Thursday, 29 January 2009


missional DNA ?! Jargon, or helping us get closer to what the heart of this whole missional adventure needs to be all about? The more I think about it, I’m veering towards the latter. There’s no doubt in my own mind that Christianity is much better when it’s caught than when it’s taught and the evidence is all around us among our churches. Pop someone new into a community of faith and they take on the behaviour of those around them much more easily and naturally than what they’re taught from the front. If you talk to churches about what makes them tick, you invariably discover things at their heart (their mDNA), which were either part and parcel of their beginnings, something significant in their past. The question is what should it be? Of course, one step on from this one is ‘how can we change it’? I’d be interested to hear how people express what they believe the dna of a church should be and look like in the lives of the Christian community. I’m experimenting at present, for example, with working out how the mDNA can be encouraged to become real around three areas of relationship – with God, one another and those beyond the church. About 80 years ago this worked by attending church on Sunday’s and listening to a preacher and then going out the rest of the week and working it out in practice – pre-dominantly through personal bible study and prayer and good works of service towards others. Whatever people say about longer working hours today, it was much harder then, so I’m told. Today, that’s not working, so we need some other mechanism. Small groups could help – lifeshapes is a great tool, which encourages a degree of personal accountability, but it’s still pretty structured. What if we encouraged people to meet up simply to pray and ask one another what the implications of what they’re reading about Jesus might look like in their lives – similar to an old Methodist class. I’m in a triplet, which meets before work on Friday mornings – I reckon it provides a better impetus to my own spiritual walk with God than many of the small groups I’ve been in, or led. What is more, it takes little organisational energy – although two of us slept in last week, so that’s not quite true! Anyway, I’m pondering writing up something on this so am really after picking other people’s minds to help determine how it needs to be shaped up, so nay ideas gratefully received.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Stoke Inn

Well, the 50th. birthday celebrations are over – at last is the cry I hear from Emily. However, the one thing I planned was great from my point of view – which I guess when it’s your own birthday is fairly significant. On Saturday, we booked the Skittle Alley at The Stoke Inn, in Chew Stoke, and took fifty friends for a carvery meal. A big thank you to the staff there - I would recommend them for a relaxed environment and excellent value, as well as their friendliness. As far as I’m aware everyone enjoyed the meal and the evening, which was the main point. It started out as a ‘let’s go out for a meal with a few friends’ and ended up at fifty, which was all the room could hold (if that if I’m honest). Friendship has many different levels – I have for example, a lot of people I regard as ‘friends’, but very few I bare my soul to. This event, therefore, as a little like a re-run of Tom and Rachel’s wedding – who do you invite when there’s a limited number? Do you go for a big hall and just have everyone who wants to come? Will so-and-so be offended if they know someone else is coming? If we invite them, then they’ll feel uncomfortable. Who do I consider ‘my’ friends as opposed to ‘our’ friends? Does any of this matter? We decided to keep it local, not family, which helped logistically, but believe me, it wasn’t as easy as I originally thought – thinking about it now, the fact that it was a successful night is quite remarkable!

One of the most sobering issues I need to do some work on before my 60th. birthday – well, the previous one was when I was 40 – is will there be a greater proportion of people not-yet Christian counted among my closer friends? I wont go into the details here, but it was worth the exercise for that reason alone. My reflection is that the proportions invited reflects the proportion of time invested in each direction – and I don’t think I’d be accused of some of things Jesus was accused of at the moment (eg Luke 2:16). If a Minister is paid a stipend  (paid not to work) should they not be at least in a position to be accused of such things? Well, ask me when I’m sixty and I’ll tell you whether my intention to change the proportion has worked!

Another remarkable occasion on Saturday, which I missed due to the party, was the Kettering v Fulham 4th round FA Cup tie. We ran out of steam, but put up a brave fight, but just not enough to compete with Danny Murphy and co. What was really fascinating was communicating with three old school friends – two who I was at primary school with and known since I was 8 – on Facebook whilst we were all listening to the match live (one in America). I was delighted too Kaka come through with some decent press:  

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Reader

Went to watch ‘The Reader’ at the weekend. It’s a great film with a terrific performance by ‘what’s her name’, Kate Winslet. It’s difficult to say too much without giving the story away in some way like they do in the cinema magazines, but it’s well worth seeing. It’s been our first team leaders gathering of the year this week and good to meet up again with everyone. When sharing stuff for prayer today, we discovered no less than five children between us are off abroad later this year. Four of them, like Emily, are off on mission trips with different mission agencies, but one is off to Afghanistan with the army. No doubt I’ll be anxious when my youngest travels off on her trip, but I know my colleague Jez will be more so about his son. It kind of brings into sharp relief the discrepancy we’re always finding in the church about what roles we uphold for prayer and support, the daft nature of that and how we undermine the sense of calling many have into roles not paid for by the church in some way. I forgot to take my camera this month and, therefore, missed the brilliantly sunny, but frosty morning today – great to walk out though before breakfast. One of the challenges this year for many churches and charities is bound to be the impact of the credit crunch – it’s great we received so much for Home Mission for 2008, but this year wont be any easier. The other challenge, which has gone a little deeper through this week, is how dependent we remain on providing a full-time paid person to initiate new church plants – we have to re-uncover some other approaches. 

Monday, 19 January 2009

faith in football

One thing dominated radio five live whilst I was in the car on Friday – is he, that is Kaka, worth 120m euros? Inevitably, the fact he’s made no secret of his Christian faith came into the discussions – that, at least, pleased me in that Christian faith is till newsworthy. What was also interesting was the expectation he might turn around and say the money doesn’t matter to me, I won’t go. We’ll see – how much his own personal choice will come into this one remains a big unanswered question. On Thursday evening a group of us went to watch Bristol Rovers play Liverpool in the under 18 FA youth cup. Were we watching a future star of similar stature to Kaka – who knows? We talked about making our own choice on the evidence we saw and comparing notes in six years time – many of those from Liverpool were only 15. Obviously, it’s not just being good enough technically as a footballer, which will make the difference between success and failure. I’ve been reading a book called ‘Outliers’ recently, by Malcolm Gladwell, about this very question – what is it that makes the difference. He looks at well known people such as Bill Gates and the rest and concludes it’s not merely about ability. No surprises, but the emphasis he puts (and backs up) on environment is what interests me. Quite often I hear about a Minister who’s commended on the basis of where he/she’s come from – and so often the commendation is backed up by reality. Translate that into the wider Christian scene and it suggests it becomes reasonable to expect more of an individual because they belong to a Church!?!?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

films, food, fotos and football...

This last week has brought more than its fair share of fun. On Friday we hosted an evening for the film club. We had a great spread (bring and share) and then we’d decided we’d watch a film together on the screen. We’d chosen ‘The Green Mile’ for everyone as we hadn’t seen it before and various people had recommended it over the years. However, if you ever find yourself in our position, you wouldn’t be so stupid as to not check the length of the film would you? Well, we did, so after we’d eaten we sat down for 181 minutes. I’m so used to films being so much shorter today, I didn’t even think about it! Fortunately, everyone actually enjoyed the film and the evening – phew! Last Saturday we arrived at Alisdair and Ros’ for what I thought was an evening meal – just the four of us. However, when asked to go in the lounge to fetch the matches for the candles, I was greeted by a room full. The rest of our team were gathered, along with their spouses, so the twelve of us had a lovely surprise (well, me) evening (Emily can’t work out why everyone is making such a fuss over becoming 50). Apparently, my face told it all – I was genuinely gob-smacked and lost for words. It even took me a while to work out who was there. This week I’m so grateful to God for what the evening represented – more than being linked by the jobs we do, we are friends of Jesus together. I confess, it has always been an enormous privilege to work in ministry alongside people I respect and get on well with. Our current staff team is great and whenever I say that, I'm mindful there's often someone in the room thinking 'it's OK for you' because I meet my fair share of situations where this is far from the case. Hopefully, however, the team mentality is creeping larger among WEBA churches.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, I went to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year results we’re privileged to have again in Bristol – Sunday, however, was the last day. Go to

Needless to say, the pictures were, as ever, absolutely amazing. The thing which struck me again looking at them was hardly any of them ‘just happened’. Most were amazing split second incidents captured on a photograph, but the paragraph story behind each one invariably revealed the same thing – the photographer had planned the time and position for lighting, or the habit of the animal, but had invariably waited for hours, if not days for the one shot. Those in church leadership with ears to hear ….. watching, listening, catching the wave of the spirit, knowing where we need to be and when … I can’t wait for next years already!

Oh, I can’t yet talk rationally about Liverpool’s debacle against Stoke.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

is it dead, or will it grow?

Not sure if you’ll be able to see clearly from the photo, but I have now officially pronounced this tree dead! It’s (was) an eucalyptus tree I bought for £1 at the Bath & West Show some years ago – lovely trees, which grow rapidly, but with shallow roots. It blew down during one storm and I lovingly staked it up, protected the trunk until it could continue to grow unsupported. However, the time came for change – now, trees you must understand don’t like change. After all, the spot I’d chosen suited it well, it had grown through the difficult times, but now there was another job it might do just as well. The problem was, it meant moving place – the job was down the bottom of the garden where it’s vigorous growth could block out the sight of the houses rising up the hill beyond our garden. I set about my plan – move the tree. ‘It wont work’ some said, the roots will be too well established. I didn’t want to hear that. Oh well, I thought I’ll give it a go – if I lose it, it wont be the end of the world as it was now too big and crowding out other growth we anted to see in smaller shrubs adjacent. I dug a big hole around the tree to expose the roots, but even though I’d read they were shallow, they’d been there a few years now and their depth and size surprised me. I tried to dig around them, but couldn’t really dig out next doors fence! I got so far and thought ‘that’s far enough’ – out came the axe. I tell you, it was much quicker to remove the tree from its place by cutting the roots – Maggie came out surprised I’d moved it so quickly. It looked good in its new location, but I wasn’t convinced it would grow. Hey, that looks like new green growth doesn’t it – there were signs of growth at the ends of branches. This initial spurt was short-lived, however, and slowly, but sadly surely, decline set in. Almost unnoticeably at first branched began to turn brown … until now. The tree still maintains its height and its size, but dead is what it appears to be! 

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Jesus at the heart

Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. “Is it violent revolution, or is it gradual reform?” He gave a careful answer. “Neither. If you want to change society, you need to provide an alternative story”, he concluded. it's a great line and a great truth. I'm really looking forward to reading the new offering from Frost and Hirsch - 'Re'Jesus' - not yet out in the UK and I'm trying to not order it from the States as I have a pile of books to read already and - yes, it'll be cheaper when it arrives here. Their point, I imagine, is we need to re-calibrate the Christian movement around the founder. 

Before we set out to change society it’s always a strand in the debate concerning how much we need to change ourselves. From my perspective we need to see a load more change in the vast majority of our Churches & denominational structures, before we’re very equipped to change our communities. Surely, we of all people, don’t need an alternative story – or do we? I just wonder whether this is actually saying something to us in the Church after all. Frequently, it seems to me, our problem seems to be our assumptions. We assume we’re living out of the Christ-story, but a closer examination of the life of our Church reveals we’re more likely living out of routine and past glories. For example, as a Baptist, I passionately believe that Jesus should be at the heart of all we’re about. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is that great affirmation of faith from the New Testament, but also something at the heart of our Baptist origins: that is, Jesus is our King, not any other. Unfortunately, we have the theory, but not always the practice. As an association, we’re now looking at what we say to groups we’re working with who might be wiling to plant something new – I wont pretend we’ve developed very far, but the fact that Jesus needs to be at the heart of all we do has to be of our essence. It’s easily said, what we need to see more of is a radical willingness to live out the implications. Do we need more of the same? Hardly. That’s not to say all of our Churches are off the mark – actually far from it in many places. The increasing problem is that the slice of the population these appeal to is getting smaller and smaller. However, the really challenging place is when we stand in the spotlight ourselves of what claim and promote for others. This is why we've put 'Jesus at the heart' of our core convictions, which we're going to try and keep to as a regional team - we felt we needed a framework to help shape how we engage with churches and how we work ourselves. This one sounds like one of those no-brainers, but my hunch is we assume too much - I've certainly seen my share of non-Christian behaviour and motivation in the church.

Friday, 9 January 2009

up the poppies

Well, I can’t believe it’s Friday as this week has flown by in a flurry of activity, I guess I was lulled into a sense of false security by a lighter diary the previous week, but this week has been full-on – hence no blogging activity. Well, we’ve had some fun-days (sorry Regional Minister team meetings) to lighten the load. It’s felt busier because Maggie has still not been well with her flu becoming a chest infection. At last, she’s on the mend and as I’ve been on chief meal duty for Emily and I, I’m glad to hear it. Still it’s not only me who’s been impressed with my dill sauce on the salmon and sweet and sour sauce in the stir- fry. Maggie’s dad is out of hospital which is good news – not that it’s impressed me with the NHS after-care and (lack of) communication. People moan about the church, but we don’t do such a bad job when it comes to expressing care and compassion and people notice – maybe because they have such a low threshold of expectancy from other services. However, not wanting to get my priorities totally out of kilter, the really big news for me over this last week is … Kettering are in the 4th round of the FA Cup – wow, bring on Fulham; even though I can’t get to the game that day. I’m glad they avoided Liverpool in the draw – too tense for me that would be! Emily’s definitely going to Brazil in March with a Latin link Step Team, which was her preferred option so that’s good too. 

Friday, 2 January 2009

happy new year

Well, a happy new year from all at the Old Forge to all my readers! I heard briefly on the radio this morning something about new years resolutions not being good for people – because they increase the sense of disappointment when they’re not kept! Well, I’m not surprised, but what’s going on here? Is this something more peculiarly British than most cultures? Is it something that’s never been an issue, but I’ve now been part of the Christian sub-culture so long, I’ve forgotten? Whatever, it is it seems pretty typical of many of the Christians I encounter today – let’s not expect too much, then we wont be disappointed.

Of course, when the church has been numerically declining within the UK for about a century this will condition our thinking to a large extent. Put alongside that a renewed emphasis upon incarnational mission and things emergent (both of which take time we keep telling ourselves) and you soon have a model of mission, which looks nothing like the one Jesus introduced. I’ve never been a new years resolution type, but I do value this time at the beginning of the year to pray and think about what might be some targets, goals, etc.  

I made my first foray out into the sales yesterday - went along to Zavvi expecting to buy a load of knock-down CD's, but found the prices higher than the internet still - no wonder they're going out of business! Also, trying to decide on a decent sound-dock for the ipod - can't decide yet. Prayer triplets this morning - the real value of these things is you really don;t feel like getting along to meet for 7.30am to meet and pray, especially when it's sub-zero temperatures, but you do because you're committed to meet - and then afterwards, walking round Tesco's stocking up on flu medicines for the house, you discover it's actually good for you too.