Monday, 28 June 2010

cultural streams?

Well, the least said about the abject performance from England on the football field, the better! What is interesting, as I make my way to Didcot to talk about the pace of mission in our system, is the relationships people are making between the role of the Manager, the players, the Premier League, the grassroots, the coaching systems, the time off and breaks, the money, the organisation of the FA & FIFA, the technical changes deemed necessary, but not fundamental to the problem, etc - the whole system of British (yes!) football.
Personally, I registered little emotional disappointment about the result because there was little gap between my expectations and the reality - the manner of our play, however, was disappointing.
Another big issue, which has caught my eye, however, is the question of the place, or breadth, of 'popular culture'. When Rolf Harris is opening Glastonbury at 80 it has to be a recognition that something has radically changed in the last 40 years since Glastonbury began. The perceived radicals have clearly changed as well as growth in the overlap between several influential cultural streams - as with our party politics, the centre stage has grown and the fringes less influential? There were more people watching the football at Glastonbury than can fit into Wembley Stadium today!

Saturday, 19 June 2010


Well, I'm wanting to move swiftly on from last night's football - dismal, or what? I was listening at breakfast to someone saying 'Stephen Gerrard playing on the left-hand side completely ruins the shape of the side' - so a football conversation, which is about 'team.' I also happen today to still be part of the Partnership for Missional Church Cluster we're running, where we're talking about spiritual leadership, teams and mission. Now the resonance with last night's football and today are very interesting. Of course, both things are fresh in my mind so there's a danger of the preacher's spiritualising of everything which moves syndrome. 
Again, a comment on last night's football - 'if the shape of the team is wrong and you're asked to do a job you're not comfortable with, anyone will struggle' - just like many a church leadership - we're pushing round pegs into square holes in too many situations and the whole is struggling as a result.
Read Stuart Murray Williams' article in the BT today on family or movement? Of course, I found this interesting because I agree with him (and even got a subtle reference). Here at PMC we've been reflecting on the 'family' mentality we have about our own local church community - so many of the references from the congregational interviews we get churches to accumulate, refer to being 'friendly' and 'welcoming' but they point has been made that if we go into the communities around our church buildings they ask 'who'? They're not saying we're lying, not friendly or welcoming, but they simply don;t know we exist. What is also interesting to note is the correlation between the deep experience of being family on the inside, is the reverse of what is experienced by those on the outside. So, I think where I'm going with my thinking on this is to support the idea that the role in movement anything other than the edges of the movement has will be indirect, permission giving, empowering, etc. 

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

flying the flag

I thought the gag about Robert Green I heard today was particularly funny - someone said he'd been training today & not let in one shot out of 4000 ..... and then he and Heskey went off to train with the rest of the team!
OK not the kindest, but - football once again brought ecstasy and despair within 90 minutes - watching England play is not good for your health.
The World Cup is well underway and generally been well underwhelming so far - sadly, the German team look the best I've seen so far, but it's early days - possibly just as well for England.
I have two England flags for the car and when I announced I was planning to fly the flag, as it were, I received not a little flack - 'please don't', 'how immature', 'you chav' - and this was just from within my family.
Nigel - 'I've bought my flag'
Maggie - 'oh dear'
Nigel - 'but this isn't any old England flag, this is an M&S England flag'
Maggie - 'how much did you pay?'
Nigel - '£1.50 which is why I only bought one'
Maggie - 'but they're selling them for 25p where I pass on the way to school'
Nigel - 'but you said it was a silly idea, can you buy me another one?'
next day
Nigel - 'I hope you haven't bought my other flag yet?'
Maggie - 'oh no, how much was this one?'
Nigel (triumphant) - 'nothing - I found it in the road. Hopefully no one spotted me stop the car and run into the road to retrieve it'

However, we're the only house I've seen so far flying the Brazilian flag outside the house!

Friday, 11 June 2010

where are we now?

I've had breakfast this morning (paid for which always improves the taste) at the Lockside Cafe in Bristol. This is a great place to meet people and I learnt this morning it featured as a transport cafe (which it was before going up-market) in Only Fools and Horses. Now, I must admit, it was a revelation to discover those tower blocks and terraced streets I'd assumed were filmed in East London, were actually filmed here in Bristol - another claim to fame!
I've also has another privileged week of sitting down having conversation with gifted people, passionate about the future of the church - this beats work!
In the mix I've been reflecting on the questions people ask about church life and recognise they fall into one of the categories you'll find in many a book - not usually, I hasten to add, all of them, because there's usually a bias, which promotes one, or more, over the others:

purpose, or mission - why are we here?
values - how do we exist?
vision - where are we going?
strategy - how can we get somewhere?
goals - what shall we aim at to get where we want to go/be?

Now, I'm happy to start with any of these areas - usually the one in which I hear the particular question being asked - and recognise where someone starts from will tell me something about the person, or church, asking the question. However, it increasingly strikes me the two most crucial things are not usually being addressed, typically go unnoticed - and they appear off each end of the spectrum 9if purpose questions represent one end and goal questions the other).
i.  what is the culture? every church has a culture and unless we stop and, at least, recognise something about it, what shapes all of the above and influences how we seek to answer the questions, will ultimately dominate. How many churches and new ministries have ground to a halt because the underlying culture has been unrecognised and, therefore, unaddressed?
ii. what is the practice? what are the practices? one test of the effectiveness of anything we might describe as 'church', whether it be one of my DNA groups, or a sizeable congregation of the people of God, is what are the practices which are shaping these peoples lives? How does it pan out in practice in real Christ-like living? - or does it?
My growing conviction is recognising the key task of any church leader is to cultivate a growing connection between the culture of the group, or church, and the practices of the individuals who make it up. Surely, this is what we look for as one dimension to the fruit of our exposition of the Scriptures week by week?
-  So, if we are not producing growing people of faith - what is it about the way things are done around here, which mitigates against this in individual followers of Jesus? Removing the barriers is part of our responsibility - changing the culture, which profoundly influences the way we live faith.
-  If we are not growing prayerful, attentive people, we need to address that. My prayerfulness will influence the culture by its effect. The practice of prayer will be how this happens in my life. The expression of prayerfulness will influence others among my church. Asking people 'what do you think God is showing you right now? Where is God grabbing your attention? Similar questions bring personal responsibility and the corporate culture closer together and enable one to sharpen the other. If and it is a very big if.... our pracices and our culture were aligned, much more would be caught rather than taught.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

arranging deck-chairs, whilst the Titanic sinks?

I found the following on the Ministry Today website. It's quoted by Ian Davies, a Vicar from Swansea, but I'm not sure about the original source and it does sound familiar. However, it was written in the context of the 'Titanic' sinking approach to what's going on in terms of Church attendance, etc. I found it interesting in the light of a conversation with a colleague recently about wrong priorities within our own, Baptist, networks where the 'Titanic' word came up again. I've also been away at our National Settlement Team again, which leaves me with the question, if this holds enough water - how many Ministers and/or Churches are intentionally creating communities, which reflect sufficient of these points to make a difference? See for full article:
Less Sunday, more everyday. The traditional idea of ‘the Lord’s people, around the Lord’s table, on the Lord’s day’ is becoming increasingly untenable as the main way of sustaining God’s Kingdom. Sunday increasingly needs to be viewed as supplementary to church happening elsewhere (see the idea of ‘cells’ or home groups below).
Fewer services, more serving. Meeting with other Christians is necessary and good, but as a means to nurture, feed and equip them for the main task of making disciples (the Great Commission at the end of Matthew. 28).
Less meeting, more eating (I love this one!). Churches need to be places of generous welcome and hospitality to those seeking Jesus.
Fewer congregations, more ‘cells’ (i.e. smaller home groups). To quote the speaker again, “Give in and admit it! Stop perpetuating the myth that two people and a dog equals a congregation ”.
Less believing and more belonging. Welcoming people wherever they are in their spiritual pilgrimage with an inclusive generosity of spirit. There’s no room or time or justification for any of us to be judgmental.
Less certainty, more exploration. “There’s a lot less we can be dogmatic about than we think”. We’re in a market place of ideas and honest debate and exploration of what Christianity means is so essential.
Less policing, more permission. This applies to our Bishops and senior church officers particularly, who need to be ‘permission-givers’ rather than preservers of institutional regulation.

Friday, 4 June 2010

en Provence

Well, we've had a magnificent week en Provence. This was part of Maggie's 50th birthday celebrations _ I'm good at buying the presents I can enjoy as well! Plan A was a trip to Venice & Rome as I knew she wanted to go back there, but then dear old Easyjet cancelled the flights. Nice was the alternative I managed to negotiate (has anyone else had to try and get something done with them? - a nightmare). Anyway, we ended up having such a good week it felt like plan A after-all. We hired a small economy car and ended up being given a C3 cabriolet, which was great fun with such good weather. We'd only been during the summer before and it was so much better being there without quite so many people around. 
One of the things you can never avoid thinking about in France is food - not that I'd try! It strikes me that, here in the UK, we start any conversations about the links between hospitality and a missional lifestyle from somewhere back behind the starting line. The French take their time and often a long time, which aids conversation - we tend to rush as if it's a race. They also invest energy in making you feel welcome. The reality is, it's part of the fabric of their culture and seems to come as easily as breathing. It has an impact - we love France and the French as a result. For us Brits, hospitality seems a struggle. You find exceptions, but that's what they seem to be even in many Churches. I'm fortunate in being married to someone who has the gift and is also an excellent cook - so many people I've met feel they can't entertain others in their own home because they 'can't cook'. This then tends towards people categorising hospitality as a gift some have and others don't, but avoids Paul's injunction to 'practise hospitality'.The upside, if there is one, is there is such a low expectation around hospitality, you can make a big impact with something quite simple. One thing I don't know about is the extent to which the French invite one another into their homes, or whether they simply share the occasion and experience of eating out together. I've not spoken to many people since we arrived home as I'm still on holiday, but I've already had two conversations about busyness. It seems this is the biggest enemy of hospitality - even bigger than 'I can't cook'. I read the majority of "Untamed' by Alan & Debra Hirsch, whilst away and they compare a cozy local restaurant with a not-so-czo McDonalds by saying one communicates 'eat and stay' whereas the other. 'eat and get out' - now apply that to many of our Church buildings.