Thursday, July 30, 2009

Losing our effectiveness

I remember years ago, and I mean years ago these days, coming to a simple conclusion about what the devil was trying to do. I'd been reading 2 Peter and reflecting upon the list of things that he said would stop a believer becoming ineffective. It was then that this simple thought entered my mind:

If he can't have your soul, the next best thing is your effectiveness.

In other words, if by becoming a Christian the devil no longer has rights on your eternal destiny, the only thing he has left is to try to make sure you don't make a difference to anyone else. It's a damage limitation exercise for him from now on.

And so temptations come and failures come with the intention of bringing up to the point where we become undisciplined and eventually to the point where we quit trying. We give up on church because it doesn't work for us as if we're the centre of attention rather than a participant in something bigger. We stop seeking to live a God-honouring lifestyle because we want the freedom to run our own lives. We give in to temptation because it's easier than resisting it. And so it goes on.

All these things lead us to a discipleship that brings no change to our lives. Every challenge is not a temptation to overcome or an opportunity to grow but an example of how little God appears to care for us. We become happy to be heaven-bound but uninterested in becoming more like Jesus in the meantime.

Everyday we must make the choice to submit ourselves to God. To ask him to restore our effectiveness, the effectiveness that the devil has sought to take from us, but which ultimately he is powerless to do unless we give him the foothold to do so.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The missionary heart

The missionary heart:

Cares more than some think is wise
Risks more than some think is safe
Dreams more than some think is practical
Expects more than some think is possible

I've come across these words in several places, but can't remember where I first heard them. As far as I know the original phrases are attributed to Howard Shultz, the businessman who heads up Starbucks. I don't think he had "the missionary heart" in mind when he first made these observations!

But they remain an interesting overview and I wonder how well they ought or do describe my own heart. There are times when my caring has proved unwise, at least in some eyes, and there are times my dreams are beyond some definitions of practical.

While I'm not risk-averse I'm not sure I'm a big risk taker. Maybe it's more a case of trying to discern Holy Spirit inspired risks.

So how does your heart measure up?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Draw near

I was just thinking about the words of James when he says: "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you". It got me thinking about what it actually means to "draw near". We could all give the standard evangelical responses about prayer and Bible study (both of which are the first things I thought about too). But what does it actually mean?

You know as well as I do that we find it hard to do the prayer and Bible study things, possibly because we see them as tasks to complete in order to fulfil some regulation or requirement. But what if we think for a while about the process of drawing near.

What if you want to draw near to someone, anyone. Just to get to know them. What would you do? Well to start with you probably wouldn't begin with a long list of all your worries and problems. You wouldn't present them with a shopping list of how they can meet your needs and what it's like living your life.

No, you begin by trying to find about about them. You'd ask questions about what they do with their time, what they like and dislike. You'd explore common areas of interest to see if there are activities in which you could share. You might even ask how you can help them achieve their goals.

You see, prayer and Bible study are not ends in themselves but the means to the end of drawing closer to God. It becomes a matter of asking the right questions. As you read you're looking for things that will tell you who God is, what he's doing, what makes him smile and what might make him cry. You are searching out ways in which you can engage with his purposes and plans rather than trying to draw him into yours.

If you are finding praying and reading the Bible a chore, why not stop for a moment and think about what kind of conversation you would like to have with someone who wants to get to know you, then reverse the roles and apply it to getting to know God.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Morocco '78 (2)

Sunrise over what turned out to be a reservoir. We didn't know it at the time when we set up camp, but just around the corner on the damn were armed army personnel!

Morocco '78

Reminiscing about Morocco yesterday called for a review of some of the photographs. Maybe I'll scan more of them, but that's a project for another day.

Here's one from the early part of the journey. I'm guessing it's somewhere in France or Spain.

Standing at the back of the group on the left is Ian Groome. Ian was studying law at UWIST if I remember correctly. He was part of the Navigator group with which I was connected. In the checked shirt at the back of the group is Anne. Little did I know I'd be coming back from that trip with my future wife!

By the table is Chris Webster, another fellow student at UWIST, now a professor of Town Planning I'm told. Behind Chris you can just about see Annabel I think. Looks like she might be talking to Anne. In the red check shirt is Esther. I'm not sure, but the girl next to Esther might have been Esther's friend, but I can't remember.

Standing with her back to the bus might be Gail Dixon who went on to work for Horizons. I can't remember the name of the person standing next to Gail, (and if it's not Gail then it's Fran, a nurse who last I heard was in Australia).

I've be wracking by brain for the name of the guy standing at a distance from the rest of us. He was definitely part of the group.

Not in this picture then are Rowland, who lead the expedition, Robin, who I think had been serving as a missionary in Zaire as it was known then. If it's Gail in the picture then Fran and another nurse Sonia are not in the photograph and of course neither am I. Also missing is Jill (or was it Gill?) who also went to serve in Africa but who sadly died in the 1990's and Tim Morris, another Horizons worker.

Old Friends and good memories

Yesterday at church we finished off our series about the church. We looked at being a missionary people. The outline of what I said will be on the church blog later in case you want to read it!

The great part of yesterday was having Tim and Graham from World Horizons with us. Tim was a member of an expedition to Morocco that both Anne and I were part of in 1978. We haven't seen him since then, so it was a special day for us.

During that expedition we travelled overland through France and Spain into Morocco. For three weeks 16 people shared a 17 seater transit minibus. It took two long days to drive from Le Harve to Algeciras in Spain, but we all seemed to take in our stride.

From Algeciras we took the ferry to Ceuta in northern Morocco. For the next couple of weeks we visited Tangiers, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Fez. We met missionaries working among the Moroccan people and heard stories about the challenges and blessing they experienced.

That overland trip was a significant step along the way of my call to ministry. I'm not going to suggest that I wouldn't have entered ministry if I hadn't gone, I'm sure God would have used other means, but it was a valuable and important opportunity to listen to God's voice. It was as if being in a different culture opened your eyes to the possibilities.

Tim, who came yesterday, became a missionary in West Africa, Gail and Jill, two more members of that expedition spent time in Morocco. Perhaps it would be overstating things to suggest that our particular expedition was any more important than any other, but for those of us who made the trip it was a life-changing experience, at least for some.

So I'm excited about the possibility of some of the folk from church making some sort of expedition to the Gambia to deliver our crate of school supplies. Delivering the crate will be great, but the opportunity to hear God's call is just as exciting.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What's in the job title?

I've often baulked at being called pastor, mostly because of the connotations I believed it's generally carried in the church. Pastor has often been perceived as primarily a caring role. We talk about pastoral visiting as if it's focus is spending the afternoons checking on the sick and housebound. But the role of pastor is more than this.

Ed Stetzer recently blogged about addressing the question "What's a Pastor to do?" at his church as they prepared to call a new pastor. This is how he defined the role"

A pastor must be:

1. Unique Qualifications
a. True
b. Spiritual

2. Unique Responsibilities
a. Teach the Scriptures
b. Lead the Church
c. Equip Believers

All of these were drawn from the Timothy and Titus letters.

I found this outline helpful and interesting. For those who would like to understand the tensions with which most of us in pastoral ministry live on a daily basis, this might give you some insight. For those sensing God's call to this unique, privileged role within God's mission, it ought to give you something on which you can reflect.

The original post is here and includes a video with the text. There is one sentence that needs a little bit of clarification, well it needed clarifying for me! The sentence is this:

If pastors do for people what God calls them to do, they get the praise and the work of God gets hindered.

The 'them' refers to the people not the pastors, the 'they' refers to the pastors. So the sentence reads:

If pastors do for people what God calls the people to do, the pastors get the praise but the work of God gets hindered [because they are both doing the wrong things]. It's easily misread if you are not concentrating.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Everybody has to be somewhere

From the archives again.

Here’s the premise: Everyone is somewhere on a spiritual journey. They might be going around in circles, they might be moving away from God or they might be moving towards him, but they are somewhere on a journey. I understand my call from God to be to help people take a step in the right direction, a step towards faith in Jesus Christ.

Recognising where a person may be on this faith trail is an important part of my outward focussed journey as I seek simply to be there and to be available for God to use however he chooses. I remember John Wimber saying, “I’m just small change in God’s pocket to use how he wants.” I feel like that too.

As an idea it affects outreach because I’m no longer responsible for just helping people cross the line of faith, but I’m open to any involvement in the process at any point along it’s path. I become an evangelisitic nudger and encourager, nudging people towards Jesus and encouraging them to explore the possibilities faith offers. Rather than looking for the opening to share the gospel, I look for any opening to do anything that would nudge or encourage.

It affects the way we do church too, because church needs to be a safe place where people can come and ask questions. A place where they can arrive incomplete and not feel bad about it. A place where they can feel that they belong even if the don’t beleive the right things yet or behave in the right way either.

That’s a frightening thought really. If people are just allowed to come to church and “be” how will they every realise that they’re a sinner in need of saving? Well, I’m trusting God to do what he promises to do. He said that his Spirit would do the convicting and convincing, I’m just going to try cooperating with him.

I think that to be a truly outwardly focussed church we’ll need to accept a little spiritual mess in church. After all we’ve known for a long time that we’re not perfect, so why should anyone joining us have to perfect before they come in?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How do you read your Bible?

This is not a question about the practical way in which you read, in a comfortable chair, before going to bed, systematically from Genesis to Revelation. It's a question about the principles and prejudices that you bring to the text. It's what theologians call hermeneutics. We all have at least one framework or hermeneutic into which we fit the text of scripture. It's nothing of which to be fearful, but it's quite important that we realise it's what we do.

The current vocabulary of missional church has given or will give rise to a missional hermeneutic, but what does it look like? I came across this definition via my Google alert for missional church.

A missional interpretation of Scripture reads the Bible as a unified narrative that records God’s intention to reconcile the world to himself. This narrative reveals that God accomplishes this intention by commissioning the nation of Israel to reflect God’s image to the world; by sending God the Son to restore Israel and inaugurate God’s universal blessing to the Gentiles; by sending God the Spirit to form the church into a holy people who embody God’s coming kingdom; and by sending the church into the world to proclaim the gospel and engage the culture.

I think this is a good working definition. What I particularly like is the idea of a unified narrative about God's mission of reconciliation. This naturally puts the cross at the heart of the mission because this is how we understand God to have achieved the means for this reconciliation. In other words you can't avoid the gospel. Perhaps I'd make that more explicit in a definition. The key here is that one can adopt the label "missional" but you need to know what that means when it comes to reading and applying the Bible.

When I say that I believe that God is on a mission to bless the world he created and for which his Son gave his life to rescue and redeem, I read my Bible differently than if I say I believe that God sent his Son to save the elect and bless the church. I'm not sure anyone says that, but you get the point.

When I read the Bible as this unified narrative I see time and again instances when God works beyond the confines of the people of God. He heals foreigners, speaks through external sources and touches the "unclean".

Anyway, I thought this definition was helpful. You can read the whole post here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In search of sunshine

The weather hasn't been great the last few days but finally Pip found a sunny spot in the lounge for his afternoon nap in preparation for his evening meal.

Pondering God's character

I decided to take up James Nicodem's (author of The Prayer Coach) idea of keeping a list of God's titles, attributes and names. I've added, by accident or default I'm not quite sure, the odd theological term like omnipresent to the list. Maybe it's because I think in theological terms, but it's really not that important.

The idea is to use these titles etc. as a launch point for adoration as part of your regular prayer times. He suggests you pick three and spend some time worshipping God as you prayerfully explore the meaning of the terms.

I decided to get a simple wire-bound A5 notebook and simply begin to keep a list. I started by writing down all the titles etc. that came to mind as I labelled every other page with a letter of the alphabet. I came up with 70 without really thinking too hard about it. At three a day, that's three weeks worth of attributes to ponder.

Of course the list will grow as I add words and phrases, and I suspect that I'm not going to find anything to put in the Q, X, or maybe Z part of the book, but we shall wait and see. It's not a race to compile the biggest list, it's an act of worship in itself to recall God's names and character and it definitely reminds me that God is worthy of all my praise.

Entertaining Angels Unaware

We were replacing a poster on the church noticeboard when a voice enquired about the location of the nearest cafe. Sadly our village doesn't have a nice little coffee shop. At this point we had a choice. We could simply say we don't have one in the village and point our enquirer towards the town or we could offer him hospitality ourselves. Without having to ask Ally, who was helping me with the poster, we both knew this was an opportunity to offer to put the kettle on and make some tea.

Our new friend it turned out, was walking from Essex to Snowdon to raise money for Help the Heroes. We sat and chatted for an hour at least about his journey and his life. We looked up campsites nearby that were on his route to his next major stop and gave directions to the nearest supermarket. As he left we offered to pray for him and he accepted our offer.

It's in these moments that I think about the story Jesus told about the king who blessed those who had fed him when he was hungry, given him something to drink when thirsty, visited him in prison etc. "When did we do this?" they asked, "When you did it for the least of these," was the answer. Was this such an occasion? Who knows, it just seemed to be the right thing to do.

What I do know is that we were in the right place at the right time to extend a blessing to someone who matters to God and who hopefully may be another step closer to the kingdom as a result.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Prayer Coach

I bought this book on the back of listening to one of the Willow Creek Association "Defining Moments" CD's. As I listened to the author describe how he "prays on the armour" and how he does the "body parts" prayer, I thought this might be a good book to have a look at.

And it is.

It's a book full of practical insights about how to kick start and maintain a healthy prayer life. It isn't overly spiritualised, but simple, down to earth stuff. I often think that too many of us want clever or complex solutions to our praylessness, perhaps in order to justify our lack of time well spent on our knees (even if we don't actually kneel). In many ways this book blows those old excuses right out of the water.

There's enough here for the experienced Christian and the new believer too. The list of names and attributes of God to use to open up adoration is great and the challenge to plan, to have patterns and to choose a place are all helpful to those starting out or who might have grown a little weary over time. If some books seem to set the bar too high, this book raises the bar and then shows you and encourages you to reach new heights, or maybe that should be depths, in prayer.

Having just recently preached on the six key elements of a worshipping people, all of which related in some way to prayer, I'll be pointing my congregation towards this book.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

When buzzards attack!

There are days when a story pops into the news and quite amuses me. Now given that no lasting damage appears to have been done, I feel it is safe to share with you the shocking story of the jogger attacked by a buzzard in Cornwall.

According to the BBC news website Stuart Urquhart was swooped upon as he jogged along a quite lane in Cornwall. He suffered three 6cm gashes to his head. Apparently this is not the first time it's happened. Cyclists have also come under attack from large birds in and around Devon and Cornwall.

I love Mr Urquhart's observation that maybe the buzzard mistook him for a slow moving rabbit. He bought a sun hat, presumably to confuse the bird on future runs.

Apparently experts believe, "buzzards which attack may be protecting a nest or have once been in captivity and are used to people." Not that used to them then!

Having been swooped on when walking and followed, as against chased, by cattle, and having my lunch investigated by a curious horse, I can empathise with Mr Urquhart. I do hope the perils of being stalked by wild animals doesn't put him off!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ten things you didn't know

Here's an interesting survey about leadership in larger churches. Although it's drawn from research in America, I think some of the characteristics are quite revealing.

In the process of moving I happened to mention that it can take up to 20 hours to prepare properly for a Sunday morning. This was greeted with some concern given that it represents half a typical working week for the average person. But in this survey at number five in the top ten list we read this:

In a 53-hour work week, megachurch senior pastors spend a full 19 hours in and preparing for preaching, teaching and worship, 9 hours in meetings--and 5 hours in intentional prayer and meditation.

I'm not saying it's not fair that I don't get to do this, but I wonder why it is that some parts of the church are afraid that their leaders might spend a significant proportion of their time in preparation.

It was also interesting to read that they are actively involved in sports and not thinking about quitting!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The copier saga continues

Well the story of my photocopier goes on. I'm still making 'phone calls and I'm still not getting the copier fixed. Yesterday I did two things. First I called the company again and second I spent an hour looking for the firmware on the internet to no avail. Can it be any more complicated than installing a printer driver? Can it not be made "doable" in this way? Some big companies just seem to make things more difficult than they need to be. I suspect that once an engineer comes it will be a very short visit, if only they will come.

The telephone conversation was an interesting exchange. Calmly I explained one again the problem. Apparently although the internet is awash with people suffering the same issue, particularly with Canon products, it's very rare to everyone in the copier supply industry. That aside, I do feel as though we're getting somewhere even if that has more to do with hope that anything else.

What was interesting to me was both the honesty of the person to whom I spoke and their appreciation of my situation. They even thanked me for being gracious. Of course if this doesn't precipitate action, then the promises are empty and the expression of thanks meaningless. But let's hope that graciousness pays dividends and that I'm not simply being fobbed off with excuses.

We will wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slow to anger but great in power

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power.

I was struck by this phrase in Nahum (1:3) because I'm more used to reading, "slow to anger, abounding in love." In fact a quick search for slow to anger reveals that in 8 out of 9 occurrences, all in the Old Testament, the link is with some expression of love. A few times it is even extended to include forgiveness and faithfulness.

So what's the point in Nahum then? Well it seems to me that at the very least Nahum is reminding us that God's slowness to get angry is not to be misinterpreted as either an unwillingness to discipline or a powerlessness to do so.

It's always good to remember the grace and mercy of God, but we should never forget his power to act either. He is an awesome God, a jealous God and we'd do well not to mistake slowness to anger for any lack of authority.

They say that confession is good for the soul. Well I think I'd suggest that it is only good when it is linked to disciplined choices ad actions that lead to a life that honours God and seeks to become more like Jesus. When we fail, we have God's grace and mercy on which to fall, but that doesn't mean that failure should be our default position. That we will fail is inevitable, that we don't care about our faults and failures is unacceptable.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Does the world deserve a better church?

The odd thing about preaching is that what you prepare is never all that you might say, at least not in my experience. And because of this, every so often, you say something that catches even your attention. So it was one Sunday as we worked through a series of four big themes for church life.

This post originally appeared on the Eyes Turned Outwards blog.

It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Just a little phrase, but a powerful one.

The world deserves a better church.

I’ve been tossing this over in my mind ever since it slipped out on Sunday as I was preaching about The Community. We’re currently thinking about four big themes for the church and The Community was all about how we relate to the wider community beyond the church. And this phrase just slipped out from somewhere.

Anyway, I’ve been turning it over in my mind and with at least one other person from church. And it seems to me that it’s a powerful phrase. It’s powerful because it’s a bit counter cultural to the way I see a lot of churches doing their thinking about the community.

If we’re honest, a lot of our churches don’t actually think the world deserves anything except judgement and punishment. That the church can be better is something we’re probably agreed upon, but that world deserves the church, well that’s another thing altogether. We look out from our safe structures and despair at the state of the world beyond our doors. But this is the world God made, the world he loves, the world over which he agonises, in fact the world for which he shed his own blood.

And if God loves the world so much that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to redeem it, then where should the church be? If we, the church, are God’s chosen mechanism for spreading his grace through our communities then what kind of church does the world deserve?

I think it deserves better than it’s getting.

I’m not criticising for the sake of it. I love the church, I believe in the church and I want to see the church be the church that the world deserves.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

iBank and me

I have to take back my previous comments about ibank, I actually don't find it that easy to use. I'm getting the hang of it, but the learning curve seems to run in a counter-intuitive direction for my thinking patterns. Here's where I'm struggling.

When it comes to paying a credit card from a bank account, there doesn't seem to be a simple, efficient way to do this. I can see the transfer option, but I'm not entirely sure it always does what I think I've asked it to do. Secondly the software seems to add balancing transaction if it thinks I've done something wrong. This does not help me get it right, it just covers up a possible mistake. At least that is what it looks like it is doing.

But the biggest headache has been the bank reconciliation process. I think I've finally begun to understand it, but I'm not at all confident that the bottom line number is telling me what I need to know or not. That confidence for me comes directly from the simple ability to see all my payments and incomes checked off against the bank statement and receiving a nice affirming "finished" message. A message I'm struggling to achieve most of the time.

It is also thoroughly confusing to see a credit card statement sometimes showing a positive cleared and statement balance and sometimes a negative one. I think I understand this now. In fact the penny (well we are talking about accounts here) dropped as I lay awake in bed not ten minutes ago.

What I think is happening is that the software is comparing the balances from consecutive statements. If you spent less this month on the credit card than the previous month, this balance will be positive, if you've spent more it will be negative. Now what I actually want to see is a figure that represents what I've spent and what I need to pay, not the difference between what I've spent month on month.

If this is true for the credit card reconciliations then I guess it's true for the current account too. Which means that the numbers I see in the reconciliation window don't actually tell me what I want to know. So I feel more relaxed now about my abject failure to reconcile my bank accounts in a way that makes sense to me, but at least I may be getting it right more than I thought I was getting it wrong.

I still might have a look at Quicken 2007, or worse still, I might just install Parallels and go back to Microsoft Money, perish the thought!

Our own big conversation

Today we had lunch together as members and non-members, followed by a conversation about membership. We asked some simple questions:

  • What kind of members/followers does God want us to produce in this place?
  • What kind of experiences do we need to become those kind of followers/members?
  • What would you put in a covenant style promise?

It was a good conversation. About 30 or so people came and we had a good mix of members and non-members.

I think that it's high time we began a process of re-imagining church for the 21st century. There's something about formal membership and the often internally focused responsibilities and expectation that doesn't sit well with a missional, incarnational view of church.

Interestingly one of the reasons given for non-membership was a desire not to have responsibility for decision-making. I didn't hear this as saying they were not interested in the decision-making process, it was more a case of let others get on with making the decisions and I'll get on with what I do as a result of those decisions.

It was certainly worth doing and I wonder how I can implement a similar process in my new setting later this year. I think the questions need refining, but the idea of sitting down and talking about what all of see as the key issues and process and promises could be very worthwhile.

Friday, July 10, 2009


So we finally got to the final episode of Torchwood tonight. I think the announcement that we were about to watch the final, jaw-dropping episode was overstating the case somewhat. I'm not convinced that the programme really knows what it's trying to be. Is it adult themed science fiction or just Doctor Who for the post-watershed viewer?

I guess my problem is that I have zero empathy with all the characters. That leaves me somewhat ambivalent to the outcomes. The other thing that doesn't sit comfortably is the rather unsubtle moralising. I think they could have raised the issue of child deaths and posed the questions about how we make choices in a more sagacious way.

On the other hand it's good to know that the Make Poverty History Campaign has reached outer space. When aliens start quoting figures about child mortality we really should take notice!!

Have we come to this?

I watched part of a documentary series about the the London Underground yesterday. It was quite interesting in places but disturbing in others. Disturbing because of the catalogue of personal, physical assaults it detailed along with reporting the vandalism that regularly occurs. We're not talking about graffiti here, we're talking about bricks being thrown at moving trains. The cabs of newer rolling stock is now fitted with a bullet-proof grade of windscreen to prevent bricks and missiles penetrating the windows and causing serious injury to drivers.

Then there are the stories of nurses and teachers and other professionals who face personal attacks from members of the public.

Somewhere along the way we've lost not our sense of respect for other people but our sense of responsibility to respect other people. Staff in restaurants suffer abuse, retail workers are poorly treated by customers. As one interviewee on the radio said, "Our society seems to treat people who work in the service sector as if they are all somehow 'beneath' the rest of us."

Watching as one train driver talked about the trauma of his experience and another station worker shared their story of not one but several assaults, I couldn't help wondering what we, what I could do. At the very least I thought, I could make the effort to always be courteous to those whose job it is to serve me in some way.

I can't do anything about the drunk who abuses the ticket staff but I can say thank you and praise them for the way they do their daily job. And I can do that for the waitress, the bus driver too.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Pastoral Care and the Outward Focused Life

It would be really interesting to spend some time integrating the various pastoral care posts I've done over the last few years and the notes I've made at seminars and conferences. As I re-read this particular post I recognised some connections with the more recent thinking and reflecting I've been doing.

I guess we all could be forgiven for thinking that an outward focused life is primarily about outreach, about the processes and programmes we personally employ in order to share our faith with others. But we’d be mistaken.

Fist of all, through this blog and other sources, we no longer understand (if we ever did) our faith in this way. We talk about a lifestyle of serving others, of seeking to reconnect people with God. The programmes are still there, but they have a new context of simplicity, honesty, integrity and integration. Our goal remains the same: to help others discover God’s deep and amazing love for them, but our approach has broadened.

The question then that had been buzzing around my head for a few days now comes from being a long-time leader in the local church. It’s a question about what we in church call pastoral care and the place of pastoral care in the context of an outwardly focused life and ministry.

The problem is this. More and more local pastors, me included, do not see themselves as either gifted or equipped to fulfil the pastoral role that we’ve inherited in local church life. We’re not sure where that model came from, and we’re not at all convinced that the model is particularly biblical either.

It isn’t that we think pastoral care doesn’t matter, it isn’t that we think it’s not our responsibility. It’s just that we are not sure where it fits in our 21st century leadership model. We’re concerned about being alone with members of the opposite sex, we’re bothered by the fact that the old model means we tend only to visit people who are at home in the afternoons, and wonder if that’s a root cause for the lack of men on the church. We’re constrained by having too many other things to do.

And yet, not one us I suspect would ever deny the importance of pastoral care to the life and health of the local church. Which brings me to my basic question. If we could ignite a pattern of pastoral care than engendered self-care and church family-care might that inspire us to outward care too? If we looked after ourselves properly, if we looked out for each other consistently, might we not then learn the value of simple caring and be able to apply that to the way we see those around us in our wider communities?

Pastoral care might then be rescued from the bottom of the teapot and biscuit barrel of inwardly focused visiting patterns and released to impact communities seemingly bereft of people who stop and look and act with kindness and compassion. Perhaps there’s a more biblical perspective on pastoral care that integrates it with a more biblical view of evangelism that brings it into the centre of an outwardly focused life and ministry. Perhaps.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

An ordinary life

This is another old post from 2006 when I was reflecting on the the ideas surrounding outward focused living. I'm still asking some of the same questions.
An outward focused life in not an extraordinary life, it just makes room for the extraordinary.

As we dream the dream of becoming a more outwardly focused church, we’re beginning to think about church in new ways. I meet with a great partner at church and talk about all sorts of stuff as we try to put flesh and bone on the dreams and visions, the aims and objectives of being the church in our changing setting. It’s great for me because I get to share my crazy ideas with someone who can make sense of them!

I’m wired to dream, so it’s great to have an outlet for it. Here’s one of my crazy dreams.

In the UK it’s not uncommon to see a thermometer outside a church representing the state of the appeal for funds to restore the roof of an ancient building. I’ve mentioned this before, but today, as I thought and dreamt, I suddenly came up with the idea of an upside down thermometer. A thermometer that would represent what we giveaway to our community, rather than what we ask our community to give to us. What if, instead of asking them for money, we gave money away? What if we took some of the money we give week by week or month-by-month and set up a small grant-making fund? Members of the community could come to us and tell us what they are doing in the community and we could offer some small level of funding. We might even get involved and work alongside them!

Is that crazy?

I just wonder if an outward focused church would be characterised more by what it gave to the community that by anything else. Characterised by its desire to be blessing rather than to be blessed, characterised by a Christianity that was focused on others much more than upon itself.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Old posts

I found a whole group of blog posts I wrote for another site. I thought they were gone forever, but I found them via Google Reader. At least I found some of them. Reading them again was interesting.

For me, the process of writing for a blog is part of developing the narrative of my journey with God. It's the unfolding of a story that is mostly unseen and yet somehow revealed as you go back through journal entries, book reviews, blog posts and papers.

I'll re-post some of the entries, maybe I'll edit them a little bit too. Some of the links might not work and some of the dates may not tie up, for example where it says, "I've just finished reading" could well mean "I read this 3 years ago."

To get started, here's a piece I wrote titled "Writing the ongoing story"

I recently read The Shadow of the Almighty,a biography of Jim Elliot. Along with four others, he gave his life to bring the gospel to a tribe of indiginous Indians in Ecuador known as the Auca. A second book Through the Gates of Splendour, follows the story from Jim Elliot and Pete Fleming’s departure for Ecuador. The following extract talks about their arrival at the mission station of Shandia.

In Shandia, Jim and Pete became full-fledged missionaries for the first time. They had come to reach the Quichuas with the Word of God, a task for which they were prepared but could accomplish only if the gained the Quichuas’ confidence and love. So by living among them, sharing in their lives and thus laying the foundations of mutual trust they hoped to open the minds and hearts of the Indians to the Christian message.

When I think about writing the narrative of the gospel in my time, I think this idea of living among the people, gaining their trust and love, building foundations of mutual trust and respect is so foundational. Most of the time I’ve been around church evangelism has been a bold declaration of truth, and I’m not decrying that at all. The problem was always that we were dashing out into the world, doing a bit of outreach, and then rushing back to the safety of the church. The world usually got the blame for the lack of response but maybe it was our failure to connect in any meaningful way that was the real problem.

To live among the people is far more difficult. Perhaps the reason overseas missionaries appear to have more success stories to tell us than we have to tell them is because of this simple truth-they live among the people.

I like servant evangelism because it gives me the chance to live among the people. An opportunity to serve them, to share with them, to be an example of God’s love and generosity to them in the hope that this will eventually open a way for them to discover the full extent of God’s love for them. It’s one step into the world of an outward focused life, maybe the first step into writing the story of God’s love for my generation.

Perhaps we write the story best when we live the story among the people Jesus misses most.

Have we settled for mediocrity?

Have we settled for a version of following Jesus that is less than wholehearted commitment? Have we accepted that being a disciple is too demanding for us and we therefore lower the bar and settle for 75% or 65% devotion as more realistic?

I was reading Blackaby's daily devotion and he raises the issue like this:

If an athlete can be motivated to make incredible sacrifices for a perishable reward, how much more ought Christians to strive for an imperishable one?... Are you striving to bring your body into subjection for the glory of God? Are you training your mind to think the thoughts of God rather than thoughts of the world? Are you disciplining your life in prayer? When others are sleeping, are you interceding? Have you studied God's Word so diligently that you are prepared to find answers to the challenges you face? Have you equipped yourself in evangelism so that you can share your faith? Have you prepared yourself as a Christian in order to qualify for the imperishable crown that awaits you?

If this all sounds a bit driven to you, and it does to me if I'm honest, then maybe we both need to ask ourselves if we've settled for a mediocre kind of Christianity that demands little of the would-be follower of Jesus.

Seeing God at work

If it's not Reggie McNeal talking about telling stories of when God shows up and shows off, then it's David Beer talking about observing what God is doing! Okay, I think there's a common theme here in the books I've been reading!

It seems as though we are not only recapturing the importance of stories but also their significance in helping us see what it is that God is doing all around us. If the call of the church is to join God in his mission rather than the other way around, then one cannot underestimate the value of actually being aware of what he is up to in the church community and in the wider community.

The problem is that we've almost tuned out God's activity from what we see. We see problems and challenges, issues that cannot be overcome and worst of all decline and failure. But are we looking at the right things with the right eyes?

Wanting to celebrate stories requires us to begin to take the time to see what is happening. Not what we expect or want to happen, but the reality of what is happening. I think God is probably doing far more than we actually see at any given point.

I don't know how best to do this. Is it as simple as asking a new question? Perhaps, at the end of each day, we should take time to ask God what we missed and at the beginning ask him to open our eyes to see glimpses of his glory as he works out his purposes in and around us.

I'm hoping that through our current series that when we come to hearing stories of what God is doing in the wider community of church (Marston Vale, World Vision, CMA, World Horizons) we'll have some stories of own to share. Stories not only of what God is doing amongst us but also of what he is doing beyond us.

And, for the record, here's something I think God did on Sunday as we looked at Acts 6 and the theme of being a caring people. As I prepared the short talk for the end of our All-Age Celebration I realised that just as the outcome of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was mission, so it was the outcome of improving the care network in Acts 6. All of a sudden I at least saw the connection between pastoral care and mission. Now all I need to do is work out what it means and look for God at work through our caring network!

Monday, July 06, 2009

A short review of Missional Renaissance

Missional Renaissance is a book that sets out to describe the nature of the Missional Church and the need for change that the present church faces if it truly wants to become missional.

As McNeal says: Missional is not a place you arrive at but a direction in which you are moving.

Too often the church takes a term like missional and turns it into a new programme for outreach or ministry. Missional is clearly not a term with which we should take this kind of liberty. If we do we are in danger of adding yet more layers of church to the average Christian’s already heavy schedule. We will continue to measure success and commitment in terms of internal, church-focused standards.

Missional Renaissance calls us to make a shift in three key areas. First we need to shift from an internal to an external focus; second we need to shift from programme development to people development; thirdly we need to shift from church-based to kingdom-based leadership.

McNeal describes these three shifts as compass settings rather than destinations. He claims that by making these shifts:

They will move you from doing church as primarily a refuge, conservator, and institutional activity in a post-Christendom culture to being a risky, missionary, organic force in the increasingly pre-Christian world.

The book first introduces these three shifts and then discusses them in detail. The first 40 pages will let you know if this is a book that you really want to read in detail. Alongside the description of each shift there is an analysis of how such a shift also changes the way we measure success, the scorecard as McNeal calls it. In the typical church success is measured by how many are in church, how often they are attending and how much they give. The missional church will score things very differently. To quote the book:

The current scorecard rewards church activity and can be filled in without any reference to the church’s impact beyond itself.

The new scorecard will need to celebrate externally focused ministry, people development efforts and a kingdom oriented leadership agenda.

At the heart of this call to go missional and to see through the shifts that are needed is a desperate desire to see the church have the kind of kingdom impact that appears to be on God’s heart. Indeed the driving force for the need to change is the observation that God is on a mission and we ought to be involved in it. As the book says:

The missional church is the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world.

I read this book more slowly that I read Present Future. Both have been really helpful in providing a background to much of the thinking I've been doing over all the years that I’ve been a Christian. I have always struggled with the heavy internal focus of the typical church. I’ve always carried this idea that the church exists as a missionary movement first and foremost. If you share some of that passion and perspective, this might well be a book worth putting on your summer reading list.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Missional Church quotes

Three more quotes from Missional Renaissance to whet your appetite!

The missional church believes it is God who is on a mission and that we are to join him in it.

...when the people of God act like the people of God we actually help people see God.

People matter to God by virtue of their being created in his image. They are intentional acts of creation by a loving God. They therefore matter to the people of God. People deserve to be blessed simply because they are people, not just so we can "witness" to them.

Church is not the destination

I've finished reading the second of the Reggie McNeal books I bought and thought I'd share this story in full.

I travel by plane almost every week. This means I get to visit a lot of airports. On a fairly routine basis, airports get confused about what they're there for–and for whom. They think that if a bunch of planes are on the ground, close to the hub, and the concourse is full of people, they are winning. They apparently think they are the destination! Of course, when this happens, it means a a bunch of people aren't getting where they want to go. They're stuck at the airport, like flies on flypaper.

The airport is a place of connection, not a destination. Its job is to help people get somewhere else. An airport-centric world of travel would be dull and frustrating, no matter how nice the airport is.

When the church thinks it's the destination, it also confuses the scorecard. It thinks that if people are hovering around and in the church, the church is winning. The truth is, when that's the case, the church is really keeping people from where they want to go, from their real destination. Lucky for us, it just so happens this is what Jesus promised to bring us. (He did not say, "I have come to give you church and give it to you more abundantly.") Abundant life is lived out with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances in the marketplace, in the home, in the neighbourhood, in the world.

The church is a connector, linking people to the kingdom life that God has for them. Substituting church activity as the preferred life expression is as weird as believing that airports are more interesting than the destinations they serve.

From Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal

Friday, July 03, 2009


I'm giving serious consideration to making Haggai the subject of my final Sunday at Cotton End. I think it's because of the hope that God speaks into the situation the people face. As he stirs them to restart the building programme, he challenges them (Why does my house lie in ruins while your houses are fine and well cared for?), he tells them the true state of affairs (You've planted much but harvested little), and he promises them success (The glory of this house will be greater than the glory of the former house).

But then, almost out of the blue, God simply says, "It's been bad, but everything is changing because from this day on I will bless you." It's that simple. God is going to bless them and there's nothing else to add. They can't earn his blessing, in fact they're in a situation where they most definitely don't deserve any blessing whatsoever, but God chooses to bless them and bless them he will.

Isn't it great that we serve a God who just loves to bless. To bless without merit or without favouritism.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

When no one sees

The most important thing is not that people know the truth [about you or why you've done what you have done]. The most important thing is that you are a person of integrity before God. When no one seems to understand why you have done something or when other question whether you have done all you should have done, you confidence should not be in the hope of vindication in the eyes of others. It should be in the knowledge that God keeps you in his sight.

From Experiencing God, July 2nd

There have been times when this has been the only thing I've had left, that God knows me intimately and understands me fully. When people question me and my motives, I turn to God and ask him if there is anything with which I need to deal.

I live and serve the audience of one.

Tool Chest Project finished!

Well it's almost finished. There are some fittings for the drawers that I'm thinking of making, but generally speaking the major construction bit is done.

The tote needs a finish on it, but apart from that I think we can call it done. It's certainly ready for use in some way or another.

On reflection it's been a good project. Quite a few different things to learn. I'd certainly consider making another one, but not all from plywood.

I've learnt some useful things about making simple drawers, which is helpful for a project I have in mind for the new house when we move. And I've also had some ideas for making a rolling cabinet for power tools that could be the base station on which this tool chest sits.

So, it's back to the drawing board to sketch out a few ideas.

Tool Chest Project (update 7)

This photograph shows how the tote locks the drawers by capturing the cleat on the drawer side.

The amazing thing is that it works!!

Tool Chest Project (update 6)

The carry tote slides into the back of the tool chest and the cleats on the sides lock the drawers.

Tool Chest Project (update 5)

Here is the simple carry tote for the tool chest project.

In keeping with the "using what's around the shed" theme, the handle was left-over from something and the rest is the last of the left-over ply. 12mm for the frame, 6mm for the back panel.

I drilled some holes in the top two pieces for screwdrivers or whatever will go through the holes without falling out! I could have been scientific about it and thought about what was going in them, but I wasn't. The bottom shelf will be fitted to take my block planes and maybe an engineers square or something like that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thinking about buildings

How do you decide where to spend the church budget? And not just the budget but what about the money raised for capital projects? I ask myself these questions because I know that I'm going to face the challenge of a building that needs to change but a mission that is never confined to the building.

Somehow we have to find the balance between having nice buildings in which we can worship and fulfil the internal ministry of the church and following Jesus into the world on his mission. Re-reading Haggai brings this into focus as God asks the question: "Why do you live in panelled houses while my house remains a ruin?" The context of the question is the stalled work on rebuilding the temple, the central focal point of Jewish worship. Of course everyone knew that the temple simply provided a place, it didn't define worship. But buildings do take on a defining role over time. Our current building in Cotton End has been described as a fine example of late Georgian architecture, with a hint of the need to preserve it as such. But we are no longer a Georgian people, and the building, at the very least, has to serve the current church just as it was intended to serve the church of that generation.

But if we're entering an era of the church where we are rediscovering the call of God to partner with him in his mission, then what place do our buildings play? I guess I'm just concerned that a building project doesn't become the defining element of any ministry. Concerned that we don't end up with wonderful twenty-first century buildings and then discover we are even less relevant to the people who need us most.

So beware of using Haggai as a proof-text for the next phase of your building development, and remember that Jesus said he would build his church and he wasn't talking about bricks and mortar, worship centres and multi-purpose sports halls!