Thursday, 27 May 2010

Christendom fights back?

It may be a rearguard action from behind the walls of Christendom, but it happens to be one I wholeheartedly agree with! I'm referring to these comments by Tom Wright appearing in the Daily Telegraph
We all realise there's a need, but small Churches especially are having more and more of their time and energy sapped by legal and financial demands.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

10 years time? 20:20 vision?

Having had a refreshing time at Engaging the Powers I have a fair bit to process mentally and spiritually. I feel, however, as if I have a filing cabinet in my head, with a whole load of files labelled 'come back to later'. When? This is a very real perennial question, which says too much about me for a blog entry, but I suspect it also has something to do with the information overload culture to which I subscribe too willingly!
Anyway, here's the latest from Peter Breirley for the next 10 years. What I will find interesting is what our churches feedback on four questions beginning with 'if the trends of the last 10 years continue, where will you be in 10 years time'? We're looking spiritually, relationally, missionally, numerically & hoping for some conversations around these themes - to be primarily in and among the churches, but to help shape our 20:20 vision too.

from Peter - 

A leading church researcher today painted a gloomy picture of church attendance in Britain in the coming decade.
Peter Brierley, former head of Christian Research, told Christians at Pentecost Festival today that all the main denominations, except Pentecostals, would decline in the next 10 years, with the Church of England set to experience the sharpest drop in attendance.
In 2000 there were 3.5 million churchgoers, a number which has fallen to 2.9 million in 2010. He warned that if present trends continue, church attendance in Britain will drop to 2.6 million by 2015 and 2.3 million by 2020.
He painted a harrowing picture of the decline in attendance across English counties in the last 12 years. While in 1998, all but five counties in England had a churchgoing population of at least 6 per cent, today there are only 12 English counties with that figure and there are seven counties with a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent. He predicted that almost all counties would have a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent by 2020.
He said the drop in attendance had come about because there was less evangelism. While in 1990, there were 120,000 conversions and 60,000 deaths, in the last year there were only 80,000 conversions and 120,000 deaths.
He said the most alarming statistics could be found among young people. While 60 per cent of British people are not in the church, that figure rises to around 80 per cent among the under-15s and around 75 per cent among 15 to 29-year-olds.
“The loss of young people is especially serious. In the 2020s, many churchgoers will die out,” he warned.
With 59 per cent of all churches in England having no members between the ages of 15 and 19, Brierley said it was becoming as important for the church to keep young people already in the church as it was to reach new young people outside the church.
He also voiced concern about the number of 30 to 44-year-olds leaving the church, as the number of over 65s in the church continues to increase.
He said some people in the 30-44 age bracket were attending less frequently or dropping out altogether because of the pressures of modern living, which often means taking care of the home, raising children, and having both parents at work to manage the mortgage. The church, he noted was the only optional in the week, and was therefore the easiest to reduce in frequency or opt out of altogether.
“Today people are simply going to church far less frequently,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they are non-churchgoers – they may come once or twice a month or at Easter or Christmas – and it doesn’t mean that they won’t come back if invited,” he said.
Brierley suggested that churches hold midweek activities, as research indicates that churches with activities going on during the week have a higher proportion of younger people attending their Sunday services. He added that churches with more than one style of music were less likely to decline.
One area of the UK church not in decline, he noted, was the black majority church and other ethnic churches.
By 2015, around one quarter of churchgoers in England will be from non-white communities. He said many of these churches were growing because their members were inviting friends and neighbours of similar ethnic origin, but also because they were friendly and offered good sermons.
“People like their energy and relevant preaching. It’s forward and strong stuff sometimes, but it’s appreciated!” he said.
While Christianity is likely to continue declining, other religions in Britain will see growth, particularly Islam, with the number of Muslims expected to grow to 3 million by 2020.
He warned that ageing clergy posed another challenge to the main denominations, as research has found that ministers tend to attract congregations of a similar age.
“The problem is that the ministerial age matches the congregation but not the people they need to reach,” he said.
“Ministers tend to attract members their age so to attract younger people, you need a younger minister. Youth workers can’t do everything.”
He said that strong leadership, vision and friendly congregations were necessary to turn around the fortunes of Britain’s main churches.
He concluded: “There is so much mess and change but there is another element too. God is working his purposes out as year succeeds to year.

Monday, 24 May 2010

engaging the powers and change

Our second 3-in1 event yesterday was a success even if the weather was probably a deterrent to some turning out so early on a Sunday afternoon. It leaves me wondering further about the place of such events in terms of the dissonance between what they actually achieve and what you hope for. I'm not at all convinced they do what most people think they do, but recognise we do need certain events to act as a gathering around who we are and what we stand for etc. For example, Paul Goodliffe, spoke this year very well and brought some significant challenges about making THE difference, but I suspect a lot of this was lost for a whole myriad of reasons. To what extent anything will be translated into the life of any of our Churches is questionable. In this sense, however, why is this different to any other Sunday in a local church? Change happens gradually and I actually think change, which happens best, happens gradually. The problem (my problem) is being content with a 1 degree change, which is so slight no one notices it's happened. The difficulty is holding onto the new compass bearing taking the last 1 degree into account. How long is it before people start to twig we're travelling in a very different direction? Actually, not very long. Reflecting on the last ten years, which I was reminded about last night, it feels to me we're travelling in a very different direction to then. I wonder of our exec will think the same this evening!?!?
In this sense, turning an old association around is not dissimilar to turning a Church from looking inwards to outwards - both take time, patience and sufficient strength to hold the line you think you're on because the easiest thing in the world is to simply revert to aiming for the last distinguishable landmark you remember on the horizon rather than trusting the compass.
Today we begin the 'Engaging the Powers' event, which will be held at St Marks, Easton. I'm looking forward to what looks to be a creative and engaging time. Paul Cloke will be talking this morning about 'Spiritual geographies', which should be good. Paul is based in the Geography department at exeter University and used to be based up here in Bristol and it should prove to be an engaging conversation. Unfortunately, I can't stay for the afternoon and the looking at spiritual landscapes and power in Bristol.

Friday, 21 May 2010

no mission, no discipleship

I feel, once again, the intrinsic link between mission and discipleship has come into sharp focus in a whole variety of situations. At last, today, I've begun reading Alan Hirsch's 'Untamed', which he says is essentially about re-activating a missional form of discipleship. One thing, which disappoints me hugely is the way people use words to avoid the imperatives of Jesus - especially Ministers who use theological language and yet ignore the practical implications. I like the straight-forward application of Alan Hirsch - 'you simply cannot be a disciple without being a missionary - a sent one'. The opposite truism also needs to be stated - 'you can't be a missionary without being a disciple'. It feels almost stupid even saying these things, but there's no doubt in mind they need to be said and done!

Another feature of this week has been the breadth of conversations across the evangelical spectrum. I guess the evening with Bill Johnson at the Colston Hall was one end and I greatly enjoyed being in the thick of that again. I was sorry to miss Shay Claibourne as I was diverted with a pastoral visit, which meant I didn't get back in time - I need to listen to the recording apparently. One thing I did appreciate was the desire to marry mercy and ministry - I realise many have serious questions about the healing ministry and it's not that I don't, but Bill reminds me a lot of John Wimber - generous, sincere, humble and my hunch was 'a good bloke'. Back to today's starter - he does model the marriage of mission and discipleship very well. 

Church planting is increasingly on the agenda, which has to be good news. One thing I'm discovering is sometimes the Lord simply waits for us to catch onto his good ideas. It feels like some of prayers recently have merely been waiting for me, or someone, to utter them - why am I so slow/ You don't need to comment on this one!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

a grand day out

Well, I don't want to disappoint the staff at Baptist House, so I'm posting a blog after spending a delightful day with most of them (that's most of them came on the outing, not most of them are delightful - of course, the latter, applies to everyone!) - on their annual day out: this year in Bristol.
I was originally contacted to suggest a Church they might visit, near the river where they'd booked a trip, so we went to Totterdown. Thanks to Laurie & Karen who arranged some splendid hospitality - that's what they said too. Laurie told the story of recent years & how Totterdown has grown. A big feature int heir story is their engagement with the Community of Perrett's Park - a good story.
We then went on the bristol Packet Boat Trip with lunch on board. Now, anyone visiting Bristol - try it out as it's really worthwhile and I hope the staff from Didcot enjoyed the day and those, who shall remain nameless, will now believe Bristol has a lot to offer.

So, why should the staff of BUGB have a day out I hear you cry! Well, I guess I've become more aware than most people that these folk are basically running a great deal with too few people and too meagre resources. Many Anglican dioceses have more staff & yet we resource 13 Associations & 2000 Churches with around 50 people. this includes pensions, finance, home mission, mission, ministry, trust work, faith & unity, communications, etc. So, if anyone thinks we're pushing too much money into admin think again - they deserve it.
Now, same theme, why are we paying a Regional Minister to spend the day entertaining this group, muscling in on their very nice lunch on the river and generally having a good time? Hey, I just ask the questions, don't expect the answers!

This was the nearest I could find to Wallace & Gromit - which one's which & what are they saying? Could be a nice little earner for HM! Would you trust a Ministry Advisor taking life so joyfully, or a Finance Head wearing a hat like that?

The winning feature of the 'are they really human test' was the inclusion of the announcement for who won the Fantasy Football League. Now, having apologised I don't pester the various departments because we don't meet at Baptist House now as much as was once the case, I have the perfect excuse! This is extra-curricula I heartily approve of! Oh, full marks to Chris for spotting the Arnolfini where the pre-election debate took place. Anyway,here's Rob with his certificate -
The only disappointment (apart from no spraying of champagne at this point)  was when he said 'can I now talk about something serious' I thought he was going to share his fantasy football team insights, but actually wanted to talk about a loan to one of our churches! Anyway, thanks guys for a grand day out. Remember, there's lots more to see in Bristol next year.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Stratford & Spurgeon's

Once again, it's been a hectic few days - over the weekend we went to Stratford to celebrate Maggie's 50th. I had a great time too even if the stress factor keeping secrets was an emotional drain! Antony & Cleopatra on friday night was great and I would love to have dinner in the soon-to-be completed restaurant, which will be on the roof of the re-furbished theatre to be completed in July.
Last week I was at Spurgeon's to join in on the Contemporary Theologies of Mission module. I'm exploring a D Min and needed to access one of their MTh modules as part of the process - so as I expect to be pitching into a thesis around the missional theme in some shape or form, this seemed to be the best idea. I enjoyed the multi-cultural flavour, with Asian, African and Islamic issues all featuring significantly. It was good to touch base with my friend Roger Standing too and I especially appreciated his input, even though I appreciated all of it.  It was good fun, even if the heating not working meant a very cold thursday. Meeting a whole variety of new people, there on a variety of modules, was good as was recognising the valuable efforts being made by my old College. A load of memories came flooding back and I think I would enjoy returning more regularly - if I decide to take the plunge. Finding time for an essay resulting from this module will be the acid test!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Henri Nouwen.... again!

I’ve been thinking again this week about the connection between what spoke to me powerfully when I first read Henri Nouwen’s ‘In the Name of Jesus’ and the present conversation around missional leadership.
Nouwen passed on to many what he found to be his own deepest challenge when he said ‘I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is to be completely irrelevant.’ I guess this is at the heart of my own conviction and yet it doesn’t sound right does it?
How can such a thing as leadership ever be irrelevant? One of the chapter’s in Nouwen’s book was entitled ‘from relevance to prayer’ and it may be that gets us closer to the heart of the matter. Let’s face it prayer is frequently  regarded as irrelevant. The statistics tell us even most Christian leaders live as practical atheists, if intentional prayer can ever be measured in minutes. Most members of congregations regard prayer as crucial – especially for those in leadership, but only one person, at an exploration evening last week I led, mentioned it unprompted.
Nouwen was both a pastor and a teacher, but he recognised they were too often roles, which he played and produced ‘ministry’ to which he could easily become addicted. Isn’t that what we’re discovering again, slowly, begrudgingly. The roles are not our identity. The work is not what produces ‘results’. I’m looking forward to watching the new Robin Hood film – especially when it has a trailer ending with the quote: ‘are you ready to become who you are’. Sounds like Jesus to me.

Friday, 7 May 2010

making THE difference

Well, it's the first of our 3-in1 's this Sunday with the title 'making THE difference. Our agm is part & parcel of this, but we're holding two this year - in the hope we're able to accomodate more people since we've filled up the last two years. We'll see what happens! Next year's plan is about eight, but I guess I wont get away with that if no one comes this year! Paul Goodliffe is preaching at both events - in Swindon this week and Bristol on 23rd. - so Paul, if I miss something this time around there's always another chance! Hope you like the logo - that's one big difference Ruth has made at the Old Forge.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Release 2010

My in-box, which is ridiculously too full, has reminded me is taking place soon in Bristol - 19th.-21st. May. I'm somewhat amused by being described as one of the City's 'spiritual fathers who's invited to welcome and pray at the beginning of this. It's not the kind of language I would use, but I shall look forward to some of the input. I'll be glad to hear Mark Stibbe again and Shane Claibourne, who heads up the Simple Way will be there and I'm trying to re-arrange some other things to hear him.
Should be very interesting.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

back from BU Assembly in Plymouth

I thought I'd pop down a few thoughts regarding the BU Assembly in Plymouth over the weekend. I didn't think I'd bother (not sure RM's are supposed to comment), but having read the blog list sent from Baptist House, I thought I might pitch in on one or two things:

It seems I'm not the only one who thought Anne Wilkinson Hayes was the most insightful and incisive preacher (and best exposition) we had. I may be biased as we were at Spurgeon's together long back.
I thought there were many good moments and much to be an encouragement, so the following really needs to be read in that light. I'm also conscious, because I happen to be a Regional Minister i'm regarded as part of the establishment, but you may not have noticed, unless you're an RM, but the associations barely feature and yet we represent one of the fundamental structures within Baptist life.

-  as I say, there were many good things about it and I'm still reading reflections around the theme of 'you should have gone twenty years ago and see the change.' I am one of those who's said that (and probably will again), but what are we saying? Are we lulling ourselves into a false sense of security rather like the churches I encounter who changed, often as a result of the influences of charismatic renewal in the 80's & early 90's, and now think they've been 'renewed' sufficiently?
-  I love being part of the Baptist 'family', but this is not the only word and, in view of the theme this year 'One World, One Mission' I would suggest does not help the cause. My conviction remains we were designed to be a movement of Churches and, at the risk of using a word which seems to be being used rather too loosely at present, 'movement' is what we need to be about if we're to regain any missionary impetus. Family is about coming together, unity, loyalty to an institution. Movement is about being sent, diversity, loyalty to values and vision.
-  I agree with something said elsewhere. Some more recognition that we part of something much bigger - mission is not simply what 'Baptists' 'do' - would have been a bigger framework in which to explore.
-  to what extent would some of the criticisms, which seem as far as I can see, be largely based on 'I liked, didn't like', change if we looked at our own local churches through the same lens? Wherever you have 2 or 3 Baptists you have 4 or 5 opinions. If this is what it boils down to, I'm not sure we know what today's Assembly is for, but I am sure it's not really intended to be simply a larger church gathering where we do the same stuff, but with better technology, etc.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

so what do the BU Assembly and my old greenhouse have in common?

Greenhouses are marvellous things - there's probably not a day of life goes by without me eating, or admiring the benefits they bring, Once upon a time we couldn't eat things out of season, but not any more.... 
Not sure if you can see this, but it's the base of the old lean-to greenhouse I've just dismantled. Yesterday I was the BU Assembly & back there tomorrow - it's a long story why I'm not there today, so we'll leave that for now.
Anyway, coming home, late last night, I wondered whether the BU Assembly is the most PC place in Christendom & I certainly feel I learnt more today in the back garden!

We had a greenhouse & the purpose was the growing plants.
It fell into disrepair - no one decided to change its use, but we stopped using it to actually grow anything & it gradually filled up with - well most of it's now been taken to the tip - rubbish.
We decided to use the space to create a new vegetable patch.
There have been times I wish we hadn't bothered - it's a bigger job than I imagined.
Removing the actual greenhouse was one thing, but today I took on the concrete base it had been standing on - can;t exactly grow any veg in concrete can I?
This concrete is stubborn stuff, but a sledge hammer produces some nice cracks.
I decided to treat myself to a lovely new crowbar - now this really moved the job along nicely. It's all about having the right tools for the job I explained - mainly to myself I admit, but I think Maggie was listening.
With a few fault lines and a decent crowbar in the cracks, I soon had the whole base up.
Another blow - underneath the base is a load of hard core - once again no point in planting anything in this. i could try, but not convinced about the quality of veg!
I'm not there yet, but I can see the fruit/veg in my mind's eye now - tomatoes against the wall, raspberries, courgettes, carrots....
Why dismantle the greenhouse, if all you're going to do is grow stuff again?