Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Shack & 8 Secrets of Happiness - all in half term!

I’ve now decided the Spring Bank Holiday week is definitely a good week not to have a holiday! OK I had an extra day off, but the whole week has felt like a holiday – no evening commitments means I’ve done some decorating, been to the theatre twice in eight days, watched some football, had a lovely evening in the garden – brilliant. Basically, it seems the rest of the world is away, or doesn’t want to see me because half their leaders are. Among other things I’ve been able to finish a couple of books, which I believe are really useful for where are message really needs to be heard – beyond the walls of the church.

‘The Shack’ by William P Young – OK, the rest of the world has probably already read this and I must admit I’ve put it off for a good while – I hardly ever instinctively warm to a Christian book with so much hype. I’d heard a number of criticisms before reading it – from pastors who were complaining about the theology and seemingly very anxious about how people might get the wrong ideas etc.

My reaction to the book? Loved it. My reaction to the criticisms? My suggestion is we dethrone our theologies about God in favour of God himself. Here we have a book which has, spoken powerfully into peoples lives who were not in any real relationship with him (and I’m sure it will continue to do so). Let’s remember this is not the bible – it is a story and we need all the help we can get in terms of raising the consciousness of the God story in people’s hearts and minds. The Shack expresses questions, which I guess are already partially formed in people and provides some challenging, emotive, but ‘theological’ responses.

‘The 8 Secrets of Happiness’ by Martin Robinson & Paul Griffiths. I’m not reviewing the book here as my colleague, Alisdair has done so on our WEBA website. It’s also difficult to comment as I count both Martin & Paul as friends. I hope it’s not just personal bias, but it is extremely well written in terms of communicating a whole variety of big ideas and theories in an easy to read manner. Again, the target audience is not within the church and the Christian perspective is ever present, but not high profile.

If I was the pastor of a local church both of these books would be available for members to use wisely in giving away as both could be very useful in helping somebody coming towards a relationship with Jesus. Now having realised this, I’m wondering why so very few churches seem to do things like this when part of our ‘job’ is to cultivate the environment for those within the church to not just find faith for themselves, but enable others to have the same opportunites. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

blame the culture

One of the pressing issues we need to get more of a handle on in this whole business of church ‘culture’ – the way we do things around here. There’s no doubting the prevailing culture can dominate over individuals instincts – anyone doubting this just needs to listen carefully to how many MP’s have sought to avoid personal responsibility and accountability by blaming the ‘culture’. All this on the back of a recession which has been fuelled by similar avoidances by bankers et al – also blaming the prevailing culture. I’ve not found very much written which offers any great help – a couple of books from the USA, but nothing, which really helps pastors get a handle on working on changing things for the good. I’d be glad to hear from anyone who has found anything useful in this department as I really do think it’s something we need to tackle more openly. My basic approach is to begin with identifying what the culture actually is – not what we think it is, or should be – as only then can we realistically set about bringing in some change. From here, there seems to be a need to focus upon our desired values, so we have a benchmark against which future plans and patterns of behaviour can be tested. What drives plans into the sand, however, seems to be the ability to hold to what seems to be a great idea on paper. Are Baptist Churches more susceptible to voices, which challenge our values in the name of giving everyone their voice? Any help gratefully received in this department.

Yes, I am glad Barcelona won the Champions League Final – some awesome football. I remember a similar display at Anfield when they beat us 3-1 after we’d scored first. I was on the Kop that night and we just had to applaud their brilliance – they made Man Utd look very ordinary tonight.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Roger - friend and colleague

Tomorrow is the funeral of Roger Martin who has died on the brink of retirement and the Presidency of the Baptist Union. From a human perspective alone, it is a tragedy and certainly for Liz, his wife, and their family. Roger was an inspiration when I was at Spurgeon’s College in the 1980’s and since then I have been privileged to call him a friend. One thing which always struck me was his willingness to engage seriously with younger and far less experienced people like me - thanks mate. I frequently sat with Roger on a group we both part of and he was a good supplier of fun and laughter, as well as insight and wisdom. He was someone who knew how to grow a church and his track record demonstrates this is no idle statement – he led churches to grow throughout his long and distinguished ministry. Not only will there be rejoicing in heaven as the angels extend a warm welcome, not only will there be a ‘well done, good and faithful servant, but there are also numerous people who have the hope of heaven in their hearts as a result of Roger Martin.

All this leads to numerous thoughts:

What is faithfulness in ministry?

What is success in ministry?

How do we invest in treasures I heaven?

What kind of legacy shall I leave?

How do we replace people like Roger?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

re-training or re-framing?

Yeah OK, I haven't blogged for over a week, but coming back from sabbatical (even if it is only part one) is dis-orientating and I've already nearly missed one meeting - mainly due to my not believing the right time was in my diary! I’ve had a few conversations with different people about, what could loosely be called, ‘re-training’. It’s word, which is being bandied around a fair bit – mainly, I think because the Anglicans are using it quite consciously and freely. It amuses me that the state church can talk openly about such a provocative issue, but the rest of us whisper in the corner. It is after all an emotive subject and I’ve already had some responses from people who have heard me say something I don’t think passed my lips, but have drawn the implication I’m suggesting pastor-teachers have had their day and we need something totally new – and they, by implication, are useless and best placed on the great scrap-heap. Now, firstly, I have not intended to imply such things even though I am increasingly conscious (we had a good discussion after some challenging MR interviews today) we need some new models and have to re-think aspects of equipping for ministry. Second, however, I don’t believe either we’ve got everything wrong for the past X number of years, nor does God call call people to the kind of in-built limited useful life-span most modern appliances have. For such reasons I’ve started talking about ‘re-framing’ as opposed to ‘re-training’. My critics (some of them my friends) will say this is just me being trendy – and I have to say, now I’m the ripe age of 50, bring it on because ‘trendy’ at 50 I’ll accept as a compliment! However, Gerard Kelly shared a great illustration when I was in Rome (oh dear there he goes again), which has spoken t me in a number of ways and encourages me to keep using the ‘re-framing’ word.

He talked about his visit to Collioure, in Southern France. Collioure is a significant place in the development of what became known as Fauvism – a group of 20th. century artists of whom Henri Matisee and Andre Derain are the most notable examples. They emphasised strong colour and painterly qualities over the representational or realistic values in Impressionism. To illustrate this – in Collioure, they have set up a Fauvism art trail where you can look through an empty frame – see photo. Basically (I really feel I must go) you look through the frame and ask yourself the question ‘what do I see’? What the artist sees and what we see are both really ‘there’, but …. Well, some will say that’s modern art for you.

Re-framing ministry, however, has much to commend it because the huge challenge, we have yet to rise to sufficiently, is the reality that the contexts of UK ministry have shifted enormously within such a short period of time. Matisse and his ilk didn’t stop painting because they saw things differently, nor did they turn their back on the skills they’d already acquired. They were, however, differently expressed. We have confused leadership with ministry too long, but arguments such as I’m a minister, not a leader, may be true, but society and the church and most other things have changed – so must we.

Monday, 11 May 2009

back to something...

Well, back to what some people call ‘work’ on Friday. Certainly glad my e-mail problems were resolved in time. I’m not altogether sure, which is worse – a mountain of e-mail such as you don’t know where to start, or none! It’s reminded me how much has changed since I became involved in regional minister – when I began e-mail was nowhere near as widespread as now. Now, I wouldn’t want to contemplate doing what I do without it.

As I sit among my colleagues at NST today I’m also remembering the advice given to me when attending for the first time by my predecessor – 'be yourself' -  I was, but felt a few were not thinking my not wearing a tie was the done thing for an Area Superintendent. Nine years on, there’s not a tie on display among my colleagues – interesting.

In the car this morning I was listening to the public tirade following further disclosures regarding MP’s expenses. Phrases such as ‘never before has the public degree of trust and respect in MP’s been at such a low ebb’ etc. I’m not sure about this, but I wonder whether we’re seeing another symptom in the swing of public opinion towards what we might regard as a concern for ‘Christian values’? I’m not suggesting we’re witnessing a return to Christendom, but we may be experiencing an expression of a reaction to an over-reaction against. There seems to be an issue with people to an extent, which was not apparent  few years ago, about the tension between moral values and public leadership. In ten years I sense the general cry has gone from ‘what anyone does behind closed doors is no concern of mine’ to a desire for a much closer relationship between private and public, ethical standards and public platform, values and vision, etc. Now I think this is good news in terms of an opportunity for our Christian voices to be heard. Not only is this a conversation we need to be engaged with, but the space we’re called, especially if involved in Christian leadership, to live in and live out our discipleship from. 

Friday, 8 May 2009

give the guy a break....

Don't you just love e-mail?

A snippet of conversation.

Really annoyed (but mildly impatient) Baptist Minister: ‘I’m really naffed off with that Nigel Coles bloke. I’ve e-mailed him and he hasn’t even had the courtesy to reply.'

Really switched on, blog reading, cutting-edge missional what-not: ‘Give him a break. He’s had unbelievable trouble with his e-mail provider. Apparently he’s not received your e-mail if you’ve sent it during the last two weeks, but the fourth person he spoke to at tiscali has finally sorted it out. So why not send him a nice, pleasant, undemanding e-mail and repeat what you think you’ve already said. Just in case.’

Really annoyed, but now much more understanding and slightly less impatient Baptist Minister: ‘You’ve just made my Friday.’  

Really switched on, blog reading, cutting-edge missional what-not: Have you seen what all that ice-cream did to him in Rome?'

doors or windows?

This is the cross which has been erected in the Colosseum and because of its context, therefore, is a powerful image. When isn’t the cross a powerful image though – in whatever context? One of the things I want to play with a little more with is an idea Johannes Reimer threw out when talking about how, as congregations, we plan to act on some of our ideas to reach people in Jesus’ name.

He said: ‘use the door to enter, never the window.’

Spelling this out a bit more, he explained how we so easily invite people to look in our window, which he stated was often our way of saying ‘we have the best living room’ – come and see how good it is, how much you’d like to live within it, ours is better than yours, etc.

On the other hand, we can use the door – Johannes said every culture has legitimate doors through which you can enter. It’s important we don’t try to cheat people into Christianity, we must use the good, ask them the questions, open doors open discussions and then open hearts.

Of course, this can easily sound like a nice little play on words, but when you’re listening to someone who was imprisoned for ten years in a concentrate camp under the Soviet Communists, and has been engaged with planting 18 church plants alongside teaching missiology (‘I don’t think you can teach mission theoretically, cos then you teach baloney’) you actually do get the idea he knows practically what he’s talking about. This guy also speaks eight languages so using a word like baloney is not bad either. He shared a fair bit about the church he planted 9 years ago in rural Germany where he’s now based. It’s in  a village and has gone from 5 to 200 members with another 200 attenders on and off in 9 years. Now, I know a little about the German scene having been with the German Baptist mission Network last year so I know that hasn’t happened very often to say the least.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

when in Rome....

My reflections on Rome?

Great ice-cream – especially if you don’t pay a fortune away from the main sights.

Great trees – seriously, the history, the monuments and everything else Rome has to offer are fantastic, but so are the trees.

Even the street cleaners are attractive! I have been much maligned for this comment, but it was something, which struck me – pray for me if you wish.

How on earth did I get to fifty before I’d visited such a magnificent place – it is a living museum. Ruins seem to litter the streets and pretty much every nook and cranny.

Basically, I’m waiting for the taxi back to the airport sitting in the foyer of the Centro Mondomigliore Spirituality Centre where I’ve been since Monday – attending the conference. I’ve tried to get to this for the last three years and so was glad to make it this year. The theme ‘Incarnate’ was built around two main speakers Gerard Kelly, currently Senior Pastor of Crossroads Amsterdam and Johannes Reimer who is the Professor of Missiology at UNISA. It’s been a really good experience – some creative and challenging input, some eye opening awareness (did you know there are 150 million Charismatic Catholics worldwide who would state they have been born again by the Spirit of God and not merely baptised as infants? – yes, 150 million is not one of my misprints on this occasion); some good conversations and networking. Food was naff, but Maggie and I did have three days in Rome prior to this, which balanced it out.

So why did I come and what do I hope to gain? Whilst I should wait till I get home to begin to answer this one, it’s this or read a book and with Paul Griffiths rambling in my ear, there’s no chance of that.

I need my horizons to be broadened and this has been able to that. We train local pastors, but need to equip global leaders – a throw away from Jeff Fountain, but worth thinking about. Thinking globally, but acting locally does make so many necessary connections.

I need to talk with people who can encourage the capacity of my heart for the lost to be enlarged. Well, I’ve met some of those who have challenged so many pre-suppositions.

I need to live within the tension between thinking and practice and this is network designed to attempt to do that and so it has, but the proof of the pudding will be in next week and the one after that … did it make a difference?