Sunday, 31 August 2008

heavy rain with a little bit of sunshine

so today will provide the official 'dullest August on record' statistic - at least the 'heavy rain' perspective from Bristol suggests it'll be impossible to turn this around in the next 12 hours. However, yesterday people were talking about ...... the sunshine. We had an induction for Colin Norris at Westbury on Trym, which had the added feel-good factor of the sun shining - can't recall how many people mentioned it, but quite a few. In the evening we had some friends coming round for a meal. Maggie said 'I know you'll think this is a mad idea, but shall we eat outside?' Well, the break in the clouds meant it was no mad idea, which even after the sun had set completely, left a (comparatively) warm evening. Oh company and meal were great too. It led me to think, we don't need much sunshine to make a difference to how we feel about a whole month. It needs comparatively little blessing (if you can ever measure such things, but stick with it for a bit) to make a difference in the life of a Church, or individual. You don't actually need sunshine everyday - good job as we're back to rain, which puts my afternoon gardening on hold foranother week I guess.

Friday, 29 August 2008

first gear

This week, I suspect, is the calm before the storm in terms of business and demands. Maggie & I had a great weekend over the bank holiday - walking part of the South West Coast Path - between Minehead and Woody Bay. The weather was fine for walking, but over the next few days it looks as if we'll record the dullest August on record - we felt distinctly sorry for everyone who'd had dull holiday weeks. For us, sun would have been a disadvantage for the steep inclines around Lynton & Lynmouth. Next week everything gears up again Church-wise. The induction season begins tomorrow and we have Settlement Team and Team Leaders meetings monday-wednesday and, trying to give a Church a date this week, I found I had no more evenings left to offer during October - so I'm not going looking for too many emergencies for a while! This week, however, has been a great slide back into things - enough space to get on top of things and no evenings out all week! The downside of this was I had to endure the agony of Liverpool's un-convincing win and entrance into the Champions League proper. I traditionally haven't tried to get to the qualifying game and then try and get in on the cycle of Champions league home games, but this season the diary looks as if it's won - if only UEFA understood Regional Ministers need more notice! We had a good day together as an RM team - I am so grateful for these guys - and feel we're progressing. The new website, strategy, etc. seem to developing, which will all hopefully help.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Olympics & Church

I just waited to see if Tim Brabants could win gold in the K1 1000m before I started work - he did! Sensational race. The BBC internet coverage is superb - I can catch up with e-mail and listen and then watch when I can't resist anymore. It was a sensational performance by Christine Ohuruogu to win the 400m gold and, for me, these Olympics have been absolutely sensational. I just keep using that word sensational again and again. So many great GB performances, so many 'the first time we've medalled'.. for 40, 80, years in this event - brilliant (of course, assuming you like sport!). However, how have we done it? It's a tremendous improvement since Athens 4 years ago when, in terms of gold/silver/bronze we won 9/9/12. It's even more significant compared to the Olympics I grew up on. In Mexico 1968, which is the earliest I can remember when I was 9 we won 5/5/3 - I could even remember most of the gold medallists there were so few. Let's face it, that was the norm and, consequently, that was our expectation. Now for the Church - time for a groan if you were content for a GB boosting Olympics blog! One question I keep returning to is 'who are the real heroes?' - in your Church and mine? This in an area with which we need to take care. Many will respond with a 'we don't do heroes', but then ask yourself who are the people/role models etc. a new comer would think they need to aspire to if they're (their words honest) to make it around here/be accepted/be looked to/etc. Hopefully, you get my drift. Newcomers get the message one way, or another - and I don't think it's usually Jesus! The role model often, I suspect, looks like - you can be a leader if you attend all the meetings. The heroes often resemble the worship leader who keeps up to date with whatever's the latest songs coming out from a range of stables, or less. The focus of attention is frequently on the most recent newcomer who looks keen and becomes a magnet for every job going. Now, if you can put all this down to cynicism, that would be good - do let me know though because I think cynicism is corrosive and don't want to become ensnared by it. My real worry is I think it's a fairly realistic assessment. If we are to get very far with 'encouraging missionary disciples' we have to consciously find some new heroes. The Olympics provides us with some heroes and one of the things I love about it all, as a supporter, is how enthusiastic I can get about sports I know nothing about - I can cheer as loud (almost) as if Liverpool were winning: for rowing, BMX, kayaking, etc. if I think GB can win a medal. The point is I don't care what the discipline is, if they're delivery a contribution to our medals haul, I'm for them. One vision, many disciplines. The competitors have a similar focus - of course they want to win for personal reasons, but time and time again we hear - 'I'm just focused on hearing the national anthem', which represents the achievement in the bag. I've said it before in many places, but we need to promote those who bring others into faith in Jesus. After the baptism it's always worth highlighting this person mentioned Tim, or whoever, who was the single most identifiable reason why they began to think about God. Surely, it's the people who are living the life beyond the walls of the Church we need newcomers to emulate, rather than those who live in the ghetto - or do i just have to go to too many deacons meetings? 

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Jesus Shaped Church

Jesus Shaped Church – we have everything shaped and/or driven these days, but where is the Jesus shaped? Try google yourself – what’s really striking to me is the absence of what I’d have thought would be a massive topic, or at least a variation on a theme. Compare this to  - well, almost anything else. So why not? I guess, I’d feel a little diffident about writing a book called ‘Jesus Shaped Church’ for fear of what everyone else might think I was trying to say, so I can understand that dimension – I mean, how can anything measure up?

However, understanding British reserve aside there is a real sense in which this needs to be our obsession. Of course, one of the big issues – and maybe why so few people mention it – is once you do you kind of feel you need to do more about it – rats!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

relief and paula

I woke up relieved this morning. Relieved my legs weren’t too stiff after running for an hour yesterday. It’s the Bristol half marathon in September and I’m behind in my training. It wasn’t helped by Sardinia – I didn’t fancy getting up too early on holiday, so even running at 8am was really hot. However, on my first run out there I thought running along the beach would be a good idea so decided to run through the little river we’d waded through the day before – unfortunately I picked a deeper spot and sprained my ankle on a rock. I might be 50 later this year, but I still act as if I’m 15. Personally, I’m OK with this bit – it’s just the after effects! So how do they perform out in Beijing with heat? It’s certainly increased my admiration for what the athletes contend with. I’m really enjoying our amazing performances – it’s so good (so unusual too I’m not used to this) being able to cheer so many people into the medal places. The most successful Olympics for GB for a century now – what a fantastic turn around. There are so many great stories and pictures from these Olympics, but my favourite so far has to be the picture of Paula Radcliffe and Liz Yelling at the end of the marathon. Neither medalled, both were injured, but it just said so much – yes, I confess I had a tear in my eye too having stayed up till 3am to watch. I knew Paula couldn’t really win, but just in case she did it was one I wanted to watch as it happened. Not sure what some of the good folk at Milton made of it preaching there later that same morning. Certainly not the preparation for worship I remember getting preached about when I first became a Christian! 

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Starfish, the Spider and encouraging missionary disciples.

Another holiday snap - it's sun causing the shadows in case anyone's forgotten! I am a big supporter of the BUGB ‘encouraging missionary disciples’ strap-line for our strategy. I’ll leave the fact that the ‘strategy’ isn’t a strategy on one side for the time being. One of the good things about it is how it potentially enables us to focus on something which could re-energise Baptist Churches into being a significant movement for mission once again. If, for example, it means we could begin counting the growth of our Churches in terms of those who go out of our doors as ‘missionary disciples’ rather than those who come into our doors as ‘attenders’ we could enter an exciting chapter together.

According to Brafman and Beckstrom who wrote The Starfish and the Spider, a decentralised organisation stands on five legs (very convenient if you’re a starfish!):


i.      Circles. These don’t have hierarchy or structure – they just work out the shared values in whatever ways.

ii.     The Catalyst. Leaders are needed, but not the top-down ‘do-it-my-way’ – more the catalyst (circles invariably don’t form on their own.)

iii.   Ideology. Values/ethos/community – these all seem to be important words here – what makes people want to join?

iv.   The Pre-existing Network. There needs to be a network – part of the problem of our relatively fruitless evangelistic efforts is related to the lack of proximity and real relationship - Christian/not yet Christian

v.     The Champion. Most of my good ideas never get out the shower – you need champions who can translate ideas into actions.


Baptists have a Declaration of Principle which states we are able, as individual Churches, to discern the mind of Christ without reference to others. There are, however, a couple of very significant boundaries attached to this: Jesus and the Bible. One of the things this is telling to me is that we have in our DNA the life giving potential to release a whole load of missionaries. In my estimation this is just not happening (not exclusively, but not on a significant scale). I don’t think the barriers to us realising this are to found with discovering anything new, or trendy, but rather in dusting off and seriously applying some old truths.

There is a part to play for a national union of Churches, regional associations of Churches, diverse local Churches and individual ‘missionaries’. So much depends on whether we can focus on the end-product - ‘missionary disciples’, or not. I regularly use three questions with Churches:


What kind of people is Jesus wanting to send out into the world?

What kind of Churches produce those kinds of people?

What kind of leadership produces that kind of Church?

To these we could add:

What kind of association enables such leadership?

What kind of Union enables those associations?

If we start with the end in mind maybe, just maybe, we can come up with a way of being (sounds better than structure to me), which enables us to re-connect with the lost. My hunch is that the starfish, and the spider, and our Baptist heritage; all have something to help us find how the flow of the Holy Spirit from the heart of God, into the lives of ordinary people, through the Church can get going a bit more.


Friday, 15 August 2008

arrivederci Sardinia

well, the holiday's over - I've given myself today at home to attempt to make some inroads into the inevitable hundreds of e-mail. Where do you start? Most recent, or oldest? One's which look interesting, or get the boring stiff out of the way first? Well after deleting the obvious rubbish, I couldn't face anymore for a while so I've found a few distractions. Sardinia was great - we had a marvellous holiday in two lovely apartments: one just south of Olbia and the second south of Tortoli. The weather, beaches, sea, food were all excellent  and I understand the former hasn't been exactly brilliant here. The photo is of the island of Tavolara which we could see from our first week apartment. The owners, Martin and Susan, are English as it happens and decided they wanted to do something different - they ended up here, which is not a bad place to look out onto every morning. One of the things I always hope to gain from our summer holiday is a greater sense of perspective - I wont pretend to understand everything I think I'm beginning to grasp, but do feel the holiday has done something for me in this department again this year. Reading the Starfish and the Spider has helped a bit - I have this sense that the Baptists really hit on something good all-be-it not by design, in the early years when things had to be very much grassroots, or nothing - very de-centralised. However, whilst we still have the same low structure in theory, something seems to be at work which means the outcomes are not what's required, or arguably now necessary, in terms of missionary disciples, or new Christians. Initiative at the cutting edge has evaporated rather the water in my aquarium whilst I've been away. Somehow we have to re-energise and re-equip the 'ordinary' Christian. Somehow Church needs to become a place of equipping again. I was with a Church for the evening just before I went away - we had a really good invigorating conversation after I shared a bit. What was fascinating was the best group the Church had - in terms of encouraging one another to reach others and in terms of mutual support and encouragement, was one which had grown and developed spontaneously. From my perspective, it seemed this group had far more going for it than the groups organised by the Church. So, we had a Church putting energy into arranging, supporting, resourcing X small groups, but the one with real life cost nothing in terms of energy from the centre. How do we harness the central resourcing energy into releasing life energy? I can;t really save that one for another holiday. Yesterday, our last day, we saw the first clouds for two weeks which obscured the sun - today began in Bristol with sunshine, which our parents (house sitting) said was the best for two weeks - it's now cloudy and forecast rain tomorrow - great to back in the UK! Still, Emily got her A level results and will be off to Southampton to do Photography next year - well done Em. Her website is also up and running - - which will admittedly be of more interest to female readers. At least I can now watch some decent Olympics coverage - we only got snatches of what was going on - although we had a TV the second week, the italians, quite rightly, focused on their own teams, but it meant we saw a lot of Italian fencing and shooting, but little else. Still we were delighted to see Mary King help GB to a bronze in the Eventing. Both Ben and Emily spent a week with Mary on work experience and then have helped her at a number of subsequent events when we dropped them at Gordano services for her to pick up at some obscene hour of the morning en route