Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Too many Pastor-Teachers in Leadership?

I've been doing some reflecting recently and some thinking about the future too. In fact we both have. Being busy can get in the way of planning the "what next" stage of life to the point where you suddenly find yourself in your own future without any real idea how you got there. That sound pretentiously profound to me, but the point is that you can just drift into things and it's good to stop every so often and do some reflecting and thinking. So that's what we're doing.

We wouldn't be giving away anything by saying that eventually we will probably move back to Bedford. Ally and David seemed settled there and it was probably the place we felt most at home during the 20 years of moving around the country as manse family. The question is more a when rather than an if. Of course it brings up all sort of other questions, mainly about where exactly we would look to live. But there's more to it than that.

We spent 8 years in Cotton End serving the church there. We learnt so much during that time and explored so many things. I still can't quite get my head around how willing the church family were to experiment and grapple with new ideas and opportunities. Moving away was quite a wrench. The next 2 years would turn out to be both the most difficult and challenging 2 years, and they would also mark the end of full-time ministry for us. What we did learn in that period was the God was challenging us and shaping us in quite a different way and that the legacy model of church was no longer a sustainable model for us. That isn't to say that it can't work, it's just that we could no longer do what was required. Okay, so I never could do what was required, I simply wasn't wired up to fulfil that sort of of role.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I think too many of our churches, yes I still see myself as part of the church, are lead by pastors. Looking at Paul's leadership traits in Ephesians it strikes me that too many pastor-teachers (if you want to combine the roles) lead churches. These good folk have all the skills and gifts to get alongside people, to comfort them, guide them, teach them and encourage them. The church needs them. But does it need them to be the primary leaders?

When you look at Paul's list you have to ask where are the apostles and prophets and evangelists? Church leadership is a multi-faceted process. It needs all of these gifts. Perhaps the problem is that we've elevated pastor-teacher above the rest and in so doing have actually done the church a dis-service. I think we've also excluded many good leaders because they don't have those pastor-teacher skills.

I'm not saying that a pastor-teacher can't have vision or can't be an effective leader. I just think we've missed out on so much by promoting one dimension of leadership to ordained office at the relegation of others. When we only put a pastor-teacher in charge, then we get the same result every time. We get legacy model church because that's what legacy model church looks like. It's pastor-teacher lead. It meets on Sundays and does worship. It produces Bible study notes for house groups. All good things, but not all that the church is called to be. Apostles and prophets and evangelists are are pain in the side of the legacy model of church because they see something different. We need the pain. We need leaders who aren't necessarily gifted pastorally or even as great teachers but who see things differently.

 If the church is ever really to leave the building then it will be because visionaries and pioneers, the apostles and prophets and evangelists, will take us there. The pastor-teachers will still be important, but they won't be leading the charge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What can football learn from rugby?

It's easy to compare the England football team and the rugby team and point out the differences. Failure versus success makes for an easy target. But amidst the humour and banter, there's an interesting perspective to be considered. After a remarkably successful tour following a Grand Slam win of the annual European Six Nations, England rugby is setting higher goals.

Okay so far, but this is what Eddie jones said in an interview post beating the team previously ranked 2 in the world (England have taken that spot now):

“I’m going to go on the Tour de France for a bit and watch how Orica GreenEDGE prepare, probably next weekend,” Jones said. “I’m keen to have a look at what they do because I’ve got to get better. If the team’s not consistent, then our coaching’s not good enough. I’ve got to get better and our coaching staff have got to get better. The next two months are about us getting better and then planning our strategy going forward.
Read that again: “I’m keen to have a look at what they do because I’ve got to get better. If the team’s not consistent, then our coaching’s not good enough. I’ve got to get better and our coaching staff have got to get better.

I don't wish to draw a conclusion about the management of English football, after all Eddie Jones is not your typical rugby coach, but his example is interesting. I wonder if the new England football manager will seek out EJ to see what he can learn from someone who, in a few short months, has begun a process of change that has produced some amazing results.

There's talk in the media about how damaged the England players are over their performance and consequent exit form the Euros, perhaps they need to talk to their rugby counterparts who failed abjectly less than 12 months ago and have now done what South Africa were the last to over 40 years ago and that no other England side have ever done as far as I know.

Whatever is wrong with England's football team, players and coaches could do worse than send a bit of time with their Twickenham cousins.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Post Referendum thoughts

If some of what I've seen and read over the last few days is true, then surely the saddest part of the whole EU Referendum vote is hearing people who voted leave say they are now worried about the consequences of that vote. "I didn't think my vote would count" is something of an indictment of the system as much as it might be of the approach some took to voting. With no coherent vision on offer from anyone with regard to the future, we're left in this somewhat bizarre situation of apparently having voted for something most people aren't sure they really wanted. How very strange.

Even stranger is that the petition for a re-run seems to have been started by a leave voter. Not that a second referendum on the same issue is likely, or even welcome. And I say that as a remain voter. The only place for a second vote as far as I can see is when and if a clear vision, post Article 50 negotiations, is laid out and we are then asked whether the is what we truly want. But then again, I'm not sure that's even possible.

In the end we were probably asked the wrong question, in the wrong, at the wrong time. The leave campaign capitalised on years of negative press and comment about the EU. About who made decisions and how, about rules and regulations that were either never actually on the books or were only ever ideas suggested and rejected. We've always had an uneasy relationship with the EU and the silence from MEPs before and during this debate hasn't helped. Where were the positive voices? Too late now I'm afraid.

And what of the "promises" and "threats"? George Osborne tries to settle the markets by suggesting things won't be as bad as he kept telling us they would be, Nigel Farage says that the £350M we could invest in the NHS wasn't true. No wonder people have such a low view of politics and politicians.

There has been quite a lot of comment about the need to simply get on with it. Accept the outcome and figure out the way forward outside of the EU. But I'm not sure the debate ends there quite just yet. After all, the outcome of the referendum is only advisory, it's not legally binding. Parliament could decide to reject it. That would, I assume, be unprecedented, and who would be brave enough to do such a thing?

Maybe there are some good things that will come out of the mess. Perhaps the EU will take seriously the need to do some deep reforming, maybe there will be debates about how the free movement of people works across a range of contras with vastly differing social policies and systems. Perhaps there will be greater clarity and understanding of what it means to be a member state, what responsibilities and opportunities come with being part of a greater community. Sadly we seem to have chosen not be part of that process.

Perhaps we might also see a change in our one political landscape. If we've got our country back, and I'm not sure we have, (or to be more accurate I'm not convinced the country some people think we're getting back is the country I wanted back), then how will the politics of this new era reflect that? Post upheaval and leadership elections, will there be a greater engagement between politicians and people? Who knows? I suspect we'll drift quietly back into the stars quo of hoping of the best, wanting to believe what those seeking election are telling us, and then expressing our inevitable;e disappointment when it turns out that once again things aren't quite what they seemed to be. That might sound cynical, even overly negative, but it takes an enormous amount of effort to seize the opportunity of change and stay with it.

So, to be positive, I think we will survive outside the EU. It's not where I wanted us to be. I hoped we had bigger hearts and greater vision. To leave just seems too narrow and somewhat selfish to me. If we do have a second vote, then I hope it will focus on more positive things than we have endured through this campaign. And I hope that in the future we will see less protest voting because everyone will realise that every vote matters.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Polling Day is coming

So it's polling day in the great referendum tomorrow. Time for some last day thoughts.

If I'm really honest I'm far from convinced that the question of our membership of the EU can be settled by a national referendum. The issue is too complex for a simplistic in/out vote. I'm not saying that the electorate in general is incapable of understanding the nuances and complexities of membership, but the reductionist campaigning has failed completely to debate the issues in anything like the depth needed to inform anyone.

What we have been left with in tomorrow's vote is a choice between our least and worst fears. We've been told all sorts of worrying stuff from both sides that has little substance and have been allowed to continue to believe some ridiculous stuff about the EU that simply isn't true when you look at the wider context of what it means to be part of the community. I've said before that there is much that needs fixing, but that doesn't make it a bad idea in the first place.

My hope is that we vote to remain and then work hard to build a better system of European government and cooperation. I also believe we need to get better at letting people know what it means to be a member state, how to take our membership seriously and to embrace the responsibilities that come with being part of that wider community.

I would have liked to have seen a far more positive campaign to remain rather than the end of the world scenario that has been peddled these last few months. I do not see our future as a nation being under threat by remaining. On the contrary, the false ideas of what it means to be a sovereign nation poses a bigger threat to our identity with it's apparent desire to be isolated and insulated. Where does "controlling our own borders, making our own laws" etc really take us?

My fear is that the lack of a positive edge to the remain campaign has fuelled the leavers argument and people will vote out because they've been sucked into believing the rhetoric about bureaucrats and red tape. Yes there are some annoying regulations, but annoying doesn't equal unnecessary or unhelpful. And just because we think other countries pay no attention to the rules and regulations is no reason to suggest that they get in our way!

If the European Union is going to work we need to be part of the solution. My family, my work, my community are all richer because of life within the EU (and I don't mean financially). We get to travel without too much fuss. Although we're unlikely to adopt the Euro currency, you can't deny it's benefit when you travel through continental Europe. Imagine or remember the days when you had to carry four or five different currencies if you went on a European tour. I know that wouldn't disappear, but my point is that for all the problems, the EU has been a good thing and if we could only stop moaning about it for a while it might become something even better.

Don't say this!

The Christianity Today (Christianitytoday.com) website, in the guise of Leadership Journal, posted a piece about the five dumb things Christians say when evil strikes. It's worth a read. Here are the list of five things to avoid saying:

  • This is an opportunity for the church
  • This is God's wrath for...
  • Did you hear...
  • I don’t agree with their lifestyle, (or politics, or religion, or…) but…
  • Everything happens for a reason
When you take the time to draw breath and consider these things, you begin to realise that such statements are not the words of a faith rooted in the grace and compassion of God. So instead of saying something stupid try weeping with those who weep, mourning with those who mourn.

Read the article here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Polar A360

Having had my Polar Loop for a year, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a more sophisticated activity monitor. I did a bit of research and in the end decided to stay with Polar and get the A360.

Now, if you're a runner or triathlete you will undoubtedly want something more sophisticated, but if you're just interested in getting some data about how much activity you're doing, then the A360 looks like a good choice.

The Loop was useful, but the A360 gives you more options. The basic settings for what constitutes your active day stays the same, but now you have access to heart rate data courtesy to the wrist based heart rate monitor. For a more accurate heart rate you have the option to pair, via Bluetooth, the  device to a chest strap. The Loop also did that, but I never actually tried it.

Where the A360 scores over the Loop is the ability to choose a training type and capture the associated data. The display will show you heart rate, training zone, calorie burn etc. From my point of view, the training types are limited. I have to choose "other indoor" or "other outdoor" and then change it afterwards via the 'phone app to tennis or swimming. On the plus side, it can make me look like I sprint 10K on a regular basis!

One of the other positives for me is that the screen is easier to see in bright sunlight when compared to the Loop. This means it's easy to use as a watch when I'm coaching or just wanting to know what time it is. The adjustable strap is also a plus. I can wear it a little loose and tighten it up when I want heart rate monitoring. The clasp, two t-profile stubs that simply press into the holes in the strap, can come unclipped if you catch it on something, but it hasn't come off completely yet, so I'm not overly concerned by it.

The A360 will also vibrate to let you know you have an incoming call or text message or other notification on your 'phone.

There have been some negative reviews of the A360. People have experienced issues with synchronising data and with the unit and strap separating. There have also been some issues with the USB port cover. I've only had mine for a few weeks and so far I've not experienced any problems at all. Whether the syncing issues arise from the device itself or the 'phone or tablet being used isn't clear. My iPhone 5S seems to work fine.

Overall I'm quite pleased with my new activity monitor. The watch looks smart and fits neatly on my wrist. It's comfortable to wear and easy to use. At around £140 it's neither cheap nor expensive when compared to other similar devices.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Is enough, enough?

When did enough become not enough? When did faith become about abundance rather than sufficient? When did knowing that faith can move mountains become inadequate, demanding a demonstration in order to prove its veracity?

I got to thinking about these things when I saw an advert on a website I've used a lot over the years, particularly when I was preparing sermons regularly. "Life-changing messages to give you abundant faith" was the offer, and it made me think is that really what I want, or even need. I need enough faith to get through today, rather than abundant faith. I need enough faith to honour God in the things I'll be doing today. Tomorrow is literally another day and we can deal with that when it comes. For now, get me through today.

I read Psalm 139.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
This is enough. To believe this gets me through the day. To have the faith to believe that I am known and loved by the creator and sustainer of the universe is more than enough to make it through the darkest of days. At least I think it ought to be so. Of course it isn't always.

Some days I crave more action on behalf of the God who says he loves me but who appears to be somewhat silent when I ask questions. When I seek answers and interventions and nothing appears to happen, then I want more.

But maybe today I settle for enough.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Disappointing Debate

Well, so far the EU debate has been predicable and rather disappointing. When the date for the referendum was announced I was hoping that the somewhere in the discussion we're get to hear some thoughtful reflections and the purpose and direction of of the Union. But all we seem to have had is argument and counter-argument about money and sovereignty, migration and borders.

It's a mostly scare tactic driven debate, with each side making seemingly unsubstantiated claims about the impact on our economy and legislative processes. Financial forecasts are notoriously unreliable, and since we've been in the EU for 40 years it's hard to say whether we would have pursued political and legislative change in areas like the environment in the same way had we not been Europeans. Given that no country has ever left the EU, there's also no comparison against which we can even remotely reflect on possible future outcomes for our own.

So I come back to my fundamental ideological questions about the nature and direction of the community. Is the direction of the EU community a direction that we want to go? If not, then maybe we should leave, but if we leave we have no possible say in shaping that direction. That could be a poor choice in the long term.

While we let rhetoric of the leave and remain campaigns to focus on migration, border control, economic guesswork and sovereignty as if we're flooded with migrants, or not; ruled by Brussels based unelected eurocrats, or not; destined to be out in the cold when it comes to trade deals, or not, we're missing the point.

Do we want to be part of a wider European community in which we share responsibility for making decisions or do we want to be isolated? We can't have both.