I've had breakfast this morning (paid for which always improves the taste) at the Lockside Cafe in Bristol. http://www.lockside.net/index.html 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.