Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To the Pub!

Last night Anne and I ventured into unknown territory. For the first time as far as either of us know, in our thirty-plus year relationship, we went out for a quiet drink to the local pub. And it was quiet.

It wasn't just a spur if the moment thing, but part of a plan, an emerging idea if you like. for some time we have both been thinking about how we do certain things in  church life. how we, for want of a better term, hide ourselves away in order to have spiritual conversations. We call them housegroups usually.

We'd like to take our conversation into a public space. Not as an intentionally evangelistic activity, but simply as a normal expression of being ordinary people doing faith in ordinary lives. So, in the New Year, we are hoping to gather with a small group of friends and share our faith journey by meeting for a quiet drink and conversation in the local pub.

We'll see how it goes.

Time and space for everything

I've been ruminating on an idea over recent months about time and how we use it and how much we have available to do what and when. Intrigued by the concept of "third places" or "third spaces" as described in some sociological studies, I began to wonder where church fitted in all of this. The basic premise is that we all have three spaces in our lives: home, work and a.n.other. This other place might is where our social interaction occurs, where we spend our leisure time, that kind of thing.

I began to wonder if, especially in our pressurised twenty-first century lives, if we actually only have room for three places. If that is true, then when someone comes to faith and begins to attend church, church has to compete with the other three spaces for time and energy. I think I've talked or blogged about this before, but it seems to me that what we need to work out n church is how not to compete for attention, time and energy through getting people to attend meetings, attend church, or generally fill up their diaries with things that take them out of their normal environments. Why? Because it is in those environments that they rub shoulders with people who are far from God. It is that simple. Every time we replace a non-Christian friends with a Christian friend we take another step out of God's mission.

In the end I think we will have to rethink how we define commitment (is being in church every week the best measure?) and we will have to rethink how and when we do church (is Sunday morning the best time and is church the best venue?) After all, why would we want to compete with those things that create opportunities for conversations and relationships only to replace them with programmes and events designed to create relationships and conversations!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My 100-day challenge

So, I finally made it to my 100th day and by about lunchtime I'd completed my 10,000 steps for the day.

The statistics are as follows for the 100-day challenge:

Total steps: 1,260,290

Estimated distance: 630 miles

So far, from August 1st the distance walked is a fairly impressive 698 miles.

What most pleases me is that I've walked more than 10,000 steps everyday. No cheating. No doubling up one day to make up for a missed day. Just everyday, 10,000 steps.

Not quite sure what to do next. I feel like I ought to have a day off so that I don't become overly obsessed with counting steps, but then there's another part of me that is obsessed already! 1,000 mile would be a good next target, or maybe the distance from top to bottom of the UK, about 1100 miles.

At the current rate that would take me into the New Year, around January 16th at a rough guess. So maybe that's what I'll do next. I'll also need a new pair of trainers!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Seen outside the newsagents

The billboard sign outside the local newsagents simply read:

Wedding joy for tragic couple

I'm assuming it's not connected to the royal announcement made earlier this week!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Organic Leadership

The church is the church, whether it meets in a warehouse at 3:00am–fellowshiping while folding newspapers–or at 10:00am on Sunday morning in a building designed for religious activities. And God's people are God's people and part of his body whether they are serving in a focused and more mission-exclusive ministry or a general all-inclusive church ministry. For me life became more beautiful because I could see all the rich colours and variations, unclouded by rigid, unforgiving boundaries.

The more I read this book, the more connected I feel to its themes and ideas. I certainly share some of Neil Cole's concerns and frustrations with the way we interpret church in our established denominational structures.

Letting God's word dwell

A thought went through my mind the other day after a short conversation with someone about how we read the Bible. In our instant world we rarely give things time before we move on to the next thing. Practice is a lost art as we demand immediate success.

There are times, on a Sunday morning, when I wonder if we might not be better served if we simply read and reread the Bible passage over and over again, letting it sink into our hearts and minds. We need to find ways of dwelling in the scriptures.

I'm working very slowly through the Psalms at the moment. But I still don't feel as if I'm really soaking myself in what they have to say. All too quickly I'm looking for patterns and promises and prayers. I sit with my journal open and my pen poised ready to write down some deep insight drawn from the poetry before me.

Today I read psalm 29. "The voice of God" repeats through the psalm. It caught my attention and made me think about the nature of God, who he is, what he does and how he cares for me. I sat for quite some time thinking about these things and yet I still feel unfinished.

On Sunday we sang "O the deep, deep love of Jesus". Such a powerful image and message.

In all of this I get the feeling that there is a depth to my relationship with God that I am desperate to pursue. But life goes on, and time demands that I turn my attention to a growing list of tasks, and just like everyone else my walk with God submerges into the busyness of the day ahead.

Royal Weddings

I'm not a big royalist. Forgive me.  I never really have been. I couldn't even bring myself to say the oath the Queen when I was a cub scout for a few weeks!

But I do wish the royal couple well as they prepare to marry. Organising a wedding under such public scrutiny won't be easy. But that isn't what bother me most. For a sizeable proportion of the British public their interest in the big day will be the public holiday it will precipitate. It's almost certainly going to be a week-day wedding, so we will all get the day off and there will be street parties and lots of bunting about the place. And that's okay. If you want to celebrate go ahead and enjoy yourself.

But what about the royal marriage? Who is helping them prepare for marriage? Everyone is interested in the wedding, what the dress will be like, will they kiss on the balcony, will they use the old style vows, but what about their life together in ten years time or twenty years from now? Who is helping them prepare for that?

I hope they have a great day. And I also hope that someone is sitting down with them and working through the challenges of building a deep, long lasting and meaningful relationship that can weather the ups and downs of life together.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I love this story

The last couple of days a local news story has surfaced that is just so ridiculous it has to be true. I clipped the following from here.

Yellow line painted under parked car 
A driver got a £120 parking ticket after council workers painted a yellow line under his car.

Daniel Jacob, a 26-year-old bus driver from Basildon, left his Renault Megane parked in a residential street in Upminster while he went to work.

He said: “I couldn't believe it when I returned to find someone had got on their hands and knees and painted under my car. It's not even straight, it's a wobbly scrawl.”

A spokeswoman for Havering council said: “We will of course cancel this ticket.”

Organic Leadership

A couple of quotes from Neil Cole's book that resonate with me:

If only my job as a pastor was a holy calling, the jobs the other people in the church were fulfilling were not holy callings. If this was the case, more was expected of me than of them in the church. This lets them of the hook with the responsibility of the kingdom of God. Something Jesus never intended.

I began to learn that a job is a job, but I am a disciple of Christ no matter where I work. Kingdom fruit was not restricted to what happened as a result of church ministry or even my professional clergy status.

The more I think about the church and it's organisation, its purpose and how we can do that in a God-honouring and effective way as fully devoted followers of Jesus, the more I think we must face the demands of change. Not change for the sake of change, not change in order to become contemporary or change in order to become more transcendent. Change in order to become more like Christ.

The last few days have made me think about a lot of things. I've begun to wonder about proactively dropping the title "Reverend", removing it from letterheads and business cards and just becoming plain "Mr" again. I'm so glad I don't wear any distinguishing clothing or carry some big Bible around with me.

Such changes would of course be largely cosmetic for most people. Perhaps even troubling. But if my privileged position as an ordained minister is actually hindering the fuller expression of the mission of the church, then I for one would give it up in an instant. There are too many soul at stake to hang onto something that is largely irrelevant and Biblically questionable.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Psalm 27

Before I opened my Bible yesterday I was praying. I asked God to speak to me, to encourage me and assure me. Then I turned to Psalm 27 because that was the next reading in my plan. I was blown away by what I read.

The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear?

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against, even then I will be confident.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe.

And so the psalm goes on, packed full of David's deep sense of God's faithfulness. He's not always this positive. David had his bad days when God seemed distant and faith was hard to find. But in these verses David truly celebrates God's presence and protection.

I celebrate it too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Implications of Eph. 4:11 for the local church

I continue to ponder the implications of what Paul says about leaders in Ephesians 4. It would be unfair to build too big a case based simply of this verse alone, but it does have some big implications for most local church leadership teams.

First off, it asks some fundamental questions about who is n the core leadership team and what does it spend its time doing. That's not a criticism, just a question. In many a baptist church, the only leadership team to speak about that is formally recognised by the church is the team of deacons. Typically their job is more akin to maintenance and  management than it is to vision and equipping. All of that stuff gets delegated to the full-time or not so full-time minister.

Secondly, there's a question about the role of a senior leader in the church. I've blogged before about building on the foundation of teachers and pastors rather than on apostle and prophets. Now I'm not elevating one above the other, but we do seem obsessed with getting pastors at the top and I question the validity of that approach.

What is certain to me is that we've become so focussed on pastoral leadership that we have neglected any other leadership role and we endlessly force non-pastors into pastor shaped holes because that is what we think they are supposed to be. I think we lose a lot of leaders this way and I think we make a whole lot more ineffective in the process.

The problem is that if we are going to develop a broader view of leadership, if we are going to train leaders in a broader context, then the one thing we have to address is the historical attitude in the church to the role of the minister as leader. And we will have to address the fundamental principle of ministry being the responsibility of the whole church body and not primarily the responsibility of those highly trained Bible College graduates.

I continue to ponder.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Visiting Scouts

Yesterday, at our All-Age Celebration, we had some visitors. It was great to see them. I'm not sure how many came, but it was a good number, they filled three rows plus a bit so I guess there were about 30 or so. And they were the local Scout Group. So, for the first time in my ministry, we had scouts, cubs and beavers in church on Sunday! There were some parents too who came and stayed.

Our All-Age Celebrations are taking shape and I think we did quite a good job yesterday to keep the pace going and to do enough things to engage across a wide age range. I find it really sad that there are those who feel it's inappropriate to have everyone together once a month for a celebration. I find them hard to do and I'm not always comfortable with everything that an All-Age Celebration can be, but I think it's important that we figure out how to worship together so that the young can experience worship in a broader context.

I have to say that the scouts were really good yesterday. For most of them, Church is probably alien territory, but they paid attention, didn't fiddle about anymore than children usually do and seemed to enjoy themselves. We'll find out when we get some feedback later in the week.

And of course here's the big plus for me. We got to share something of the grace and love of God with  whole group if folk for whom it might just have been a very new experience. Whatever you say, for once we were doing what church ought always to be doing.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Tennis and church

I was just thinking about my tennis expedition the other day. About how much fun I had, and what I would have missed had I chickened out and not gone. About how similar the first-time visitor at church must feel. About the importance of a positive welcome and the value of encouragement.

Nobody seemed to mind that I was a complete novice in regular tennis terms. When I hit a good shot they congratulated me, when I hit a bad one they encouraged me. No one criticised my technique or tried to put me right. It was wonderfully refreshing and I came home eager to return next week and try again.

How do we transfer those values into church life?

Friday, November 05, 2010

If you only have time to read one thing...

Read this!

It is poignant, inspiring and like the proverbial hammer and nail, making exactly the right contact!

There is stuff in here that resonates deeply with me, and I hope you find the time, no, make the time to read it.

Something to ponder

The power of Christ's kingdom is not found in buildings or religious ceremonies. It is found in a transformed heart. The power is in the rule of Christ within us.

Neil Cole, Organic Leadership p67

So why are we so protective of a Sunday morning service? (It's the question Neil Cole is asking at this point in the book and one I've been asking for a long time too)

I'm not against gathering for corporate worship, but I do wonder if we will ever truly get what it means to be the church while we continue with our fixation on Sunday morning church and allowing that single event to define church for us.

In need of therapy

No, not that sort of therapy, before you ask. Although there are times when I suspect plenty of other people think I need some some of therapy, possibly involving shock treatment!!

No, the therapy I talking about is all to do with my back and tight muscles. I've generally suffered with muscular problems for as long as I can recall. Certainly I remember having issues at school with leg muscles and tendons. And I've done a fair bit of muscle damage over the years, so keeping them moving and loose is quite important. The problem is that like many people I don't actually take the time to stretch them out very day.

In Bedford I used to go and see Chris. He would stretch me out and release those tensed up tendons. Every so often he'd do a massage for me and it kept me flexible and increased my range of movement and improved my posture. I miss that, and after a year away from Chris things have got noticeably tighter.

So today I had a massage. Boy were some of the muscles tight and at times it was actually quite painful. Even now there are dents in various parts of my anatomy where elbows and knuckles have been pushed into hardened muscle fibre. On the other hand I know things are better and that tomorrow or the day after the effects will be more obvious.

What I should have done was take my bag with me and go in the steam room for a while and then in the gym to stretch myself out. Next time.

So if your muscles are tight and you need some therapy, go book yourself in for a massage somewhere and pamper yourself. Tell them I said it was okay!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tennis and church

I took a big step this morning. It might seem like a small thing to some, but to me it was quite a big step. It began with a chance conversation with someone a few weeks ago. Somehow we got talking about tennis and I said how I'd been thinking about learning to play. I dabbled a bit when I was younger, but I never took it seriously.

This chance conversation led to a one-off lesson to look at the basics, and from there came the thought of taking it further. So, on Monday I wandered down the the tennis club, warily wondering who might be there and what kind of people I might meet.

I meet two people doing some gardening and the outcome of this encounter was an invitation to join them on Thursday morning when they have a social tennis session.

So Thursday came and I sat at home wondering if I should go. What if I was so bad that it was embarrassing? What if they were so good that I never managed to hit a ball? What if they didn't like new people? Maybe I should have some proper lessons and practice first before going on court with people who know what they are doing.

I needn't have worried. I was made welcome, managed to hit the ball and even managed to get a few serves in play. I had a good time. I think I might go back, take some lessons, play more, even join the club.

Walking down the drive to the club, introducing myself, putting myself in the middle of unfamiliar things is reminiscent of what it must be like for someone who goes to church for the first time.

The parallels are clear. And if I felt tis nervous and unsure just going to play tennis, then how must the new church-goer feel the first time they set foot inside our buildings?

I learnt a lot of things today!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

APEST Leadership

A quick note to my previous post.

It was Alan Hirsch's writing that talks about Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers.

You can read about it here. And even take a test to see where you fit!

In brief:

  • APOSTLES extend the gospel.
  • PROPHETS know God's will. 
  • EVANGELISTS recruit.
  • SHEPHERDS nurture and protect.
  • TEACHERS understand and explain.

Ephesians 4:11ff

These verses have been going around my head for some time now, ever since a chance conversation with someone before a worship group practice in fact. And that might have been a month or two ago when I think about it. I really can''t shake it off, and wouldn't want to. If you know your epistles, you will know what it says. Here it is in the updated NIV:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

And just for good measure, the 1984 rendering:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Translation isn't the point here, although it is interesting to see the subtle variations. The point is the role of leadership in the church. And the question I keep asking myself is this: Is this the pattern for leadership that we ought to be seeking to establish?

Let me put it this way. It would appear from Paul's argument that the primary purpose of a leadership team should be to equip the church to do the ministry and to do the ministry for the church. The church is meant to be an active participant in ministry not a full-time consumer of it. Surely the body image in the New Testament confirms that, and all that Paul says about each person having the full measure of the Spirit's anointing, a spiritual gift to be used for the common good and so points to a simple fact that the church is designed to do ministry more than it is designed to receive it.

And if this is true, then why do we persist in abdicating responsibility for ministry to a few highly trained individuals and not delegating it as a responsibility of all members of the body? Our whole ordination process sets us up for such a distinction that is in the end apparently quite unbiblical!

I will continue to ponder the implications of these verses and reread what either Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch or David Fitch has written about it. Unless of course it was someone else!

Updated NIV

The text of the updated New International Version of the Bible is available to read at Biblegateway. The print versions due for release next March, although I don't know if that means an anglicised version will also become available at the same time.

The website also has a UK version of the text, so maybe a UK print version will be available as soon as possible. I think this will be a welcome update and a good replacement for the inclusive language version that I bought a few years ago and the TNIV that was withdrawn last year in preparation for this revised translation.

But why would you buy yet another new Bible to add to the pile you already have at home? Well, the reason I bought the inclusive language version was because I stood in front on a mainly female congregation one day at a funeral and read a passage that was exclusively male in language but inclusive in intent. I decided then that it was time to move away from the exclusive language that dominated most translations.

Simply knowing it means everyone is not enough. I don't want to have to keep explaining that. Language moves on and so does translation.

So I'm looking forward to seeing the print version next year and starting to use it. In the men time have a read of it on the Internet.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Book I forgot to Mention

This is very short, highly practical guide book to the practice of visiting the sick. I found it quite helpful and would give it to anyone joining a pastoral care team as a resource for developing good pastoral practice.

When I first read it, I thought it rather assumed that all ministers are the same and they all believe that it is their primary function to visit whether they like it or not! I may have been a little unfair on it as I read as a result. But overall I found it informative and thoughtful even if I don't agree with all the underlying assumptions it makes.

Worth an hour of your time I'd say.

It is part of a series of short books called Ministering the Master's Way.

November Books

I started reading two new books yesterday, but not just because it was the first day of November. I have one other book to finish reading that I started some time ago but got distracted. I quite often dip into several books and maybe read one more carefully than the others. I've never really found it hard to keep them separated. Perhaps it was all that reading I did at college!

The first of the new book is Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. Having read Organic Church, I was very interested in getting his book on leadership when it came out. I even pre-ordered it, but never got started. Over the years I've come to realise the value of a good introduction in a book and Neil Cole's introduction to Organic Leadership certainly helps you understand both his perspective and the principles that will guide the chapters that follow.

As someone who wonders what else they could possibly do having spent 20 years in ministry, I immediately find myself connected to the image of needing the institution and yet wondering what is wrong with how we do what we presently do. I certainly recognise the dichotomy between the way the church has professionalised the ministry of the church and effectively taken it out of the hands of the church body and the Biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers. I'm frustrated by the abdication of ministry from the people to the professionals that this has caused.

It will be interesting to see how the book develops.

The second book is Tim Chester's The Ordinary Hero. The subtitle is Living the cross and resurrection. And I guess that pretty well sums up the intention of the book. It is a discipleship book. The style makes it an easy book to read, but it's not light-weight in terms of the subject matter.

So that's my November reading. I used to read far more than I currently do, and I used to read it far more quickly! If I finish the other book that I carry around with me and these two, plus the usual crop articles, both printed and web based, probably means that I still read quite a lot!

Monday, November 01, 2010

October Walking Stats

I walked approximately 194 miles in October, taking 385,382 steps. That averages out at 12,447 a day.

Since August 1st I've walked 550 miles, taking 1,101,154 steps. I've managed 79 consecutive days of my 100 day challenged to complete 10,000 steps every day.

From Sunday

On Sunday we looked at Jesus meeting the religious leaders. I talked about the characteristics of religious people. About how they struggle to think beyond the box that defines what they should and shouldn't do. about how they separate themselves from those who they consider to be "out" and divide themselves along theological lines. We talked about how religious people like rules and disapprove of people who break the rules. How they can't abide disorder and reject anything that doesn't fit their prescribed patterns.

And so I said:

We must never become religious people! It is just unthinkable that the church should ever become religious! Can you imagine what that might do to the mission of the church? To the way we partner with God, the way we allow him to lead us in his direction rather than our own, the way we might end up trying to do church rather than be the church! It would be a disaster!

First of all we’d end up with thousands of denominations distinguished by minor variations in practice and belief. Second we’d become institutionalised and bound by historical ways of doing things that might have no relevance to the present society in which we find ourselves.

Thirdly, we’d probably become deeply concerned about being pushed to the margins when we always thought we should be centre-stage. Fourthly, we’d limit our vision of what we could do to match the budget we have available. The church would become a business to run or a machine to maintain.

There could be all sorts of unthinkable repercussions if the church ever fell into the hands of religious people. We must never let that happen.

The problem is that it has happened. We have become religious people and we must rediscover what it means to be the church that Jesus wants us to be. I pointed to Acts 2 and used the outline I've heard Bill Hybels use before to describe the church. We talked about the principle of everyone that says that everyone has the Spirit in equal measure and a gift to be used or the common good.

I ended with a call to:

  • Be available to God
  • To listen for his whisper to guide and direct
  • To commit to obedience to the whisper when it comes