Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I was passing through the kitchen on Sunday and the Andrew Marr show was on – if my life was more organised, I’d record it and sit down Monday morning with a good cup of coffee and watch it more intentionally.
Anyway, I caught a comment around the observation ‘technology has made our lives more comfortable, but actually, underneath, nothing has changed.’ It was made after Andrew Marr had read the headlines from an old copy of a Sunday Newspaper no longer in print – I caught neither the name, nor the year, but it did stay with me.

There’s plenty of truth in this:
Human nature hasn’t changed.
Generally, in the UK, life is more comfortable – it was more than 50 years ago being reflected upon.
The problems referred to do remain – unemployment, economic crisis, severe weather, etc.

So too within the UK churches:
Human nature hasn’t changed.
Life is more comfortable – we have chairs instead of pews, heating instead of coats, screens instead of books, etc.
Whilst the problems remain and are still avoided at all costs the costs have increased in value as too churches are looking downhill.

I don’t Tweet, but maybe I should. I read a fascinating interview with Twitter’s new chief executive, Dick Costolo, at the weekend. A number of things struck me in a new way:
He said ‘I’m currently trying to define what its purpose is long term.’ This a found fascinating – their business is valued at $1bn, but they don’t know what it’s for! Put this in the church landscape and we’re familiar with this argument – don’t do anything unless you’re sure of its purpose versus we’ll just do what we do and God will lead us step by step according to where He leads.
Costolo has taken over as CEO recently from Evan Williams. Williams, was co-founder of Twitter and is moving position to focus on product development. So a key founder is leaving the lead role to focus on something more functional? Now, there’s a lesson we could learn if we’re to explore, a little more, the uncharted territory of Ephesians four.
‘When Twitter reaches its potential, that’s success. And its not done that yet. It will have done so only when billions of people around the world are using Twitter on a daily basis to consume the majority of their information in real time.’ – wow! That’s why I’m thinking I need to get into Twitter, even if I don’t Tweet for a while yet!

Monday, 29 November 2010


Just been to one of those meetings where a group of church leaders wanted to do something next easter. The suggestion was to turn something designed a few years ago aimed at inviting new people to become part of the 'easter experience' into a church service for church goers. Novel idea, but can;t help thinking we've done that one!
So, mightily refreshing to view this clip sent from my friend Paul. Popped it here in the hope it might give someone an idea...


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

small again is beautiful

I seem to be having another round of conversations where the issue of church membership keeps arising – again! However, so does the question of small groups, which appear to have been put on the back burner in many places.
Being part of things Baptist, we have a pretty high view of membership and this has worked well in Christendom. It’s a very useful when you can identify the point of believing in Jesus Christ, belonging to a local expression of the body of Christ and beginning to live according to the expectations of being a new creation in Christ all in one event. When joining that church is also the step we take, arriving at the end of a long journey, which has enabled the accumulation of a more than a superficial understanding of Jesus and the Church along the way life is neat and tidy. Let’s face it most people knew in the UK how they should live as Christian disciples before they set foot in a Christian Church even 30 years ago.
Counting who comes in the front door (whether that be the ‘attenders’ or the ‘members’) does strike me more and more as being not the most helpful means of discerning what God is doing among us. These, however, remain the best measures we have. Of course, when the number of members equalled the number of missionary disciples, to use the jargon, that was OK. How do we count the number of those who go out the front door – sent into the world as disciples as it were?
This is where the small group conversations come to the fore. In one conversation, with one of our newish Ministers, recently he told me they had about forty members and about forty people meeting in small missional cell groups during the week. Each group is not entirely made up of the same people, but he’s onto something I’ve no doubt. My hunch is this church will grow beyond its current numbers, whichever figures they count, in the next year – because forty people focused upon living missionally will make a difference. It’s even more than a tiny mustard seed.

Monday, 22 November 2010

front room

Went around Front Room 2010 yesterday. Front Room is an art trial, which has now been going for ten years in Totterdown. It's grown significantly over the years and understandably so because some of the work is superb. Obviously, it varies, but that's according to taste, although with 200 artists now taking part, there's bound to be something for everyone. There's over 60 venues now and I'm delighted Totterdown Baptist Church pay host to a number of them. They're now over 4000 visitors, which has risen from 2000 only a few years ago.
Having admired so much of the work during yesterday afternoon, I came away with the words of a postcard in someone's hallway ringing in my ears - 'I wanted to go out and change the world, but I couldn't find a babysitter'.

Preaching at Blagdon - small village church, but asking some great, big questions. So, why not plant something new in a much bigger place? If our focus is church, it's un-doable, but if it's missional/kingdom, why not? 
Managed to get some more digging done on the allotment - such a relief that in the middle of November, there was no one else down there - a sign (we hope) once the digging's done, we wont need to sign our whole lives over to becoming sustainable!

Three points for Liverpool, so still on the up. Is it the effect of a change of culture?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

allotment 22b - the first chapter!

Preaching at Totterdown on Sunday, which was good as I hadn't been for some time. Sometimes when you return to a place you notice the changes those there all the time miss. The number of different nationalities has increased, which was hugely encouraging. Next weekend is the Totterdown Art Trail, one of a number now in and around Bristol. The church, thankfully, have begun to engage with this fantastic opportunity and host a number of exhibitors. I recall over 2000 people walked round last time around and it was pouring with rain for much of the weekend, so we hope for better things this time.
The photo reveals allotment plot 22b, our very own allotment, which we began to dig last Saturday. You'll notice there's a bit of work to be done! As my friends are all asking 'when will you have time?' it's going to be interesting. Certainly a challenge to make time. It's whole new world, just along our road in the allotments. There are 4500 allotments in Bristol, about 150 among 'ours'. As there's such a waiting list now, only half plots are issued to newcomers, so this represents alot more people than the number of units. They even have a shop for seeds, canes etc. (only opens 3 hours a week and we take a turn). It's a significant community, so this should be interesting apart from the fresh veg.
On beginning I did, however, feel like I was back at school and not brought the right protractor, or something. I was asked, eyes clearly on my rather dirty looking spade, 'are you going to dig with that?' I considered a number of replies, which I contained within the boundaries of thought. I then heard a story of one infamous lady who turned up with a spade on which concrete had set, who was advised to 'go home, spend three hours on getting your spade so you can see your face in, or buy a new one.' That three hours was repaid many times over in increased efficiency apparently. Now, having had a demonstration of my spade's ineffectiveness, compared to someone's well cared for mirror like precision instrument, I came come and started sharpening my spade!
Later I'm off to a group of deacons to tell them to do the same thing!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

church planting and/or BU Council?

It's been an interesting week - so far! 
Yesterday was a little fraught. I'd returned from BU Council a day early to talk with a small church about possible closure, or at least that's the language some people have unfortunately been using. 
Anything but! It's a church we thought we were trying to re-plant, so it was clearly going to be catastrophic to end their life together and long history come to an end, even though everyone remaining recognises the need for a very different way of being to reflect and embed the good news in this community.
Not a good start when the car doesn't start! Assumed it was battery, which did have loose leads, but no - starter motor. Good old RAC (and thanks Ian Bunce for the tip off I could use my Tesco Clubcard points for a renewal because I'd only just done it). Left the RAC man fixing the car and I took a taxi to get to the next meeting - £11!! for 4.7 miles. I'm so out of date with taxi fares and I admit I paid Mike nothing for the lift home - but thanks.
Anyway we faced a familiar problem - what do you do about structure, buildings, governance requirements with so few people?
Church planting among Baptists is struggling with the system, which assumes church is what church was - in terms of a Minister paid, a group of people we call a church wanting a life together as it was twenty years ago, a structure of governance revolving around finance and fabric and a Christendom assumption people will just turn up.
Sadly we are still keeping in place a reversal of the idea - Christology shapes missiology shapes ecclesiology. Baptists began, I believe, with Christology. It was the central idea 'Jesus is Lord' which gave legs to the shape of their life together. Sometime later when this movement was messy, vibrant, challenging basic values assumed in society and seeing people know for themselves the lordship of Christ, we developed something now referred to as 'our ecclesiology'. Aspects of this remain as relevant now as the day Conrad Grebel and others were baptised - after all, didn't Helwys and Smyth get he virus from the continent? However, some is a reflection of a later day and is drawn from wider society. Sadly, the desire for Baptist to become respectable and aspire to the same status as proper Churches were influences too. So, what do we do? What comes first the ecclesiology or the Christology? What really makes us 'Baptist' - Jesus or history (and a very selected reading of it). I know which I want to get my vote (!!)
In this particular case, we're trying to find ways forward, which remove some of these obligations from a small group until much later, but this group already have the baggage from the past. Effectively we'll try and build a mission team of twelve (to satisfy Trust requirement) who will have to be the trustees, but their responsibility will be to establish missional discipleship and grow a variety of networked groups. Someone said 'sounds like what a church and  leadership should be' - and, of course, therein lies many of our problems. Separation of structure from purpose, process from outcomes, values from vision.
Now that started me thinking again about the BU Council and where this week I was seeing this thing called Baptist movement most clearly and there I'd better stop.

Monday, 8 November 2010

St Fagans - on retreat

We’ve been away for what has now become an annual 24 hour retreat. The ‘we’ is a cluster of Regional Ministers from three associations. We’ve done this twice now and have booked next year, so it’s a firm tradition!
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity (psalm 133).
We worked with two passages from Joshua 3 & John 15 and there were so many good things about the 24 hours. I do believe every Minister needs some friends to whom they are accountable and we all need times when we’re intentionally apart from the normal stuff specifically to allow God to put the spotlight on our hearts and minds.
Some of the light relief (by no means all!) was provided by our South Wales brothers who took us to St Fagans – the Welsh National History Museum. It’s a fascinating place – one of Europe’s leading open air museums with over 40 buildings, reflecting different historical periods, which have been re-erected in the 100 acres of parkland.  The wall paintings here are in St Teilo’s Church, erected in stages between 1100 and 1520 and then re-erected around 20 years ago here. The paintings have been restored to reflect, as accurately as possible, the originals from 1500-1530 and I just thought they remain very powerful for the second visual age. As for the Team Leader in the old Unitarian pulpit ..... we can only assume he's bringing calling for repentance.