Monday, March 31, 2008

Called by name

What an incredible privilege it is to be called by name. Especially when the person who calls you by name is someone special. 

In the opening sequence of John's gospel there is a lot of positive name calling. Jesus is called the Word, he's the creator, he is the life, the light, the Son, the Christ, the Lamb of God, God's chosen One. John too, is named and identified, but it's the naming of the first followers by Jesus himself that draws my attention today. 

There's Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael. Nathanael is interesting, not only because of the way he comes to Jesus, but because, as I recall, he's the one name missing from the twelve apostles listed in the other gospels. He didn't make the cut so-to-speak, but that doesn't make him any less important and in no way unworthy of mentioning. In fact I don't remember John ever listing the twelve as Mark, Matthew and Luke do.

The point is this: you may not be a high profile, well-known follower of Jesus, but that doesn't mean you are less significant to the work of the kingdom. If Jesus can say to Nathanael, "You will see greater things than this," and he wasn't an apostle, he can surely say something similar to you.

We're off to Spring Harvest today. I'm sure there will be a few "celebrity Christians", people who don't set themselves up to be seen as more important, but who are raised to that status by the subconscious idolising of others. But thanks to Jesus, we are all the same in the kingdom. He knows us all by name, and he knows even more than that about each one of us.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A healthy church

I've begun looking around for material to help support us as we take a look at roles and responsibilities within the new leadership team. I mentioned Purpose Driven and Natural Church Development in a previous post. I also came across some ideas from the Evangelical Free Church of America to do with church health. I'd rather not assign jobs simply on the basis of what needs to be done. Instead we should do at least some strategic thinking first.

If Rick Warren is right that the biggest challenge for the 21st century church will be church health not church growth, then church health is surely an important factor in shaping leadership teams.

I also downloaded an assessment pack called Taking the Pulse of the church from Christianity Today and I hope to get hold of Fit4Life, something my local Baptist Association has just launched.

We've also used a Willow Creek resource to produce a personal spiritual goals assessment pack for use in church, something I hope to launch in the near future. Whether people will take it up is another matter.

If you know of any other tools out there, please let me know.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who am I?

After the prologue sets the scene, we are introduced more fully to John the Baptist. It seems that this whole first chapter is about defining identities, the identity and authority of Jesus being an obvious key element of the gospel narrative anyway.

John knows who is not and who he is. He is not Elijah, he is not the Messiah, he is not a prophet. He is the voice of one calling in the wilderness. John's self-identity is fundamental to his ability to say, "he must become greater I must become less". His self-understanding of his purpose and role adds to his purposefulness. 

Can I say the same?

If you asked me, "Who are you?" how would I define myself? 

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Gospel According to John

I decided to read John's gospel again. There's something about the way he constructs the story that has always fascinated me. Wonderfully profound theology expressed through repeating patterns and mural-like expansive narrative. Of course, as you study each gospel you see each authors style come through: Matthew's fulfilment themes, Mark's sense of immediacy and Luke's attention to detail and continuity. John has carefully placed miracles and big themes driven by the "I am" and "Greater than" sayings, Messianic fulfilment and intimate insight. 

I read the prologue again yesterday, which sets up the whole gospel so wonderfully well. It seems to me to be a wonderful example in itself of this mixture of profound, deep theology and simplicity of the core message. And the high point of the opening passage? Well I guess it has to be: to as many as received him he gave the power to become children of God

The darkness may neither understand nor be able to overcome; the world may not recognise him and his own may not receive him, but those who do gain everything. There is no complex series of steps to take or article to comprehend, simply receive and believe and the kingdom is yours. Profound truth explained with great simplicity. 

If only preaching were that easy!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A red credit card

If you are tired of collecting points on your credit card that are, by and large, quite meaningless, you may be interested in the American Express Red card. 

1% of your spending goes to the Global Fund to fight AIDS/HIV. 

Now I know that some things are gimmicks and I know big business altruism makes us all sceptical. but it's worth a try at the very least.
If you are unfamiliar with (Product)Red you can read more about it here.

Synchronise Google Calendars and Outlook (2)

In conversation with a fellow minister the other day they asked if I knew of any software that will synchronise Outlook and Google calendars. Now as a Mac user I no longer use Outlook, but I did find something for Outlook a while ago called gsyncit. However, as is common with many of these programs, they tend not to support older versions of Outlook.

Looking again I came across CompanionLink which claims to support Outlook 97 onwards. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if you're a frustrated Outlook pre-2003 user, you might want to give it a look.

Too busy to be normal

The problem with life is that it never fits the available time properly. I seem either to have too much time or not enough time, I never quite seem to have the right amount of time. I know there is a school of thought that says that you will always have enough time to do what God wants you to do, but like many people I know, I just can't work out what it is I'm supposed to do so that I can drop all the other stuff that takes up the available time.

I suppose I ought to be more spiritual than that, but I refuse to beat myself up because I don't always know exactly what God wants me to do. So I carry on trying to figure stuff out on the run and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong. 

Is this the essence of walking by faith?

If I always know what God wants me to do, where is faith in that equation? It seems to me that to follow Jesus is to walk by faith and to walk by faith is to take one step at a time. As we focus on the step we worry less about the destination and more about the journey.

I love the definition of leadership I heard at last year's Leadership Summit: "Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can stand." Life is like that. I disappoint myself and I'm sure I disappoint God, and I know I disappoint other people. The point isn't that disappointments will come and go, but how you deal with them. Do you give up or do you keep learning, keep trying, keep getting better?

When I think about my personal spiritual goals, no matter what they might be, they boil down to one simple goal: to be a better follow of Jesus this time next year than I am now. One step at a time is what matters most.


I've been receiving the RSS feed for SU's new Wordlive daily devotional for a few weeks now, I've decided to unsubscribe from the feed. Overall the idea is a good one and well done, but for me personally there was too much information arriving in my inbox on a daily basis. Anywhere between 8 and maybe 12 items would appear each morning. I found this too much, and ended up using the "Mark all as read" button just to clear my news-reader. It was as if the amount of data demanded that I got through quickly, which is more to do with how I'm wired up that SU has gone about the programme.

What I would have liked to have been able to do is to choose which elements I got as a feed. That way, I could limit myself to the daily reading, maybe the overview and the question of the day, putting to one side things like the reflective poem or the introduction etc. Separating the daily subject into discrete items is a good idea, but sending them all didn't help me engage with the text for the day. 

So I have to say that this devotional approach didn't help me. Thanks for the effort SU, but I think there's some work to be done.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Can anybody verify this statistic: 85% of UK adults, who come to faith as adults, had some connection with church as a child.

I heard it in a conversation today but didn't have the chance to verify what I thought I heard. My question is really, "Was it 85%?" If it was, that's a pretty high percentage. And what does it say about the current relationship that church has with children?

If some form of connection with the church as a child is informing a faith choice as an adult then current trends suggest that within a generation, that connection will not be there for the vast majority of tomorrow's adults.

Now it may not be as significant as it first appears, given that less than 6% of the adult population attend church anyway. And what percentage of churched folk come to faith as an adult? 

In other words, there's still a very big part of the population for whom a church connection or not in childhood makes absolutely no difference to them when it comes to making a choice about faith as an adult. Or is it? Is it at least a contributing factor that because they have never experienced a faith community, they never consider it the place to find answers to faith-based questions?

In the end, the statistic does at least one thing-it reminds us that those amongst us who give their time to work among children, especially the unchurched children, may be laying a foundation that will bear fruit later in life. A lesson our instant age finds hard to bear.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Changing the guard

It's AGM time for many baptists, and that usually means a few elections of officers and deacons and elders. We've just had ours, and on Wednesday the new core leadership team, deacons, meets for the first time. There is obviously some continuity, but there are also some new faces too.

I'm sure we will go through all the phases of team development that those in leadership have experienced before. We will need to rework some of our meeting schedule to take account of the work patterns of the new team.

As I was thinking about this, and about what to say by word of welcome to the new deacons, I came across an article by Rick Warren about church health. His premise is that church growth will only come through church health. In other words a healthy church will naturally be a growing church. This connects with the idea of natural church development derived from extensive research in the area of church growth. This is not new, it's all in The Purpose Driven Church as I recall, and many more besides I don't doubt.

Whilst Rick Warren identifies 5 aspects of health (fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry and evangelism), Christian Schwarz (author of Natural Church Development) outlines 8 quality characteristics (empowering leadership, gift-orientated lay ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship, holistic small groups, need-orientated evangelism and loving relationships). 

There is an immediate correlation between these two approaches, and the clearest connection is of course the assumption that if a church is healthy it will grow. That in turn surely makes the priority of the leadership team the health of the church rather than the management of the church. 

It just makes me wonder if we shouldn't be thinking about structuring our leadership team and our church around principles of church health rather than principles of church growth.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Staying connected to the back door brigade

I guess that one of the questions that can go through the mind of a potential leaver is whether anyone will notice their departure or indeed will anyone care that they are leaving. Now I know that some people reach a low point where they think this is true and others use such a question as a ploy to get noticed. But I’m talking about those folk who might slip away quietly precisely because no one seems to notice and no one seems to care.

So what might change that point of view? What can make a person feel valued? Here are a few thoughts.

1. No one gets to leave the church building without someone checking in with them. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it can be to slip out of church without connecting with anyone else. I know that this is how some people choose to live, or not live, in a Christian community, but it should never happen because we never notice. If someone chooses to disengage then there is little I can do abuot that, but if I choose not engage with them, that is something I can address. So rule one is simply this: someone needs to be responsible for checking in. Depending upon the soze of your church this could be two or three people or may take a team of twenty, but it needs to happen.

2. Don’t just follow up absence. It’s too easy simply to check in with people who don’t come, but what about the people who are coming? In my previous church we began to introduce a pattern of taking the flowers to people who weren’t on the sick list. It was a simple way to say to someone, “We’ve noticed you’re okay and we want you to know that we’ve noticed.”

3. Say thank you. I try to say thank you to everyone who contributes on a Sunday. I don’t always succeed, but that doesn’t make it any less important to do. Over our Easter weekend a number of people have worked really hard, they need to know that I’m aware of that and thankful for their efforts.

4. Do you what you can to keep the door open. I know that a lot of people don’t like email, but a quick, friendly email allows you to let someone know you noticed their absence. And if there’s no response to your email, you can send a card and/or plan a visit.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Passion

So, we've just watched the final part of the BBC/HBO The Passion. Although there will doubtless be endless debates about the narrative inaccuracies, I still remain positive about the whole thing. 

What I particularly liked was the ordinariness of the world with which we were presented. It must be very difficult to portray the miraculous without the whole thing looking like a CGI version of a blockbuster movie. Given that most of our modern-day heroes have to be spectacular, it's probably not a bad thing to portray Jesus as an ordinary man. No Mr Anderson in dark glasses this time.

A nice touch, I thought, was the use of two different actors portraying the risen Christ along with the original. Those who know the story, know that there was confusion: Was it him, wasn't it him? So I thought this was a neat little device to show that. And the walk away at the end too was simple yet effective, if inaccurate as far as the New Testament goes.

To be honest I'm less worried about the problems of narrative inaccuracy than I am excited about the possible conversations that might arise. I'm not about to suggest that this is the greatest evangelistic opportunity of the 21st century so far, but I do think the BBC has done us a great favour in that they have given up something to talk about with our not-yet-Christian friends. They've given us a portrayal of Jesus that sits in an historical context as well as a faith context. 

It was, for me, good television and worth watching.


I haven't tried this alternative to Spanning Sync, but I was wondering if anyone else. If you don't want to pay the higher price for Spanning Sync, this might be a cost effective alternative.

It's from

Easter 2008

A number of years ago I read He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado. It was the first of his books that I read. Some parts of the book have stayed with me through the years, and many times I've used it, and others, to illustrate a point or develop a narrative for a service. Here's a favourite part for Easter.
History has only one main event. Mankind’s time line is dotted with important moments: the first spark from the first flint; the rolling of the first wheel; the treating of the first wound. Who dares minimise these events? But who dares compare them with the cross? History has only one main event.

Scripture has only one main event. Other matters, but only one is essential. The story of Jericho might stir you, but falling walls can’t redeem you. Moses will give you direction through the wilderness, but no solution for your sin. David’s defeat of Goliath might reduce your timidity, but only the cross prepares you for eternity. Scripture has only one main event.

Even in the life of Jesus there is only one main event. For if there is no cross of Christ, then there is no truth to Christ.

And, when it comes to your life, the same is true. To remove the cross is to remove the hinch-pin from the door of hope. The door of your hope. For if there is no cross then there is no sacrifice for sin. If there is no sacrifice for sin then how will you face a sinless God? Will you cleanse your own sin? And if there is no cross of Christ then there is no resurrection of Christ. And if there is no resurrection of Christ, how will you live again? Will you push back your own grave?

Forgiveness of sin and deliverance from death, these are the claims of the cross. Let there be no mistake. The cross is not an event in history, it is the event of history.

Whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not, his birth, life, death and resurrection dominate our history. We calculate our dates with reference to him, our justice system reflects upon his teaching. Our systems of government, of education, of social order are all connected in some way to this carpenter from Nazareth.

Abstracted from He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado

Friday, March 21, 2008

Going Hands Free

If you recall I mentioned that I'd bought a Bluetooth 'phone the other day. Well, because I really don't like sticking foreign objects in my ears if I can at all help it, I looked around for a Bluetooth gadget for the car and found this:

The Supertooth Voice. I got mine from the fine folk at mphone. It attaches to the visor of the car via a clip and magnets and does a reasonable job with my new Nokia 'phone. With lots of ambient noise it's not always able to deal with voice commands, but it seems to work okay most of the time. 

Set up is quite easy, and a nice thing is that you can pair up to eight 'phones with it and it will remember them. 

Church helps ex-porn star

A former porn star has left the sex industry to start a new life as a college student and church secretary, a group ministering to sex workers announced Tuesday.

Sophia Lynn, 24, is now an office staff at Celebrate Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the US, where she will work while attending college. The South Dakota church offered Lynn a place to live, a college scholarship, and a job at the church office when they heard she wanted to leave the sex business.

“This is like a dream,” Lynn reflected from her new home in South Dakota nearly a week after her move. “I hope I don’t have to wake up from this. I feel like my life has been saved.”

It's great to read stories of churches actually making a difference. I found this story on the Christian Today feed. Read the whole story here. I wonder if we, if I, could make the same kind of response if asked.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leaving well: More thoughts about the back door

There are many reasons people leave the church. Some are positive, some are negative. The goal when a person or family leave the church is to help them leave well and leave graciously. The worst case scenario is that they leave negatively and in so doing do damage to themselves, to the church and to the leaders. Leaving well enables both sides to bless each other as they seek to follow God wherever he leads them. 

The first thing we probably need to recognise is that it will not always be possible to help someone leave well. Either through their choice (some people just want their grievances aired as loudly and publicly as possible) or because they are not ready to deal with the presenting issue that has precipitated their departure. Having said that, we need to get better at the leaving process and we should try as hard as we can to make it a positive experience.

The overriding principle must be grace. Grace on both sides. Where the issue is sin, then we need to be a gracious church, offering forgiveness and reconciliation wherever possible. We must endeavour always to leave the door open, offering an opportunity to return to the community of faith. Where the issue is pain for the leaver, then the leaver too must be gracious. The church is not a perfect place, the people are not perfect. 

The first step in leaving well is to establish the core reason for leaving. This will determine what next step needs to be taken. It will also help you identify whether there is the possibility for reconciliation or not. There can be a lot of speculation about the reason a particular person or family have chosen to leave. Establishing the core reason gives the leadership of the church and the membership of the church the opportunity to address issues surrounding leaving and leavers without all the speculation that goes with them.

When all is said and done, folk will leave the church and they will leave however they want to leave. Leaving well doesn’t just have to mean standing at the front and blessing the congregation and the congregation blessing the leaver. Leaving well is about knowing the reasons, leaving the door open, minimising pain and maximising grace.

The one that got away

We recently finished our series on characters in our Sunday morning celebrations. We looked at Abraham, Joseph, Sarah, Ruth, Jonah, Peter, David, Esther and Joshua. We finished with Zacchaeus. But there were a lot of others we could have done. A long time ago I did an A-Z of Bible characters, I remember that 'F' was Philip and I think 'Q' was probably Queen someone. Anyway, this time I chose a mixture that made sure I included some of the strong female characters on my list. But there's always one you wished you could have found space for in the series, probably more than one.

Of all the characters I could have chosen, the one that got away this time was Elijah. I think Elijah would have made a good 21st century minister. He's passionate, he's committed, he's faithful and he feels totally alone! He has high highs and low lows. He prays powerful prayers and runs away at the first sign of trouble. He knows when God is going to make his presence known and keeps getting back into the game. He even works on discouraging anyone from following him into ministry!

I think, if Elijah were around today he would understand the frustrations of leadership. He'd understand when you told him that if things don't change you're out of here, and he'd understand that when they don't you're still around. Not because you can't leave, but because you know that God has called you to stay and stick with the programme.

When God finally gets Elijah alone on the mountain, and when Elijah is ready for the biggest question of his career, God asks him: "Elijah, what are you doing here?" God asks Elijah this question twice, and twice Elijah gives the same answer. Perhaps God was hoping for a different answer the second time around. Perhaps Elijah was so convinced of his aloneness that not even encountering God was going to change how he felt about his situation. 

Whatever the purpose of the exchange, God simply says to Elijah: "Go back the way you came and..." And what? Continue to serve me, continue to do what I ask you to do. Ministry is not known for it's glamourous side. Outside of the church, very few people will ever know who we are, even inside the church few will know. But God knows.

God knows how you feel, he knows what is going on in your life, in your ministry, in your church. And he still wants your wholehearted devotion. In the end of course it is God whom we serve. We might feel like Elijah felt, but like Elijah, we are not alone because God is with us.

Book Club: The Numbers of Hope

We had our Book Club meeting last night, March 19th, to discuss The Numbers of Hope. The overall impression was that it was a really helpful and encouraging book to read. The narrative style was appreciated and the stories used, helped to explain the point being made. Overall a very accessible book. The group felt that this was a book they could give to a friend or family member in the right circumstances.
Our next choice is Too Busy not to Pray by Bill Hybels. This book has been around for quite some time now and gone through several publication. It was first published in 1988 so 2008 is the 20th anniversary. Given that prayer is one of those things that falls into the category of "most talked about, least practised" areas of our lives, it makes a good choice. 

If you want to join is, hare thoughts and comments, you can do that here or via Shelfari.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

iCal default alarm

In Leopard, iCal has a default alarm setting, the only problem being that the default sound really doesn't get your attention. This has been a bit of a frustration for me, so I decided to see if there was a way around this and find one I did. 

On the Macworld site there is a hint that shows you how to change the default alarm sound for all new appointments. You can find the article here.

A word of warning, for some reason, although I typed the command line for terminal exactly it didn't work for me. I don't know enough about Unix to know what I was doing wrong but it rejected the -/Library... string as an invalid path or file. Perhaps there was a subtle error I was making.

Anyway, in the end I downloaded the trial version of plistedit pro and that got the job done nicely. I now have a more attention grabbing alarm for my reminders.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Finding forgiveness

Thank you Michael for pointing me to this video.

I'm not sure I would use the same language to unfold the implications behind the clip, but the clip is very powerful and the point clearly made.

Monday, March 17, 2008


From today's (Monday March 17th 2008) devotional from Scripture Union.

Seeking forgiveness

Seeking forgiveness ‘Forgive us our sins’ is a deep prayer. It is not a mantra that works if you say it enough. Nor is it like one of Harry Potter’s spells: ‘forgivoramus!’ and everything is sorted in a flash.

It’s an invitation to examine ourselves inwardly and outwardly, spirit and soul, attitudes and actions, words and wishes. This Spirit-led self-examination drills through the layers of self-deceit and self-justification. Just as the cock crow was a lie-detector for Peter, our earnest confession of sin reveals how we deny the calling of Jesus on our lives.

In a moment, it’s time for you to pray that prayer, ‘Forgive my sins’, and let God’s Spirit show you what that means. But first you need to know that God’s Spirit convicts you of sin only so that he can lead you forgiveness and restoration.

Peter discovered this beautifully when Jesus, risen from the dead, asked him three times, ‘Do you love me?’. He was shown that his three denials were forgiven and forgotten (John 21:15–17).

So give some time now to the simple prayer, ‘Forgive my sins.’ Let the Spirit show you what needs to be forgiven and soak every denial in the forgiving power of Jesus.

Martin Hodson

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Did you watch?

So, we sat and watched the first part of the BBC's retelling of the final week of Jesus' ministry leading up to the cross. Overall we really enjoyed it. I liked the developing of the characters through the different intertwined plot lines. It shows promise.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Office on the Mac

It's taken me a whole week to pluck up the courage to confess that I've bought and installed Microsoft Office for the Mac 2008.

Sadly there are some things, well one thing, that Word does that Pages doesn't and it's a really useful thing to boot. Obviously Apple still needs to have conversations with report writers and others who use wide tables and graphics interspersed with ordinary text. Word lets you mix landscape and portrait in a single document, Pages sadly does not. C'est la vie.

So there it is. Somewhere there's a smug Windows user thinking I told you so, but the truth is, if it were not for this one thing I'd wouldn't have even considered Office.  

A synchronised life

I recently bought a new mobile 'phone because I wanted to enter the world of Bluetooth. The long and short of it is that I'm thinking/planning to change my car and many of the newer model come with Bluetooth installed. So, buy a Bluetooth 'phone I thought.

Now the logical course would have been to get an iphone, and believe me I'm all for being logical. The problem is that in the UK there is only one cellular provider you can use and they lock you into a £35 a month contract for the privilege. I'm not about to start spending £35 a month just for the iphone when I probably don't actually spend £35 a year on my mobile anyway.

So I needed an alternative and decided to stick with Nokia and go for a simple Bluetooth version. I ended up buying the 6085 and it works a treat. The only problem was that when I tried to synchronise it with my Mac, it wouldn't work. Imagine my horror when I checked out the Nokia site to see a whole list of 'phones that would work and the one model so obviously missing was the one I'd just bought!

The upside of this story is that last night, with a little help and encouragement from super-mac techy David, I found a solution which is working fine. I can now synchronise my contacts and calendars between the Mac and the 'phone thanks to James Lloyd who should be hailed as a hero!

I am now one happy sychronised baptist minister. The question is: will this help me not to miss appointments?

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Hammer Holds

This has to be one of my all time favourite songs around the theme of Easter. I listened to as I walked through the woods this morning. I find it hard not to cry as I think about all that Jesus did for me on the cross. It also helps me forgive myself as I feel the pain of this morning's failure.

Disappointed and disorganised

There is no magic trick, no grand plan to being organised. It is just a matter of discipline and choice. I must choose to be organised and I must be disciplined about being, and continuing to be, organised. 

David Allen's book Getting Things Done is a great starting point for developing habits for living with a greater sense of organisation. I know the goal is greater productivity, but I don't suppose you get that without becoming organised.

This all came home to me this morning when I suddenly realised I'd missed an appointment through sheer carelessness and lack of discipline. I'd written the appointment down in my diary, I'd captured all the details in the appropriate place, but I failed to check my diary in time. Once again I subconsciously relied on my memory and it didn't work.

So, I've written my apology note and I'll probably beat myself up for a while longer about by abject failure. But unless I resolve to actually take action to do something differently, it will happen again.

So, if you've fallen off your organisational wagon and feel overwhelmed by your disorganised and chaotic lifestyle, determine today to do something differently. Choose one thing you can change that will make a significant difference and begin to practice that habit until it becomes an automatic habit. 

For me it's got to be to check my diary at the end of the day and set suitable alarmed reminders for anything early the next day. And then check again at the start of the day. After all the reason I have a diary is precisely because I can't remember everything!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Passion

The BBC's retelling of the last week of the life of Jesus begins on Palm Sunday at 8:00pm. It looks fascinating and runs through the week. There's an outline of the running order on both the BBC website and Premier.

Unlike Mel Gibson's film and unlike the release of The Da Vinci Code, this series doesn't seem to be getting hyped up in the Christian media as the greatest opportunity the 21st century church will have for evangelism. That, for me, is a very positive thing. I found all the emails and publicity that came my way about the other greatest opportunities just too much. Every Sunday is a great opportunity, every day is a great opportunity to share the life and death and resurrection of Jesus with those around us.

I remember going to see the Gibson film and wondering if any of my unchurched friends would actually comprehend it; whether they would simply come out of the cinema shocked and bewildered by the whole thing. Good as it was, it didn't produce a rush of interesting conversations. And, if the truth be told, I'd rather have sat down with a group of friends and watched Bruce Almighty and talked about our images and understanding of the nature of God than try to use Mel Gibson's Passion.

I hope there will be many opportunities for conversations, many opportunities for pointing people toward Jesus. I'm certainly going to watch it carefully so that I can use what I can on Easter Sunday. But I also hope that we will learn how to be Christians in plain view, how to share our faith in positive ways and how to engage our friends in conversations that might nudge them towards Jesus.

And my prayer? It's very simple: "Lord use this drama in ways we cannot imagine to make yourself known in our nation."


A long while now I put down in a post some thoughts about handling criticism. It's a sensitive area of all our lives and something we all have to deal with at some time. I guess the only choice we get is how we handle criticism.

Anyway, I came across some helpful insights made by Rick Warren on the Acts29 blog. He said:

Turn your critics into coaches by hearing what they are saying and humbly considering if there is any truth in their criticisms to learn from. Never engage the critics on their terms because it only escalates the conflict and is not productive. Be very careful with firing off emails or leaving voicemails and responding out of anger in a way that you will later regret. Shout louder than your critics to define yourself and do not allow them to define you.

All very good advice.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's my line?

One question that’s been wandering around my mind is this: Does our present focus on the minister as leader mean that we’ve devalued the minister as pastor?

Let me explain.

I wonder if we’ve reached a point where we recognise that the church needs strong, positive, enabling leadership and in order to have that we need to call people with leadership gifts to lead the church. But not everyone with leadership gifts has a pastoral gift too. Given that the vast majority of churches, certainly the vast majority in the UK, can only afford one full-time minister, what happens when you appoint a leader rather than a pastor?

I feel this acutely in my own ministry because I don’t see myself primarily as a pastor. I care about people but I’m not wired up as a pastor, or at least I’m not wired up to do what I perceive a pastorally wired person would do. I hear this same self-description from others at gatherings of ministers over the 17 years I’ve been in ministry. I can’t comment on how much this reflects our process for accepting and training people for ministry because I didn’t train specifically for ministry when I attended college.

So where does that leave us? Well I think it leaves us in a place where we know that we need high quality pastoral care in our churches, but I also think it leaves not knowing how to implement that care because we don’t know who should be doing the care. We still have a system of ministry that presumes it’s the primary responsibility of the minister as pastor to do the caring, but if the minister isn’t wired for It how effectively can, and will, they do it?

If our new leadership model is more focussed on being a team, then the role of the minister is to lead effectively, delegate appropriately, and enable widely. But that also implies that we need committed and gifted partners to make this happen. It is no use delegating a responsibility to someone who never does the job!

Perhaps we have got it right, perhaps we haven’t lost sight of the duty of care. Perhaps we just need to work smarter at developing a 21st century model for fulfilling our core call as God’s family, recognising the gifts and skills of those we call to leadership and building effective teams around them.

Building good pastoral care is one factor in closing the back door of the church, that’s why it’s so important that we do it well. As to the role of the minister, there’s still much to do.

I remember a long time ago now, as I was thinking about my role as a leader in church, I happened to be reading through Leviticus. It’s not the book I’d normally choose to read devotionally, but it was on my reading plan so I read away. In Leviticus 6 as I recall it describes the duties of the priests. One duty was simply to keep the fire burning on the sacrificial altar. That picture has stayed with me as I see part of my role as keeping the flame alight. 

I am privileged to be someone who knows that God has called them to this work of ministry and leadership. I am privileged to have a group of people around who recognise that too and who reach into their pockets weeks by week, month by month, to make it possible for me to not to have work in order to minister. Because I don’t have to go to the office I can go before God and tend to the flame.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why do people leave the church?

Ron Kallmier, who lead the Closing the Back Door seminar, pointed us towards Luke 15 and the three parables about lost things to think about why people leave the church. Three possible reasons:

1. Lost by accident. In other words they wander off and before you know it they’re lost and disconnected with the church.

2. Lost by the carelessness of others. They get hurt by someone or something that happens and they leave.

3. By personal choice. The prodigal son chooses to get himself lost. Some people leave church because of personal sin, ie choosing to leave rather than face the discipline that comes with being a part of a faith community.

Eat & Pray

Today's devotional from Scripture Union (see my blog entry: Daily Devotions for the Internet Generation) is about the Passover Jesus shared with his disciples just before his crucifixion. The reading is from Matthew.

What caught my attention was the short note about agape meals. It was as follows:

To do list

With other Christian friends (and your minister’s blessing or involvement) plan an informal agape meal together. Share food, prayer, praise and personal stories of what Jesus has done for you, and read these Bible verses together.

It strikes me that we spend too little time even thinking about what God has done for us recently, let alone sharing those stories with others. When did our faith become so personalised, so privatised, that we lost the priority of walking together on our journeys of faith?

When the writer of Hebrews urges the readers not to forget to meet together, I suspect he wasn't thinking purely in terms of turning up on a Sunday as we are prone to think.

A simple strategy

A simple strategy for processing the absent attender

If a person misses one Sunday:

Check with people who might know why.

Respond appropriately (visit, call, card or note, or no action needed)

If a person misses two consecutive Sundays:

Unless a known issue (eg hospitalisation, holiday) make informal contact via a call, a card or note, an email.

Follow up any response as appropriate

If no response then make a special point of checking on the third Sunday and if present, make a point of connecting with them and checking out why they’ve been away.

Respond appropriately

If a person misses four or more Sundays

Make contact specifically to ask why no attendance. Offer a clear opportunity to talk.

This strategy has to be adjusted dependent upon the frequency of attendance. So, for someone who is typically there every week, absence may be more critical than for someone who comes once a month.

What constitutes an appropriate response

If the reason for absence requires pastoral intervention, the pastoral coordinator needs informing and a plan of action established.

Otherwise a follow-up visit may be all that is needed.

Useful levels of contact include: A hand written note or card, either on Church stationary or plain stationary. An informal email. An informal ‘phone call. A text message. Flowers.

If something more formal needs to be arranged then an appointment should be planned. 

Some links to thoughts about closing the back door

A short web search on Closing the Back Door of the Church turned up a series of interesting articles that you might like to dip into if you too are considering this idea. Here are three:

Interestingly most of the articles at some point raise the issue of "no one noticed" when someone left. I think it's more to true to say that someone probably noticed, but no one acted. Clearly the dynamics are different as churches grow. It has to be more difficult to be aware of changing patterns of attendance in a large church compared to a smaller church. This is why Rick Warren, amongst others, points to the vital role small groups fulfil in this area.

Perhaps the first step in a strategy is to determine that no one will leave without being noticed. Or maybe it should be that no one is absent without being noticed.

Even as I write that I realise that we live in a very different culture. A culture where, on the one hand, we run the risk of being accused of not caring and on the other we're accused of interfering. We do seem to want to be noticed and loved whilst maintaining total privacy!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Managing the back (and front) doors of the church

The seminar I attended the other day has got me thinking and maybe even a little inspired. 

Although it was not made explicit in the seminar, I take it that when we talk about the back door of the church we are using it as a metaphor for the exit strategy of those people who leave the church disgruntled or disengaged in some way or another. Now this doesn't necessarily have to be the case. In fact, as the seminar developed through the day, it became clear that for some the back door was simply the exit used by anyone leaving the church.

This in turn generates some confusion because there are times when it is right for someone to leave their church, so why would we want to close the back door on them doing so? It seems to me that what we need to do is to manage the traffic that passes through the back door rather than approach it as the simple matter of keeping closed. I want to help people leave well if leaving is what they need to do.

So, I'm going to begin work on developing a strategy for how we manage our back door. Maybe this is, in part, a defence mechanism so that we can say that we've done everything we can to help a person to leave well, but it's surely worth having a plan. Even more so in our highly mobile and low commitment society where people move on with apparent ease. I've had a few thoughts that I need to get in some sort of order, but I'd be interested to know if anyone has a strategy that works well, or ideas about what might work well. 

As someone who has left a few churches over the years (that's because I'm a minister I hasten to add) I've had my share of good and bad experiences. I know too that it's just plain impossible to please everyone, so even the best strategy won't work for all leavers. 

To drop a pebble in the pond of your thinking, I suspect that the best strategy for managing the back door might just begin with our strategy for managing the front door, the entry point to our churches.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Joel Edwards

Joel Edwards,who is standing down as Director of the Evangelical Alliance, spoke about evangelicals and the challenges we face at the recent launch of his new book. This is what he had to say:
In a forward-looking address, he said the heart of the matter was not about advancing evangelicalism as a political or Christian system, but was instead about “how we help people understand that God is ultimately the God of Good News and is interested in people’s wellbeing”.
Turning to some of the challenges facing evangelicals, he pointed to the commonplace view that evangelicals are a US export more interested in homosexuality than poverty, and a mascot for the Republican Party.
“Evangelicalism has a serious PR problem and it’s not hard to grasp why,” he said.
Referring to some of the recent angry protests from evangelical circles over Jerry Springer the Opera and the Sexual Orientation Regulations, Mr Edwards said that Evangelicals had gained a reputation as the “angry brigade”. “We are known more for our anger than our anguish,” he noted.
Mr Edwards said that the responsibility to reverse evangelicalism’s bad reputation lay with evangelicals themselves.
“If people are going to think differently about evangelicals, the only people who can change their minds are evangelicals,” he said.

You can read the full report at

He raises some interesting points. It seems to me that we are back to the issue of grace. If grace is primary, then perhaps our attitude and approach will have to change from the angry crowd to the compassionate crowd. If we stay angry, then judgement rules.

Who was it who observed that the problem with evangelicals is that everyone knows what they stand against but no one knows what they stand for.

Closing the Back Door of the Church

Yesterday, March 6th, I spent the day at Waverley Abbey House for a seminar about Closing the Back Door of the Church. Overall, it was an interesting day but I think we got a bit side-tracked. The discussion was good, but my goals for the day were to think through strategies for helping the church deal with through traffic of people coming and going in the life cycle of church, and we didn't do that. much of the discussion was about the nature of church.

There are many reasons people leave the church, many negative and some positive. The question is not about whether people will leave but how they will leave. If people are leaving via the back door, one of the hard things to discern is when to stand in front of the door and when to hold it open!

I guess using the "back door" image implies that people are slipping out unnoticed and potentially uncared for or unchallenged. This raises issues with the way we do pastoral care and discipleship. What was interesting is that some people articulated the view that you should get a new attender involved in something as quickly as possible and other advocated a waiting period. To be accurate, the "waiting period" view mostly related to any significant role in the life of the church, whereas the "get involved in something" view focused on small groups and relational things.

All this needs more though and reflection.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On line book shelf

Colin, a fellow blogger, has pointed me to a web application called Shelfari. We've been experimenting with an online book club and this application might be a useful way of interacting on the internet.

It seems to be early days with the development (I was surprised that I couldn't use html for example to make quotes stand out), but it might be worth a look.

Are you a Moderate too?

I've just seen the Christianity Today hermeneutics quiz and I came out as "Moderate". Apparently that means that I'm not too conservative but then again I'm not too progressive either. Does that mean I'm stuck in the middle, neither one thing nor the other? Not really. I don't think it's that simple. Moderate isn't just somewhere between two extremes. 

Moderate seems to me to be quite demanding. It demands that I neither reject the truth of the Bible as it is, and yet neither am I satisfied with a "the Bible says it, that settles it" kind of theology. To be moderate means to be thoughtful, to want to search out both the historical and cultural meaning and context and then to discover the significance of that meaning in our modern-day setting.

If that means that I have the appearance of inconsistency, I'm pro-marriage but against capital punishment for example, I think that is because life is inconsistent and working out our faith and practice is an inexact science.

Maybe I'll reflect more on this when I have a little more time.

If you want to take the test, you can do that here

My score, by the way, was 59, so I guess that actually makes me moderately progressive. How interesting though that the divide is no longer between conservative and liberal, or are all progressives perceived as liberal?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

MacBook and laptop go to Starbucks

Because March begins with the same letter as MacBook, I thought I'd begin the month with a short post in praise of the Mac.

I know that a MacBook is more expensive than a Windows laptop, but I have to say that there are some things that make it worth the extra. Take for instance Thursday. Anne and I took Ally over to Chelmsford for her last University interview. Having walked up to the Reception building, we left her there to get on with her day, and we set off back into town to Starbucks to run a wi-fi experiment. Anne works for a big multi-national company and we wanted to see if she could connect using a wi-fi hotspot so that , when we're away later in the year, she won't have to run back to the office in London to do a job she could do remotely.

So we chose our drinks, sat at a table, and got out the laptop and the MacBook.

The laptop booted up, searched around for the wireless network, eventually made a connection and we opened internet explorer (sorry Andy if that took you by surprise, I know you consider IE to be the work of the dark side). Nothing. No connection, no welcome screen, just the "can't find the page" message.

The MacBook. Opened it up and it wakes up to a new world. Finds the available networks, I choose the one I want to try, open Safari and it says: What do you want to do now? It's not my homepage, but somehow it is obviously working with the wi-fi hotpspot to help me rather than confuse and frustrate me.

Same scenario in MacDonalds where the wi-fi was free!

You see the MacBook just worked. It's a delight to use. There are moments when it does things I don't expect and things close unexpectedly, but there are times when it just does what you want it to do without having to delve into all sorts of proxy settings and connection profiles.

So, if you are about to change your old PC or laptop, give some serious consideration to a Mac. The offers on laptops might look good, but watch out for insufficient amounts of memory to run Vista. The £300 laptop on sale in the High Street might not be able to cope with memory hungry Windows applications.

Sales pitch for the month is over now, I promise not to mention how good my Mac is for at least another month (unless there's a really good reason!)