Monday, 28 September 2009


Even though I have an all day executive meeting today, my overwhelming feeling on reflecting back over the weekend, is one of relief. The first Cluster for Partnership for Missional Church launched us very well into what I hope and pray will be an exciting journey for the nine congregations involved ( 5 Baptist, 4 Anglican). I spent the first part of the Leaders Day on friday thinking what a great shame more of our churches had not been brave enough to come along on this journey because it will scratch where many are itching. However, once I'd been challenged along with the churches taking part to focus on the gifts God has given to a church, rather than on what we're not good at, I was able to get going. The response to Saturday was overwhelmingly good - but a number don't like American work schedules - not sufficient, or long enough, civilised tea breaks! Anyway, much to be thankful for, although a long way to go yet - at least it's started after such a long and frustrating wait. Now, on to the exec, which could be crucial.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

i shop therefore i am

Stephen Cottreell, the Anglican Bishop of Reading, is someone I have a lot of time for – especially having just received a copy of his delightful little book ‘Hit the Ground Kneeling’. He’s been quoted in the press this week as suggesting the Church must shed its M&S image to attract the Asda and Aldi generations. Well, I’m siting in Morrisons in Weston-super-Mare trying to prepare some stuff in between meetings and the folk sitting around me wouldn’t look out of place in many of our Baptist Churches. What does that say?

Ironically, I think the M&S image has consciously been appealing to a variety of generations in recent years - do I think that because I'm now 50, or because they use particularly attractive women in the adverts – and I’m old enough to remember Twiggy first time around (albeit very young)!? On a slightly more serious note ‘your M&S’ is a good slogan which keys nicely into the mindset of movement. Also, has anyone done any research on colour and supermarkets - their green works for me in a way the Aldi orange and blue doesn't? But then, we're more Lidl than Aldi in our house.... 'as for me and my house'....

On an even more serious note we do need to re-address the overwhelming middle class tone in the Church in generally - on this point we agree.

Looking forward now to tomorrow when we begin Cluster 1 of the UK pilot for Partnership for Missional Church in Clevedon. we'll be working with a group of Baptist and Anglican congregations throughout this process designed to help churches transition into a missional way of being church, which should be fun, I hope.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

changing landscapes

O my word, two blog entries in one day, whatever next! Today I dropped my car off to my mechanic. Sounds grand, but Martin doesn’t work solely for me – it’s just I’ve stuck with him even though his garage is in Bathampton and not round the corner and a garage you can trust is worth a bit of inconvenience I reckon. Anyway it meant I’ve been rooted in Bath for the day so visited one of our new Ministers, Mark and did some work whilst supping coffee elsewhere.

The interesting thing was listening to the phone-in on five-live about whether the UK is increasingly liberal (politically) in terms of the mind-set of its people. This reflects the comments of a few significant Liberal political figures recently, which certainly suggests this is what they believe. Now there is an interesting discussion to be had as to whether this is the time for the Liberal Democrats to make more serious in-roads into our political landscape, but that is not what interests me primarily. My interest was grabbed by the extent to which people were saying, from a wide political spectrum that our neighbours and colleagues have, in general, become increasingly ‘liberal’ in their thinking since the 1960’s in terms of the growing importance placed upon individual freedoms and responsibility. I tend to believe this is true. Now, the problem the Liberal Democratic party have is combining their appeal to individualism with corporate responsibility for government – you can please all of the people some of the time, but…..

Churches have the same dilemma, however, and the fact larger churches tend to grow at a slower rate than smaller churches (it takes more church members per baptism in a larger church on average, etc.) tends to support this. If we pay too much attention to words such as ‘leadership’, or ‘ministry’ as church leaders and not enough to words like ‘maturity’, ‘growth’, ‘development’ as they apply to individuals, we end up with a ‘system’ designed to support an organisation, which we call our local church. Too much attention seems to be paid to developing individuals in ‘ministries’ which support the organisation called church and insufficient on becoming individuals which are enabled by being called together as a church – and there’s more than a subtle difference. (NB - i know, I've made the errors myself). If, however, we are living through a transition – and most ‘post-modernity’ talk will support this claim, churches and their leaders need to key into how the landscape of individuals has changed and provide an environment, which supports their growth.

Must go now as I need to collect the car – good news this time!

au revoir

Well, we’ve dropped off our youngest, Emily, to start University in Southampton and wondering if that makes us empty nesters? I realise there’s three years to go and even then the nest may not be entirely empty, but yesterday was a significant milestone in the Coles family. In pc world I’m probably not supposed to state the obvious, but it was different, as dad, saying goodbye to a daughter, as opposed to two previous sons. Why? Certainly not, in our case at least, anything about worrying Emily wouldn’t cope as well as a girl, or fearful of her abilities to live more independently than her brothers. Certainly, being the youngest was a factor for Maggie and I and what this symbolises, not simply for her development, but also for ours. However, for me, the difference boils down to one of relationship and the differences between male and female and how we actually relate with one another – not better, or worse, but different. Ben will be around, before he returns to Liverpool, for another week so it wasn’t quite registering all the other rooms were empty when I woke this morning, so that realisation will dawn next week, but we’re on the way.

Now of course, this will eventually get me on to how church systems allow, encourage, or stunt growth of their members into mature, individual followers of Jesus, but for now I just need to register and process how it all feels.

Friday, 18 September 2009

adapting to winter

I tend to use the seasons as a means of measuring aspects of churches health - partly because we love talking about the weather as Brits and everyone can readily associate with the ideas. If we talk about being in winter when it comes to our relationships with those beyond the church in our community everyone quickly gets the idea, for example, but people are also encouraged by the fact we have to pass through winter to get to spring if we're in the autumn of nostalgia - looking back on a previously good summer (here the memory has to kick in).
Anyway, reading about how different animals adapt to seasonal change recently, I was struck by how churches very rarely seem to think there needs to be any change depending on the season.
It gets very cold in winter in eastern Canada, and geese and many other animals anticipate the weather and migrate. But wolves stay put, thanks to some remarkable adaptations enabling them to cope with temperatures from -30 C in the depths of winter to possibly 20 C plus in the summer. The wolf's coat ranges from white in cold weather, to red or black in hot weather and greyish in normal weather. The thing which strikes me, wether you stay or move, you have to adapt, you need a survival strategy, which means change according to the environment you're in.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Anfield and a visitation from God?

My first Anfield trip of the season last night, so I'm not sure why I'm so bright and breezy this morning - late night and a poor match, although we won 1-0. However, all the papers and websites will say, exactly what we said in our car on the way home - it's three points and, at this stage, 'that's all that matters'. 'All' that matters? Yes, it's part of the culture these days when winning is more important than playing the game in the minds and hearts of many football fans. When I talk with supporters of teams, however, where winning a trophy at the end of the season is not on the agenda, it becomes a different focus, which many would applaud - more about playing the game, like any good englishman, or woman.
Yesterday was also a good day because we had another gathering of our leaders of larger Baptist churches group. Not really sure what to call them, although Paul calls us the 'fat group', which I don't think anyone's keen on letting sticking. Paul needs our prayers as he's having an op for a brain tumour on monday. This is a group I like to be part of ratehr than feeling I need to be there - and there is a big difference. We've decided we'll focus on an issue and someone introduce what becomes a discussion around, or starting from, that theme. Yesterday David talked about his summer and some reflections from a conference organised by Sentinel, who were behind the Transformations DVD's (or probably videos!).
We talked about the three waves suggested by George Otis which feature in a visitation of God's spirit in ways many would call revival and, not surprisingly, it was a far reaching discussion. Otis talks about invitation, visitation and then transformation of society as three waves of visitation.
It's fair to say I often come away from such discussions with more questions than answers, which is no bad thing in itself, but there is also a sense of growing frustration for people who never see the answer their praying, meeting and expectancy has been looking for. Otis would quickly answer this by saying whenever the people of God meet to seek God coming in power something always happens, but we cannot prescribe what, how or when because God is sovereign. The problem for me is this sounds exactly the same as the argument for not getting caught up with this cycle in the first place.
So, we get back to the should I seek revival and look to God to sort this place out versus should we work our socks off and try ourselves debate. Much was said, because we're all wise and experienced Christian leaders to clarify and qualify neither end of this spectrum is where we'd want to be, or should be. Fruit was appropriately highlighted as a critical test of what is genuinely of God and I guess fruit is what I'll continue to aim for - in life, in praying and in leading. If we're seeking God to live our a fruitful Christian life, encouraging whoever to pray for a fruitful outworking of the purposes of God and attempting to lead others towards both in their lives then I can't believe God will be displeased - especially if we keep our eyes open to him doing some surprising things with some surprising people.
Now, I'm off to Didcot for a National MR! Oh I was going to link the state of the British game with this.....

Sunday, 13 September 2009

a spoilt generation

It’s a brave person in today’s PC world to venture into the realms of comment on child care and parenting, but comment is what Aric Sigman is doing. I’ll be interested to hear what the reaction is to his latest book, ‘The Spoilt Generation.’ Apparently, (I haven’t read it yet) he’s focusing upon the inability of parents to provide clear boundaries for young children and then deals with the consequences, I would add for society as a whole. My gut feeling is I’m going to end up agreeing with what reads, in the review in today’s paper at least, like common sense and a reasonable applications of biblical teaching.

So what of the role of the local pastor of typical Baptist Church? Many Churches stress the word ‘family’ in their presentation, in terms of community style, to the outside world, but are we any less dysfunctional than any other group of families? Sadly, our values are rather more influenced by our wider society than we’d care to admit and pastors can easily be intimidated by the reactions to perceived criticism of parenting skills – a veritable minefield. However, another hunch is we’re about to see a swinging of the pendulum towards a more recognised need for clear boundaries. The massive underlying issue – can we believe in such things as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ - is not, we’re told, very post-modern, but it is a sought after commodity in today’s rising generations bred on materialistic insecurity.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

would Jesus have an iPhone?

So, would Jesus have an i-Phone?

I have to admit I’m delighted with my new toy (sorry, essential ministry aid) and it’s already making my life a little easier and more manageable. For the first time ever I have a seamless synch between my pocket diary and my laptop – I know people still use paper, but I run out of space and I prefer the delete button to a rubber. I always remember Tony Campolo’s answer to ‘would Jesus own a Mercedes?’ = it’s a status symbol and Jesus doesn’t play that game. I tend to agree, so I had to get over those accusations (at least in my own mind), but decided (eventually) an iPhone was the best thing for the job I needed and, therefore, worth it. Of course, Luke 10 comes to mind when Jesus sends his disciples out without purse, sandels etc – so no look in for an iPhone there! Can I use it? – ah now, that’s a different thing!

It does raise questions as to how Churches and Christian organisations determine what is, or is not, appropriate equipment for their staff. What place do cost, need, affordability, appropriateness, stewardship, and a whole host of other issues, play? What would Jesus do?

Another useful thing is the microphone – I was able to record an interview on Bristol community radio this lunch-time with Emily and her friend Faye, about heir gap-year trips abroad – hardly justification, but very handy!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Well, it’s sunny here in Manchester, which is more than the forecast for Bristol. Got here fine on about three gallons of coffee. So, Philip Pullman has decided Jesus wasn’t the Son of God. Now, far be it from me to suggest a qualified children’s fiction writer is not necessarily the best qualified to handle such theological concepts with depth and integrity….

What does interest me more, however, is the regularity with which stories concerning Christian faith are popping up in the news. There’s also fairly non-event story about an atheist attending Greenbelt in the Guardian. This one interested me precisely because the whole response of the article is based upon impressions, feelings and emotional re-actions to perceived evangelical Christianity. Other stories, such as Richard Dawkins’ sponsored summer camps are finding a place in the radio discussion programmes. Whatever else, it promotes ‘God talk’ in the wider community, which helps create an environment for people to explore faith in Jesus.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Back after sabbatical part two this week and the aftermath of a break always takes me by surprise. You may think I'm stupid, but you quickly forget how silly it is to put things in your diary which mean you don't get a day off and that's what I've done. That said, I admit it's been a good week and good to get back into things. Still catching up on people and situations ... and e-mail. A good induction at Warminster on Saturday where we welcomed Roy who's come to join us from South Africa and I have a hunch he'll be a great asset. Preaching at Corsham this morning too went well from my perspective - unless everyone was just tryng to make my feel good (which is no bad strategy I hasten to add). We're also looking in WEBA at how we can intentionally plant 10 new churches over the next few years and I'm hoping everyone will be able to get on board with that - especially during a recession when people get rather anxious about funding. My hope is, however, we'll be forced to look at some more helpful planting models, which are not Minister and finance driven in the initial stages - hopefully I'm not the only person who'll be excited by that one. Wedding anniversary today, which means I took the decision to drive up to Manchester ready for breakfast tomorrow morning rather than this evening, which I guess my more sensible colleagues will do. I've already been told I need my head testing, but nothing new there. Strangely, however, I enjoy an early morning drive and as long as I can fit a decent large coffee in en route, I wont worry too much about breakfast. We've already had a wonderful meal out last night and together with afternoon tea at Hunstrete House (a voucher Maggie was given for a wedding cake) missing one meal wont do me any harm. The car stinks of horse and hay as I haven't had a chance to clean it - Ben's at Burghley Horse Trials and so the 'C' team are mucking out! - first time ever though, so hope the horse survives.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Banksy v Bristol Museum

I finally made it to the Banksy v Bristol Museum last week. It’s the last week and I’ve been intending to get there ever since it opened. I thought I’d let the initial surge of interest, and consequent queues, die down before, but they have just got longer. We waited for three hours yesterday (having tried a try late after noon when no one will be going strategy and not getting in the day before). It was worth the wait – I thought some of the exhibits were brilliant and pretty much all of them thought provoking. What is staggering is the amount of interest – some people waited for six hours yesterday and every day, to be sure of getting in at opening, the queues are starting at 7am, which is a three hour wait. Yesterday we heard they opened early at 8.30 just to get more folk through. Whilst all ages are represented there is loads of young people waiting for hours to see an art exhibition – I realise for some people that will be a controversial claim, but frankly this guy is a terrifically talented artist. I say guy and use it in the generic sense, of course, no one knows who Banksy actually is. Inspiring, brilliant, funny, wonderful, ingenious, were all words used yesterday – just by me. One thing for sure is whilst I spoke to people in the queue who’d travelled some distances, Bristolians are proud of their street artist. How come on sabbatical it took till a few days before the end? … don’t ask.