Tuesday, 31 March 2009


I really wondered how this thing called a ’think-tank’ would work, or rather could it work? We're meeting at Luther Seminary, hence the picture. So far it’s been a remarkable experience. There’s a about 75 people engaged with the whole thing – and I mean engaged. Partly that’s the North American obsession with work, which wont let you off the hook – 8.30am – 9.30pm with minimal breaks (both in terms of their number and length). However, it’s a well worked out process, which is helping everyone to find their voice here, but also find their voice in their own context. That’s something I’m finding very interesting to think about because whilst there are loads of nationalities represented here, I remain the only one from the UK. There is really an awesome collection of people and, frankly, you can’t move without tripping over somebody’s PhD. We meet in our designated cohorts, so I’m in with a group of ‘Missional Executive Leaders’, which basically is a few bishop-type people – Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, Episcopalians – feel I’ve found some new friends here and fascinating to hear other people’s journey’s. We also have cohorts for such groups as ‘leaders under 35’, founding generation leaders and national/churchwide leaders – a rich tapestry infact. If there is an imbalance, my hunch is the academic world is over-represented, but there is no desire to over define, or narrow and no desire to limit others without expression. Where is God’s preferred future for the Missional Church? I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out the answer to that one!

Monday, 30 March 2009

mission is God at surprise

Today began with a glorious view of a skein of geese flying across where I went running – absolutely freezing so I’m glad I brought my wind jacket with me! It was lovely to watch that moment where the lead goose drops back for another to take the lead - and let someone else lead into the wind.

A few memorable quotes from those around the table these few days:

‘we should expect to be surprised if we trust and believe in the Holy Spirit and we use this as an empirical test for a local congregation’

‘mission is God at surprise’ – although quoting David Bosch I think.

‘you can’t baptise those who have yet been born’

‘most complex theory is inherently practical – it has to do with practices’

‘it is modernity which has delegated the work of the Holy Spirit to the irrational.’

‘it is the custom of our church not to go to church’ – apparently made as a comment following the German census.

We had a few choices available in terms of where we attended morning worship today. I opted for a Mexican, Spanish speaking congregation, which was a wonderful experience. In terms of format it was not unlike our typical diet, which I found interesting in itself: worship songs, a few bits & bobs including a opportunity for anyone to come out and greet those with birthdays or wedding anniversaries, followed by a sermon (we had to leave before the end). The church was planted by the Baptist Mexican pastor eleven years ago and there was about 150 present, but they’ve planted four other churches from this one over that time. He’s now going to be working further afield, with the NBA, to plant at a rate of one per year across Minnesota. These guys do rhythm and we were led in worship by a guy at the piano who had a great gift.

Lunch was good too – a return to Famous Dave’s where I went two years ago for meat, meat and oh yes, meat. The Think Tank began today with Wilbert Shenk tracing the past 50 years of missional development. I agreed withhis perspective we’re at a pivotal moment, but hope to get him to suggest a little more in terms of where next?

We're in this together was a phrase, which came up more than once and I couldn't help but think again about the geese with whom I began the day.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

good ol' Charlie Brown

Garrison Keillor was born here in Minnesota, which was something I didn’t realise, but has meant I’ve warmed to the place and know have to go home and dust off ‘Lake Wobegon Days.’ Another famous Minnesotan, whom I have read much more, is Charles Schulz who comes from here in Minneapolis – it’s a great shame the Charles Schulz Museum is in California where he lived during his latter years. The most disappointing thing I learnt today was the fact that the amusement park in the middle of the Mall, which I didn’t like, used to be ‘Camp Snoopy’ – now that I would have loved! Apparently, according to our guide, the wonderful pat Ellison, the Schulz estate wanted more money, after Charles had died, than the Mall was prepared to give, so they re-located. Charlie Brown was excellent at theological reflection. Theological reflection, as I understand it, is something I’m committed to, but the phrase itself be quite misleading. It seems to me that thinking about God and his ways (theology) was never intended to become the end in itself we so easily make it. Maybe it’s spending a few days with people who are mostly theologians before anything else I’m getting anxious to see the practical outworking of some of the conversations we’ve been having. ‘Theological momentum’ is what we need. Speaking with Danie and Frederick, both here from South Africa, I can understand why they feel aggrieved by the European writing off of what is a phenomenal move of God’s spirit across the continent as being ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. How can we become so arrogant when we’d love to see a small part of the fruitfulness they are witnessing? Sure, they’ll be the first to say they need more depth, teaching, maturity, but I’d swop a bit of ‘maturity’ for some of their fruitfulness any day. ‘Reflection’, even when it is about God, can become like being on a roundabout. Sometimes you get off with your head so dizzy you think you’ve gone somewhere, whereas in reality you’ve merely moved around the cycle a little, but remain unmoved and unchanged.  British Baptists can do round-abouts, but I wouldn’t want to swop places with some of the situations I’m learning about from Scandinavia, Germany and Holland, for example. Not a question for me, at least, of the grass being greener on the other side.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

mountains of the mind

I’ve started reading ‘Mountains of the Mind’, by Robert MacFarlane, properly (front to back) now I’ve got the time. One of the joys of less demands is always getting to books I want to read. If I told you it’s a history of mountaineering, my hunch is anyone who’s idea of getting to the top of somewhere is via the escalator will switch off. However, it’s sub-title is ‘a history of a fascination’ and it is a brilliant book. OK I do love mountains and I am psyching up for Nepal, but even so!

MacFarlane himself says ‘it isn’t really a history of mountaineering at all, in fact, but a history of the imagination.’ That really grabbed me because of our Imagine… the shapes of church to come. He talks about how we ‘read landscapes’…. 'our responses to them are for the most part, culturally devised’ … ‘we interpret their forms in the light of our experience and memory’….  ‘what we call a mountain is in fact a collaboration of the physical forms of the world with the imagination of humans – a mountain of the mind.’

I didn’t realise it was about the church too!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

shop till you drop.....

Well, as I'm here looking at the whole Missional Church theme, I thought I'b better do some incarnational-contextual research .... so before things got going this morning I visited, with three other guys ..... the Mall of America! Apparently, this is the largest mall in America, and therefore, you've guessed it - the world. This fact is not too difficult to believe, but seeing is believing. I've been to the States once before, but am still surprised at the mega-sized everything - especially when it comes to food. Basically, the Mall of America is a mega cathedral for materialism. It has four three-storey malls, which form a square - the the centre is an amusement park with 30 rides - and they're not small as you'll see from this picture. Each corner, standing reminiscent of the four turrets of a castle from the middle ages, is a major department store. Here, you can literally shop till you drop and I counted several people who were fast asleep on chairs (shame I didn't bring a card-reader to check out my photos) - the place is surrounded by hotels and some people actually spend days in here - we managed to escape - just! now here's the hypocrisy - I bought stuff at the shrines!
Today, we're getting underway though with the consortium and looking forward to some of papers being delivered by my new friends on such things like:
"How adults come to faith in Germany."
"A profile of a movement" - this will be a Dutch perspective.
"The emerging church network and missional-contextual activity."

As far as I'm aware at present, I'm the only person from the UK here, the only Baptist and only one of two who aren't based in a Theological College. I think that'll change when we get to the 'think-tank', which is part two of my trip here. However, there are 8 nationalities represented by the 14 of us engaged with this consortium and it's already dawned on me what a privilege it is to be here as they decided a few years ago to restrict the numbers to this kind of scale. 
Some thoughts so far - Practical Theology seems to be taken far more seriously elsewhere than in the UK. We, I always tend to feel, have a rather snobbish view of anything with the word practical in it - as if it can't have any academic rigour. This, I fear, is in danger of becoming a huge mistake if we allow it to continue and not help us to reflect in any mature way upon what's emerging around and about. It seems that a whole load of theological colleges and seminaries around the world are re-evaluating their stance and certainly the place for studying congregational development and missional leadership is rising up the priority list - could that be said of the UK? Having said that, I'm wondering whether the more specialised those within any church 'system' become, the less responsibility anybody takes for anything beyond their 'gift'? I've seen how that dynamic works (or doesn't) in the local church, but it seems to be at work within denominational systems too. In some places, and the downside of what I'm commenting upon, is there seems to be a huge separation between those in 'authority' and those who are reflective practitioners. This should be fun though - clearly some kindred spirits from a diverse range of places and denominations.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

the sabbatical starts here - part 1 at least!

Well, it’s the first day of my sabbatical and it’s not exactly a rest so far – up at 4.30am (I’d forgotten we had one of those) for Maggie to get me to the Bus Station for my coach to Heathrow.

Having said that I’m not planning a real rest - the loose theme, which holds what I’m planning together, is essentially looking at how we might become more like a missional association of churches.

One good thing about the flight over to the States was the chance to catch up on watching the Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’. We missed this when it came out, so I’d been waiting to watch the DVD.

Friends (especially one heated debate at Team Leaders I recall) had given me mixed reports, but all were very definite one way (very good) or the other (very poor). I’m coming down very firmly on the very good side of this equation – I loved it.

Now, you need to know I grew up wanting to be James Bond. My dad took me along to watch every film as it came out and I came out of the Cinema shooting every one in sight – I may still have my Aston Martin in the loft somewhere! The interesting thing is watching this newest film – I still feel like I want to be James Bond. Now before anyone reaches for the BUGB Directory to phone our Ministry Department, I’ve worked out a little what’s going on for me here – it’s the thing called ‘adventure’.

Hopefully, my values are somewhat different now from when I was seven, which is, I think, when I became a fan. I can still do money, sex and power and remain as vulnerable as anybody else who’s normal to their lure, but what comes through in this latest Bond is that it is for him, to coin the phrase from a previous blog, about what wins more than who wins. For James Bond it is duty. We may want to argue about his ethics, but when HM Government, personified by the tremendous Judi Dench as M, said ‘come follow me’ he follows – wherever it takes him and whatever it costs him.

So, that means I’m going to dig out what I heard Alan Hirsch talk about when he was over with us last year – something about putting the adventure back into venture. If we don’t disciple people in the way of Jesus, the world will disciple them.

In  Quantum, there’s loads of great lines (I’ll have to buy the DVD for them now) about trust. The whole film seemed to me to be about trust and Bond appears to have blown it to the point M says at the very end of the film ‘Bond, I want you back’, to which he replies with a statement Peter couldn’t say to Jesus, ‘I’ve never been away’. He could be trusted with the ‘what’. But then he is James Bond, so we knew that all along, didn’t we?

Anyway, it’s snowing here in St Paul, but the room I have at the Lutheran Seminary is baking hot!

Monday, 23 March 2009

crumbling church

Getting ready to start my sabbatical is one of those experiences, which focuses attention on one of the tensions I live with. I’m a last minute preparer by nature and there comes a point when you’re trying to get things in a position to leave when you get that sneaky feeling there’s more last minute things left than there are last minutes! One of the things I hope to restore more to the centre of my life over the next few months is a more helpfully creative tension between the short-term & longer term plans I live with – it’s that every seven years attempt to change the habit of a life-time! This time around I’m taking my sabbatical in three chunks – roughly a month a time in April, July and November. Pros and cons with this, so we’ll see how it goes.

There is obviously a great deal about who I am as an individual in my approach to getting things done (or not!) and this can be extremely unhelpful to those around me if not balanced out in some ways. We all know this, but it always fascinates me when observing personality writ large in a church – how churches and other groups take on board personality types to the point they become embedded in them as DNA and effectively set the pattern well beyond the original shapers have left. For example, last week I was in a church meeting, which needs to remain nameless! Here we have a church, which is on the brink of potential closure, and I was present at the AGM for some crucial decisions. Before we got to the reason for my presence there, I listened to a list of jobs and responsibilities to be affirmed by the church meeting – I confess I didn’t count because only part way through did I realise what was going on. Here we have a church, which could easily cease to be in existence sometime soon, but they will go down with ‘leaders’ of various non-existent groups, missionary secretaries for this and that, people to look after xy & z – basically they still sound like a ‘real’ church.

Maintenance? Yes, big time. Missional? Mission who?

Anyway, in case anyone missed the football results:

Liverpool 5 v Aston Villa 0 & Fulham 2 v Man Utd 0 (thanks Danny) – maybe it’s not too little too late after all – certainly the title race is hotting up.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

who wins, or what wins?

Next week I’m off to the States to join in with a grandly entitled ‘International Research Consortium' on the future for the Missional Church for 3 days followed by another 3 day ‘think-tank’ – again around the missional church theme. I have to say I am looking forward to it – not last because papers will brought from a whole variety of contexts including European – Sweden, Holland and Germany. Anyway, Pat Keifert, who invited me, was the guy who I heard say ‘ leadership for most Ministers is about who wins’.

Now, arriving home from BU Council – thanks Alisdair for driving straight home (we had a slight detour en route, but just to help anyone else travelling to Swanwick there are two main Conference Centres run by the same group. So make sure you put the right postcode in your Sat Nav!!! It was, however, a chance for a good chat.)

-       I’ve been thinking ‘who wins, or what wins?’

We've been meeting up with the group of our Ministers who lead Churches over 150 in membership. Why 150? Well it’s often been suggested that when you get around this number, any system which depends upon pretty much everything revolving solely around one person, begins to fall down. It certainly cannot be one size fits all IF we are to enable that Church to grow significantly beyond. Beyond that, my take is, you need to follow the vision (what) and not the leader (who). You’ll begin to se the significant difference if you try and play out a few scenarios.

One of the big talking points in my networks over recent years has been ….. what’s happening to the good old days – when you couldn’t predict the winners of the League, FA Cup and anything else (Champions League included?) from four teams. There have been many gains since the inception of the Premier League (a wonderful array of stars on our pitches week-by-week, improved stadiums (although I’d still prefer to stand on the Kop), more money to do things). But who are the real winners and to what extent has the what (football) suffered? Even world football seems to be dominated by personalities (FIFA sounds as bad as the IOC), UEFA policy seems to be determined by the President) and the English scene is dominated by individuals whether they be the new owners, or managers. David Beckham, of course, is a nice bloke and a good (not great, but I’m biased) footballer, but what’s happened to the what (football) when the who (player) determines his last three moves (Real, Galaxy & AC Milan) for other than football reasons?

So who won at BU Council? That’s for anyone there to ponder and frankly, I don’t care, unless 'what' wins becomes clear. I believe we are in a strategically vital place as a whole denomination because we are in a position now where we can actually decide to tip the weight of our relating and resourcing in different directions. We can actually return to something of our roots, I believe, and become a movement of churches engaged in the mission of God (the what, for me). That, if it were to happen, means initiating, establishing, releasing, resourcing, sustaining, growing healthy churches. This wont happen by building grand institutions called associations (I work for one), but by recalling why local churches created them in the first instance. Neither will it happen if we (the ‘who’ – no not Roger Daltrey et al) get in the way. My big anxiety (well one of them) is whether we have too much invested in 'what' we've created than 'who' God created us to become.

The good news is Emily’s bag (above) turned up in Brazil

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

where the future meets the past....

Where the future meets the past. I just love phrases like this one I read on Alan Hirsch’s blog recently. He was using it to talk about the interface between the progressive forces that mission imposes on the one hand and conservative forces of tradition that must be maintained in order to retain organisational identidy and theological integrity, on the other hand. However, isn’t just a great thought to conjure with? Wouldn’t it make a difference if every worship service had a genuine intention to provide an environment ‘where the future meets the past’?
As for me at the moment - I'm at the BU Council meetings 'where the future meets the past"? - let's just say the opportunity is here, but I'll reserve my judgment as to whether it'll happen this time around - there's still tomorrow!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A sporting weekend this one. We went up to the Stafford Horse trails to watch Ben on Saturday – he did really well with a Dressage score of 37.5 having just got Hattie straight off the lorry, 4 faults in the Show Jumping and a clear Cross Country. Alongside this I was listening to Liverpool’s demolition of Man Utd at Old Trafford – it all seems too late for the title, but it sure feels good!

Today was the Bath Half Marathon – a lovely day for those watching, but too hot for me. Coupled with the fact I didn’t do enough longer runs before hand I didn’t get what I was after and had to be content with 1hr. 45m, which Tom says is still pretty good. Maggie’s suggesting I might be too old to get  a new PB, which, of course, is all the incentive I need to prove her wrong. Off to BU Council tomorrow, which is often described as a three-day church meeting and some people just love it – not me I hasten to add. I wont go as far as suggesting it’s a necessary ‘evil’, but it’s not my favourite way to approach the business of the kingdom. That said, there’s some crucial issues arising this time, so it might be more fun than usual.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Liverpool 5 v Real Madrid 0

If you blog and you support Liverpool, you just have to find a few minutes in a hectic day to make sure everyone is aware we absolutely walked into the Champions League quarter finals last night - Liverpool 5 v Real Madrid 0 is an amazing result. I would have loved to have been there as I've been at most of the great european nights at Anfield over the last few years, but if you can't get tickets for the first game, it gets harder as time goes on - still I'd have been at Heathrow seeing Emily off in any case. That went well, met the team and many of the parents - two I knew (small world). Just heard she's arrived safely in Recife (wonders of modern technology), lost a bag (good job she had two) and met Pat Cash on the plane over.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

10, 9, 8 ... Brazil

Most of my early knowledge about Brazil came from Pele and co in the 1960's, but I've found out this week Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and suspect I'm going to discover a load more because Emily is upstairs packing before we drive up to Heathrow and see her off for four months with a Latin link Step Team. 
I found it very moving on Sunday evening at Counterslip when the church prayed for her, listening to her brother Tom praying it was all I could do to not just blub over everyone.
I guess this is a therapy blog day as my internal emotional system is in turmoil. Chaos would be too strong a word, but there's certainly a load of conflicting stuff going around. Basically, Emily is our youngest, our only daughter and so, as well as all the usual stuff about seeing one of your children off into the big wide world, there's all the added symbolic, psychological stuff around today representing the end of something, even if it'll be a transitional period because she'll be back, as Ben still is and even though Tom is married now he still pops in etc.
It's weird in many senses - you hope your children will want to move on and make their own ways, but leaving is tough on us. I'm thrilled my children are seeking to follow Jesus, but didn't write Brazil into my script. I'm tremendously excited for Emily as this is a big adventure, but worried as a parent about the 'if's' and 'buts'. In so many ways today is about many of the big themes of life through a magnifying lens - do you remember using them to focus the suns rays and start a fire, or is it just me who had a pyromanical youth?
However, in the midst of all this turmoil other big questions seek to grab centre stage in my brain. Things such as - why on earth when she's known she's been going for months do we end up buying so much 'necessary' equipment the day before? How come, when there's been 'trial packing' going on for days are we still not packed? It's those questions, which make me understand there's a bit of me going to Brazil too!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Partnership for Missional Church

Today we began the first (half) Cluster for Partnership for Missional Church here in the UK. We're going into this as a partnership between WEBA, Together in Mission and the Dioceses of Bath & Wells & Bristol. It was a relief to get going as some of us have been thinking about this for quite some time - Alisdair and I went to the States two years ago now to look at its operation. Thankfully, it was a great day - 9 congregations are so far on board and we anticipate others 'singing up' before September, which will be the full start date. The mix between Anglicans & Baptists worked well and I think will prove to be an asset to this UK pilot. Hopefully, we'll have some more Baptists brave enough to give it a go as I have a hunch this is going to prove extremely useful for any church willing to come on the adventure. The basic underlying intention is to enable any church to see a culture change towards becoming a truly missional congregation over a three year period. The good thing about PMC is that it offers any church a framework within which they find their own place and ways forward & if Martin Robinson think it's a good thing, that's good enough for me. Will it help? Time will tell, but I'm in the DL Moody camp on this one - 'rather the way I do it, than the ways you don't' etc. - it's definitely worth an experiment, or two.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

fertile inactivity

I've been away at the delightful Charney Bassett again this week and will try not to focus on the delights of the desserts - needless to say, they were well up to the high expectation levels we've developed. It was farewell to Norman Tharby who has been the Regional Team Leader for the South East - we shall miss you Norman as well as the six bottles of Merlot! Anyway, amongst all what was going on my friend Geoff prayed for me, as I begin to think more about my pending sabbatical, that I might have plenty of opportunity for 'fertile inactivity'. What a wonderful phrase (Geoff's own blog is  Wonder and Wondering ). I'd already admitted my sabbatical plans were ludicrously filled with unrealistic expectations and how I'd ignored Roy Searl's advice 'do nothing'. However, the idea of fertile inactivity is a good one for me and I've been praying all the way back to Bristol along the lines of 'Lord what do you want to grow in my life?' The idea of culvitating the ground is crucial to good growth and I guess I'm being challenged about the need to not merely be patient about what God might be wanting to do and grow, but to intentionally create the space - clear the ground of the usual rhythm of activity to the point where you can't see what'll pop up. In  that sense, the front door of Charney photo is a symbolic representation of God's invitation. Thanks Geoff!