Wednesday, 29 October 2008
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
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
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 naïve 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!
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Yesterday we had a gathering of the key leaders from our largest Churches in WEBA. For me, it was great to get together with this group of highly capable and gifted guys. It also brought into focus some of the big shifts over the last 25 years. One interesting fact that made me think a little is that the combined membership of our 10 largest Churches 25 years ago has shrunk by 38%! If that’s not a sobering fact, I’m not sure what else is. However, the total membership of our present largest 10 Churches is only 16% less than the 10 largest then - I confess, I thought it would be more. Clearly, those growing haven’t done so at a rate, which offsets the decline in the others, but we now have one more Church over 150 in membership than we did then. So, not all doom and gloom by a long way! I’d like to do a lot more work on these figures, but it made me realise I still believe wholeheartedly in Church growth. OK yes, I’ve been massively influenced by recent trends and am much more committed to a more holistic, missional, health promoted, deep, simple, organic, football-centred Church (oops) but the great commission remains at the heart and these are not just numbers, but real people. What fascinates me is how easily the rate of conversion to existing members so often decreases as Churches get larger. It can never be larger Church for larger Churches sake, but neither can it mean we need 200 disciples to keep a Christian show on the road and blow those around us – yeah car not fixed yet!
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Ok, so the photo's not my car, but it sure felt as if it was going to be. Just outside of Oxford - en route to the Urban Expression day with Michael Frost between two roundabouts on the ring-road I went from 'I wont get to the funeral this afternoon' - to - 'I'm going nowhere fast' - to - 'if I don't get out quick the whole thing will blow up!' It didn't, but when I switched off the engine, it didn't! Images like the one here went through my mind and I was out - quick. The saddest part of the day for me was missing Peter's funeral in the afternoon, which I wanted to be present for. The day with Michael Frost was excellent, but for another time....
Following on the theme of friends…. I realise it’s not just me. How many Church members have many genuine friendships running with people not-yet Christian? From conversation and observation very few it seems. It seems a no-brainer to me this is one of the crucial issues for us today, but the more we focus on attempting to fix the problem by coming up with new schemes we are in danger of adding to the problem even more. The excuse Ministers often come up with is easily my reality – we’re too busy doing Church stuff. All the time we perpetuate this model of Ministry we send a massive message, which easily over-rides any sermon on the subject. The ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ doesn’t work today (I suspect it didn’t work very well yesterday either). I have a determination to live a more balanced life than others within the Church often expect – as many a minister will realise, that’s easier said than done and not a pathway which will avoid expectation clashes along the way.I also wonder whether the increased interest in Ministers seeking a Spiritual Director, which incidentally I wholeheartedly approve of and support. It could be another way of masking the truth – is easy for a Minister to be friendly, but we don’t always do friends quite so comfortably (I hear the same said about Church after Church by their own members). The legacy of College conversations ‘ you should avoid having friends in your congregation’ has not in my opinion, served us well. As one who ignored such advice I am not unaware of the problems it can accumulate, but I’d rather struggle with those than the alternative. What does a ‘no-friends here’ sign over our life say about the work of the gospel in our lives?
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
My friend, Geoff Colmer, (wonder and wondering blog – must work out how to link these blog things!) spoke about friendship at our NST meeting this week. It was exteremely good - ‘friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for life’ was among the many good things he shared in a matter of minutes.‘Who is your friend?’ – a question Geoff has been asking a number of Ministers and, from he says, provides some illuminating responses. I think I may well take this on board. Of course, he led us towards ‘the transforming friendship of God’, which prompted me to decide to dust off my copy of James Houston’s book by a very similar name. Jesus said, ‘I know longer call you servants, but call you my friends’ ‘you are my friends … if you do as I command’. Our love for him expresses itself in obedience, but not a pre-requisite was something else from Geoff which has made me think more. All this is on the back of my thinking about whether to celebrate my 50th. birthday this boxing day, or not. The answer is yes and I've been planning a ‘50 @ 50’ idea of inviting 50 closer friends for an evening somewhere. Who do you invite is the big problem? I’ve decided to stick to local folk just for ease of arrangements, but what has been a stark and scary realisation is how few people on my first draft are not yet Christians. Jesus, as Geoff reminded me has said a lot of deep things about the nature of friendship and I agree with all of it. What is disturbing me, however, is the discrepancy in my life – Jesus didn’t restrict the friendships he cultivated within the people of God.
Monday, 6 October 2008
This week I'm attending the funeral of a dear friend - Peter Grange. Sadly, Peter died last weekend after a lengthy illness which had meant he had to retire early. When I was appointed an Area Superintendent Peter was already on what was referred to as 'the board' (Superintendent's Board). I'm attending its' successor - the National Settlement Team today, which will be poignant. It was a scary place to enter - especially without a tie! Peter, however, was one who made me feel both welcome and comfortable to be who I am rather than try to be anyone else. I later discovered this was a gift he didn't just reserve for me, but made it a habit he shared with and for others. I'd rather not be thinking about it for this reason, but it really is more about who we are than what we do. He will be missed greatly for all kinds of reasons, by many different people, but I'm especially mindful this week of his wife, Janet, and daughters Rachel & Suzanne.
I kept meeting people last week who said ‘this week has gone quickly’. Unusually I couldn't agree – probably because, unusually I’d spent three days all in one place – Wells. Wells is, however, a delightful place to be, although holed up in the Old Deanery, I didn’t see a great deal outside. We met with Pat Keifert, who’s an American Italian Lutheran Professor and the main guy behind Partnership for Missional Church – cf. www.churchinnovations.orgWithin WEBA we’ve been moving towards piloting this process (designed to enable a Church to make the transition into being missional) for what seems like ages (because frankly, it is ages). At last we’ll launch it in 2009. I admit to be really excited about the potential PMC offers.