Friday, March 30, 2007

Burying my head in the sand

According to a raft of emails I've received over the last week or so, this is exactly what I'm doing if I don't protest about a planned mosque to built in time for the 2012 Olympics in London. According to the email Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, plans to use taxpayers money to build this mosque and we should, as good Christians, protest at this.

Now I don't know what Mr Livingstone's actual plans are, and I have to say that I would be a little concerned if the plan was to use so-called "tax-payer money" for the whole project. But another part of me is really concerned at the way we're being drawn into protesting about these kind of things. I'm just wondering if it's the right approach.

I went to see the film Amazing Grace the other day. I was deeply moved by it. I'm still not sure if it really did justice to the issues and the story, but it was okay. Here was a man, Wilberforce, who was moved by God and encouraged by others to protest at the highest levels of government. For years his protests led nowhere, but eventually the transatlantic slave trade was ended.

Through Wilberforce's Bill, the world was changed and he went on to be involved in many other examples of social change in the UK. This is Christian "protesting" at it's best.

If you are going to sign, or have already signed, the petition about the mosque then let me ask you what you're doing about modern slavery or issues of social justice. Are you as vocal about these issues as you are concerned about a religious building? I know for some this building project is another step along the road towards the eventual suppression of all things Christian. I know many people fear the rise of philosophies and religious movements that might one day remove our rights and erode our Christian heritage. But maybe the best way to preserve our heritage is to focus on the issues that move God's heart. Remember the words of Amos the prophet:

He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with the Lord your God. (Amos 6:8)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Taking it on the chin

One of the key leadership skills that I don't hear many people talk about is how to handle criticism. It's bound to come your way from time to time, and how you deal with it is key to moving forward. So here are some of my random rules for dealing with criticism.

1. It hurts. Criticism always hurts. Recognising that it hurts helps me to process it more objectively. I think that's because I know it's okay to hurt but it's not okay to lash out and strike back or to dwell on it or let it fester.

2. Don't make snap responses. I remember a good friend of mine saying that once you're in ministry, you're in the firing line. The best thing, he said, was not to respond by justifying yourself. That just produces an argument. In fact make your first response a thank you for the other person's courage to be honest and their care for you in bringing the matter to your attention. You'll be surprised at how often that calms the storm.

3. Reflect. Often, no matter how poorly handled and presented, there is a seed of truth in the criticism. The things I most often get criticised about usually reflect an area of my character, ministry or life that needs addressing. Not necessarily in the way the purveyor of the criticism thinks, but in some way. Sometimes they are so wide of the mark, that there is no basis for the criticism. If, after reflecting, I feel that way, I try and check out my conclusions with someone I trust. Rule 4 kicks in.

4. Always have someone who can help you process the big stuff. Actually processing the little stuff can need help too, because unprocessed or processed badly just makes it big stuff sooner or later.

5. Discern the voice behind the criticism. My friend Andy White blogged about working alone and the issues surrounding the inner voice of doom. Discerning the root of the voice of criticism is vital to healthy processing. When criticism comes it often arouses feelings of low self-worth after you've finished being angry. (If you're only ever angry about criticism see rule 3!) The inner voice begins to tell you that you have no value, that you're not cut out for leadership, that God can't possible use you etc. etc. It's simply not true. I'm doing what I do because God has called me and gifted me to do it. I just don't do it the way some people want it done. Sometimes that's my fault because I get things wrong, I focus on the wrong thing and I'm not too hot on organising myself. But if I'm anybody's failure then I'm God's failure and I know he still loves me even.

6. Be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up, there are plenty of people out there in the wider world who would gladly do that for you, and they'd probably do a better job anyway.

7. If the first 6 rules haven't worked, go buy yourself a cup of your favourite coffee, or in my case fruit smoothie, and put the criticism to one side until you're in better shape to deal with it all.

Now, where are my car keys....

Friday, March 09, 2007

Take an ordinary walk

Back in 1991 I attended what I believe was the first Willow Creek conference in the UK. It was in Birmingham, and I remember driving from my then home in Newark in Nottinghamshire each morning at 6:00am to be there.

That conference radically affected my view of church. For many years I’d wondered about the relationship between the “unchurched” and the church. Like many events, and books, and conversations since then, that conference opened up a whole new vocabulary for my thinking.
Since then I’ve wandered through the worlds of Ordinary Attempts, emerging church, organic church, servant evangelism and a few others along the way. All the time I’ve been trying to synthesise how I feel about the church, about mission and most importantly how God feels about it.

I’m still trying. But what I’m beginning to find is that there is a thread running through many current ideas and approaches to outreach. I’m hoping one day to find a way of connecting the dots and seeing a bigger picture emerge. At church we’re getting clearer about our vision and the kind of church God is calling us to become.

Recently I got hold of a new resource from Willow Creek called Just walk across the room. It must be two or three years since I first heard Bill Hybels talk about this approach to evangelism. One of our small groups is about to engage with the four-week programme and I’m looking forward to being a part of that group.

In a nutshell the course is all about how to take simple steps that point people to faith. For me, it sits comfortably alongside everything I’ve been learning about serving others, doing OA’s and simply trying to connect people who are far from God with the God who loves them.
A quote from the book helps explain where it all begins to connect up:

If we share the dream to become radically loving, outwardly focused, grace-giving people, then we ought to be the first ones to expand our hearts and invite folk to come into the kingdom.
Just walk across the room
, p66

I’m desperate to become more effective in inviting others to join this journey of faith. And I believe passionately that it was never meant to be as hard as we’ve made it over the centuries since Jesus began his world-changing movement.

Later in the book, Bill Hybels talks about the incident in the gospels when Jesus heals the man with the withered hand. He talks about how the Pharisees were looking for something to hang an accusation on and how they might even of found the guy with the withered hand and invited him to the synagogue to see what would happen He finishes by speculating about the conversation Jesus and the healed man might have had.

… I envision Jesus saying, “… what are your plans? Juggling? Piano? What is it that you dream about doing, my friend?”
In my imagination, they chat about this man’s long-awaited passion pursuits. And possibly the man turns to Jesus and says, “Well, what are your dreams?”…
I imagine Jesus articulating his dream with words that are absolutely captivating to me:
“You know, I dream that someday, places of worship will be filled with people who lay awake at night concerned about the human beings my Father created. Who care about broken bodies and broken souls and hopeless futures and hell-bound eternities. I dream of the day when people who gather in my name are so filled with the love of the Father that they go out and spread his love and extend healthy hands to withered hands-praying, coaching, and encouraging them to live walk in the fullness of life. I dream of worship centres filled with radically loving, outwardly focused, Christ-sharing people. That’s what I dream about.”
p 74

These extracts don’t do the book justice and they certainly don’t tell the whole story. But I dream about it too. Do you?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another "Proud Dad" moment

Here's Ally talking to Kevin MaCloud, the presenter of Grand Designs about her photographs.

She was asked to submit some of her work to be used in a new Estate Agents in the town. Six of her photographs were chosen.

Apparently they were well admired.

Here's a picture of the display.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Say thank you, and see if it makes a difference

I was reading through various blogs this morning and came across two things that tweaked at my imagination. The first was a post on Tim Sanders blog about the need to make sure we compliment each other.

He comments:

The premise is simple: You cannot let your people wither away and die at work. Many of them desperately need their talents recognized by you, be they as small as they might be in your P&L view...

...When it comes to management strategies, remember, Love Is The Killer App.

It seems to me that this principle applies at church too. As a leader I make it my business to say thank you to people. I thank the members of the worship group each Sunday. I also try to thank everyone who has made a contribution that day, and I guess I ought to thank folk for just turning up and being a part of what God is doing in our midst.

This kind of connected with the next thing I read from Total Leadership on the leader and corporate worship.

Tad Thompson writes:

Now this one may sound easy for a pastor or even a lay leader. But for me, it is possible to preach and not worship corporately. See the temptation is in viewing the preaching as my job and not as worship. Ministry can become a job and not worship. In the days of Josiah, the temple was no longer the place of worship and the book of law had been lost somewhere in a dark, dusty corner. The temple was in disarray because corporate worship had been ignored.

A true leader worships God with God’s people. This is a non-negotiable. Today worship has become negotiable because it is seen as entertainment. It is not seen as a means for the protection of our very soul.

Now what struck me is that whilst not everyone will agree that worship has become entertainment, we must agree that it certainly has to compete with many other things for a person's commitment. Perhaps they get thanked for their involvement with Sunday football, but never thanked for being at worship. Perhpas people are not committment shy but feeling under valued at church.

I know it's not about us, but we live in such a self-centred world that we need to connect with people where they start and not where we want them to finish. So let's try saying thank you a little more often.