Sunday, June 29, 2008

I was looking for that!

It took all day, it was dirty and dusty at times, but it was worth it. We tidied the shed! It's one of those jobs that needs regular maintenance, but rarely gets it. Stuff accumulates. 

It's amazing to see all the things that I've kept because they might be useful one day. I've only fitted three kitchens in my life, but the quantity of left-over bits, screws and pins is impressive. Most are useless in truth, but some aren't. I've actually had "shelf supports" on my shopping list for some time but yesterday I found enough for the job to be done. Aside from that, I decided I really didn't need assorted colours of screw caps and hinge covers.

My other great accumulation is tools. When my father died I inherited many of his tools, and so my collection grew. But I already had a lot. I can't really bring myself to get rid of any of them. But then again, who really needs two power drills, three sanders and a dozen assorted wood chisels?

However, it was fun looking through the various toolboxes and finding my very first hand drill, bought at the market in Nottingham when I was about 11 or 12, and my first hand saw, also bought at the same market. Big thanks to to Anne, who sat sorting bags and boxes of screws into some sort of order. 

One day I'll take the plunge and sort out exactly what is useful and what I need and donate the rest to something like Twam (Tools with a mission) so that new life can be breathed into some old tools. Given that is takes about 7 toolboxes of various sizes to hold all the tools I've got, it could take some time!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sabbatical woodworking

For those who are interested in this sort of thing... 

I've always dreamt of a day when I could rekindle the somewhat limited woodworking skills I learnt and developed at school. I've never had the space or time to do much about this over the years, but a sabbatical over the summer months at least hinted at the possibilities. 

I've done some drawings of two things I would like to make, a blanket box and a wardrobe. Quite ambitious really, given that it's been a long time since I did any serious joint making. So a little, or maybe a lot of practice is needed first.

Of course the first thing you need is somewhere to work and something on which to work. I do not have a workshop, so I need to work outside, which in turn means I need a bench that is sturdy and can be stored in a small space. I decided to use two bench vices (workmates if you buy Black & Decker) that I bought 7 years ago when I needed a simple bench on which to assemble kitchen cabinets when we moved the Cotton End. A sheet of mdf on two benches gave me the space to build the cabinets. The problem was that the mdf would slide about and was not stiff enough to bear any weight in the centre between the two stands. 

The solution was to build a simple framework from 50x75mm timber to support the bench top (12mm mdf). To this I added two 50mm square rails to fit in the vices on the stands. The simple "I" beam construction has given the bench a lot of stability and it will take quite a load. I haven't tried standing on it, but I'm pretty sure it would take my weight and much more.

I then added a small woodworking vice at one end. I'm left-handed, which is why it is positioned where it is. The pictures tell the story.

The bench is about 1500mm long and 600mm deep. It's not exactly lightweight, but it's manageable if you don't have to carry it very far. The choice of 75x50mm timber for the frame was simply to give a good working height for someone who is over 6ft tall. And I guess I could have got the stiffness from 25mm timber which would have made the bench lighter overall. Perhaps I'll try that when I get tired of lifting this one onto the stands!

My next two projects are a bench top table for my router and maybe a wooden storage box for chisels. I've made a start on the router table, which has been quite a challenge!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

I checked in this morning with Experiencing God, the day-by-day devotional not the book that I'm currently reading. Today's topic was Furthering the Gospel.
There are two ways to look at every situation: How it will affect you, and how it will affect God's kingdom. The apostle Paul was always concerned with how his circumstances might aid the spreading of the gospel... Regardless of his circumstance, Paul's concern was how he could use his current situation to tell others of God's good news of salvation.

Often, when we encounter a new situation, our first thoughts are not about God's kingdom... If we remain self-centred we will miss so much of what God could do through our experiences...

This puts me in mind of something that I've found myself saying a lot just recently. Isn't it funny how when non-believers face a crisis they start to pray, whereas believers tend to stop? Isn't is strange than when times get tough, the first thing many Christians do is stop coming to church, whereas non-Christians might just start?

Why is it that when the going gets tough we are so ready to give up?

Perhaps those tough, challenging and even irritating circumstances that you currently face could be so much more positively used for the sake of the kingdom if only you will adjust your perspective a little.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pastoral Care Workshops

I don't know how many people read my blog, and I certainly don't know how many live within easy reach of Bedford. What I do know is that driving to Farnham for the three workshops about which I've blogged has been a real effort. 

So, I just thought I'd put the feelers out and ask if anyone lives within easier reach of Bedford than Farnham, and if you would be interested in exploring these topics. I had a word with the workshop leaders at CWR and they were open to the idea of coming to Bedford and facilitating the workshops.

Each one is limited to 30 people, so we might even be able to host them here at Cotton End in the delightful Bedfordshire countryside!

Anyway, if you're interested,  post a comment and I'll see what we can do. 

Renovating Pastoral Care

Yesterday, Tuesday 24th, I went down to Waverley Abbey House for the third workshop on pastoral care. Once again the drive was long and slow for the most part thanks to roadworks and traffic. Certainly no sign that rising fuel costs are taking many vehicles off the roads! 

These workshops have all followed the same pattern of interactive dialogue. The value of this approach is that you can listen to and learn from the practices and questions of others. The disadvantage is that the focus constantly shifts and tangents become the main line of the discussion. It takes quite a lot of effort therefore to try and stay on topic and relate what's being shared to the focus of the day.

Having said that, I think I've learned a lot since the first workshop. I found that first outing quite difficult because I felt we strayed too far too often from the topic, but I realised that I could play a part in keeping to topic by asking good questions when appropriate.

What was interesting about yesterday was the way the discussion about pastoral care opened up. No one seemed phased by the thought of moving pastoral care away from simply focusing on the needs of church members and attendees, into a broader concept of caring within a wider community. Soon there was much talk about programmes and projects that would normally have been assigned to the mission committee but that now find their home within a pastoral care framework. This raises an important question about the role of pastoral care in mission.

Maybe John Stott was right when he said that everything the church does is mission (something I remember from an essay I wrote in my college days).

This question about pastoral care and mission drew me back towards the "high grace, low risk" concept in servant evangelism. Isn't it also true to say that to care for someone with the compassion of Jesus is to incarnate that compassion. In other words, pastoral care, when broadened to include those things we do for others in our wider community are an expression of the incarnational church which, in turn, is a truly missional church in action.

So, lots to think about, lots still to process. I suspect that there is some bigger picture that is emerging here about how we do church and how we do mission and relationships. It's probably less programme driven and much more relationally driven, organic rather than mechanical.

More to come I'm sure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thoughts on Missional Church

I doubt very much that I would have used the term missional church when I was working on my extended essay in my final year of undergraduate theological study. On the other hand, missional was certainly at the heart of that particular paper. The title, as I recall, was “Re-involving the church in mission: a study of the commissioning statements of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts.” Somewhat pretentious I know, but it was a college essay!  

The thrust of what I wanted to say back then, and what I’m still saying today, is that the church needs desperately to reengage with mission as the heart of its very purpose. At it’s most simple, this is surely what it means to be missional. Whether you are an emergent church, a contemporary church, a seeker-sensitive church, a small church, a mega-church or a traditional church. It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Espicopal or none of the above. What matters is that you exist to serve and reach communities beyond the confines of your mortgaged, owned or borrowed buildings. 

We can argue all day about attractional models versus incarnational models, but a church that is not missional is no church at all. It’s a club for the already initiated.  Jesus said quite simply, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”. Even the early church struggled with the idea of going and it took an increased level of persecution to force the church out of its comfort zone and into the wider mission. As the story of Acts unfolds, the church grows, not because Paul or Peter or James had some grand plan, but because God kept moving and the church moved with him.  

When Bill Hybels says that the local church is the hope of the world, I know he is not suggesting that the church is more important than Jesus. What he is saying, I believe, is that the church has been set apart, called, commissioned to carry the message of Jesus (who is after all the hope of the world) into the world. In order to do that we must find a missional expression of church within our present expression of church or change our present expression.

The following people have all agreed to blog about "missional church" today, June 23rd.

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What holds me back?

If I'm right and we're not taking enough Spirit inspired risks in church, then what is it that holds us back? 

I began to think about this in the context of one or two ideas we have about the way forward at Cotton End. A number of things came to mind as I reflected on where we are and where I've seen others churches to be when faced with similar "crossroad" choices. It's important too that I make it clear that there is no implied or explicit criticism here, they are just observations about myself as much as anyone.

The first obstacle to risk-taking is fear. Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of all sorts of things. But fear of failing or getting it horribly wrong is probably top of the fear factor list. 

Secondly there's the challenge of having heard from God. Did we hear right? Is God calling us to do this or is this just my next great idea? Of course this has strong overtones of fear in it, but a lack of assurance and clarity about what God is asking of us can hold us back from taking any sort of risks. Then again, how clear do we need/want God to be?

A third factor is the resource issue. Do we have enough people to make this new thing viable? Do we have enough money to make this thing happen? But then again, how do you measure having enough resources for anything? I wonder if we take the cautious route way too often. We do church the same way we do home finances, or at least the way we'd like to do them or the way we were taught to do them. When I was growing up, the adage of finance for my parents was that if you couldn't afford to pay for it, you simply didn't buy it until you'd saved up the money you needed. "A borrower nor a lender be" echoed around the dining table.

Where's the faith in such an approach? How big a gap is an acceptable gap if God has spoken?

Fourthly I think we're held back by our need to know the end from the beginning. We read the Bible knowing how things work out for people who step out in faith. We read of their encounters with God, their great walks of faith, their mighty acts of faith, and then look to God to assure us of the future by telling us the end from the start. Okay , so maybe you don't actually put it that way in your prayers, but subtly it's what we often seem to want.

I'm pondering these things because I know that we face some amazing opportunities for growth in our setting. New homes are coming, communities are extending, and we have the chance to do something with God that I can hardly begin to imagine. But it's risky, really risky. It would be far safer simply to sit and pray people into what we are already doing. Far riskier to go and do something new.

And I don't know if the disturbance in my heart is because I'm afraid I'll get it wrong or that I won't risk any thing at all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I'm planning a series on John's Gospel in the Autumn and I, in a completely disconnected kind of way, came across a website called wordle. This is what I made.

It's very easy to do, just paste in some text and it does the rest for you.

Primarily aimed at web pages, I'm guessing that I might very well be able to import the end result into Photoshop via a pdf. Will play some more.

Thanks to Ian's Messy Desk for finding this.

Taking risks

None of my questions about the church are new questions. They are questions that you've probably been asking too if you share my vision for a church that connects effectively and communicates clearly.

None of my questions about the church will ever be allowed to lead me to a place of despair about the church. It is, after all, not my church or our church, but it is the church that belongs to Jesus Christ. It's his to build not mine to protect.

I think that raises my first question: Do we take enough risks? 

The straight answer is probably not. Church, for many people, seems to be the place of least change in a rapidly changing world. It's the only place where you can go that will be the same next week, next month, next year. And yet the ministry of Jesus was always on the unsafe edge. Why then, is the church he planted, afraid of the edge?

I'm not suggesting we take risks for the sake of it, but something needs to change, I can feel it in my bones. I know that here at Cotton End we have two great opportunities to become a risk taking church, three if you count another one that's lurking in the background. Personally I can't see any way forward without taking these risks. Things simply will not happen if we wait for it to be safe to proceed. 

The risks, of course, need to be set in the context of faith, but not always the measure of faith we have. Our faith may be too small. I think Bill Hybels was the first person I heard use the term "Spirit inspired risk", and that is just what we need, a little Spirit inspired adventure.

If we are not willing to take these kinds of risks, then I think we are set on a course of competing with every other church for a shrinking proportion of the population that find church comfortable and acceptable, and whom the church finds comfortable and acceptable too. 

If 75% of the population are open to expressing some kind of belief in God and if only 5% of the population come to church to find that expression of faith, then what might church look like for the 70% that are missing? What might an effective church be for these 42 million people?

And don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we in any way adjust our core beliefs to match the beliefs of the wider population, but our strategy surely must change in some way to become the church that truly impacts people's lives.

Ongoing Sabbatical Reflections

With all this time on my hands I've come to realise that there are probably way too many things rushing around my ageing brain for me to think clearly about any of them. I need therefore some way to process them. A sense a little brain GTD is in order. Actually using something along the lines of GTD isn't necessarily a bad way of sifting through it all rather than keeping it crammed in my mind. After all, a sabbatical should be a time of letting go and setting one's mind free to process one's ideas rather than wander aimlessly through a landscape of half finished thoughts.

At the risk though of only having half finished thoughts, here are my current three big questions:

#1 How is my relationship with God? It's that old question of "how is it with my soul?" I'm reading through the Blackaby book I mentioned in a previous post, and that is proving useful (although I know at least one reviewer has some serious doubts about the book, but more of that at a later date possibly).

#2 How is my ministry shaping up in the light of the future and resent challenges of being and doing church? 

#3 What shape of church do we need to become in order to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us? Interestingly Experiencing God has opened up a few questions in this area. I'm also reading Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways.

Over the next week my plan is to formulate some questions within each of these areas and think about how I can most effectively reflect on each one. 

As I sat down to write this post, it was going to be about the questions that are rising to the surface about church, but I'll do that in another post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Synchronised Missional blog

On Monday, 23rd June, a whole host of bloggers have agreed to post their thoughts about "missional church". The complete list of bloggers will appear in the posts that appear on Monday.

If you can't wait until Monday to find out who's blogging, then you can find out here.

My contribution will appear as scheduled on Monday.

If you don't want to chase around all these blogs to see if something has been posted, you might try Google Alerts. I can't guarantee that it will work, but I've been playing with it recently and it's very easy to set up.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Understanding life

It's a simple thought and it's not new, but it's worth repeating. When I ordered Experiencing God I also ordered the daily devotional that popped up in my Amazon search. I dip into these kinds of books from time to time as I meander through my daily quiet times with God. Here's the thought that struck me this morning.

... as in all your Christian life, the key is not to understand the Bible based on your experience, but to understand your experience in light of the Bible.


Experiencing God

Some time ago Jeff mentioned Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and I was so intrigued that I ordered a copy to read during my sabbatical. I'm very glad I did. It is a thoughtful and wise book about discipleship in short, easy to read chapters. I've just read chapter 4 Being God's Servant.

What does it mean to be a servant of God? A human perspective is that a servant is someone who takes orders form the master and simply carries them out. Not so for the one who would be a servant of God according to Blackaby.

You do not get orders, then go and carry them out on your own. You relate to God, respond to Him, and adjust your life so that He can do what He wants through you.

Amen to that most of us might say, but how exactly do you do it? Obedience is never as easy as it sounds! Perhaps the only way is daily to remind ourselves through prayer that we choose to be available and willing to follow God's prompting in both big and small areas of our lives.

The chapter ends with a simple question and an answer that plays a familiar tune in my life.

Do you want to be a servant of God? ... If so, find out where the Master is–then that is where you need to be. Find out what the Master is doing–that is what you need to be doing.

For many years now I've been saying that we need to ask two simple questions: What are you doing Lord? How can I help? Personally I don't ask then near often enough. I'm far too reliant upon my own resources and I need to cultivate a far deeper dependence upon God's resources.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The iMac has landed

So, my desk has taken another change with the arrival of an iMac earlier today.

I have to say that I was somewhat apprehensive of the new arrival. How would the set up go? How much time would I need to set aside to keep track of everything? Would I be able to find all the drivers and software licence keys? 

Well I needn't have worried. Just plug the MacBook into the firewire connection and go and have a chat with a visiting friend whilst the two Macs made friends with each other. It took quite a while, but eventually my iMac had all my data and all my software installed and running.

Unfortunately my modem seemed to stop working for some reason, but a spare one was sitting on the shelf and after a few quick cable swaps, I was back on the internet and things were looking good.

I took the opportunity to add a hard drive to my Airport base station, but that's not the most reliable connection. Even as I write, the disk has disappeared from my desktop, and I'm not sure I like Time Machine. All those hourly back-ups seem so unhelpful for me personally speaking. Once a day would be fine, and I can do that in other ways, so I may turn off Time Machine and just schedule a once a day back up.

The next thing will be keeping the two machines synchronised. 

What was nice was how easy it was to import the two "hacks" I'd created to synchronise my mobile 'phone. I've blogged about the Nokia 6085 and Samsung E250 before as I recall, but being able simply to drag and drop the files from the MacBook to the iMac was as straightforward as it should be. Of course there may be problems synching my Palm and 'phone with the iMac given that they are usually synched with the Macbook. I'll see what happens.

Breaking news... Time Machine has just fired up for it's hourly back up and remounted the disk, so that's okay.

Anyway, I'm pleased with the iMac. It's nice to have a full sized screen to look at again, and a keyboard to use that has a forward delete key on it!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

You will go to the ball!

Don't we all look smart! This is not how we usually dress for dinner on a Friday night, but this was the rugby club summer ball. Anne and I are in the centre, and from left to right we have Becky and Rachel, Amanda and Jeremy, Ally (our daughter) and David, Lousie and Roy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Evangelism when you're gone!

The Evangelism Coach had an interesting post today (Friday Finds) that, amongst other things, refers to an article about a website that will either make you laugh or cry. The website is and, get this, it's designed to allow you to send a last message by email to 62 of your non-Christian friends and family members 6 days after the rapture.

Now I don't want to offend anyone here, but I'm not exactly sure what to make of this. A small group of people have taken it very seriously and set about creating a system that stores data and messages. But I wonder if the chaos following the mass disappearance of Christians (if that's the way it's going to happen) will mean that releasing the capital locked up in your savings will be the last concern of anyone to whom your data will be sent. 

The internet continues to amaze!

Too many labels

As I continue to think about and read about missional church, it seems that three key words keep popping up. Missional is one, attractional and incarnational are the others. 

Labels are helpful when they are used to describe a set of values or an approach or style but not helpful when they become a target. I think all three of these words have value in describing the church as it should be. 

The only one that appears to be out of place when you look at the early church might be attractional. But then again, there was something about the early church life that drew people towards it, and that surely would count as attractional (albeit not in the sense that some use that word today).

Another thing that intrigues me is the balance between asserting the mission mandate of the church to go and make disciples with the other NT imperative to come and see. It's a delicate balancing act to keep things in perspective and not set one or other understanding of the church above all others. 

I'm hoping that my time away from church will give me the opportunity to try and put these pieces together in a way that will help the local church I serve to better understand what it means to follow Jesus and serve him in our 21st century setting.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

50,000 shirts

I was having a quick look at fiftythousandshirts this morning to how the project was going. Over 500 people have already signed up to buy a t-shirt, yours truly is #501 and a couple of friends from church are in the 550's.

They need to reach 2001 before they can start printing. So, if you were thinking about signing up and haven't got around to it, then let me encourage you to visit the site and pledge your support. The sooner they reach 2001, the sooner people will begin to see the shirts and hopefully that will give the idea a bigger profile.

Why did I do it? Well I could just have written a cheque or made a credit card donation via a charity or some other vehicle. But I thought this was a really innovative idea and I wanted to encourage Steve's imagination. I may never meet him, but there's something about the simplicity of his plan that appeals to me. That's why I've chosen to add our names to the wall and pay the international shipping to support this project.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pay as you go iPhone

There isn't a lot of information about at the moment, but this looks very interesting, I wonder what the charges will be?

Do my eyes deceive me?

Having become a pro-Mac person, I tend to pay a little more attention to announcements made by Apple about what's around the corner. I have to confess that my experience with my Mac tells me that it's more than likely going to be a positive change, and that is not going to cost me the earth to embrace if I so choose.

So it was with some interest that I took notice of this year's announcements from the Developers Conference. And this is where I came across something hitherto unheard of in my limited computer experience. Yes, they have announced an upgrade to the operating system, but guess what? It's actually going to use less disk space, fewer resources and be more efficient.

No long list of new features, just improved performance. 

Heart warming isn't it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Conversational Podcasts

In response to Phil's comment, here's the link to the CE podcasts.

Decorating can be bad for your health!

So, I decided to keep my promise to Anne and start decorating the bathroom yesterday. The wonderful thing about a sabbatical is that you have the time to yourself to do the jobs you've been ignoring for way too long. It must be at least two years, maybe three, since the bathroom was refitted and painting is way overdue. 

The only problem is that as I turned over in bed at 4:00am this morning, I pulled a muscle in my neck! Ah well, a day's rest and a massage should sort that out, and the painting can restart tomorrow. I actually like decorating but when it's business as usual in ministry, there's hardly ever the time to get everything out and enjoy the smooth rhythm of painting.

During a break I listened to another podcast from the Conversational Evangelism Conference. I really wished I could have been at the original event. From what I've heard so far in the podcasts, it would have been worth the flight and time to get there. There's another chance in September, but given I'll only just have returned to church after my sabbatical, it might not be possible to make that one either. Maybe we'll get a CE conference in the UK one day!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Vintage Jesus

On the dust sheet of Vintage Jesus a variety of adjectives are used to describe this book. It’s edgy, refreshing, interesting, colourful,sometimes lurid, and provocative. It is certainly all of these and many more besides. This is not a comfortable read. Certainly not comfortable for the easily offended evangelical who likes their Jesus sanitised.

Driscoll paints a strong picture of the basics of evangelical doctrine. He pulls no punched when it comes to describing the cross as a means of execution. He pulls no punches when he describes those things with which he profoundly disagrees. This is an unequivocally non-apologetic book of apologetics. It’s a book that will set your pulse racing, sometimes for the wrong reasons, often for the right ones.

I found myself skipping through some of the extended quotes from believers and non-believers, seeing them more as useful sermon illustrations than necessarily adding anything to the argument of the book.

The call for Christians to live in the light of the three-fold ministry of Jesus as prophet, priest and king, is both timely and valuable. His presentation of Jesus enjoying an urban paradise is provocative as is his challenge to see Jesus in both humble incarnation and glorious exaltation.

Overall there is much to commend the book if you can get past the stylistic issues and arrive at the content being presented. After all the package may not be to your liking, but as a committed follower of Jesus, the content is exactly what it should be.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

One thing


I came across this video via a post from The Forgotten Ways blog. I thought I'd watch a few minutes before getting ready to go to church this morning, but found myself watching it all the way through and planning to watch it again.

Listen out for his comments about the need to see the church through kingdom lenses and the point about how God counts.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Multiple Macs

I've just taken the plunge and ordered a nice shiny iMac for my desk. I love my Macbook, but I find the screen a little small and my neck aches when I sit at the desk to use it for long periods. I know there are various solutions, none of which are as expensive as putting a 20" iMac on the desk, but having only the one computer makes me feel vulnerable having had laptops and desktops with which to work for some time.

The problems in the past, with older Windows based technology, was how to keep stuff synchronised between the desktop and the laptop. Now with Leopard and .Mac some of that has been solved, but I'm not sure everything has been solved and was wondering what other Mac users have tried to keep files synchronised between their Macs. I know that my friend Andy White blogged about Chronosync some time ago, but what else do people find helpful?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Conversational Conference Podcasts

I've been listening to one or two of the podcasts from the Conversational Evangelism Conference I mentioned a few posts ago. 

I fall into that group within church life who would identify themselves as not having the gift of evangelism, but who are desperately concerned about being more effective in evangelism all the same. I've always understood that as a follower of Jesus I am part of his missionary task force, equally valued alongside the heroes of outreach, but not gifted in the same way as they are. 

So, the three podcasts I downloaded include Todd Hunter's opening session and Rick Richardson's session on reimagining evangelism, and another Todd Hunter session on Three is Enough, an idea he is pioneering (and for which there is now a website/blog).

So far I've listened to two of the three, but sadly was too tired to sustain my focus through both, but fortunately I can re-listen to the one that got away from me. Todd Hunter's first session was really interesting. He spoke about the image problem we have as Christians. Now I know that some folk see our image problem rather positively. We must be doing it right if people don't like us or understand us might be their argument. 

But that's not the point. The point is that, as Todd Hunter put it: They (the non-Christians) are not put off by our doctrine, they are put off by us. In other words, evangelical spirituality isn't the problem, it's the way evangelicals express and practice their spirituality that is the problem. People may be confused about what we believe but they are probably more confused by how we live in the light of what we say we believe. 

So how do we address the problem? Part of the answer lies in something I read in Mark Driscoll's Vintage Jesus. He argues that Christians need to know Jesus as prophet, priest and king. As prophet he tells us the truth about our sin and our need to so something about it. As priest he holds out the grace of God as the answer we need. As king he rules over and in our lives. 

Todd Hunter says that what we need to do is to move from belief-ism to following Jesus in the ordinary routines of life. To do this faithfully we need our lives to be grounded in the prophet, priest, king understanding of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Aid for China's Earthquake victims

If you have been wondering how you might register you concern for the victims of the China earthquake and donate, you might be interested in this.

Sabbatical Reading

Two new books dropped through my letter-box yesterday. Vintage Jesus, by Mark Driscoll and The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. I'm not planning a great long reading list, but I do like to read and the sabbatical gives me a little more time to do so.

I decided to start with Vintage Jesus. It's basically an apologetics book, setting out the basics of Christian faith from an evangelical perspective. Three or four chapters in, it's a fairly straightforward read. Not everyone will appreciate Driscoll's style, but you can't really argue with the Biblical basis of what he is saying. It's good solid stuff.

Alan Hirsch came onto my radar as I began to explore the concept of the missional church. I'm not sure where I first heard the phrase "missional church" being used, but I recently decided to do a little searching out of the term and that's when I came across The Forgotten Ways and decided it might be worth a look. Twenty years ago I wrote a paper at college about reinvolving the church in mission, reflecting on the commissioning statements of Jesus and the place they should have in the life of the church. You might say then that missional church has been on my heart for a good long time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Are we really that friendly?

I have a whole load of thoughts running around my brain about how we care for each other, how we welcome new people into the life of the church and about the place of caring in the outreach life of the church. I've just written a post on Eyes Turned Outward about pastoral care, so I won't repeat those thoughts here.

A caveat first though, before I write. This is not a criticism of church, it's a "wonder". I wonder whether we see ourselves in a true light. The honest answer is probably not. I don't even see myself in a true light, let alone the church of which I am a part. Sometimes I see myself as worse than I am, sometimes better. 

Over the course of the next three months, as I continue my sabbatical, I'll have the opportunity to visit a wide range of churches if I so choose. I'm worried that I'm going to discover something about church life that I've been trying to ignore for far too long. 

The church is not as friendly as it thinks it is.

This is what I fear I will discover. 

You get at hint of it at conferences where we always leave an appropriate gap between ourselves and the person we don't know who is already sitting by themselves in the row we've just chosen. I do it too, but occasionally I break the habit and actually sit next to someone I don't know. I put this down to being a shy person. No-one, naturally, believes me when I say I'm shy, but I am.

It must be four years ago that I was in Chicago for the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek. I was on my own and I had no choice. If I wanted to process the information and ideas that were coming in my direction, I needed to find people with whom I could do that. I had to choose to be what naturally I am not. 

At this point I find I have to agree with my teenage daughter's assessment that I am inherently weird. I'm actually quite a private, solitary kind of person and yet I function at my best when I'm in a conversation. I will often talk to my fellow leaders about the "ongoing conversation" that energises me. I think well on my own, but I think better in the company of others. Dialogue actually suits me. Not a bad admission for the shy one!

So how does this relate to friendliness at church? Well, I'm not sure that I'm actually any more weird than most other people. I'm guessing now, but in our church family of 50 or so folk, there are probably two or three who are really good connectors when visitors arrive. And, I'm guessing again, I'm not sure than any of them would describe themselves as outgoing extroverts. They have chosen the way of friendliness because they know it's important. They do it despite their natural inclinations, and they do it because they know it's simply not good enough to think we are friendly, we have to be friendly.

The lesson for the rest of us is that if we think our churches are friendly but we do not personally do the friendly thing, then it's likely that our churches are in fact not as friendly as we think they are.

So, the next time a face appears in your church that you don't recognise, how about it if you take the chance to show off your friendly side and welcome them. Then, when they say, "Wow this is a friendly place," you will now that you've made your contribution to the reputation of your church.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Early Days

So, as of yesterday, I am officially on sabbatical. It’s going to take a little getting used to! Sunday was a strange day. Anne and I went off to church about 20 minutes away from home. We had a good time, but oh did it feel strange. I even found myself preparing mentally what I would say in case I got asked to share something!

I realised that as of 10:25am yesterday, being part of a congregation is actually well outside my comfort zone. I guess that is to be expected after so many years of actively being involved in preparing and delivering worship. 

When we got home, we chose to eat together and not join everyone else at the fellowship lunch. Again a strange experience for both of us. It took a measure of restraint not to go and find out how things had gone in our absence.

Today has been a quite ay of relaxing a little, doing a little personal administration, and generally trying to wind down into being on sabbatical. Sadly the weather is pretty awful for June, so getting to work in the garden wasn’t possible. Maybe tomorrow will be better. I’ve amused myself by doing a few drawings of one or two things to make before I get to work on the furniture projects I have in mind.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A great way to finish

My last day of ministry for three months involved doing a wedding. It was a great way to finish. Although, having said that, I know there are some administrative things that I've purposely left until Monday to sort out. It was quite busy last week and I saw no value in getting all stressed out about things that could wait until the funeral and wedding I had to do were over.

So, it's now Sunday morning and I'm up reasonably early. No last minute things to check, just enjoying tidying up a few loose ends. I need to make a decision about where to go to church today. I know how easy it would be to choose not to go anywhere, but that's not my preferred choice. 

Anyway, there are a few things I need to drop into church before anyone arrives, and if we're going to go any distance to church today, we'll need to leave in good time.