Thursday, 31 March 2011

Pension earthquake?

An 'earthquake resistant' building does not mean the building is resistant to structural damage. It  means, however, that the building should survive the initial quake and should not collapse. It may well be found, that after inspections have been completed, several buildings will need to be torn down and rebuilt. Think about a car - we can build a car where you can probably survive a 60 mph crash, but that doesn't mean you can drive that car after the crash.

These were the words I found, somewhere on the internet, when pursuing a train of thought around earthquakes and what this business of 'earthquake resistance' means.

One comment, someone wrote, was "instead of earthquake-resitant buildings, we should develop earthquake-repellant buildings! That would keep the earthquake away and solve the whole problem". Now that's something I hear, unfounded and totally unrealistic, in many a church.

It seems, to me at least, our whole structure is being shaken to the point an increasing number of people are asking 'what is church', 'why invest in the church?' etc.

Within our own Baptist Union the challenges are mounting:

the tide of numerical decline has not yet turned, despite the selective use of figures.
the lack of new new people coming to faith is becoming an ever more serious alarm bell.
the suggestion an increasing number of churches are struggling to afford full-time paid Ministry.
the perceived need for more money as 'the' answer to our problems.
I could go on and you could add others.

One unwelcome addition is the pension crisis. The letters have been hitting letter boxes this week. (so I understand, mine has yet to arrive and we have a Pensions Roadshow in Bristol tomorrow!)

So, the question I feel I need to hear an answer to is 'what is God saying to us?' It will be easy to make a knee jerk reaction. I expect this initially, but if our responses solidify to be simply about money, affordability, maintaining structures, which may need to change, we shall not be in place of perpetual risk (if you live on a fault-line, this must become a way of life), we shall be in a disaster zone.

I am not an engineer, I have a negligible knowledge of earthquakes, I not like glib, but the building of structures, which are 'earthquake resistant' seem to have, at least, three key features about them, to my small brain:

- they are sufficiently flexible to survive seismic shifts.
- they anticipate shaking rather than ignoring the possibilities.
- they do not assume there will be no damage and, once survival has been achieved, have a built in willingness to be realistic about damage and build a more sustainable future again ... and again.

So, let's not panic, but let's listen for the voice of God and then have the guts to respond.

Friday, 25 March 2011

I've been at Swanwick now two weeks running, but what struck me was the very different feel to the two gatherings. Our conversations with Alan Roxburgh gave me an expansive view, looking outwards, whereas this weeks BU Council meetings have caused me to look inwards - at our system, rather than my own inner being. I should not be surprised, however, bearing in mind the nature of the two, every different gatherings. With Alan we explored our system and it was fascinating to pick up on some of the similarities elsewhere.

Our Council was dominated by the challenges presented by our Pension Fund and a rather large challenge it is. How the news is going to be received is a big concern - especially when it  co-incides with a push for more giving to Home Mission. Whether this will be the switch to force us to look at things differently remains to be seen. A number of things fascinate me about how we do our business as Baptists. One is how we seem to ignore some of the common-sense guidelines we apply at local church level when we get together nationally. For example, I'm always encouraging Ministers to provide information ahead of time when crucial decisions are faced, not to expect people to take on board in one meeting what the leadership have been discussing, in detail, for months. So, what do we do? Keep everything under wraps and then present an hours worth of information about our pension crisis and expect everyone to get on board!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Jesus unplugged & creating new churches.

I'm at BU Council right now, but Stuart's sent me this new flyer, which I thought was worth popping on here - especially as someone's just told me they've found things here, which have been useful - so it's not simply you who pop's in here!

Monday, 21 March 2011

the most inspiring event this year

Last night I went to the most inspiring event this year .... so far! I judge that on the basis of the number of people who used those words, 'that was inspiring' afterwards. To be honest, I lost count.
So where was I? I'm tempted to end the blog there, but it soared ahead of hearing Tony Campolo, who is always inspiring, because this time, it was 'ordinary' people making a difference where God has placed them .... and they were our people.
Last night was our 'ordinary' 3-in-1 event held at Counterslip. Once upon a time, when we started using '3-in-1', the "three" was worship, seminars & agm. (!! - yes, I know) Now, the "three" are 'worshipping, sharing stories and listening together'.
What was inspiring for many, maybe everyone, was hearing what God is up to in and through other people. We heard about Nailsea BC and why the fact they don't use their brand new building for Sunday worship is a good and deliberate thing. We heard about how couples are intentionally moving onto Knowle West estate in Bristol and the network of households is beginning to overlap with the more traditional frameworks of Church. We heard how two of our bi-vocational track students are beginning to get into skin of St George. We heard how our new churches initiatives money is helping fund new beginnings in Painswick. We heard from Barrie and Sue, who were the heroes of the night. Barrie is 84, Sue 'much younger'. Barrie began working in our Churches, as a paid stipendary Minister in the year I was born. He moved to Paulton BC, which had seen better days, when he was 75. Since then, God has turned this Church around.
When I began as a Regional Minister, I said I wanted to turn association meetings around 180 degrees. For me, any meeting of the Association seemed to be primarily about attending, loyalty, faithfulness to the organisation. My desire was to see 'association' and 'associating' as something, which might benefit people and Churches. I didn't aim for inspiration, but now I'm not willing to settle for anything else.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

long obedience in the same direction?

Well, I've not time now to write down my reflections from our conversations with Alan Roxburgh, other than to say it was a hugely beneficial time - I think for everyone.
What has brought a smile to my face, has been my morning run on tuesday - I set out for half an hour and it ended up as 56 minutes, nearly twice as long.
Basically, I turned right outside the Hayes, Conference centre, where I've been man, many times before. I bizarrely (at least that's how it struck me) find I can think and pray quite clearly when running. Consequently, I was paying very little attention to anything around me. I urned around after 15 minutes to head back, assuming I was still on the same road, but after a few minutes, began to think the buildings weren't familiar. I put this down to simply looking at them from a different perspective than the outward run. I carried on and the title of Eugene Peterson's book came into my mind and I began to think about the parallels for discipleship, etc - all holy stuff. When the road dipped, I picked up speed thinking i'd get back a bit quicker and familiar scenes would soon be in view. Of course, this is all very well, if you're on the right road, in the right direction and have not inadvertently taken a wrong turning - even if you didn't spot it!
I was lost and totally disoriented. Long obedience in the wrong direction may be the title of my book on the subject! There's a lot of lessons in here for me, but the main one is, don't get lost, you might miss breakfast!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

conversations with Alan Roxburgh

Tomorrow we begin a consultation with Alan Roxburgh. The 'we' are Baptist Regional Ministers and, whilst I realise it wont answer many questions, or solve the riddle of the universe, I am praying it might be a step towards transitioning our little Baptist denomination here in the UK, towards something more in the flow of the mission of God.

very, very, good, or horrid?

I can't even remember, which Nursery Rhyme it was, but the one ..... 'and when she was good, she was very, very, good, but when she was bad, she was horrid' ..... always reminds me of the church. This week has been one of those when I've been keenly reminded of both ends of the spectrum. Today, an old friend's 90th birthday party was a great stirring up of memories and re-connecting with friends. However, this week has also been one of those when the less savoury side of life in the church has come to the surface. The common denominator is people. When you're with people who love you, who want the best for you, even after they've witnessed your frailty and your ample demonstration of fallenness, the fellowship of the church is just great. Love of another kind, as Amy Grant used to sing. Of course, it's also people who bring home the worst side of the church. Sadly, I'm no longer surprised by finding what I keep saying I should not expect within God's kingdom ...... 'by this all people will recognise the fact that you are my followers'
Found this photo when we returned home having been away this weekend. Appreciated it because we were given the most delicious cup cakes from the party to eat later! Maggie's given up chocolate for Lent, so no arguments over them today - tee hee!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Darkroom

Well, Lent is upon us and Baptists .... well, I find increasingly, it's in our diary and more and more take notice. Traditionally many people give something up, but a growing number of people are now advocating taking something up! This appeals to activists, but I find to take anything up new usually means I have also to decide what I will not do.
The Darkroom is a new blog for Lent in which the blogger, Em, intends to post a picture everyday.
It's definitely a challenge to make sure you get something on everyday - I struggle to make one a week! However, pictures and not words as a mechanism to reflect on the deeper things in life during Lent has something to commend it. There's no doubt, one of the most insightful books I feel I've read in recent years is 'A Whole New Mind - why right brainers will rule the future.' by Daniel Pink. It contains a message those of us wordsmiths need to hear (or see!).
Anyway, some of you will twig the blogger behind emsdarkroom is my daughter, Emily, but I commend the idea to you, as well as the blog.

No, it's not em in the picture.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

enterprise is only hope for growth

Oh dear, I fear this is going to do my personal credibility little good ...... I'm agreeing with David Cameron again!
Well, not exactly as he's talking about Government and I'm talking about Church, but it was the headline 'David Cameron says enterprise is the only hope for growth', which caught my eye.
Those who know me will not be surprised, I guess, but it seems to me we have to invest far more in 'the forgotten three' - apostles, prophets and evangelists.
So, when David Cameron says the 'only strategy' for growth is to get behind Britain's entrepreneurs, I confess I can hear echoes of my own voice, even though the words might be different. Surely, we need to get more behind those who can re-establish the gospel beyond the walls of the church, don't we? Unfortunately, we are rather scared about this because the majority of our church systems are geared to support those without an abundance of such gifts, which means the majority would have to forego the benefits of being on the receiving end.
I hope I am not too naive and I remain, personally, cautious about aligning myself with the political strategy of any particular party. However, there are numerous examples of how we've followed the cultural mainstream in many different generations. Because this is one huge influence upon popular culture we need to recognise it's wise to choose intentionally and not merely be blown around by every wind of doctrine, etc. Choose we may have to do though.
One of the biggest examples, in my lifetime, is the way in which the charismatic movement represented so much of what we needed to hear and respond to from God. That said, I could never deny it was not as simple as a move of the Holy Spirit as there were so many other cultural influences and responses involved - not least for younger people tired of the institutional church. I speak as one who's been happy to be called a card carrying charismatic, even though I've lost my card! I certainly don't know what such labels mean any more.
On this occasion I think those of us within the mainline denominations need to follow Cameron's line.
We don't have the financial resources to buy ourselves out of trouble.
We have a shrinking support base, which does not bode well for a monopoly of simple pastor-teacher models of ministry, tried and tested for previous generations, but increasingly found wanting in post-Christendom.
We too need the entrepreneurs, who don't depend upon full pay on day one. Of course, here's an area where it becomes very obvious our messages are far from identical!
We need to discover some new sustainable means for developing Christian communities.
We also need to find ways to rid Ministers and Churches being bogged down by the 'enemies of enterprise' (rules and regulations etc - cf how much energy is sucked from churches on health & safety, abiding by charity commissioners and other regulatory bodies). If the Tories can take on the bureaucrats, why should Baptists forget their heritage and leave it to the establishment. Unless, of course, we have too much vested in being the establishment ourselves.
We also need to acknowledge our 'enterprise is not just an economic/spiritual (depending on whether you're a Conservative, or a Baptist!!!)  good. it's a social good'. I've been struck recently by The Message translation of Isa. 58:12 'make the community liveable again'.
Oh well, that's what comes of being too shattered to get out to church tonight!
No church this morning because it was the Bath half - absolutely freezing. I confess to being disappointed to not get a PB and I was on track at 10 miles, but, oh well, missed by between 3-4 minutes in the end. Still, I keep reminding myself, 1.42 is still not bad at 52. However, any disappointment soon disappeared on getting back to listen to Liverpool beating United 3-1. I haven't looked forward to MOTD so much season!
Film night tonight too after church. We'll be talking about Creation & The King's Speech, which will be  interesting - if I can stay awake.