Sunday, July 29, 2007

The walk (2)

Yesterday, Saturday, we did the second section of the Greensand Ridge.

Setting off from Eversholt we made our through woods, along tracks and over a few ups and downs to Clophill. We covered just short of 12 miles and have now complete 22 miles of the 40 mile route. Interestingly, from Eversholt to Clophil we dropped about 200ft overall. On the other hand we had many a climb and descent along the way. If I took my time I could work out how much climbing and descending we did. I'll have to look at my digital OS mapping, but I think we climbed up and down at least 4 times. My feet certainly knew I'd been out for a walk.

Along the way we passed through an area of special scientific interest that would, and probably does, go unnoticed by almost everyone who passes by. The walk detours from the ridge to take the area in, otherwise we wouldn't have known it was there. It sits just alongside the A6, half a mile or so north of Clophill.

Our lunch stop was by the golf course at Milbrook.

In the photograph you can just see a small section of the test track tot he left of the buildings. Just left of centre, on the mid-horizon are the airship sheds at Cardington. They're about 6 miles away at a guess and the far horizon might be 12 miles or more, but I'm not sure. Visibility was good yesterday!

We're hoping to do a short section next weekend and then maybe finish the walk the weekend after that. I'll keep you posted

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A little bit of maths fun!

While we were coming home in the car the other day Ally, my daughter, asked me a maths question. She'd been looking at all the small change that sits in the cup holder of my car and wondered aloud how many coins you needed for it to be probable that two came from the same year. Now for those non-UK readers, we went decimal in 1970 (?), I don't remember exactly but I know I was at secondary school. That means the earliest date for any coin was going to be 1970 and the latest 2007, which gives a nice beginning and end for this problem.

Now I can't remember exactly how to do the probability maths (it's 30 years since I did any!) so someone may need to help and that's where the fun comes in if you're mathematically inclined. As I remember it the way we'd work this out is to calculate the probability of two, then three etc, coins coming from different years and then subtracting that from 1 to get the probability that they'd be the same. did we use something called a Laplace transform to do this? Once this number dropped below 0.5 then the probability that they were the same year was greater than the probability that they were from different years. Or something like that. Anyway, if I'm right then I think the answer is 15. But I'm not at all convinced that I'm anywhere near right!

I do seem to remember than we were asked to do the same thing to calculate the probability of two people sharing a birthday the answer was 23. In other words, if you have a group of 23 people or more, then it's more probable that two of them share a birthday than that they all have different birthdays. If that's true then 15 seems a little high for the coin question given that there are 365 days to choose from for the birthday thing!

If there's a mathematician out there who can do the maths properly and knows they've done it properly, I'd love to know the answer. I'd be even more thrilled to discover that I'd got it right in the first place!

Programmes and cultures

In a conversation with some other church leaders over lunch the other day someone used a phrase along the lines of: ".. we've seen things like servant evangelism, a.n.other form of evangelism [I can't remember the other types of evangelism that got mentioned] come and go."

I guess it was hearing SE mentioned that made the phrase stick in my mind. Couple that with our decision this week to adopt a strategy document I, along with other leaders at church, have been working on this year and it got me thinking about programmes and cultures.

The biggest challenge we face is changing the culture of church more so than changing the programme. When you treat something, anything, as a programme, you can keep changing the programme, you can keep blaming the programme. But that is not the root of the problem. The problem seems to lie in the culture. I suspect that at some level you can make any programme work if you get the culture right in the first place.

I remember Clive Calver back in the 80's (at least I think it was), posing the question, "Have we become universalists?" because it looked that way when you considered the priority we gave to mission at that time.

Now we are certainly not universalist, but the reason we are doing so poorly in mission (and a recent survey of evangelicals in the UK shows that we are in decline albeit at a lesser rate than non-evangelicals) is not a programme problem but a cultural one. We invest most of our time and money and effort in maintaining the happiness of the churched community. But isn't the church here primarily for those who don't belong to it yet? I'm of the opinion that since I know Jesus Christ as leader and forgiver I'm destined to spend eternity with him and have, therefore, an eternity to work out some of my unresolved issues and problems. My friends and family members who are not part of God's great family don't have that opportunity.

At Cotton End we're looking to shift the balance significantly and I'm excited about that. I'd have to say that I think we've come a long way anyway and what we've decided to move towards is another step along a road that God has been leading us for some time. But unless we shift the culture too, unless we all take responsibility for and engage in reconnecting our friends and neighbours with the God who misses them and loves them, nothing much will change and worse still nothing much will have been achieved.

We're in a good place. We've got loads of potential and bags of passion, but we are not unaware of the challenge ahead.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Character of Community

I didn't get a lot of reading done on holiday. That's no bad thing, since I was supposed to be on holiday! But I did read a little more of The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee. In his chapter on Finding a common place he list five characteristics of community built around a common place. Here they are:

Spontaneity: This is about unplanned contact. In our modern-day, high paced, highly mobile society, we've lost the space and time simply to bump into people as we walk to the shop or the the school. There are very few unplanned moments in our lives and most, if the surveys are true, are taken up with with watching TV. We don't "drop by" anymore.

Availability: To make spontaneity work you need availability. I'm as conscious as the next person about how often I have to consult my diary to see if I'm free. When we organise a meal with friends or a visit with our families, it usually has to be booked a month in advance. This cannot be good for us.

Frequency: If Acts 2 is a defining paradigm for the church, then we can no longer afford to say we don't have time for community. Okay, so things are different, but how often is often enough when it comes to building true, biblical community?

Common meals: I wonder if half the attraction of Alpha is the meal. Common meals are important to community. We have a monthly fellowship meal at church after our Sunday morning celebration. I'm always saddened by the number of people who choose not to be there. Common meals provide a place for some of the spontaneity and availability and frequency issues that affect our communities.

Geography: Frazee argues that: The simple fact is that in all places of effective community people live in close proximity to each other-and the closer the better!

What's in your rucksack?

Having just posted something about walking, and because it's summer, and because blogging should be broader than just book reviews and church, I thought I'd take a look in my rucksack and, for a bit of fun, list what I take with me when I walk! I wonder what it says about me?

In my bag I have:

1. Lightweight waterproofs (you never know when you need them in Great Britain)
2. A lightweight fleece top (again, you never know and it can be cold on top of a hill)
3. Maps.
4. A mat to sit on (it's about 400mm x 200mm)
5. a plastic "ziploc" bag for small electrical items like my 'phone and electronic car key to keep them dry if it rains really hard.
6. A small first aid kit (the only time I've ever used this as far as I remember was to do a running repair on someone boots!, but I still wouldn't walk with out it.)
7. Painkillers (in the first aid kit. I'm a migraine man and so I always carry something just in case, and I also have a painful knee joint that a little ibuprofen soothes)
8. A small pocket knife.
9. A whistle
10. A compass (most useful for the scale if you want to pinpoint your location. You don't have to be a great map reader and compass user to enjoy walking)
11. A small GPS (I use my GPS to find my position and to check distances. More functions just complicate the issue, so I have a Garmin Geko 101. It tells me everything I need to know.
12. A handheld weather station . I love gadgets and this is just fun. It measure barometric pressure and shows the up/down/ steady trend.

Other important items are:

1. My hat. I never walk without it, if only to embarrass my fellow walkers!
2. My walking poles. If you think there for wimps, think again. The extra stability going up and down hills is great and they take a lot of pressure of your knees. I tried using two on Saturday and it was great once I got used to it.

So that's my list. The only thing I can think of that's missing is probably a survival blanket, so maybe I'll pop into the Pound Shop and get one (you be surprised what you can pick up in the mos unexpected places!)

The long way round

I love walking. I'm not a massively experienced walker, but I like getting out on footpaths etc and exploring. One day I hope to walk the coast to coast path from St Bees to Wallsend, although I will probably miss out the mainly metropolitan area at the easterly end. This path follows the ancient wall built by Hadrian.

Anyway, on Saturday I began, with my friend Jeremy, to walk a local path called the Greensand Ridge. It begins in Leighton Buzzard and wanders for 40 miles through Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire to Gamlingay.

We did the first 10-11 miles from LB to Eversholt, a small village just outside Woburn.

What is interesting is that by walking from place to place rather than doing a circular walk, you get see such variation in landscape. There are some quite spectacular views to look at and maybe next time I'll take my camera along. The problem is that we don't stop that often to do a photoshoot.

The first part of the walk took us alongside the Grand Union canal. At one point we should have crossed a meadow but it was under water, so we followed the canal a little further and rejoined the footpath on higher ground. The meadow had boardwalks which looked more like jetties that day. After that we climbed up through woodlands and eventually reached a small hilltop that looked down to Woburn house. From there it was a short walk to Eversholt where we finished for the day.

For the most part of our journey we didn't meet another walker at all. A few folk were walking along the canal-side, and a few more exercising dogs in various wooded areas, but for most of the time we had the path to ourselves.

If you're the kind of person who sees walking as what you do between the car park and the shops, let me encourage you to go and explore. I'd bet that wherever you are there are some old trails that are worth the effort of finding.

And, as you can see, whilst most of my time is consumed with church and theology, there are other things that occupy some of my days.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Personality test!

Jeff Noble blogged about this personality test. I've had fun doing several of these as a result of Jeff pointing them out. So here's the result for me from the latest one:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Leaving school

Today I acted in my capacity of chair of governors at the local school. I had to give out the presentation gifts to the children who are leaving us this year to go on to their next school. I was also asked to do a little talk.

My talk was very simple, and short, and based around two quotes which I think are helpful reminders to me about who I am and what I do. The first was this:

God does not make junk. (Ethel Waters)

Rick Warren quotes this in The Purpose Driven Life. What I like about this thought is that it reminds me how special and precious and individual I am in God's sight. When I'm tempted to think the very least of myself, I remember this quote and remind myself that whilst I'm far from perfect I'm not junk.

The second quote comes from Jim Wallis.

Find out what you do best, and do it in a way that makes a difference.

Ah, I hear you say, if only I knew what I did best!

I know the feeling, but the more I share thoughts and ideas with other people, the more I interact with them, the more I'm beginning to understand what I do best. It's quite a long process and it takes courage, I think, to stick with it and learn all you can about how God has shaped and prepared you for what you do best.

So if you're struggling a bit at the moment, remember that you are not junk, that you were made with a purpose in mind and there is something you do that only you do and it makes a difference because you do it.

Back to the blog

I'm not sure how much I have to say at the moment. Been processing a lot of thoughts about church recently and also been on holiday to the wonderful Greek island of Rhodes. So very peaceful and so very hot! I actually swam in the sea (some of you may remember that I only learnt to swim last year). I say swam, is was more like waving my arms around and going nowhere in particular as the waves lifted me up and down. I probably chose the day with the least benign conditions, but at least I got in the water and had a go. My efforts in our pool were more significant!

Anyway, got home to find two parcels, always exciting, one containing two books I'd ordered form Amazon sometime ago. One was Bill Bryson's The life and times of the the Thunderbolt Kid. The other a more serious book altogether called The Big Idea by Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson and Eric Bramlett. The subtitle of the book is focus the message-multiply the impact and in the introduction they talk about the increasing amount of information that is available to us through the media that we have around us. Of this exponential increase in information they say:

... more information is not bad... But more information that leads to less action is a big, big problem, particularly when the action we desire is to accomplish Jesus' mission.

The challenge becomes therefore, to focus less on information and more on action!

The chapter heading that caught my attention was this:

Communities of transformation, not information.

This is going to be a good read, at least I hope it is. You see I've been around church for a while now and one of the refrains I hear from church after church is: "We need more teaching." As if the only thing stopping the church breaking through into effective mission and ministry is more information. It seems the priority has become leaning as much as possible about what we believe without ever having to turn that understanding into action. For a long time now I've thought that what the church actually needs is more opportunities to serve not more teaching about stuff we should already know.

So I'm looking forward to at least one chapter in the book and I'll try to remember to blog some thougths as I go. On the other hand do you really need any new information, especially if sitting reading it is keeping you from actively engaging in God's ministry and mission to a lost world he made, sustains, loves and died to save?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Building a great church

After hearing Jim Collins talking about principles of greatness at the 2006 Global Leadership Summit, I've been turning over in mind the idea of great church. I've preached about it, thought about, even blogged about it! Just recently I revisited it as I thought about where we are at this point in time with respect to our vision and purpose.

Once again I found myself wondering aloud about the church as I prayed and reflected. Once again I found myself using the language of greatness. I even wrote the following definition which some of you will recognise if you've read Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life.

A great church is built upon a great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission.

It seems to me that whatever style of church you are and whatever core values, mission statement and purpose you have, if you're going to become a great church the statement above must be true or becoming true for you.

What, by the grace of God, we're trying to build at Cotton End is a relationally based, Biblically taught, contemporary styled, relevantly involved community of faith. We want to be effective, influential, growing, disciple-making and caring.

The tough part is that when you cut through all the nice phrases and words, you need a strategy that is clear enough so that everyone can see where you are going, and flexible enough to change and adapt as you discern more clearly the precise call of God at any given time.

Perhaps these too (discernment and adaptability) are hallmarks of a great church.

I'll keep thinking and reflecting and exploring, hope you are doing so too.

Great quote

Came across this great quote from Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Christian Fellowship:

You can teach what you know, but ultimately, you are going to reproduce what you are.

Found the quote on the churchrelevance blog.