Wednesday, 30 July 2008
I must be getting into the holiday mood - slowing down. Yesterday I was up at Baptist House and popped in on a few folk just to say 'hello' for half an hour or so. It was really good fun just to breeze through, stop a few folk from working and just basically have those nothing important, but good to connect conversations. 'Be still and know that I am God' always seemed to be such a religious thing, but I find it's as much about finding God in the ordinary - more about spotting Him among ordinary conversations and circumstances in a way I miss when traveling at frantic speed. I also managed to fit in a quick tour of the Didcot charity shops and pick up some more holiday reading. The question now is what to ditch? Will some of the late purchases find their way straight into the first team, or not? Oh - at last the Robbie Keane transfer to Liverpool has gone through - maybe by the time I return from holiday we'll have bagged someone else decent too. Robbie Keane is a fan - I too dreamed of playing for the reds as a boy, but he's done it. I'm remembering my proudest school report comment: 'he eats, drinks and sleeps football - if Nigel spent as much effort on his school work he could do well.' Mum and Dad weren't quite as impressed, but just think - if I hadn't listened....
Monday, 28 July 2008
we're off on holiday this week to Sardinia which I'm really looking forward to - at least in those moments I've had to think about it. Monday morning being what it is, I have a list of things I need to do before next week. Alot of it's work/ministry related and unrealistic - wouldn't it be great to go away with an empty in-box! However, one of the jobs I always enjoy is compiling my book-list to take away. I'm not there yet, but I thought, now in the world of blogging, I'd write it up here as easy as on the fridge door - at least this way I might get some good recommendations! Sometimes I fast from Christian stuff to read on holiday, but it feels less like work now working regionally so it'll be a mix. Here's my shortlist - before I wander round the house looking for others!
Friday, 25 July 2008
I’ve been thinking alot about Alan Hirsch’s thing about it being easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking much more easily than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting. I’d be interested to know, for example, how many of the small groups spurned by 40 days of purpose and projects started by 40 days of community are still going one year later? My hunch, from the examples I’m aware of, is not a very high percentage. Now, this is not a negative comment about the 40 days programmes because I genuinely think they have so much to commend them. What I think it's possibly more about is our natural inclination to return to our default position – why act on faith when we can get away with talking about it. Most of our small groups revolve around prayer and bible study. Most of the prayer revolves around people’s needs - which are usually more frequently expressed in terms of pray for this job interview, house purchase, etc. – that is, pray for me and mine. Most of the bible study revolves around what did the bible say to them then, rather than what is the bible saying to me, us, now? My guess is I’m pushing the caricature a little, but not too much.What’s happened to small groups which are focused on ‘encouraging missionary disciples’ (the BUGB strap-line for our strategy). The big message, we’re in danger of sending, is: our discipleship ends when Alpha ends. My experience is discipleship has barely begun when Alpha ends, but I've watched many people abandon their home-made discipleship courses (we had to write our own during our Pastoral studies year at Spurgeon’s) and merely replace them with Alpha, or its equivalent, which are not even designed to do the same job. If you can get a small group to practice ways of embracing others beyond themselves I find you have a life generating cell, which is why NCD’s observation of small groups being more important to people than Sunday is a crucial factor in growing the size of a Christian community. The Western mind-set in our Churches seems to preside over the Hebrew mind-set. So we say if it works it must be shallow and not thought through. The Hebrew mind-set, on the other hand, says you haven’t heard the word of God until it’s part of what you do. So, which one’s more likely to produce the character of Jesus?
Monday, 21 July 2008
Sunday, 20 July 2008
I had a great morning with the folk at Warminster Baptist Church this morning. It began with breakfast which, if anyone else reads this, is always a good way to get a regional minister on your side! More about breakfast though – apart from the fact I really enjoyed my sausage, bacon, eggs, beans, toast. I counted up to 35 there for breakfast and about 60/70 there for the morning service. Apparently that’s a typical number. They started having breakfast for a few of the kids who were beginning to get fed up being dragged along with their parents on a Sunday morning. Apparently, most people were sceptical. However, the fruit of what’s happened was very apparent to me. Not only do the kids they aimed at still come along, but so do parents and a variety of other adults. It provides a great environment to chat over food and coffee. It’s very natural and neutral – I doubt anyone unused to Christian groups would have felt uncomfortable by the subjects discussed on the table I was on. The spin off for corporate worship was clear too – from the beginning there was a relaxed feel to the whole thing – the variety of comments shouted out during the notices from the Church Secretary (horror of horrors for some of a gentle disposition and/or awe = silence when were in the religious building) would, I think, communicate this a pretty normal bunch of people to most people. These it seems are all by-products from what was originally intended, but really important things for them to hang onto. Clare, who we prayed with before she goes off to India this week with a BMS Action Team took the picture for me on her phone, as I didn't have my camera with me - thanks Clare!
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
One of the un-nerving aspects to the whole missional conversation is that of individual engagement. I say un-nerving because that’s how it often seems to the key leader of a Church. What’s often heard is something like – ‘they’re now asking me to do something else extra, on top of what the too much I’m already doing’, Not surprisingly, many back off at this point. Personally, I don’t think people back off because they’re against the whole ethos of what it means to become a ‘missional Church’. What, I suspect, goes on is: because most are too busy with sorting through the queue formed from other people’s expectations, the great ideas simply get lost.
However, somehow we need to return to some of the essential issues: If I’m a pastoral leader my congregation will benefit more from who I am than what I do. If the ministry of the church is to grow and develop, it will happen more through the multiplication of ministry than my own. If the Church is to genuinely touch new people with the love of Christ, it will happen more through others than me (one person). These are my conclusions, but I would suggest whatever our conclusions might be
- about the role of the individual key leader (whatever they’re called, even if you don’t like the ‘L’ word);
- about the overall ministry of any Church;
- about the engagement of the Church in the mission of God;
I don’t think we can escape the challenges they present.
One of the key things were trying to nurture with leadership via ‘Imagine’ is the work smarter not harder message and, whilst it appears a hard one to apply in church life, the alternatives lead us to much harder places. As a Regional Minister, I’m saying we need to find means of missional engagementbecause, otherwise, we’re not living the life of discipleship and this has to be a bigger issue. If we end up saying there’s no time because I’m the Pastor of a local Church, or a Regional Minister, then it’s an indication of a serious faultline somewhere in our practice. It’s blog not an essay so I’d best stop – I need to go and visit someone!
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Well, it was a great day for me. Our Leaders Day today was held at Clevedon with Alan Hirsch (a great guy in my book) and I pray it'll prove to be formative for a number of others. I knew it was a key time for holidays and quite a number of our folk had said they couldn't come along for that reason. We more than made up for that with a variety of guests who'd bothered to travel to be with us - great to have them all along. Alan was really challenging so it'll be interesting to hear how everyone else has responded. Hopefully, most people wont have an issue with thinking it must be different in Australia as talking with Sandy and Alan afterwards it would seem that we're in a similar place in very many ways. It's also obvious that UK Baptists and Australian Churches of Christ have many similarities too. In many ways Alan went through some of the main thrusts of 'The Forgotten Ways' - why am surprised so few of our guys have read this? One of the things he said, almost in passing, was 'the language obscures the reality'. I can't help thinking how true this is from my perspective. We use the language of discipleship and assume that equates to doing it, but how many Churches have any real plan for discipleship beyond Alpha? We preach missionally in some respects, but how many Churches effectively plan out the opportunities for their core?
Monday, 14 July 2008
Friday, 11 July 2008
reaching men – this was yesterday: a day for Leaders which I was hosting along with Mike Hill (Anglican Bishop of Diocese of Bristol) and Rob Scott-Cook (a significant catalyst within Bristol for a load of cross Church initiatives for many years). I really enjoyed listening to Glynn Harrison talk us through some of the issues from his perspective. Glynn’s a Professor of Psychiatry so, not surprisingly to me, didn’t come across in the way some might expect (a la Rambos for Christ). I took notes, but hope to get the statistics he shared to look at more closely. They raise an issue of which we're generally aware in the Church - a far greater proportion of the committed core are women. Most of the figures were from an Anglican context - I suspect these would be pretty similar for Baptists, but I'll check this out. One area I’d like to explore further is: how come we produce a majority female Church with a pre-dominantly male leadership? Glynn, I'm sure, was right to emphasise this is not a simplistic issue (what is!) So how do I - on the one hand encourage more women to step up to the leadership mark and, on the other hand, challenge the church culture, which appears to engage women more appropriately? It seems to me we stand to risk getting it wrong on both counts if we don't manage to bring Jesus into sharp focus. Surely, Jesus has to be the model once we get into gender issues, otherwise we quickly descend into mars v venus.
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
I've returned from Didcot and Charney Bassett - Baptist House at Didcot for National Settlement Team and Charney Bassett for the second half of NST and Team Leaders. I love these times together and have say it is one of the rich privileges of my life. We meet over three days ten times a year which means we spend a good deal of time together and gain from the supportive and mutually encouraging environment created. Today we spent some time talking about 'spiritual community' which was also the main focus for our last Imagine evenings in WEBA. I really think this is scratching at a crucial facet of partnering together in the gospel and look forward to see how we can work this our in practice further. The photo today is from two months ago - pouring with rain today, but the puddings at Charney are absolutely wonderful. When you get the mix of good and stimulating company & good food right, I can cope with a bit of rain. Ben's doing work experience on a pig farm this week so I'll look forward to hearing how much mud he's been in - glad to hear Louise has been selected to ride for Ireland and is off to Beijing - this family is really moving in high circles these days!
To what extent does our church culture confine the gifts of the pastoral leader?
I regularly have a conversation with people where the idea of ‘re-inventing yourself’ comes up. If we’re not careful this can mean little more than following the latest fad or fashion in the Christian sub-culture. However, what’s usually being referred to is the rapidly changing context in which we’re called to be Ministers and Churches are called to engage. In such a context we need Ministers who can navigate some pretty choppy waters. For this I want turn to be able to those who are ‘able to keep the Church true to Jesus’ (this is my Colleague Pat Took’s phrase, for which I owe a great debt). Simple to say, all encompassing to live out and practice as the Minister of a Church. It does say something about priorities. A Minister may be a gifted Pastor, but if their best energy goes only into developing and exercising their gift we end up with a dependent Church. A Minister may an excellent Evangelist, but put them at the helm of a Church without recognising other gifts of leadership, the place invariably blows up. (I wont quote case studies to back up these claims!)
My point is simply this – our gifts are not our primary calling. ‘Minister’ is not a bad word because it acts as a reminder we are called to serve the Church. With a wider perspective I see the harsh reality of this played out in the life of our Churches – Ministers come and go, but the Church remains. Often this is an observation which Ministers talk about in negative terms as if the Church is there as a constraint upon them (and let’s face it, it often is). However, it does reflect the fact that the ministry of the Church needs to be a bigger issue than the ministry of any Minister within it. If we go back to Ephesians 4 – whether our gifts are primarily as pastors, teachers, or whatever, the element of ‘equipping the saints’ is a clear expectation.
Monday, 7 July 2008
Tim Keel – intuitive leadership
I've been using this phrase about certain peopIe I observe for a while, so when I saw the title, I had to buy the book. I like the guy who wrote it. I’ve never met Tim Keel, but I wouldn’t mind sitting down and having a chat over some decent coffee because I just get the idea I’d learn more from who he is than what he shares in this book. That’s not to say there’s not a lot of extremely helpful stuff here – certainly for me. He tells his own story in such a way many, many pastors will resonate with. What comes across is the importance of being wiling to listen and enter into the stories and questions shaping his own life and a real encourage to do the same. There’s stuff here about post-Christendom and our missional context within it, which will have a familiar feel for many who’ve found their way around a growing body of books, but it comes across in a refreshing way. You don’t get that sense Tim Keel has it in for the church as you might with some.
Baptists will like his emphasis on no one else being the expert (oh how that sounds good to our independent ears). However, be warned if you’re one my tribe, you wont be able to lean back and relax in a pool of smugness. ‘We must seek to get away from looking for others to tell us what everything means and what the implications are. Instead we must learn what it means to engage.’ He means really engage though – not just tell your regional minister that’s what you’re doing! Engage with God, engage with your community (Church) and engage with the world beyond.
I loved his language of postures – he mentions nine and I’d like to think I’ll blog on each one – at least for my own good if no one elses! But in case I don’t get around to that here they are because the titles are worth some reflection themselves:
A posture of Learning: From answers to questions.
A posture of vulnerability: From the head to the heart.
A posture of availability: From spoken words to living words.
A posture of stillness: from preparation to meditation.
A posture of surrender: from control to chaos.
A posture of cultivation: from programmer to environmentalist.
A posture of trust: from defensiveness to creativity.
A posture of joy: from work to play.
A posture of dependence: from resolution to tension – and back again.
What a final! I was gutted to only see the first two sets – especially when I saw the result. It was film club night last night and we had a really good chat around Amazing Grace. I guess a ‘mixed response’ was the reaction to the actual film, but we spent the vast majority of time talking about the issues of slavery and the implications for today – people trafficking, fair trade, development issues. The thing that struck me this morning was the fact I doubt if I’d have talked with about such serious things with folk in this group were it not for the film. Next time we’ll be on Prince Caspian – whoever’s in the group decides the next film, but I admit to pushing for this one myself.As we arrived home Ben also drew up in his car. First time he’s been back since finishing term as he stayed on the Wirral to ride for a few weeks. We’re hoping Louise, who he’s been working/riding for, might get picked today for Beijing to ride for Ireland. It’s good to see Ben – albeit briefly as I’m off till Wednesday. Amongst his many interests is people-watching – he’s accumulating a load of interesting stories from living on planet horse – just a shame a Baptist Minister’s can’t quite run to sponsoring him with a decent 4-legged competitor!
Sunday, 6 July 2008
It’s my Sunday off from preaching anywhere today, which is always a lovely feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I love preaching and still believe it has a highly significant place among Baptists. However, not preaching means I don’t have to get up as early, can enjoy a leisurely breakfast and usually watch that little programme ‘click’ on breakfast TV. Today I went to meet a little evangelical Church who’re wondering where they’re going. I must admit the woman leading caught me off guard when announcing ‘we have a special guest today … anyone’s welcome to meet Nigel with us afterwards as we talk about the future’ – at least I had a little time to think about what I might say!
I realise one thing such Churches are looking for is a relationship with something bigger than themselves, but in a way they’re treated individually. How unlike the Alliance and Leicester conflict I’ve been embroiled in this week; (this next bit will be therapy for me and, hopefully, get something off my chest). We had an account which was at zero with a view to closing. Then , we get charged £5 for not making sufficient monthly payments. We try to close the account, but A&L don’t seem to receive our instructions. Needless to say, several phone conversations with machines and dis-empowered employees later, we’re now significantly more overdrawn (all charges due to the initial charge) – the saga continues of little man versus massive system.I enjoyed the Williams sisters yesterday at Wimbledon, in-between re-sealing the shower. However, what a performance by Laura Robson to win the girls final - for GB. I'm now settling down now for Nadal v Federer after the Grand Prix. Hopefully, I’ll manage to get some preparation done for this month’s Settlement Team during the change-overs!! (it is a day off though). Maybe it’ll be Spain two weeks running after Torres’ great winning goal v Germany (a victory for heart over head). Today my head says Nadal, but I’d love Federer to win again – we’ll see.
Thursday, 3 July 2008
I fully recognise some people are finding today’s climate an unnerving one in which to navigate in ways faithful to Jesus. On top of that, to actually seek to work out what it means to be a ‘Minister of the Gospel’ can easily feel as a step too far. I hear people preaching about how we shouldn’t be seeking ‘relevance’ in today’s culture as an end in itself (to which I give an ‘amen’ because I think I know what they’re saying) – however, we do want to be relevant enough to be connected to the essence of what it means to be Church, don’t we? It provides little comfort to those not engaged with the issues, but what is now called ‘regional ministry’ is having to go through the same painful process of re-evaluation and examination – what’s the point? It seems, to me, a potentially huge mistake for us to assume what went under the name of ‘Superintendency’ and/or ‘Association Secretary’ is automatically translated into ‘regional ministry’, but that is so often the assumption.
What are we called to now? To even begin to find an answer I need to clarify my own primary calling – to follow Jesus. Only here can I begin to navigate by anything likely to provide any true sense of direction.
Thomas Merton, in ‘The Sign of Jonas’, writes:
“The perfection of the twelfth-century Cistercian architecture is not to be explained by saying that the Cistercians were looking for a new technique. I am not sure that they were looking for a new technique at all. They built good churches because they were looking for God. And they looking for God in a way that was pure and integral enough to make everything they did and everything they touched give glory to God.We cannot reproduce what they did because we approach the problem in a way that makes it impossible for us to find a solution. We ask ourselves a question that they never considered. How shall we build a beautiful monastery according to the style of some past age and according to the rules of a dead tradition? Thus we make the problem not only infinitely complicated but we make it, in fact, unsolvable. Because a dead style is a dead style. And the reason why it is dead is that the motives that once gave it life have ceased to exist.”
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not out to compete with John Weaver - I deeply admire John for his ability to challenge us all, in helpful and necessary ways, to regain our Christian place around the environmentally friendly table. I’m talking about the environment of the Church (what else, I hear people chorus).
I’m proud of our garden when I look at the marked difference over eight years of living here. However, what’s the difference between someone who enjoys gardening and a gardener? One has an idea of what they’d love to see grow, but the gardener knows both what will grow in any given place and also where, what they’d love to see grow, might best thrive. Such knowledge comes from attention to both the plants and the environment they need to grow and thrive. I’ve been looking at our garden and thinking ‘this really is a great place to be’. When we moved in eight years ago it was bare, with the exception of a massive tree. It blocked the light, which now streams into our lounge, Now, on a sunny evening watching Euro 2008 or Wimbledon, with the French doors open, or a glass of wine on the patio, it’s wonderful! The huge solitary tree has gone – that was the first job, but a brave decision (my neighbour wept over it - not because of her environmental stance, but because of memories). The garden is really now too full of stuff (because basically both Maggie and I are merely those who enjoy gardening) and really needs some thinning out for it’s own good and to enable what we want to see grow reach its best potential. However, it’s now an environment in which birds are frequent visitors (we hardly had any at first). Blue Tits have nested every year since Emily built a nesting box on arrival and Blackbirds have nested nested for the last two years.
I think I picked up this idea of the Church Leader being a cultivator of an environment from Alan Roxburgh who talks about the need for the key leader to cultivate the missional imagination of the Church and the more I engage with it the more I think it’s coming close to what I believe I (we?) need to be about in today’s context. Most Ministers, it seems, have an in-built tendency to over-function. We love Ministry and want to do XY and Z, but a true gardener chooses the right plant for the right space and then relies on the germination and multiplication principles to do their stuff. My allotment friend, who's in charge of local plots has a quiet word with folk at this time of year who's allotments aren't up to scratch. He says it's a symptom of them not putting in the time in the early months of preparation.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
I was preaching on Sunday – at Patchway – and picked up this great little leaflet (if you click on the image you can, hopefully, see more clearly) they’re using to drop into people’s homes in their community. I thought it was really good because, whilst I try to be ruthless with stuff through the letterbox and don’t always even open things before they go in the recycling, at least everyone, I reckon, would use the tea bag and eat the chocolate.In fact, Patchway generally was a great encouragement – how we’d like to see Home Mission money working fruitfully all the time. I remember going to one or two Church meetings when the church were trying to work out how on earth they could move forwards from the mess they were in. We appointed Andy, who was a member there and also studying at Bristol Baptist College, as their Pastor. General wisdom would suggest not a wise move. Thankfully General wisdom wasn’t around and the Church went with the one guy most could trust in the circumstances. Three years on, he’s been appointed full-time. The Home Mission money will enable that to happen, just as it’s enabled the Church to benefit from Andy through College. The age profile is significantly down, there are more people in a way that really hits you when you only go once a year or so and there was a real sense that God is good around the place.I compare that to the deacons meeting I went to last evening. (nothing wrong with the deacons you understand, just the content). Before that I’d watched the first two sets of Andy Murray v Richard Gasquet. Two sets down going into a third set tie-break, we had to switch off to start the meeting (I don’t always get my way). As part of the evening we did one of my little exercises, which I love, about which season the deacons felt their Church was in – overwhelmingly ‘winter’! So, how do we prepare for spring becomes the question? When I finished, I jumped into the car, switched the radio on and he’d done it. Maybe we should have all watched the tennis after all.