Saturday, October 31, 2009

Missional Living

An interesting post about missional living popped up here.

The author argues for authentic relationships with the people in our various networks as the basis for missional living. I thought the description of these networks, quoted from an audio of Tim Keller, were particular interesting.

Keller suggests that the biblical term oikos [household] applies to at least five networks: your kinship network (family and relatives), your neighborhood (those who live near you geographically), your colleagues (co-workers or co-students), your affinity network (people with a shared special interest), and your friends (those from the other 4 networks whom you develop a close relationship with).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Prayer Day (3)

My prayer day is finished and it's been a good day. Different than I anticipated, but then they often turn out that way.

I went for a walk into town and was beginning to think that it was a distraction more than a help. I sat and watched people going by and prayed for them and jotted down a few thoughts. Then, just as I was wondering why I'd come out I noticed something. Shops. Now you might have expected me to notice them before, but I hadn't really paid much attention to them until now.

There's been a recent change on this particular high street. The local department store has opened its doors on a Sunday and it's been quite successful from what I hear. A question came to mind. Do we see this as a threat to our quiet Sundays, an offence to the principle of Sabbath rest? Or do we see it as an opportunity?

Now, if it's an opportunity, then what kind of opportunity is it? I began to pray and think and came up with a few ideas, but I think I'll wait and ask the church if they can see any opportunities. It would be a good exercise for all of us to do.

After that I walked back to the study at church and spent some time praying for the church. My thoughts turned to the day the first temple was dedicated and the glory of God so filled the place that the priests could not go about their daily duties. Oh that God would come down in such measure and fill the church with his Spirit to the extent that normal service has to stop while he sets the agenda.

Well that's how my day came to a close. Lot's of things to write up and  a few things to talk through with the leadership team.

Prayer Day (2)

Well here's how the day has shaped up so far.

As I planned, I spent the first part of the morning in prayer and reflection, reading the ongoing story of David and Saul. One of David's character flaws was his impetuous nature by the look of things. It would get him into trouble on more than one occasion, but this time Abigail comes to his aid. God put people around David who covered his weak spots when he listened to them! I picked up both Blackaby's devotional and one by Bill Hybels (Courageous faith) and reflected on their thoughts for yesterday (I thought it was the 29th for some reason).

After a short break I got out my notebook and began to write down a few things from my journal and a few thoughts about church and prayed about those items. As I walked around the house a little as I prayed I noticed a jigsaw that Anne is working on at the moment.

It's incomplete, and I began to wonder about vision and big picture stuff and how you don't do a jigsaw by picking a piece and then searching for the one that goes with it and then another. Most people I know seem to sort the jigsaw into similar pieces and then build smaller parts of the big picture until they begin to join up. They don't worry about completing one section before they work on another, they just work until they get a bit stuck and then move on. By doing this we build both the smaller pictures by associating bits that fit and rejecting bits that go elsewhere, slowing reducing the number of single pieces until the final picture emerges. No piece is left without a place to go. It's fascinating and I prayed about what it had to do with vision and church.

After another break I went through my pastoral notes and prayed for all the people we've talked about in our pastoral meetings. I have to confess that this took a lot of concentration. It's easy for me to get distracted when I do this and find myself wandering off on a real tangent.

Then I had lunch (it's a prayer day without fasting!) and me new study chair arrived, so I've assembled that and it's rather comfortable.

This afternoon I might go for a walk and sit somewhere in town and watch people pass by and pray about mission and engagement. I wonder if that will be easier with people and things to see rather than just the insides of the house.

Prayer Day (1)

Here's my plan for the day as it is at the moment. Things may change, but without a plan the day will just drift, so a plan is a good thing!

The first thing to do is to make sure I've got my journal and any other notebooks and pens I need. Because I keep a journal on a regular basis it is both a good place to start and a good place to record stuff. But there are some things that might need to be written down elsewhere. I also like to use plain paper to scribble things on. My thoughts don't often follow a linear pattern, and so writing them down in lines doesn't help me connect them up to each other.

The plan for the first part of my day is to spend an extended time in quite reflection and prayer, reading my current Bible passage and maybe a couple of devotional books too. As I go I'll note things down, but I will also keep a list of "distractions". These are the things that pop into my head and  may be a line of thought I should follow but more often are mere distractions that stop me focussing on the important. Things like the need to polish my shoes or to put the cheque I wrote yesterday in the accounts.

After this I will review my journal for the last month or so and see what trends show themselves. There are one or two things that I know need addressing in prayer, so I will do that. I'll also go through my pastoral notes, maybe collate them together and then sit down with the list of members and attenders and pray through that list.

I'll probably take a break then and decide what's next. The big things, so-to-speak, that I want to get to today concern vision and strategy things for church and asking some questions that I remember from a Bill Hybels book and talk about character, ministry and family.

This all sounds like a lot, and I suspect it is! But I'm not looking for definitive answers to many of these big questions, just a sense of where God is leading me and the church. I'm okay with the vague, trusting that the detail will come as the process unfolds. I don't see myself as going up the mountain to collect a five year plan from God to deliver to the deacons and the church! This is after all Upminster not Sinai!

To help me stay focussed I'll use what I've heard called the Pomodora technique. In it's least complicated form it's as simple as setting a timer and working until the timer sounds, having a short break and returning to work. After four rounds you take a longer break. 25 minutes is the recommended time slot and 5 minutes for the short break. A simple kitchen timer is all you need.

Long before I knew it had a name I used a timer to help me pray. Without it, I spend more time checking my watch than praying! Speaking of which, it's time to stop blogging about a prayer day and time to get started. I'll update you later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time out

A long time ago, over 30 years now, I became aware of the practice of spending a day in prayer. It was the early days of my Christian life while I was involved with the Navigators. I remember coming across a little booklet, probably by Lorne Sanny the then International Director as I recall.

Anyway, sad to say, it's not as regular a feature of my life as maybe it should have been, but I've always tried to include regular extended times of prayer in my routine. I neither want to boast or be hard on myself about how I've done, but I do want to blog a bit about the process and how it works for me. So I've decided that it's time to have a day of prayer and write about it during the day if possible. Tomorrow I'm going to spend as much of the day( not literally 24 hours, more like the working part of the day) in prayer and reflection as possible and I'll try and do a few updates through the day and a final reflection on what I learn about the process. I hope that might encourage others to think about doing something similar. I thought it might provide me with a sense of accountability too.

If you are interested in doing something similar, then you might be interested in this transcript of an old article that I think may have formed the basis for the booklet I recall from those early Navigator days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why we need to talk more

Mort Ryerson, chairman of Perot Systems:

“we must realize that our task is to call people together often, so that everyone gains clarity about who we are, who we’ve just become, who we still want to be. If the organization can stay in a continuous conversation about who it is and who it is becoming, then leaders don’t have to undertake the impossible task of trying to hold it all together.” 

July, 1997

Found while reading a blog post.

Beyond the Church

When we think about what it might take to reach out beyond the boundaries of the church we often think about big things. We think about "having a mission", but the problem I have with that approach is that it isolates evangelism as a series of one-off hits. That's why I'm a big fan of finding simple ways, oerdinary ways, to live out our faith.

So here's a list of ideas culled from a recent article on the Church Planting Novice blog:

Don’t Eat Alone.

Be a Regular.

Hobby with the City.

Be a Good Neighbour.

Serve Your City.

Get the fuller picture by reading the original article.

Feeding the already fed

In the light of recent thoughts about the church, this seemed apposite:

After two or three long hours on the quest for the ultimate flea market find, Lisa was kind enough to say, "Honey, let's break for some lunch." Grateful for the reprieve, I accepted her offer and we made our way to the food area, which consisted of a group of rickety, wooden picnic tables strategically huddled around several food stands.

We bought a couple of chicken sandwiches at one of the restaurants and proceeded to one of the tables to eat. After a few minutes, Lisa looked over my shoulder and said, "Honey, check that out." As I turned, I noticed an employee of the restaurant carrying a tray of samples. Normally, a restaurant would hand out samples to potential customers. But this girl was weaving in and out of the picnic tables handing out samples to those of us who were already stuffing our faces with her restaurant's chicken sandwiches!

Lisa said, "Ed, that's hilarious. I mean, all she has to do is walk about fifteen paces, go out to all the hundreds of people who obviously haven't eaten yet and offer the food to them. Yet, she's content to feed the already fed."

And that's when it hit me like an all-pro NFL linebacker. I said, "Lisa, that's it! That is the local church in a nutshell."

You see, our problem is that we've been so content weaving in and out of the church aisles and handing out samples to the already fed that we have missed the countless opportunities to offer the food, the very bread of life, to a lost and dying world.

The author goes on to talk about creativity as the solution, and it's certainly an interesting overview of how we can be more creative in a team as we prepare for Sundays. But of course for me the issue goes deeper than just what we do on a Sunday.

Yes I want our Sunday Celebrations to be the most effective event they can be, but our creativity needs to extend into the area of connecting with our community beyond the church too. But more of that another day.

You can read the whole article here.

Google Wave

I've just been sent a link to this video from Michael. The concept looks really interesting and I can see great potential for doing the kind of round robin decision making via email that can get so messy with conventional email systems.

I also like the idea of being able to work together creatively in a single document.

Worth keeping an eye on the development.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Choosing to celebrate and rejoice

Just before I set off to walk up to the church this morning, I grabbed my copy of Henry Blackaby's daily devotional. Here's part of today's thought:

It is possible to serve God year after year and yet have a heart that is far from Him, You might be one of the hardest workers in your church and yet be filled with bitterness because others do not share your load. You can become so preoccupied with your spiritual labors that when God works miracles in the lives of those around you, you cannot rejoice.

If you serve the Lord out of duty or habit, but not out of joy and gratitude, you will feel like a martyr. You will envy those who are experiencing joy in the Lord while you feel weighed down by the work you are doing. This is not the abundant life your Father has planned for you. Come to the celebration, spend time with the Father, and share in His joy!"

I know that there are times when I take on the role of martyr, and I'd be highly surprised if it were not so for you too. I guess what we all need to do is recognise the symptoms and treat it before it gets ingrained in our way of thinking.

If you want to read more of Henry T's daily devotional you can do it here, or buy the book!

Seeing involves being there

My second post today is another reprint from the ETO blog. My situation has changed somewhat since then. I'm no longer known as I was because I'm in a different place. And it's all new of course, so I'm not known as the local minister quite yet! But having just reposted a piece I wrote about grace, this is a reflection on how deepening my personal understanding of grace has shaped me and my ministry over the years.

I have a confession to make. I am a full-time Christian minister. I am a minister in a mainstream denomination. I am the minister of a local church, in a local community where I am known as the local minister.

Because of this I probably get opportunities to serve my community that other non-mainstream leaders don’t get. I get to interact with members of the community at their most vulnerable moments and at their most important moments. At least sometimes I do.

Occasionally these moments will include weddings, sometimes it’s the celebration of a birth (although they find the whole concept of a dedication rather difficult to grasp). Most often it’s at the other end of life. I don’t do many funerals, but those I do are predominately outside of the church.

Over the years of ministry I’ve gone through different phases when it comes to funerals. At one time they were most definitely an evangelistic opportunity, at others they have simply been an act of service. I guess these days I don’t see them as either/or but simply both. It’s a great opportunity to serve and it’s a great opportunity to point people towards God.

Being outward focused helps me avoid the trap of over preaching and losing the pastor’s heart for people in pain. Remembering the significance of the gospel reminds me that without the cross there is no hope and the message needs to be preached.

Perhaps the “art” of being outward focused is not just seeing the people beyond the walls of the church, but caring enough about them to walk with them through dark days and share with them the simple truth that they need not be alone for God himself knows what it feels like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and to emerge victorious. And graciously he’s opened the eyes of a few fellow travellers so that they can point the way.


This is another "past post" from the Eyes Turned Outward blog.

I read with interest and, I have to admit, a little amusement, Scott’s story about the strip club and the church. What intrigues me about the said story of the club and the church is that it’s more than likely that in some church circles this pastor will get criticised for even knowing the man who runs the bar. Sad, especially when we’re supposed to be followers of the one who was known as “friend of sinners”.

And then there was a thread of comments on another blog about Christians and political parties that was in danger of becoming a little over-heated. It made me realise how easily we can misunderstand each other.

So how do these two things connect and what do they have to do with outward focused living? Well, I guess what’s been going through my mind, as I’ve thought about these two apparently disconnected stories, is the nature of relationships. They’re complex things, relationships. You think you know what you meant to say and said it, only to discover later that what was heard was not what you meant to say. A slight shift in perspective can make all the difference. A strip club owner is either the worst of sinners, or just another sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.

So what helps us shift perspective without losing sight of the gospel imperative? I think the answer is grace.

Grace is the most incredible gift that God has given us. Because of grace sin is not ignored, it’s dealt with. Grace opens our eyes, judgement closes them. Grace says it’s okay to make mistakes because there is always the hope that someone might just get a glimpse of the glorious God, even in the middle of our greatest mistakes. Grace allows the sin to be challenged while all the time the sinner remains loved.

I’m grateful for grace. Because of grace I can love those around me unconditionally, I can reach out to them, I can meet their needs, listen to their stories, and all without the need to worry about whether I’m condoning their lifestyle, which seems to be the preoccupation of many an evangelical mind. Because of grace I can live outwardly focused. I have nothing to protect. No reputation, no fortress of faith.

Perhaps with grace we could find the humour in the strip club story rather than the theological incongruities. On the other hand, with grace at the top of the agenda, maybe there are no incongruities to worry about anyway.

There is no doubt in my mind that the one Biblical concept that we must get our heads around is grace. Until we grasp this as fully as we possibly can, I think much of what we do will remain conditional. And grace, by its very nature, is unconditional.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reimagining Church

Frank Viola's Reimagining Church continues to stimulate. I find it somewhat frustrating in places, mainly because it is hard work trying to work out how the reimagining he is proposing can be applied to an established church.

I have to confess that as I read the book I imagine that it would be far easier to plant a church than to be part of the process of transformation in one, but in one I am and this is where God has called me to be and to work out my ministry. Now either I've misheard and misunderstood what I thought was God's call on my life over the last 20 to 30 years because I'm locked into the hierarchical business model, or I'm part of God's plan to bring about the change he wants to see. I guess the one certain thing is that I am not a passive observer!

So how does the church need to change? Is the leadership structure all wrong? I can't fault Viola's argument, which in itself isn't new, that the traditional pattern of organised church has done very little to empower Christians to live out their call as members of God's missional family. But I wouldn't want to throw out the baby with the bath and the water just yet! On the other hand I'm not averse to a little bit of revolution and the upsetting of the occasional apple cart.

Somewhere, in all the models of church that I've witnessed and of which I have been a part, and all the models about which I've read, there are principles that I am sure should be applied. Principles like Willow's seeker focused approach, which regularly challenges me to make sure our main celebration is accessible to those seeking and not just the arrived. Cafe church with it's informal style and open exploration of issues and questions (not just better coffee and muffins). Principles like high grace, low risk and doable evangelism that come out of the writings and practice of Steve Sjogren and Jim Henderson. Walk across the room and Contagious Christianity, again from Willow Creek. And so many more.

So, although I may never end up in the same place as Frank Viola, I will continue to reimagine church and to challenge the people around me to do the same. The reason of course is simple. In a little while I'll put on my shoes and coat and set off to walk the mile and a quarter to the station to meet Anne. As I walk I will the faces of people who represent many more who find themselves far from God whether it matters to them or not.

They are the reason we need to reimagine church. Not because church doesn't suit us anymore, but because lost people matter to God and they are missing from his family, and he has chosen the church as the vehicle for reintroducing them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How true the advertising slogan

We went out for dinner with Anne's parents this evening. Very nice it was too. On the way to the restaurant a Virgin Media van pulled onto a roundabout in front of me, rather too close for comfort.

Mind you, I should have paid more attention to the advertising on the side. After all it did say, "Near miss" in very large letters!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Closing the back door of the church

Here's a useful insight through a personal story about why people drop out of church and what might reduce it.

The simple strategy outlined is as follows:

1. Build systems that allow friendships to happen.
2. Help people serve and contribute
3. Plan common experiences
4. Foster the DNA of care and seeking

Wireless at church

It has to be said, an Airport Express is a wonderful thing!

I knew you could use one to create a wireless access point to a network, but I hadn't tried it until this morning. It took five minutes at the most, and most of that time was spent thinking about the set-up and configuration questions.

So now I have wireless in the church study, and maybe even on the platform in church, given that my study is next to it.

I guess the next step is to link the audio out from the MacBook to the PA system and I can play Youtube videos on the big screen!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don Ross

Just a little something for anyone who enjoys really good acoustic guitar work.

From bad to worse for the king

Could king Saul have done things differently or was his downfall and slide into rage and madness inevitable? As I continue to read through the story of the early monarchy this question comes back to me time and again. By the time we reach 1 Samuel 18, Saul is torn between keeping David close and wanting to kill him. And it will get worse.

Nowhere is there any sense of Saul repenting of his sin and seeking to submit to God's authority. He just becomes more and more determined to retain the throne at all costs. He plots and schemes and it will go from bad to worse over the next few chapters of the story.

Clearly translating v10 present challenges. The NIV goes for evil spirit with a footnote and prophesying, the New Living settles on tormenting spirit and raving like a madman. But I guess the basic point is simple enough. Saul got out of step with God and never got back in step.

However you work out the complexities of what exactly is happening spiritually with Saul, this fundamental question of walking in God's ways is crucial. Surely the most salutary lesson is that a leader chosen by God can fall so far.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


It has to be said that one of the biggest challenges I feel I face when beginning a new ministry is the challenge of expectations. Unknown expectations. It's not a problem, just a reality. I have expectations of the church, the leaders, the ministries, and they have expectation of me too. Some will go unmet on both sides.

Knowing this, and knowing that we're are wondering what to do with our buildings and what it means to be church in the 21st century and how to partner with God in his mission in our community, it makes me wonder too about our expectations of church. Do we, for the most part, still think of church being for churched people? And I'm not talking here about the merits or pitfalls of what we do on a Sunday, I'm talking about the overall idea of why the church exists.

So I began to wonder about how we could write down what to expect, and maybe just as importantly what not to expect, from church. Should we, for example, expect the highest quality of worship, or are we to look for an authentic expression of worship that might not be slick and ultra-professional, but that does the job of connecting us with God? Should we expect to share community through people seeking us out or should we engage actively in being the originators of that community?

And the list grows.

By the way, authentic does not exclude excellence, but it is not overshadowed by it, and community will always require effort on my part if I'm going to benefit from it.

Anyway, I came across a list of "things not to expect" on David Fitch's blog Reclaiming the Mission.

Here are the ones that caught my eye:

Should not expect to come regularly to church for just one hour, get what you need for your own personal growth and development, and your kid’s needs, and then leave til next Sunday.

Should not expect to be anonymous, unknown or be able to disappear in this church Body. Expect to be known and loved, supported in a glorious journey.

Should not expect production style excellence all the time on Sunday worship gatherings. Expect organic, simple and authentic beauty.

Should not expect a lot of sermons that promise you God will prosper you with “the life you’ve always wanted”. Expect sustenance for the journey.

Should not expect rapid growth. Expect slower organic inefficient growth that engages people’s lives where they are at and sees troubled people who would have nothing to do with the gospel marvellously saved.

Should not expect all the meetings to happen in a church building

Should not expect that community comes to you.

If you read the whole piece you will see that there are "expects" that go with each "should not expect".

I wonder what our list might look like?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The power of stories (2)

On Monday morning I was waiting for a fellow local church leader to arrive for a meeting we'd scheduled. As I sat waiting I wrote a post about the power of stories. I lamented the fact that I had no stories to tell, and promptly forgot all about until an incident at the end of the week.

On Friday I was having yet another meeting with a local church leader. As we walked back to the church after having a drink in a local coffee shop, we met a couple from overseas who were looking for a pharmacy. We walked them to the shop and chatted along the way. Nothing stunning about that, but it certainly could not have happened had we had our meeting in the safety of the church building.

And so, by the simple principle of leaving the building I made myself available for the chance encounter that came my way.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

18 Questions

Just reading through those questions this morning made me think to myself, "I need these in my Bible as a ready reference."

So I quickly made a DL sized (that's 1/3 the size of a landscape piece of A4) book mark for that purpose.

It's not flash, it doesn't need to be, but in case you wanted to do the same, you can find a pdf here to print and slice up if you don't have the time to do one for yourself.

Questions for leaders

The Acts29 Blog posted an interesting piece recently. It was a reprint of an article, available as a pdf, the references are in the original post here.

The post is a review of 1Thessalonians and the questions that arise for a church planter from the text. Of course the questions don't only apply to those involved in church planting, they apply equally to those of us who serve established churches and in fact many of them apply to non-leaders too.

Here's a summary of the questions, to get the full picture you need to read the original.

01. Am I faithfully pressing into prayer for my people?

02. For whose sake am I planting/pastoring this church?

03. Am I leading in a way that is calling people to turn from idols to Jesus?

04. Is a love of money or applause sneaking into my heart at all?

05. Am I willing to be shamefully treated if that means more people hearing the Gospel?

06. Have I worked really hard to remove any obstacles/burdens that could get in the way of my people hearing and responding to the Gospel?

07. Have I been gentle and affectionate with my people, like a mom?

08. Have I been for my people, cheering, like a dad?

09. Am I doing this work as if I will brag on my people to Jesus?

10. Would I be crushed if my people walked away from Jesus?

11. Do I love to be with my people?

12. Have I taught my people how they ought to live?

13. Have I hammered my people on the importance of sexual purity?

14. Am I constantly calling my people, especially those who have been with me for a while, to swim deeper in the Gospel?

15. Have I been timely and helpful in teaching my people the doctrine they are most in need of getting right?

16. Has my joy in and awe of Jesus been so consistently on display that my people would get why it is good news that we get to be with Him forever?

17. Have I had the courage to admonish my people when necessary?

18. Am I resting in the fact that God will accomplish the work He intends among my people?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reversing around corners

One of the unfortunate distractions that comes with having my study at home upstairs and facing the front of the house is the sight of learner drivers reversing around the corner opposite. Now it has to be said that it is far too many years ago now that I learnt to drive that I really can't remember how difficult or easy I found mastering the art of this particular manoeuvre. I do remember my instructor getting me to reverse around a corner going backwards slightly downhill then uphill once around the corner and then following the s-shaped curve of the road. So maybe it came more naturally to me than to some or maybe my instructor was just particularly hard on me!

It's a fascinating procedure to watch from the comfort of my chair. I sometimes find myself quietly urging them to get "some lock on" as I watch the car drift around the corner and off towards the middle of the road. Even occasionally the opposite side of the road! Then comes the painful process of trying to get back towards the kerb and parallel to it. The most common mistake is over compensating and ending up going beyond straight, followed by a series of left-right wiggles that exacerbate the situation as the student driver reaches the point where they are clueless about which way any of the wheels might be pointing. Eventually they come to a halt.

My point is not the problems they have but wondering exactly what it is they are learning to do. Is it about control, spatial awareness or going backwards around a corner without hitting anything? Most of us who do drive usually opt for the later when performing this particular routine. We shove the car in reverse and worry very little about being parallel or even close to the kerb.

Do we do the same kind of thing with life? Do we go for a pragmatic solution that works rather than practice the good habits we once were taught but are rather tedious to sustain? We learnt to pray or to show respect to others or to read our Bibles on a daily basis, but somehow we've become too familiar with these things and they just demand too much, more than we are willing to give, in order to maintain the standards we once aspired to achieve.

And then again, how do we stop this becoming a guilt trip? There are no easy answers, but as I watch another student miss the corner by the proverbial country mile, I wish them well in their endeavours and wonder how much smoother my driving would be if I practised some of those long forgotten disciplines.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God comes down

For some reason I got thinking about the tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11. It's an interesting story about how humanity thinks more highly of itself than it ought and the great reality check that comes from seeing God's perspective. I actually think it's quite funny too.

You see here we have humanity spreading out and populating the earth. In it's self-obsessed preoccupation, the great human race decided to build a tower that reaches up to heaven. A monument to self. God, on the other hand, can't even see clearly what humanity is up to. He needs to go down to have a look at the great monument to self-realisation. You see the irony. Human beings think they can reach up to the heaven, but in truth they can't get anywhere near. The gap between them and God is so big that their efforts are hardly visible, but they can't see it.

But here's the wonderful truth hidden away in the story. The only way the gap between humanity and God can be closed is not through human beings going up but through God coming down.

Now I haven't sat down and read through the first 11 chapters of Genesis before writing this post, but I was just wondering if this marks a change. How often did God come down in those first chapters? I know he came down in Genesis 3, but I can't think of any more examples off the top of my head.

So does Babel represent a a change in the dynamic of God relating to humanity? I know he visits Abraham later and there's the Captain of the Lord's army in Joshua and of course the relationship between Moses and God. As I' may have mentioned before, the Tabernacle is another wonderful expression of God's heart to live among the people. The boundaries to the courtyard etc are not their to separate the people from God, to prevent access, but rather to allow a holy God to do what he desires, to live among his people even though they are far from holy.

And so it is with Jesus. He comes not separate us further from God but to draw us closer. He comes to us that we might come to him. God continues to come down.

Anyway, I bet if I read Genesis later I'll find out I've wandered up the proverbial garden path, but maybe not!

For whom are we doing church?

So we can continue to do church, and reach people who want to be church people.

This quote from Reggie McNeal came in the middle of a short piece I read somewhere about trends in church affiliation in America. I guess it stood out to me because of a recent observation that crystallised in my thinking about what it means to be a missional community. For most non-churched people, church is for churched people. It runs programmes and events for churched people. It speaks a language only church people comprehend. And it does these things in a building specifically designed for the purpose and at a time  that suits the kind of people who go to church.

Sadly, too many churched people think exactly the same. They might not vocalise it in the same way, but their expectations are that church is for them. It's about their experience in worship, their needs being met, their comfort zone setting the boundaries.

Do we really want simply to continue to do church in the hope that people will come because we are doing church better? I don't think so. Look at it from another perspective. It doesn't matter to me how well the George and Dragon or the Wagon and Horses or the Dog and Duck do the British Pub experience, I'm not going to go. I don't do pub life. I'm not a pub-goer and I'm not going to become a pub-goer.

Night clubs, salsa classes, drama groups and Morris dancing all fall into the same category of things I'm not at all interested in joining.

And that's how church must look to many people.

The challenge we face is how we take the message we have into the cultures around us. Not how do we drag people out of those cultures and into our own in order to share the message with them in our comfortable and familiar environments.

We have to leave the building. We have to leave behind the notion that if we build the best possible church, then people will come to see what we're about. That doesn't mean we stop doing church well, and it doesn't mean that we stop caring about our buildings and our programmes. It just means that we have to see them as serving the purpose of the church not defining the purpose of the church.

Well that's what I'm mulling over at the moment.

Leadership lessons

This was in the latest Preaching Today email newsletter:


Chuck Swindoll was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at last week's Catalyst '09 Conference. During his presentation, he described "10 Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years in Leadership." Here's the list:

1) It's lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the lonelier it is.

2) It's dangerous to succeed. I'm most concerned for those who aren't even 30 and are very gifted and successful. Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but usually He uses leaders who have been crushed.

3) It's hardest at home. No one ever told me this in seminary.

4) It's essential to be real. If there's one realm where phoniness is common, it's among leaders. Stay real.

5) It's painful to obey. The Lord will direct you to do some things that won't be your choice. Invariably you will give up what you want to do for the cross.

6) Brokenness and failure are necessary.

7) Attitude is more important than actions. Your family may not have told you: Some of you are hard to be around. A bad attitude overshadows good actions.

8) Integrity eclipses image. Today we highlight image, but it's what you're doing behind the scenes.

9) God's way is better than my way.

10) Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ministry age profile anyone?

I took the "what is your ministry age" quiz over at the Leadership website. It turns out that my ministry age is 38. At last, a survey that tells me I'm younger than I am!

The article identifies three types of leaders: Traditional, pragmatic and young. I'm on the young end of the scale. How nice! But more seriously it gives an interesting insight into the differences between leadership expectations and the changes through which I personally have journeyed over my twenty years in ministry. I suspect that if I'd taken a similar quiz twenty years ago, the answers might have been more pragmatic than young. It's even possible that I've have fallen close to the traditional end of the scale.

Here's the commentary on young leaders:

In the late 1990s, younger leaders began to question the pragmatism of the earlier generation. These leaders have been increasingly influential in the church since 2000. They are more concerned about authenticity than excellence, recognizing that churches need to be loving, vulnerable communities if they are going to draw a skeptical generation toward faith. For them, leadership needs to stem more from cooperation and trust than from individual competency or measurable effectiveness. These values have made the Traditional leaders nervous that the Younger focus too much on belonging and not enough on believing. And the Pragmatic leaders are concerned that Younger leaders are not as committed to quantitative growth as they are to qualitative growth.

The other interesting thing to do would be to get the leadership team at church to fill out the quiz. not for themselves but in terms of how they see the role of the minister. Too late now, they've got me, but I guess it might be helpful so that we can all see where we fall.

Take the test here.

Being new in town

An the joy of being the new boy in town! Today I went to my first minister's fraternal. Fortunately I was one of three new kids, so it wasn't quite as difficult and awkward as being the only person no one else knows!

For those who don't know, a minister's fraternal is a gathering of denominationally linked church leaders who sometimes have little more in common than they serve in the same denomination. You can get wide variations in churchmanship and theology, and you are never quite sure whether you're really supposed to say what you've just said or not.

Me, well maybe I'm just getting to old to worry about such things, so I dive in feet first and say what's on my heart. And then worry later!

Anyway I got to meet some of my local colleagues, which was good, and to listen to interesting thoughts about associating and relationships. Which raised, and continues to raise, the question that's come up over and over again at such meetings: How exactly do we relate? Maybe we should be asking why rather than how. If we could answer the first satisfactorily maybe the second would follow naturally.

The truth is that despite our best intentions and sometimes our best efforts, association life for many baptist churches remains peripheral. Perhaps we've bought into a culture of individualism, perhaps a baptist gathering is too diverse for many of today's Christians. They pick and choose the flavour of what they want. sometimes that will be Soul Survivor, sometimes Hillsongs, sometimes something else. It's not based on a denominational identity but a tribal identity focussed on musical styles, approaches to worship and ministry, even mission emphases.

So if I'm going to be truthful I don't know where I stand on local association life. Assemblies don't usually make it to my essential event list but on the other hand I value being a part of a denomination that gives me the room and freedom to discover my shape and the shape of the church I lead in the context of my local community and not some amorphous national identity.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Missing the GLS

This must be the first time in 3 or 4 years that I've missed the Global Leadership Summit, and I know I'm missing it! What with the induction and moving, it just wasn't really practical to disappear off for two days, so I will have to console myself with getting the DVD's and having my own summit at home.

I've blogged before about the significance of the GLS for me personally. I've always had a profound sense of meeting with God through the summit and I don't expect that not to be the case even if I have to sit alone to do it.

So here's looking forward to the release of the DVD's and the discipline of setting aside the time to watch, learn, reflect and pray. If you've never been to the GLS, and you want to know about it, watch a taster or snippet, then try the WCA website for more information.

The power of stories

What is it about a story that makes it so valuable? I’m not talking about stories that are works of fiction, I’m talking about the stories of our lives, the great and small events that shape us. Those chance encounters or appointments (divine or man-made) that sometimes go unnoticed but never fail to have an impact somewhere in our lives.

I love to hear these stories shared when we gather together as a faith community. I think they form a vital part of our DNA as God’s people. They can identify us as a missional or a non-missional community. For example, my two recent stories of chance encounters and interesting conversations a couple of weeks ago have been shared with a number of folk and it seems to have created a bit of an atmosphere of missional story telling that showed itself yesterday morning. That’s so exciting.

The sadness is that I don’t have any stories from last week to tell, except possibly the chance encounter with the woman who kicked me in the shoulder while swimming! Not the best start to a conversation!

Anyway, it all got me thinking about the need to introduce all those ideas about high grace, low risk, walking across the room, doable outreach, ordinary attempts, servant evangelism, etc. to the church and to myself again. And very possibly the best way to do it won’t be through a programme but through stories. Programmes help, but I doubt that they achieve very much, a story on the other hand can inspire and challenge in a way that a teaching series simply cannot.

PS. I’m sitting in Costa Coffee hoping that at least by being out of the office something different might happen!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The simple things

We heard some great stories in church this morning. I love to hear stories about the ways in which God's people are working out their part in his mission. I wish we had more stories to tell and more time to tell them.

We had one story about making friends through using a mobility scooter and someone else spoke about making friends through simple conversations and connections. There was also a really encouraging story about someone's workplace and how they had noticed a colleague "not looking themselves" and how it led to an opportunity to offer to pray.

All great stories of simple things, small things that God can use to do something extraordinary if he so chooses.

It reminded me of what John Wimber used to say: "I'm just small change in God's pocket for him to spend however he wishes", or words to that effect.

Couple that with "Small things done with great love can change the world, and you begin to see that we don't need grand gestures or great plans and programmes, we just need humble, willing hearts.

Out for the ride

We decided to go for a drive this afternoon and we ended up in Southend, a sprawling urban coastal town. Mind you, when we got beyond the casino and games arcades, we had a nice stroll in the gathering darkness!

The picture was taken on my phone, which explains the rather grainy image, but it gives you an idea of the colours of the evening sky.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Books to go

I have a few books. In fact I have quite a few books. Some might even say too many books.

Well some of them are going. 160 so far to be precise.

A list is available for those who might be interested to see what I'm taking off my shelves, and who might want to come and rummage through the box to see if anything catches their eye.

Sadly I'm not going to offer to post them anywhere. Can you imagine what might happen if I start posting a book here and a book there? I'd never get anything done.

So here's a link to the list and if it's still available we can see what we can do about getting it into your hands on onto you bookshelf not mine!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mighty Mouse is not so mighty!

As most Mac users of the famous, or rather infamous "mighty mouse" will know, the scroll wheel clogs up and stops working after a while. Having finally decided that mine had probably broken down and would need replacing, I thought I'd see if there were any alternatives.

It was then that I came across this simple technique for cleaning the scroll button that I thought I'd pass on in case it's helpful to anyone else.

1. Disconnect the mouse
2. Turn it over and run the wheel in all directions on a blank, clean piece of paper (I pressed down on the mouse as I did this).
3. Do this for about 60 seconds
4. Reconnect the mouse.

And it actually worked. My mouse is scrolling nicely once again.

Thanks to the reviewer on the Applestore site that included this tip. It's saved me £34 that can go towards getting another Airport Express or two!!

Two really interesting article that dropped into my inbox this morning

The first is a piece by Gordon MacDonald about a surprise encounter and the lesson he learned through it. You can find it here. It's called Disliking Someone God might be Smiling on.

The second is a really interesting article about changing leadership style to what the author calls "Open Source". It runs to just over three pages of text, but I think it's worth the effort to read it. The article is called "Open Source Activists" and you can find it here.

On home

Having moved again recently, the question of where do you call home came to mind. God has been gracious to me and it's never really been something that I've thought about. However something got me thinking and I wondered how we define "home".

The other day I came across a family via the TV who had sold everything, or stored it, in order to take a year off and travel the world. Where did they call home? Did they still think of the town in America from which they had come as home or did home take on a new meaning for that year? Where do nomadic people call home? Is home wherever the tent is pitched, or is home the land in which you live.

For Abraham, I preached about Abraham on Sunday, home was where God said it would be.

Perhaps, as we go through life, we have more than one place to call home. Maybe home is a place of significance not a residential address with a postcode.

Something we read in James

Anne and I are reading through the New Testament together this year. Next year I think our plan is to begin the Old Testament and maybe do that over two years. I don't know yet.

Anyway we've just finished James and something struck me in last night's reading:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticise and judge each other, then you are criticising and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbour?
Douglas Moo, in his commentary on James, suggest that James is arguing that when we criticise and judge each other then we are denying the authority of the law in our own lives, in other words we sit in judgement upon the law. But the phrase that caught my attention last night was this: "your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you."

We've done a lot of motorway driving in recent weeks, what with moving and travelling to Canterbury to collect and return a daughter. One thing you notice on the motorway is the human tendency to decide which bits of the law apply and which bits don't. So the driver who overtakes you because you've slowed down to match the advisory or even mandatory speed limit through road-works has decided that law does not apply in his or her case. But as a driver our job is to obey the law not decide whether it applies to us or not.

Now from a Christian discipleship perspective the argument becomes very simple. Do we obey God's commands or not, and if not are we not sitting in judgement over them. In effect we are saying that we have the authority to mitigate God's word in order to suit ourselves. A dangerous position to put ourselves in.

Of course none of us would actually ever stand up and say that this is how we live our lives, choosing which bits of the gospel apply and which don't, but that doesn't mean that we don't slide towards it if we don't apply the checks and disciplines of an honest examination of our lives, motives and choices.

Bi-vocational ministry

Here's an interesting post by David Fitch reflecting upon bi-vocational ministry and the missional church. In the article he reflects on three good things that come from bi-vocational ministry (actually multiple bi-vocational, meaning more than one person doing bi-vocational ministry). In brief these are:

Challenging passivity in the congregation
The formation of church that reflects the rhythms of life versus heavily programmed routines
Fostering an outward focus

To some extent, and this could be the greatest cop out of all time, this sounds easier to do in a planting context rather than an established church context. But that isn't to say that an established church does not need to foster greater participation of its congregation, avoid over programming and shift away from being focused upon the "doing of church" towards "being church".

The bigger question of course is could our established churches, churches that are heavily dependent upon budgets and full-time staff, ever cope with a bi-vocational ministry structure. Perhaps they will have to if we are to become truly missional. That of course would mean that for many of us who are those very staff members might have to consider a very pattern to our lives. Honestly, after just short of twenty years in ministry, I wonder what else I could do!

Secondly, we will have to de-professionalise ministry. In other words, we will have to stop seeing ministers as a breed apart, almost other worldly. Ministry will need to become something in which we can all conceive of participating.

Maybe one day I will become bi-vocational. They tell me that B&Q have a policy for employing older people! Perhaps when I'm 60 they'll be a job for me reminiscing about the days when the first plastic wall fixing were introduced!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Another year, another birthday

Well I have now reached the ripe old age of 52 and awoke yesterday, not only to that realisation but also to the news that I belong to that elite age group that was about be told that we'd have to work another year before we get our pensions from the government. Not that I expect to get much.

Having been through higher education twice and then worked for several years without paying National Insurance, I suspect I won't ever catch up with my contributions. The funny thing is that I could probably afford to make some additional contributions, but it's almost impossible to work out how to do that or if it's even possible. As far as I know it's now to late for me to do anything about the missed years, and to be honest I'm not about to add that to my list of jobs to do.

The sad thing is that for those people who will be reliant upon the state pension, their working lives will be extended without any choice. It's usually the low paid, poorer members of our society that fall into this category. Dare one suggest that a state pension age is irrelevant to the bankers and money market people who have handsome pension pots.

I suppose we've come to expect to be able to retire early enough to have 20 or more years of playing golf and non term-time holidays. It's a rather middle-class ideal, early retirement. When I set up my personal pension, I was advised to choose 60 as a retirement age to avoid having to work until I'm 65 to get my pension. Having said that, ministry doesn't really seem to lend itself to retirement, although the thought of not carrying the responsibility can be very appealing as you watch the paperwork and jobs pile up on the corner of your desk.

Perhaps, now I'm 52, I should reflect on life. Perhaps I should take the time to think seriously about what I've done with my life and what I should be looking to achieve in the later stages of my ministry. On the other hand I think I'll open the Liquorice All Sorts, stick the DVD of "The Big Bang Theory" in the DVD player and laugh a lot!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Reflections on the weekend

Boy, what a weekend. This seems to be the most appropriate way to start! There's probably a more eloquent or erudite way to say it, but my brain is addled from the events of the last two days.

So, let's reflect a little.

First of all I really ought to say thank you to everyone who made the induction on Saturday a celebration. Family, friends, ministry colleagues, folk from Bedford and Upminster churches etc.

The worship was a bit loud, or so I'm told, but then again I did choose the songs. Simon's message was spot on, and fitted the theme precisely. It set the scene for where I believe God wants to lead the church in general as we face up to the challenge of being a 21st century incarnational and missional community. I loved the image of the world having moved so far that our arms are no longer long enough to reach them from where we are, tucked away in our buildings. And maybe it's not just our buildings but our safe places–housegroups, prayer groups and church events for church people even when we think they are for the unchurched.

And then came Sunday. The first of how many, none of us know. But you've got to start somewhere, and I chose to start with Abraham. I've preached on Abraham before and no doubt I will return to Abraham again in the future. In his story we see God's unfolding story of his mission (to bless the world through Abraham's descendants), and we see Abraham's journey towards maturity of faith as he walks and lives in relationship with the God who calls him to a new place and different future.

Overall, I really don't know what to make of it. I'm too exhausted by it all and of course it's surely natural to have questions and concerns. I'm sure I had them 8 years ago when I started at Cotton End, and I'm sure I had them before that in Berkhamsted and Newark.

The thing is, this isn't about me creating church in my image. It is about us discovering God's particular expression of his mission that he wants us to live out in this place. There are some principles to apply and others to graft in from elsewhere, but this is about God not me.

So, we're underway and I've been making a few calls and setting up a few visits. How long it will take me to get around to connecting with everyone, I'm not sure, but I know that my tea-time on Wednesday a few more will have ticks by their names in my little book!!

And now it's time to release into the wild the crane fly that's found its way into my study.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Induction day arrives!

I'm not sure I made the right decision to start reading 1 Samuel just before beginning a new ministry. The whole process of the development of the leadership of Israel through Samuel and to the monarchy, shows up the flaws in the leaders and the failures of the people. Reading Saul's ascension story made me wonder about the way in church we can get ourselves in to the place of wanting a leader in order to be like the other churches. And then when we get a leader it's not quite what we expected it to be! John Ortberg's "Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can handle" quote comes back to mind.

So here we are, about to do far more than simply go through the motions of a Baptist induction. Sometimes it can feel like a process, a hoop through which we have to jump, but it is of far greater significance that that. It's an opportunity for us, as a church family, to gather together and remind ourselves of why we do this thing called church and what we're meant to be. It's a time to remember that for reasons known only to God himself, he's called some of to be set apart for this thing we call ministry. It's certainly not a time to breath a sigh of relief that finally an interregnum is over!

For me, being the centre of attention is not may favourite place, but being at the centre of what God is doing, well that's another thing.

It's going to be a great day. An exciting day and hopefully a day to remember. Maybe it will be my last induction, maybe it won't. None of us know what God has in store for our time in Upminster but I hope we have a lot of fun finding out.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Just making conversation

It's an odd thing being a new minister in a new area. You begin to meet people and you wonder what you should say about what you do. Well at least I do. I'm aware, for example, that if I answer a question about my job during a haircut, it's best to wait until the scissors are away from my hair. The nervous twitch that announcing you work in a church can produce could create an unwanted style change.

So it was interesting this morning to be in my local nationally franchised coffee shop when an opportunity to say what I do came up. There was a small group of folk sitting outside and I was asked if I was part of that meeting. Just general chit-chat that happens while you are waiting to pay for your fruit smoothie (I don't drink coffee but I like the smell!)

"Actually I'm not part of that group," I said, and then a moment passed when I wondered if I should add any more. I did.

Now before I describe what happened next I should tell you that I've been thinking about the whole Cafe Church thing and Neil Cole's organic church model. The first time I saw the shop I wondered about the possibility and how you go about approaching the manager etc.

Back to the conversation.

"I'm the new minister of the Baptist Church," I added. It turns out that the barista goes to another local church and is very interested in the cafe church idea. I also discovered that another local church leader is interested and that the manager was in the shop this morning.

Well I didn't talk with him because I thought I ought to talk with the other church leader and maybe come up with a coordinated plan. But how interesting that such a small thing should open up such a wide possibility.

It makes me realise even more clearly that the church has to get out of its buildings and into ordinary places, third place, where an incarnational faith can become a reality.