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

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!