Saturday, 31 December 2011

Compost heap therapy.

Well, New Year’s Eve and what do you do? Frankly, I was socialised out. Although delightful, I enjoy my own space as much as sharing it with others (I’m down the middle on Myers Briggs between I & E).
So, no rain and a much needed job beckoned down our allotment – the compost heap needed sorting before the next growing season. It’s a job I imagine most people put off as long as possible, but (freak that I am), I’ve secretly been waiting for a good time to get my hands on it.
However, what a gift, to aid my reflection on the passing and forthcoming years. My i-pod was on shuffle, working around Bob Dylan & Adele, providing a stimulating reflection on life, love, God and everything within their embrace.

There’s something wonderful about solitude as opposed to loneliness. I thank God for a wonderful wife, inspirational children and good friends, but this small space after so much engagement with others reminded me our my deepest need – to draw more from the wellspring, which is my relationship with Jesus. My 2012 needs to ensure these times are more frequent.

Sustainability was a clear theme. My compost heap is made using discarded pallets. The compost is other garden and vegetable ‘waste’. Chicken manure provides wonderful compost. Producing your own compost is, for me, almost as satisfying as growing your own vegetables (told you about the freakiness!).
There was a real thrill at being able to use an old rusty nail to keep two pieces of wood together. Genuine disappointment when one couldn't be resurrected. It’s all made using other peoples rubbish and produced by waste, but it keeps the soil fertile and provides the environment for growth. It’s the cycle of life and great to get your hands dirty, feel the muck in your hands and just realise it’s all about your own life in God as well as a few vegetables.

My morning reading from Colossians came back to the forefront of my mind, along with Charles Ringma’s comments: ‘Christ has shown us where true power lies. It lies in servant-hood, not in manipulation, or oppression.’
In contrast to our systems, Christ has paved a different way.
Reconciliation rather than enmity.
Justice rather than exploitation.
Peace rather than aggression.
Servant-hood rather than power.
Grace rather than legalism.
Community rather than individualism.
In living out such a vision, the powers of this age will be vanquished in the victory of Christ.’ (Charles Ringma, Resist the Powers with Jacques Ellul).

Friday, 30 December 2011

Crisis? Change? Has it always been this way?

Well, we're still enjoying Christmas here. Off all week, apart from needing to prepare for Keynsham on Sunday, but beginning to emerge into the real world again. Wonderful to spend relaxed time with the family and now getting some prep time in whilst waiting for more friends to drop in.

Read this from Seth Godin's blog yesterday and thought it well worth posting for others here:

"It's always been this way"

The only standard is impermanence.
It's very easy to believe that the world we live in has always been this way.
Your ethnic group has always had a similar standing.
Technology has always permitted certain kinds of interactions and is always improving.
Real estate values always rise from decade to decade. (Until it didn't).
A job has always been the standard way to make a living.
Your chosen religion has always been practiced the way you practice it.
People in positions of authority and leverage have always had degrees from famous colleges.
Information has always been widely available.
As soon as you accept that just about everything in our created world is only a few generations old, it makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that the assumptions we make about the future are generally wrong, and that the stress we have over change is completely wasted.'

Friday, 23 December 2011

Simply Jesus

'Happy Christmas' - heartfelt, but easily sounds like 'cheerio'. Does that matter? Still today, in some places in the world, the word 'shalom' is used in greeting, which I think is a wonderful word to have in everyday use.

So, Happy Christmas to all who pop in here.

Currently reading 'Simply Jesus' by Tom Wright ..... the title says it all.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Christmas Story

If you're like me, you wonder how people find the time to discover the gems on You Tube. So, here's one I loved, shown by Ian and the team at Counterslip last Sunday during the carol services. If you're stuck for something next Sunday, you might be glad to have a look:

The Christmas Story as told by the children of St Paul's Auckland..

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Regional lucky draw?

To post, or not post, that is often my question.
Today, definitely not!
Today I have a morning to catch up on what I've not been attending to.
Today I went for a run and decided 'no posting' - I usually do this on the hoof.
Today I ended up taking my son to work because his car broke down, starting it on return, getting it to the garage, coffee due at 11 am when I returned.
So, definitely 'no posting' - no time!
So, here we are ...... 

The BUGB e-news sweep of 21st December revealed the most clicked on story this year (so far) was entitled ‘New Regional Minister Team Leader for LBA’. Interesting.

Maybe this was inevitable, LBA being, by far and away, our largest Baptist Association.

Maybe it reveals people are still interested in who is appointed to be the key leader within an Association.

Maybe it reveals the fact our ‘system’ is not quite what we think it is. I’m grateful to Neil for highlighting this news via his blog: distinct reflections. Good for you Neil, but what else is this saying, apart from Neil is posting what people want to read?

Yes, it reveals how people choose, increasingly, to be informed and glean their news, but it also begs the question: why not either the LBA, or BUGB chose to announce this piece of information? Does it reveal who really 'owns' our RM's? - the churches and the people who form them.

I love spending time with leaders in churches looking at vision, strategy, mission plans, etc. However, two things I have come to realise are:

i.               You can change the structures, produce the statements, make the plans, but if the dominant culture doesn't change among any group of people, nothing substantially changes and when the current leader moves on, we return to the previous default.
ii.              If the vision, statements, plans are not evidenced in the practices of the people, shred them (the statements, not the people!).

We tend to run churches by words, but the bible tells us Jesus (the word) became flesh.

Now, the catching up!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Ruth's just posted this today on our WEBA 'making a difference' blog, but thought I'd pop it here too.

See more on:

Paradise Now

Jari Moate is a member at St. Mark’s Baptist Church in Bristol. In 2011, he was the main organizer of Bristol’s first ever Festival of Literature, and he’s also an author; his novelParadise Now brings together x-factor culture, Islamic Terrorism, and an unexpected experience of the Holy Spirit, all set in a version of urban Bristol just one beat away from reality.

Writing fiction like this is a very different form of mission to the activities usually described on this blog, so when I’d read the book I wanted to ask Jari a few questions.

In the story, video artist Elektra pays the rent by working in a call centre for The Company who produce The One Game  and the Be Somebodymakeover range. While her face is picked to represent The Company, far away in the war torn Middle East trainee terrorist Tariq finds a blood stained copy of the Gospels in a dead soldier’s pocket. As you read, you assume their paths will eventually, and dramatically, collide.

What made Jari think of drawing  together the themes of reality gameshow culture and the religious extremism that leads to acts of terrorism?

“It’s all about the brand name: Be Somebody. The core of that ambition that drives someone to get their 15 minutes of fame, it’s the same drive that motivates the terrorist. We try to create ourselves into something that stands out. If 9:11 did nothing else it dominated the TV networks, and that was its aim. 9:11 won the x-factor already.”

There are characters in Paradise Now who are perhaps immune from the drive to Be Somebody – one is the boy preacher Smith Whistledown, who the main character, Elektra, hears preaching in a small corrugated iron chapel when the Holy Spirit floods in and changes her life. Jari sees him as being driven by the message rather than his own desire to prove himself.

The other is a character imported from the 18th Century – in this story, the poet and engraver William Blake is an eccentric art college technician who’s into lots of new age practices, but also has a prophetic role. I suggested to Jari that this character, and that of Blake’s wife, Kitty, have a rather ambiguous role in the story. Kitty is loving, generous character who is a substitute mother for Elektra, but who eventually, surprisingly, betrays her.

“I’ve met people in the New Age World who are quite evangelical and invasive” says Jari. “Kitty Blake actually wants a bit of power. She doesn’t want her protégée experiencing things in a Christian church, so she does something she wouldn’t normally do.”

Jari warns, however, against reading a sermon into this story. “Fiction is not about positing an argument, it’s about the characters. Sometimes Christian readers miss this and that’s why Christian Fiction doesn’t exist in powerful form in this country.”

Jari Moate
“I want to ask the WEBA audience to stand by writers, and work with artists” he goes on. “We want to truly express how we are in the world. Hold fire on the judgement.”

If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas Present, Paradise Now is a vivid and gripping story that will appeal to many readers across the belief spectrum. If you have a relative with an art college or visual arts background, I’d suggest it might be the perfect gift.
Paradise Now is available on the general fiction shelves, and can be found in Waterstones, Foyles, and at

Jari is now working on a book about an AWOL solder, and making plans for next year’s Bristol Festival of Literature.
Seriously, you can't get the staff these days! Another good reason for not trimming the funding to Associations too much ....

Apologies one and all - I gather my link yesterday, for the BBC 1 programme 'Inside, Out Britain' featuring the battle for Stokes Croft in Bristol, didn't work. It doesn't appear to be on i-player either.

Maybe if I had an i-pad .......

Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas TV tonight

Just quickly, before tonight!

Do try and watch this programme on BBC1 tonight! 

Also, I received today, from Pete Farmer, this interesting report:  Mission Britain has been carrying out a survey into simple/organic/missional/house Church in the UK and Ireland. Our intention has been to see what is happening on the ground through these forms of Church and to use the statistics to point out some of the trends seen. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Shepherds without a clue?

I was a shepherd in the DIY nativity earlier today & it made me realise 'the shepherds' had little more clue than I about what they were doing. So, I feel well qualified to continue musing about our Baptist Future(s) ....

Simon Jones, as ever, has some perceptive things to say about our Baptist ‘movement’ and our on-going struggle with Pioneers. The only thing we disagreed on was in our response to Neil - I didn't just chuckle, I thought it hilarious! No worries here: Maggie is giving me lessons on not taking myself too seriously....

Simon’s blog post 10th December ‘sniffing out influence’. Check it out, but the points he makes are:

-       We are facing national austerity.
-       We are still declining numerically overall.
-       Most of the exciting things taking place are on the margins.
-       We don’t adequately train, resource, give time for exploration, Pioneers.
-       Our ministerial ‘competencies’ are fashioned around an inherited model of church.
-       Our current models are resource intensive (buildings, ministers, attractional events).
-       Influence may be difficult to get a handle on and yet can ‘reek of the kingdom’ (liked that a lot Simon).

All good stuff and undergirds my concern for people to engage with the consultation process, which will hopefully inform the future shape of BUGB. Simon’s points undergird the need for a missional shape.

A missional focus to our purposes demands a flow of energy from the centre to the margins.

-       If our greatest strength, as UK Baptists, is in the communities of Jesus followers we call church (and I think it is) then we must re-address the flow of energy. This means we need structures, which will enable us to ask how do they facilitate, resource, release a growing edge/margin.

-       Structures, I reluctantly admit, are absolutely necessary. However, they need to serve life and not hinder it. Surely, this means we need to ask questions such as: ‘how do we best serve the mission of God across our nation through our churches’? This begins to answer what kind of networks (associations in Baptist ‘money’, while we have some left) are necessary.

-       Missional is, essentially, about the nature of God. A missional shape, as I understand it, brings together things we easily keep apart. Things like ‘doing’ & ‘being’, evangelism & social engagement, vision & values. This is precisely because it is a word which has arisen from our growing awareness concerning the nature of God. So, intentionally  inbuilt into this, is the challenge to work out, in practice, what it means to be in community together (just as God is in three persons). It also brings our attention, again, to the fact that what we do is as crucially important as ‘why’ we do and ‘how’ we do. Vision and values must dovetail. Being and doing are part of the same person when we look at Jesus, etc. Also, I can't think of another better word right now, which will challenge us to re-calibrate our life together more around the person of Jesus. Of course, this is also at the heart of our Declaration of Principle: one of the very few things every Baptist Minister and Church in BUGB has signed up to.

-       We have to answer the question I have posed our own Trustees, which is ‘what are we called to be and do, whether we have the funding, or not?’ This is, I think, is the question Simon is raising in a variety of places about ‘church’ in general. It is a financial crisis, which has provided the environment for some of the crucial questions being asked for a number of years, to be heard. However, the answers must not simply be about answering a financial crisis.

-       Of course, the exciting things are on the margins. This, however, is also true in any local church, or even as individuals I suggest, and as a valid observation, it’s principle should not be limited. (It’s too easy to blame someone else). What Alan Hirsch calls the ‘missional-incarnational impulse’ can only ever happen on the margins because that’s where we cross the borders into un-mapped territory. However, we can all play in the margins, if we dare to cross beyond our front door-steps, if churches can imagine a life organised around ‘going to people’, rather than ‘bringing to church’. However, we must take care we do not institutionalise a separation from the centre and the margins. Surely, whether locally, regionally or nationally, we are looking for spiritual leadership? Spiritual leaders, worth their salt, will listen for the voice of Jesus, wherever it is spoken and through whom whoever he speaks?

-       We do need to train pioneers, but I’m not sure we ‘train’ anyone. My sense is we are doing what most movements do when they’re on the downward slope: focus on teaching, but not upon learning. Discipleship is about learning; it’s embedded into its very meaning. This is why ‘missional’ if a good word, because it puts discipleship at the core of our activity. It’s disciples we need to train!

-       We do, however, need to train pioneers. We have just commissioned some research, which I hope will result in shaping a route towards accreditation on a pioneer track. However, no pioneer’s going to be primarily concerned about accreditation and degrees, so these can never become the goals. What I am not convinced we do very well in most of our churches, is identify, release and train pioneers, evangelists, apostles, or prophets. What I am convinced about is these are a range of gifts found and primarily intended to operate, in and through local churches.

-       Resourcing needs to change. A rising number of people are talking about bi-vocational ministry, but once again my fears are it’s too much about providing ‘ministry’ and not releasing pioneering congregations. When you look, we are actually resource rich. BUGB may have declined numerically, we may have a pension deficit, but the reserves have increased significantly over the last decade.

-       Missional is difficult to define and some argue (cf Alan Roxburgh who’s written more than most on this) this is part of its vitality, as Simon, also highlights. My fear is the structural, financial, need to get-it-sorted, agenda may squash the life out of the word.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Baptist Futures

Hopefully the following is self-explanatory .... (I did begin to wonder about adding a photo, but then, what? ...)

Welcome to the first update from the BUGB Futures group. The intention is for this to become a regular publication through which Baptist Christians can be kept updated and encouraged to participate in this important process.

apparently future updates should appear on 

The Futures Group was established by BU Council at its meeting in November 2011, in response to an increasingly likely, significant budget deficit. While it was something that could not be ignored, this was seen as an opportunity to seriously reflect on what our key priorities should be in the decades ahead. 

Baptist Christians in the UK have been responsible and generous in their giving to the work of God’s Kingdom beyond their local church, and it is vital to be equally responsible in the way that those resources are used.
There are important decisions that need to be made, and some of these may well be difficult. That is why it is important to ensure that the consultation is as wide as possible and everyone is encouraged to think creatively as we seek to engage with the challenge before us. This will involve reviewing current expenditure, exploring potential new sources of funding and engaging with existing and potential partners, to consider whether there are tasks that might be undertaken more effectively together. This will certainly not preclude initiating new areas of work, if these are perceived as significant priorities by those that the Futures Group is called to serve.

Our world is in a state of unprecedented change at the moment; many accepted certainties and ways of doing things are becoming increasingly questioned. As Baptists we cannot expect to be immune from that, and it is vital to re-examine how we engage in mission and sustain our shared life in the light of this. Our prayer is that we might emerge better equipped to fulfil our common calling within the purposes and mission of our God.
The work of the Futures Group will be enabled by a small steering group, who have been appointed in recognition of the insight and experience that they will bring to the task. It is not for them to make decisions on behalf of others, nor to represent the interests of any party, but to ensure that those who do are properly informed and supported in their task.

One of their initial concerns is to ensure that as many people as possible are included and listened to in the consultation process. They will be using on-line resources, working with Associations, Union departments and committees and Special Interest groups to name but a few. The first full meeting of the Futures Group took place on Tuesday 13th December; the first phase of consultation is now being finalised and is expected to be released on-line on 20th December. Details of this and all future updates can be found on the BUGB website

All Baptist Christians are invited to share in this journey by praying for the Futures Group, the Steering Group and offering your reflections and insights when opportunities arise. Our desire is that together we might be led by the Spirit of God, and act in response to His leading.
BUGB Futures Group