the relationship is severed, there is significant loss to the tribe.

So which are you?

Saturday, 20 December 2008

busy doing nothing?


I will never be ‘not busy’ I’ve decided, so the question has to be busy doing what? My challenges are what am I busy with? I have to schedule in the sitting down in the coffee lounge at Slimbridge for an hour meditating on the birds and plans for 2009 – we all need escape places.  People always assume I’m busy as a Regional Minister and there’s no doubt, busy is the easiest thing n the world to accomplish being as a minister, in my opinion. Over busy doing ministry, however, usually raises questions, which are uncomfortable, like ‘for who’ and ‘for what reason’? This week was, eventually, the first week of let’s say ‘less demands’ on my diary from usual sources after all, would you want  to see a RM just before Christmas. I loved this time of year as a local minister – carol services everywhere -  and I wouldn’t have been best chuffed with a call ‘could I pop round and see you’ from the likes of me! However, it’s been a busy week – Chinese meal with home group, meal out with Maggie’s school staff, a really good ‘neighbours’ night last night, oh I had one crisis pop up. It’s been great, but I still haven’t caught up with all those things I was going to do when things went quiet. I still haven’t reached that illusionary state of floating through life in a consciously prayerful mode where my halo sparkles so brightly the neighbours just pop in and ask the way to heaven – they just all moan I haven’t got the white lights on the fir tree in the front this year (but I’ve been busy doing other things). Oh, I’m not supporting the picture by the way.

Monday, 15 December 2008

more carols

Well, we’ve invited our neighbours (the houses within sight or along the road) round on Friday again – something we do each Christmas, so it’ll be interesting to see how many come along this year. What’s always amazing is there’ll be some people here whom I probably wont have even seen since last Christmas, never mind spoken to. Although these are our neighbours, but we drive into our drives and get out to go into our houses and it’s just so easy to not see, or speak to, one another.

OK, OK, I realise saying I’d be worried if I didn’t have roughly three times the number I’d expect to see as part of the Church community, turn up over Christmas, wouldn’t be popular. Let me explain a little further:


I’m not a scientist – I don’t mean literally three times, but roughly. So, for example, I’d use three times the adult average attendance as a guide (why do most people I ask this question of not know the answer?).


The Carol services and other Christmas activities are an ‘indicator’, not an exact measure of the degree of engagement going on beyond the Church walls. The reason ‘guest services, meals, concerts, etc. – the kind where you get the message ‘bring a non-Christian friend – are not working as well as they might is down to the fact there are not enough Christians, who have enough friends, who trust them enough, to respond to an invitation. We all know it, but Christmas reveals it big time! After all, a Carol Service is the thing people want to go to, where all you literally need to do is ask.


Where does all this defensiveness from Ministers come from? One thing it suggests to me is we (Ministers) think it’s all down to us rather more than we usually care to admit. Why else get so uptight about such questions? After all, whether people are invited to a Carol Service, or not, is more down to the congregation than the Minister. However, there is another way of seeing this. If the leadership (note  a deliberate change of tack at this point) do not create the environment which nurtures people to be friendly, welcoming, inviting, etc. it doesn’t happen.


Anyway, the reason why I see Christmas is so crucial an indicator is because if there’s a good level of wider engagement, it’s reasonable to put on events to draw such people closer to Jesus during the year. If there isn’t, it’s back to canceling ‘church’ commitments and encouraging some subversive missionary activity.


Of course, if you’re in a more ‘emerging’ context, you’ll take issue with the whole gathering, counting mentality. Fair game – but the issues remain – engagement beyond, which co-operates with the nature of the Spirit of God, who desires to draw people to the Father. 

Friday, 12 December 2008

carols by candlelight

Christmas remains the biggest connection we have with those, at present, beyond the Church. What amazes me is how many Churches seem to ignore this fact and allow it to come and go without engaging with many people beyond their usual community of influence. Why is this? One reason seems to be the old chesnut – busyness. Christmas means people are busy and it seems many Churches presume, therefore, people are too busy to be bothered with what we might have to offer.

Tradition may not be popular within the Church (yeah, I know it depends what and who you’re talking about) but they sure packed into Bristol Cathedral last Sunday evening. It was quite a sight to see people queuing up to get in across College Green. The irony was the service was put on, as each year, by Woodlands – a relatively ‘new’ Church. They did the traditional thing – and they did it well. What they have, it seems, what the normal Cathedral congregation doesn’t have is – friends to invite along. I realise, it’s a service put on to serve Christians across Bristol and I saw many people there I knew from different places, but the fact that about 140 took discovery packs out of a congregation of around 1200 was pretty good in anybodies book.

I always reckon the carol service is a good thermometer of how many friendly contacts any Church has – for most Churches it’ll be the biggest gathering of the year. If you don’t have at least three times your weekly gathering of different faces at your Christmas Carol Service, I’d be bothered because these people are the nearest group you’ll have to finding faith. One unusual thing about Christmas is, it’s easy to deliver what people expect and what people want – do it well and you’ll make an impact (a pastor’s delight). All I suggest is this year you count ‘em in and decide what you’ll do about the result. If you get less than three times normal, I’d cancel a few of those meetings next year and send people on a how to make friends course with a practical assignment wherever they want. Of course, if we don’t have ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ at ours, I’ll be disappointed – it’s my favourite carol, but I’ll get over it if someone new comes along. 

Thursday, 11 December 2008

I'm still waiting...

So far, advent is not as I planned it! As a Minister in a local Church I loved the activity associated with advent – carol services, schools, carol singing – we always went for Christmas big-time as it remains the easiest time of year to connect church and people. However, as a Regional Minister, I got used to people not wanting me around this time of year – what’s happened this year? I had days written out of my diary to catch up with stuff, read, reflect, etc. – one by one they’ve almost disappeared. So, as for advent being a time of waiting, I’m still waiting….

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

where are you in advent?

Hi - plan A is this blog entry goes onto Hopeful Imagination as part of the advent blog this year. It started life as a flowchart, then became a Quicktime movie clip - neither of which will upload onto my blog! So, if anyone has any great advice before midnight tonight, I'd be glad of it as i can;t waste any more time trying to get it to work!

Where are you in advent?


Presents wrapped?


Read Luke 2:8-9.


Presents wrapped?


Read Matthew 2:1-2.


Filled with expectation?


Read Luke 2:13


Filled with expectation?


Read Luke 2:25-26


Prepared for what’ll happen?


Read Luke 1:20


Prepared for what’ll happen?


Read Luke 1:38


Hopeful of a good time?


Read Luke 1:51


Hopeful of a good time?


Read Luke 1:48


Knowing how Christmas will work out?


Read Matthew 2:8


Knowing how Christmas will work out?


Read Luke 2:38


If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, now read Isa. 9:6.


However, if you have answered ‘no’ to any of the above, read Isa. 9:6

Monday, 1 December 2008


Well, I had a wonderful weekend – in Tresaith, near Cardigan. I started off Friday afternoon with my best guess being Maggie and I were headed for a romantic weekend together in Paris. However, on Saturday morning one of  my first tasks was to consult a map in daylight to find out where I was – having been blindfolded for part of the journey and not recognizing too many signposts, once well into Wales. There were also 17 of us in an old Sea Captains house - so not quite the romantic weekend, but a big surprise and a great chance for us all to be together. So, a great weekend with my wider - all-innocent/lying through their teeth - family. The weather was absolutely wonderful – two of those sunny, crisp autumn days which are the very best in my opinion and Sunday lunch was the best roast I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

Friday, 28 November 2008

surprise, surprise?

 I should be preparing for our National Settlement Team meetings next week, but I keep getting distracted thinking about this weekend – which is planned to be a surprise. Apparently, I’m 50 next month and because my birthday is on boxing day it often gets buried under Christmas – so Maggie has something planned – I no not what, where or anything. Of course, the reality is it couldn’t be a totally out of the blue surprise because she has had to make sure I’m not booked out to meet up with anyone this afternoon, taking a deacons away day tomorrow or preaching on Sunday. It’s this business of planned surprise that’s making me wonder how God ever gets a look-in – whether that be as individuals or the church. After all how much is Sunday ever a hope these days of a planned surprise? How much ‘prayer’ or our reading of the bible as disciples makes space for any planned surprise? Oh well, just me then…

I have to share something at our regional and national teams overnight next week, so I’m wondering about that – what to say, which might help. I read Neil Brighton’s reflection on BU Council asking why we have Associations – good question Neil and one we must keep asking. Leads me nicely on to our new WEBA logo – the inspiration is from the icon on your computer – the click the small box and it fills the screen. The idea is to communicate the church is not an end in itself, but an agent, signpost etc of the kingdom. To that end we’re to ‘encourage missionary disciples’ (individuals) and ‘growing healthy churches’ (churches). I feel we’ve got a better tin now – we just need to make sure WEBA becomes increasingly like it says on the tin!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


I’ve had two key evening experiences with groups of women in the last week. One naked and the other, thankfully, fully clothed. Last night we had the fully clothed one – an evening meal in Robusto’s (which I learnt will sadly be closing shortly) entitled ‘Encouraging Women in Church Leadership’. There were around 50 there altogether and just the four men among them. It was a most encouraging evening – and I say that on the basis of the number of women who said that to me. The idea was to encourage women in, or into, Church leadership. As Baptists we have a theoretical openness to women as ‘the key leader’ – we’ve been ordaining women since the 1920’s. However, when all is said and done, there’s a lot more said than done strikes again – we have only 11% of our nationally accredited ministry who are female. There is something symptomatic here about how we do (rather not do) our theology. There’s a long way to go on this one and I realise the answer is not in changing wooden statistics, but as with measuring church growth thenumbers represent people. Take Ali, for example, who shared something of her story last night. At 17 she boldly shared with a weekend speaker how she believed God was leading her forward into ministry of some kind. The response? ‘what would you do?’ His advice? ‘maybe you could marry a Minister’’ or become ‘a missionary’!!  Hopefully, last night proved to be a real encouragement for many there – putting courage in them to go and become all God is calling them into and encouragers themselves – multipliers of ministry.

Of yes, the naked event. I did smile to myself half way through watching ‘Calendar Girls’ on Friday evening at the Theatre Royal in Bath. I get used to the phrase ‘conduct unbecoming’ in my role and thought how ironic it was - sitting in a theatre with my wife surrounded by equally respectable people (they certainly looked as if they’d fit into our church!) and on stage were five naked women. Put that in a different context and it becomes conduct unbecoming!   

Monday, 24 November 2008

belonging, believing, behaving

Believing, belonging, behaving …. not surprisingly this three way conundrum arose again on our Leaders Day with Stuart. Stuart seems to have done more thinking about the relationship between these three than most people, but I guess most folk hadn’t read ‘Church after Christendom’ which gives a fair few variations on the inter-play between these. I always find discussion around these fascinating, but invariably find two things are missing:

Firstly, most of us approach them as if we can find a one-answer-fits-all’ scenario. This doesn’t works out in practice, so why do we keep trying to find a solution, which will only ever apply to a particular number? The conversation often splits people into a ‘if they belong before they believe, we’ll water down the truth’ camp versus the ‘if we insist they behave before they belong we’ll remain aloof and distant’ camp. Most existing Churches seem to be incapable of finding an approach everyone can agree on, but we’re content to write off newer experiments as caricatures, one way or the other.

Secondly, we seem to insist on applying something I thought grew up to explain something missiologically, as if it can explain our ecclesiology. Now, I believe in the flow in terms of Christology needs to shape missiology needs to shape ecclesiology, but a wooden application strikes me as rather odd - when we start using descriptions of how people find faith to shape how people might be best helped live by the same faith. Surely (!?), unless we distinguish between ‘without faith’ and ‘with faith’ we shall always remain confused. My awareness (which may, not for the first time be wrong and I’d be glad if anyone can inform me otherwise) is that the phrase ‘believing without belonging’ was first coined by Grace Davie in her book ‘Religion in Britain since 1945’ (1994), which I came across when researching why people leave our Christian Ministry. This was a description of what was becoming a larger slice of institutional UK Christianity. The post-modern conversation then introduced us to the growing awareness of ‘belonging before believing’ as an increasingly common pathway into Christian community. Both are descriptions, but neither necessarily desired ends.

If we’re planting something new – let’s call it a Church – it seems reasonable to ask what we’d like to see it grow into. Whatever shape, style, pattern etc. I believe we need to aim for all three – disciples of Jesus who belong, behave and believe accordingly. That is not to suggest everyone will do so on day 1, or even year 3, but if these are not built into the DNA, they wont be re-produced later without a struggle.  This, I guess, is why I’d favour church membership which is value based (I’m committed to following Jesus in this direction even though I mess up sometimes) over one which is time based (I once made a decision in time, so no one dare ask me how I’m doing now) – forgive another caricature please!  

Sunday, 23 November 2008

what we didn't learn in College

We had a really good Leaders Day this week with Stuart Murray Williams. We’d asked him to talk around ‘what you probably didn’t learn in College and didn’t know you need to know’ - not surprisingly, for Stuart, mission came up at the top of the list. The focus of his point here is that we tend to teach mission in a ministry context whereas the need today is really to teach ministry in the context of mission. Inevitably, some scary issues arose around the validity for the pastoral model for ministry for the future and the viability of smaller congregations being able to support full-time paid ministry. Talk about Turkey’s voting for Christmas! (that’s not to suggest any of my colleagues are anything like Turkeys). It is an interesting discussion, but there is no evidence at the moment to suggest Churches don’t want full-time paid Ministers and this years in-take across our Baptist Colleges is significantly up on previous years (blip or trend, who knows). Where, I believe, the missional challenges need to focus our thinking is not on whether we need ‘capital M’ Ministers, but what kind? For example, I was with a Church one evening this week who are in a ‘Pastoral Vacancy’ trying to help them think ahead and lift their eyes up to God, after having been through a fairly difficult period. We’d done some work around what they believed they did together as a community, which most enhanced their own personal walk with God. After looking at the flip chart list and hearing a few reflections I asked ‘so if this is true, why do you need a Minister?’ – stunned silence. My hope is they will still want to call a Minister, but I also cherish the thought they’ll want to call someone who will focus upon enabling and releasing the latent gifts and personalities embedded in this Church. Of course, they’ll need to find someone who will want to focus their best energies on such things also. As one of my colleagues said after Thursday, ‘we need to work out how to ‘do’ something after today’.

Friday, 21 November 2008

hot chocolate mission

A great little story came back from the street team, which is part of our church last week. A small group were out serving hot chocolate to a group of young people who’d gathered. The police turned up even though the beat officer was aware of what they were doing, someone reported them for suspiciously handing out small things to youngsters out of the back of a van! (yeah I know, they didn’t turn up when the bank across the road was being done….) However, that’s not the story. A lady turned up at church on Sunday morning to say thank you. Apparently she is the grandma of one of the lads who was among this particular group drinking some hot chocolate and talking – he went home and told his grandma about what had been going on and ended his story by saying ‘even after those people went, there was such a sense of peace’.   

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

music to my ears

Sunday night was Film Club night – discussing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It was a very interesting discussion and with a variety of generations represented - fascinating to hear some of the emphases people brought. We’re not sure what to look at next as we’re going for a showing together with supper at ours – which we means we get to choose the film we’ll show. I still haven’t seen The Kite Runner, but having read the book not sure how much everyone will be able to eat their supper.

Today I drew up at Tim’s house to be greeted by ‘I thought I heard your car purring’ – that was music to my ears! To think my car is now purring rather than growling is great. In the last 6 months I’ve had a new engine, cam belt, exhaust, clutch, part suspension, turbo – my apologies to nay new parts I’ve forgotten to mention! But now it’s purring – hallelujah! Affectionately known as ‘momo’ – named after Momo Sissoko having a registration beginning MMO – I got to thinking about the power of naming something. Momo – just on the off-chance no one remembers – was a good, but not good enough midfielder for the great Liverpool FC. He was good for a while, but didn’t quite make the grade. Talk about prophetic! There’s often power in naming in the Bible – places named commemorating something special done by God in the past and people named who went on to give prophetic expression to their given name. I’m now looking for a car with the registration TORRES! 

Monday, 17 November 2008

how do you do it?

I spent Saturday with the deacons from one of our Churches - looking at the vision and strategy for growth they’ve constructed. It was a greatly enjoyable occasion for me – I love sitting down and talking about such things. I did have to remind them also that it is much easier to do that (sit down and talk about it) than actually do something about it. The question, which has stayed with me, however, is the one I was asked about what I do – we were talking about discipleship at the time. I’m not sure what they thought about my answer, but it brought home to me, once again, what we need – leaders who can talk from their own experience and not from a theoretical framework. When I look back over my own Christian experience it is those who have demonstrated and not merely talked who are my heroes. What was that awful song ‘it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it’?

Friday, 14 November 2008

standing within a foreign culture

Not an easy week this one – far too busy. It was BU Council Monday to Wednesday which always takes a large chunk out of a week, but I HAD to leave early. You don’t get many perks as a Regional Minister, but this week was an exception as I was taken to Spurs v Liverpool courtesy of Mike who supplies our stationary etc. As far as the football was concerned it was a dreadful night for a Liverpool supporter . Even though we put out a reserve team no one likes to watch their team get thrashed as we were in the first half. It was an early Christmas for Spurs given three gifts in about six minutes. Agger and Alonso, who only came on for a short while, were however a class apart. Once again I had the questionable pleasure of standing among the opposing fans whilst they hurled abuse at my team and fellow supporters – an interesting experience, but I didn’t argue. Whichever way you look at it Harry has done a great job, but I couldn’t go as far as I was told on Wednesday ‘he is god for us’.

In other ways it was a great night – I loved the banter with Mike and his mates. It was also a reminder of another planet – from the guy whose following of Spurs home and away costs him about 10k a season. 

Today we at last fixed some dates to start Partnership for Missional Church next year. This potentially provides us with a great process to help Churches change their culture and I sense it will be a great privilege to engage in the UK pilot. Whetehr we'll find many Churches who dare to venture forwards is the next big challenge.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

lovely Somerset

Today I was at the Somerset Churches Together 'Gathering' event. It was a great day in many ways – informative, challenging and inspiring. The title was ‘Churches in Community: from Vision to Action.’ It’s the from vision into action bit that’s so crucial and so typically absent. Reflecting on the title before hand (as SCT chair I had to think of something to introduce things) I realised this again. Truth is, vision is easier to uncover than the ability to translate it into action. Church after church have some lovely vision statements (even if they all sound like Saddleback re-visited), but when I begin to probe what difference they’ve made, it’s an all too familiar story – sadly. I need to do more thinking in order to begin to answer ‘why?’ in any sensible way, but there’s a few obvious components:

-       We’re doing too much already, so new initiative gets stifled before it gets off the runway.

-       The Minister fears it’ll mean more work, so would rather not go there.

Someone remembers ‘we tried that once, didn’t work’.

Friday, 7 November 2008

what to plant next?

Urban Expression have an on-going  poll running on their website asking the question:

When should a church plant no longer be considered a 'plant'?:

When it reaches a certain size (e.g. 50 or above)

If it lasts more then X number of years

From Day 1

When it is indigenous and self-sufficient

Other (Please comment)

I know I’m struggling with answering the same question. We refer to our ‘church plants’ here in the West and tend to easily include Churches, which have been up and running in various understandings of the word ‘church’ for a number of years, as well as other groups. What increasingly bothers me is they are invariably dependent upon  a ‘Rev’ Minister. I’m pretty convinced now we need to find a way within our structures of ‘holding’ plantings at whatever stage prior to them becoming a fully constituted congregation.

I’m not a great greenhouse gardener – partly because I don’t pay enough consistent attention at the seedling stage. I do know this much – that’s the stage when the plants are at their most vulnerable. Forget to water for even a few days and it’s curtains – and this will be true whether you’re growing lettuce or oak trees. When they get a little bigger and stronger you usually end up thinning out – removing the weakest to allow some, a fewer number, to thrive. I realise analogies like this have their limits, but where are the seedlings going to come from if we make every attempt to plant dependent on being ‘Rev’ led?  I know Alan Hirsch is advocating not using the term ‘Church’ plant – whilst I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind this we do need healthy groups of disciples of Jesus Christ! To call such a group a ‘Church’ may not be too sexy, but frankly, I don’t care what we’re called and I can’t be fussed arguing about the name. The issues need to be more focused on the outcomes – making disciples, authentic Christian relationships and engagement in your missionary context – it seems such outcomes are not determined by whatever we choose to call ourselves.

All potential planters apply here!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

a primer on missional church

I found it hilarious to read that Paddy Power have slashed their odds to 4-1 that God exists – down from 33-1 ! The Telegraph also quoted Blaise Pascal

who argued that although God’s existence cannot be proven through reason, it makes sense to have religious faith since a person has everything to gain – ‘an infinitely happy life’ – and nothing to lose by doing so. Imagine your estate getting a cheque in the post after you pop your clogs though from the bank of heaven as Spurgeon used to call it!

What is really helpful, however, is a Primer on Missional Church which can be found on JR Woodward’s blog – a guy based in LA http://jrwoodward.net/2008/11/a-primer-on-todays-missional-church

Alan Hirsch’s comment ‘you have a real job on your hands’ when he was with us earlier in the year has come back to me many times since. There is a very real distinction between doing mission and being missional, but I’m finding many folk aren’t hearing what I think I’m saying, so maybe this blog link will help some a little more I hope -  it’s well worth a look through.
Back from Team Leaders & NST today - great to be with everyone as ever, but David Coffey's time with us today made it all the more special. It may be approaching the big 5-0, which is causing me to think like this, but it's so good to spend time with 'senior citizens' who remain so on the button. I used to wonder how on earth I could maintain any sense of a useful ministry beyond around 60, but people like DC are living proof of 'how'. He's fairly in touch with the US scene being BWA President so it was a good day, following Obama's victory, to hear from him.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Watching ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ has re-kindled a desire to read Bonhoeffer again. Amongst his many quotable comments, he said ‘action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility’. Here is someone still worth listening to as he lived it out and paid the price becoming a martyr for the cause of Christ. Bonhoeffer was willing when most were not to stand against Hitler and the Third Reich. How do we make sense of this statement, however, in our own context? For me, it has something to do with our taking responsibility for our part in the mission of God. Because I sit as part of our Baptist National Settlement Team, I hear the things Ministers state as their ‘requirements’ to Churches. I hear a lot which mimics our consumerist culture and a lot which mirrors the attitudes Ministers find in too many Churches, but I don’t hear too much which could be construed as taking responsibility. I can’t help feeling we confuse thinking with action. I find a lot of people who agree with the present need to organise our Church life around mission, but little out-working in practice. Not easy, but like the little Church I met with who complained about no one coming to join them for years, we have to face some harsh realities – and at least try and do something! If at first you don’t succeed, then maybe failure is your thing – truth is most people try something once and if it doesn’t work, give it up. 

Sunday, 2 November 2008

lost in translation

I just love the road sign story from Swansea this week. ‘No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only’, was the English version of the sign for which a translation in Welsh was required. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at such things!), when a translation was requested from their in-house translation service someone received an auto-reply ‘I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.’ Assuming this was the correct translation, the rest is w history!

I’ve been off this week and did think of popping an auto-reply, but wasn’t sure where to find it on the mac, so couldn’t be bothered to look. It’s NST (Settlement team) next week, so am now wondering if I had what might have resulted. No doubt this will be a sermon illustration story for a good while yet – so many thanks Swansea Council. We’ve had a great week – the car problems ( collected it this week) meant we had to change the Caravan plan A. However, we stayed with friends near Cardiff and Devon, popped up to Ben in Liverpool, split my sides laughing at Noises Off and greatly enjoyed Dan and Manda’s wedding yesterday, Tom did well with his best man's speech – now for getting back to work!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

the boy in striped pyjamas

Last night, we went to watch The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and it was one of those films which left me just sitting in silence at the end. Prejudice, hatred, violence are all here in the melting pot which boiled over at Auschwitz. - ‘Out-With’ as it’s referred to by the central character – 8 year old Bruno. He makes friends with Shmuel – a Jewish boy who’s the other side of the barbed wire and I wont spoil the story line by saying more. It’s well worth seeing, although I guess it’s one we’d have missed at this stage if it wasn’t the next film up for discussion at Film Club. I found it a scary dramatisation of how easy ordinary decent people get caught up with horrific systems and re-act somewhat differently. It was all the more poignant for me as we’d just come back from a few days spent with some great friends John and Mollie. John is one of, maybe the, wisest and most gracious men I’ve had the privilege to count as a friend. Older than my own father it was wonderful to spend time with someone who always leaves me feeling I know Jesus a little bit better after having been in his company. A couple of days on Dartmoor also helped. However, the link with the film came about because of part of John’s own story. He was part of the Exclusive Brethren until he dared to challenge the character and practices of the leadership, even though he himself was part of it. As quick as the flick of  a switch he and his family were out of fellowship, which meant losing his job, friends and his whole framework for life. This time he told me of ‘the visit’. Thirty years after this incident he was visited by three exclusives who were seeking forgiveness for ungracious acts in the past. When they asked John for forgiveness he just laughed (and I can just imagine the scene) ‘why should I need to forgive you’ he said, ‘I forgave you years ago’. Would I have stood out like Bonhoeffer, would I have had John’s courage in the face of a religious system? A disturbing film, it’ll be interesting to hear what the others have made of it.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

are you the answer?

More Clergy are being trained and ordained in the Church of England than for a decade, but the numbers worshipping have continued to drop, says the Church Statistics report for the year 2006-07, which was issued this week. Baptists statistics tell the same tale over a much longer period. Figures drawn from around the developing world where the Church is growing significantly tell the same tale – increasing the numbers of people ‘ordained’ does not have an automatic corresponding benefit in terms of increasing the Church numbers. Now, I’m not merely interested in numbers, but I do believe both the gospel and the church should work (as NCD says ‘all by itself’). So, whilst recognising I wont accumulate friends by stressing this point we (ordained, theologically trained people like myself) are not proving to be the answer in and of ourselves. We do need to re-assess how we equip tomorrow’s leaders in appropriate ways. Within BUGB we’ve made a good start in starting to talk about ‘competencies’, but I’m afraid the emphasis remains upon equipping an omni-competent individual rather than a someone who can cultivate a church. This week we’ve had three Imagine meetings where we’re trying to bring the emphasis upon 'leadership' rather than' 'leader'. It really is about more than semantics and they are signs of blessing already, which is good. We’re not far down this road, but it seems to be one of the right ones to pursue. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

fearful of faith?

I’m never going to make much comment on the social-political landscape as I feel there are plenty of folk out there doing such things much better than I shall ever aspire, or want to. However, the heading in the Times this week “There’s a God shaped hole in Westminster’ caught my eye - especially when it went on to say ‘today’s politicians – whose favourite summer reading was ‘The God Delusion’ – have never been more fearful of faith.’ A very interesting comment, but what really made me shudder was wondering to what extent this unfaithful stance is mirrored in the Church. For example, I was in a meeting this week (where and who with probably best kept quiet for obvious reasons). The group was asked to name what values we thought were appropriate to ‘Chaplaincy’. We had many of the usual suspects to which everyone continued to murmur assent – ‘incarnational’, ‘relational’, ‘where they are’, etc. I thought I’d test the group out by saying ‘Christian’. Just to say, this was the only offering to which disagreement was voiced, the only comment on the flipchart which had a question mark added to it! Now, just in case you think I’m na├»ve let me say I wasn’t surprised - partly why I offered the suggestion! Neither am I unaware of the difficulties and delicacies of working on the secular interface and the challenge and/or demand for such things to be presented as ‘inter-faith’.  Am I allowed, however, to say the anxiety some Christians have in saying what we want to offer might be distinctly Christian disturbs me, or is that not PC enough? Our Baptist forefathers (don’t try and guess it was one of our meetings) were great champions of the right of freedom for other persecuted minorities than themselves, even if they were of a different faith and I’m right there with that. BUT – they were distinctly Christian and if were not that, we are nothing.

Rant over – still no sign of the car!