Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here comes 2012

So it's New Year's Eve and 2012 is just a few hours away. Growing up I never thought I'd reach the millennium let alone this far into a new century. I think that was mostly due to that weird sense of what constitutes old when you're only eight years old. I remember reading an article in the Observer magazine (yes, I used to read bits of a Sunday broadsheet when I was eight) about people in their thirties who had "retired" from the rat-race to live idyllic lives running general stores in Cotswold villages or somewhere in North Devon. At eight, living to thirty-four seemed impossible.

Now, each year flies by with barely the time to take a breath. But 2012 is going to be different for sure. Making sense of the rejection of my ministry and the new direction we are taking precipitated by the events of the last two years is an enormous challenge. Are we stepping out into a new challenge, bravely doing what others are too afraid to do? Or are we just foolish? Are we choosing a selfish option because I have messed up our lives in a most spectacular way by not being what I ought to have been.

Whatever the reason, this is the story in which we find ourselves and only in eternity will we know the significance of the twists and turns. I find myself in the ebb and flow of thinking I've made a terrible mistake, and that God didn't bring us this far to abandon us to the hopelessness of rejection and failure.

So 2012 is going to be a very different and unpredictable year. It may the first year in maybe more that 25 years when I don't preach a sermon or lead an act of worship. I don't know how often we will find ourselves in church on a Sunday. Not because we think it is optional, but because of the growing desire simply to do things differently.

Apparently the Mayor of London's firework display to celebrate the New Year will last 11 minutes. Once the smoke clears and the eyes readjust after the bright lights, the year will start. it's more that an 11 minute firework display. It is another 366 days of faithful walking in the same direction. Like Abraham, we are trying to walk with God to a destination he has shown us, but for which we have no map by which to navigate our way.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Empty words?

I've had a few funerals to do recently. Just search the blog to find out why I think about doing funerals. It was while I was doing one particular funeral that I realised how empty some of the words I use each time might actually sound to those listening. You hope that the words bring comfort and a sense of hope without ever appearing to pass judgment. You hope that somehow you will be able to sow a seed of the gospel in to the lives of those who listen as you pray and reflect. Sometimes I probably do so more that I imagine.

But there's one phrase that I use every time that has been bothering me for sometime. It occurs early on at the very beginning of the funeral service.

We are here to renew our trust in God who has said: I will not fail you or desert you.

Personally, I find those words very challenging. If I'm honest I feel failed and deserted a lot of the time. I feel a sense of being abandoned by God, let down and insecure about almost every aspect of my life. I'm not depressed, and I'm not prone to depression. I'm just being honest. There has been little in my life recently that has given me any glimpse of God's enduring faithfulness in a tangible way. Prayers go seemingly unanswered, and I for one cannot figure out why God appears to say no to most of my prayers when I'm not actually asking for very much at all.

Is it just me? I don't think so.

Sometimes the Christian community is guilty of using language that suggests that we all get up in the morning and God speaks loudly and clearly into our lives, directing our decisions and choices. Most of the time this is simply not true. Most of the time we struggle to make sense of what we believe.

Perhaps the reason I need to say these words is to remind me that I do have to renew my trust and that life is far from simple and far from easy. Maybe faith has more to do with what is unseen than what is seen and verifiable.

The words are not empty, but they are not easy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


The house is quiet, the cats are asleep somewhere, Anne has gone off to her parents for Christmas Eve, and I have the place to myself. I like it like this, so don't feel sorry for me being on my own on Christmas Eve. I will probably go out for a walk when I've done this post, unless laziness gets the better of me. I also have a sore foot, so there's my ready-made excuse!

Tomorrow for only the second time in 20 years I do not have to be in church. Normally Christmas Day is a juggling game of family and church. Last year I suggested we close on the Sunday, given that we'd been together on the Saturday anyway. I thought this was a great idea because it would give people a chance to spend the day with family instead of rushing about fitting family around church. I recently discovered that such a terrible suggestion was yet another indication of my lack of commitment to the church because I put my family before church. Clearly I'm not suited to ministry!

I'm not sure what it is about church that makes me feel frustrated at times, but such an attitude is high on the list. I'll be honest enough to say that I won't miss being in church tomorrow, even though it is a Sunday. So, I shall get up at a reasonable time. Maybe I'll go for a walk if the mood takes me (I doubt I'll get the chance later in the day). I'll go to Anne's parents and have lunch and I'll come home again. I'll wonder again at the amazing story of the incarnation, and I'll give thanks that God thought I was worth all that effort.

And when it's all over, I for one won't be putting God back in the box with all the decorations for another year because the gospel is more than the nativity and my commitment to him is about more that a single Sunday out of 52.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Psalm 137

I read Psalm 137 and wondered what it has to say about our current, and future situation. Of course, just because you read the Bible it doesn't mean that you have to find some sort of point of equivalence in every word. That was one of the faults of some of the early interpreters who found meaning in almost every detail of the parables. But it's always important to ask questions of the text you are reading, even if in the end you conclude that it is silent on the prevailing issue.

So, as for Psalm 137, I'm not going to equate our new home with Babylon, although I did remember God's word to the exiles in Jeremiah to settle down, build houses and pray for the prosperity of the city. Equally I'm not going to treat either Upminster or even Bedford as our Jerusalem. But there was one lesson to learn.

Don't forget the heart, the focus of your worship.

With the potential to be out of connection with a church, it would be easy to drift into a worship-less pattern, to become the Christian equivalent of the solider stranded on the desert island who doesn't know the war is over. We want to continue to grow and worship and develop as followers of Jesus and we need to guard ourselves against losing our way in this.

So there was a lesson to learn from Psalm 137, it just needed the right question and the right eyes to see it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

That was the weekend that was!

Well we had a very good weekend. I guess we would have to say that we missed not having to plan the All-Age and Carol Services for Christmas and we missed being part of those events, but we also rather enjoyed not having to do all that too.

Instead we travelled to Bedford to share in a wedding and we got to have brunch with some old friends and visit others. The wedding was the third of three sisters, and it was great to be part of that event. Brunch on Sunday was an exciting affair too!

During our eight years in Bedford we talked a lot about what it meant to be a church in the community, about how we could serve the community, about what it meant simply to be church. We were not afraid to ask the questions and think differently about the answers. Yesterday's brunch was some of the fruit of that thinking. About 30-40 people gathered in the loach village hall and talked and ate together. A whole cross-section of people. I met someone who had come for the very first time and I sat and simply asked him questions about is life and listened to his story. There were no songs, no prayers, no preaching.

Having the time to talk, which hopefully leads to building relationships, that in turn create opportunities to share faith, was at the heart of the purpose of the event. there was a bouncy castle for the children and some craft activities for them too. The adults sat and talked.

Okay, so it's easy for the Christians to drift into comfortable small groups around tables, but generally, with a bit of effort, that didn't happen. You have to be intentional about talking with others, but everyone can do it because everyone can listen to someone's story. All you have to do is ask questions and listen carefully enough so you can ask more questions.

So we had a good time. I got to share our vision for the future with some old friends over the course of the weekend and we got to spend time with our daughter. All in all it was good way to spend our first weekend away from full-time leadership.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stretched and relaxed!

Well, I have to say, holy yoga was an interesting experience. Firstly, I'm not as flexible as I might be! That was one thing learned as I tried to grab my foot and tuck it into my lap! Beyond the obvious creaking of knees and muscles as they complained bout being asked to do things they'd long forgotten how to do,  I have to say that I did feel the benefit of having spent the time stretching and relaxing.

Of course doing Pilates would probably achieve similar goals and if I did the exercise I ought to do each day, my flexibility would increase vastly and with none of the theological issues usually raised around yoga.

So, what did I make of the theological issues then, I hear you ask.

Well, actually I don't think there were any. you see the thing is the whole routine was set in the context of worship. It was quite reflective and brought a fresh dimension to engaging spiritually and physically. Here's an example. When we were doing one particular exercise that involved a progressive stretch, we were encouraged to think about the principle of surrender. As you stretched and your body resisted you simply focussed on surrendering to the stretch. sounds odd doesn't it, but if you have ever done any form of serious stretching, you will know that you have to relax to stretch and relaxing is an act of surrender because your body naturally tenses up when it resists.

So there will still be issues that this is the thin end of the wedge and that Christians who engage with yoga, no matter how much Christian spirituality in incorporated, are opening themselves to negative spiritual influence. But I also suspect that the very people who reject holy yoga in this way will do so jet before they go of the play Modern Warfare 3, or watch some film or TV programme that lack a Christian ethical and theologically sound base.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holy Yoga

I know, I know, yoga and Christianity doesn't mix well, particularly for evangelicals, but as a form of exercise it remains fairly popular. So what are we to do?

One approach is to reject it as a distraction or deviation at best, fraught with pitfalls and dangerous mystical beliefs and practices. An alternative is to think redemption. That appears to be what one group is seeking to by developing a Christian based alternative.

I'm in London today to see for myself what holy yoga looks like and to meet a Christian practitioner. Should be an interesting morning!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What might it look like?

We were joking the other day with some friends about what we might be doing next now that formal ministry seems to be over for us. Amidst the swinging from crazy ideas and incredible vision to sheer panic and scary dreams about the future, we find ourselves reflecting on all sorts of things. The truth is that rather like one of the legendary large artworks of the inimitable Rolf Harris, it's difficult to, "see what is it yet."

In my dreams, it looks very different to the usual experience we have of church. It's rooted in relationships, built around common values and shared experiences. I know this is what all church experience ought to be, but it isn't. That's the truth. When faith becomes institutionalised it requires an organisational system to maintain itself. That system generates demands and expectations that are sometimes in danger of becoming the defining criteria above the core message. It's the nature of an imperfect expression of being the body of Christ with which we all have to do battle whether in or out of the local, traditional expression of church. Whatever we do in the coming years will not be perfect, it might not even be better.

Having a blank sheet of paper does give us the opportunity to begin from scratch and ask ourselves what are the key things, the non-negotiables that we would want to put in place. I don't have a definitive list, but one of the things I know will be important is a resolute determination not to criticise and moan about the established church. It doesn't help anyone. I also know that whatever happens, it will probably not happen spontaneously but will require a degree of intentionality about it. With that in mind, I think we will need to be able to describe the boundaries and the ethos of the thing really early. Like now would be a good time!

So here are a few thoughts about some key ideas:

Firstly, whatever group assembles, we will need a clear, shared vision that we all buy into. If some of us ultimately see the end game in terms of a gathered group of people in one place of Sunday mornings singing songs and listening to sermons, and others don't, then we would need to get that sorted pretty quickly.

Secondly, we would need to be fully committed to spending regular, quality time around a shared meal. Call it what you like, but relationships are built over time and not through worship services alone.

Thirdly, we would need to agree to live as an extended family. Put simply, we care for each other without abdicating that responsibility to one person alone.

Fourth, it's shared leadership. More like parenting maybe that CEO-leadership, but based on a plurality of leadership gifts distributed among a group of leaders.

Fifthly, and remember these are not in any specific order, a deep commitment to pray and to incarnational mission.

There's a lot missing I know, but it gives you a flavour of the things that are going through my mind at the moment. To those who have listened to me over the years, some of it will be instantly recognised from previous conversations.

More to come, I'm sure.

Kindle's and iPads

Of the things that I find really useful about my iPad is the ability to stick pdf's on it and read them wherever I might be. It doesn't matter about the style of the pdf, it just works and I haven't had any problems at all as far as I can recall. My iPad has a number of articles and short papers that are colourful and easy to both read and navigate on the nice bright screen. But it's not the most efficient reader, and an iPad is a complete waste of money if all you want to do is read stuff.

The Kindle, of which Anne as the Wi-Fi version with the keypad and I'm getting the non-keypad version for Christmas (yes, I know how lucky I am!), is just one of the alternative e-book readers out there. One of the things I like about the Kindle is the ability to email pdf documents to it. The problem is that the Kindle renders the pdf by page, which can make the typeface very small indeed.

For documents that I write, the solution is simple. All I have to do is to create a custom page size (90mm by 120mm) with 1mm margins and no headers or footers (they're not really needed). I then change the font size to 10 and email the pdf from the print menu of my Mac. Nice and simple, even if a bit time consuming.

Of course the big plus is that I can email this pdf to anyone who wants it, and they too can read it on their Kindle too if they have one. Perhaps there is already a neat and easy solution to generating readable pdfs for Kindle from applications. I know there is something that will convert a document into the correct format for Kindle, but I haven't explored that yet.

I wonder if some bright spark hasn't already, or maybe would like to write an app onto which you can drop a document and it will reformat it for you. Rather like the way Tofu puts a file into columns to make it easier to read.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Schrodinger's Cat

A couple of people posted this on Facebook. It reminds me of university days studying chemistry and physics. Long time ago now.

Credit: George Takei

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ministry and mission preparation

Here's an article that's worth a read if you are thinking/wondering about the role of the minister in a post-Christendom world.

One key quote to think about:

One of the most disastrous effects of Christendom upon our systems of theological education has been the unhelpful assumption that the Church does and should exist at the center of our society. Under this vision, seminaries have equipped leaders who would excel at managing and maintaining this system. However, as the missio Dei and its implications for the Gospel and the Church come back into focus in Post-Christendom, we submit that our systems of theological education must be re-imagined for the purposes of training missionary leaders. These will be leaders whose concerns and skill-sets revolve not around managing churches as part of an ostensibly "Christian" culture, or in the interest of "church growth," but around mobilizing the people of God for participation in God's mission in the world.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Fragile Life

I'm not a big fan of football, but I do tend to watch Football Focus on a Saturday while we have lunch. Maybe it's tradition, maybe it's because I like sport and it was always the introduction to Grandstand for many years.

I watched it last Saturday.

If you did, then you too will have listened to Gary Speed talk about football. Like me you would never have thought that the following day you would wake up to the news that he had apparently decided to end his life. I sat stunned. Was there anything he said, any body language that gave away any sign that this was about to happen? No. Not that I saw. One rarely does in these circumstances.

I'm not about to pontificate about suicide and faith. There's no need. We do not sit in judgement on anyone who chooses when and how to die. Life may be precious, but God is a God of grace and mercy. If anyone understands the depth of human emotions and how we respond to them, then surely our creator does.

No, for me it's the numbness one feels when hearing such news, even when you never knew the person. I've only been involved with the suicide of one person. After a long illness, they decided that they had finally reached the point where they could no longer face the daily struggle.  But the numbness doesn't only arise from the sense of tragedy and loss, but also from the realisation that life is so very fragile.

We are a complex arrangement of emotions and feelings. We live in a fallen world that besets us with our own failures and insecurities. A world that constantly seems to push us to breaking point with deadlines and expectations. It is, to me, no wonder that for some the pressure becomes unbearable and that they choose to bring it to a premature end.

And what about faith? My faith doesn't protect me from such feelings, from the pressures. There are times when the hope it offers seems a very long way from the reality in which I find myself. Truth be told, sometimes my faith makes it even harder. Because of my faith I choose not to say what I really want to say or do what I think I really want to do. Because I choose to seek to be obedient to the call and example of Jesus there are times when the pressure makes me wonder if my heart isn't going to explode as I bear the weight of all that see and feel.

My life is fragile too.

The one thing I do know is this: my fragile life is in God's hands.

A friend and I were talking many years ago about Christians and suicide. For many Christians suicide is unforgivable, but in the end I'm not so sure. Perhaps we ought to think more about grace than judgement. Perhaps God's response to the person who chooses to end their life prematurely is simply to say, "You're early, but you're still welcome."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dealing with uncertainty

How do you approach uncertainty? I think my preferred approach might be to hide inside a wardrobe until its all sorted itself out! I think part of the problem with uncertainty is that it brings with it a sense of powerlessness. Some of rise to the challenge and set about determining our own destiny. And that's okay, maybe even for followers of Jesus it's okay to take some control and plan and determine what to do next. But where does faith fit?

The problem with an uncertain future, one you cannot describe in detail backed up by evidence, is that no matter what your present looks like, you are about to swap something you know for something quite unknown. To others it might look very exciting, but they aren't the ones who will have to live with he consequences of the decisions you make and the outcomes you experience.

Our future is uncertain. We are making plans, but we'd be foolish to suggest that we are certain in any way about the absolute rightness of the choices we're making. Maybe this is where faith steps in and plays its hand.

I guess you might say that we are trying to make open choices and not to box God into a corner where he has to do what we want in order for our faith to be satisfied. It's an exercise in disciplined thinking and faithful obedience.

While the wardrobe offers a safe place to hide, and maybe even the possibility of another world (think Narnia at this point), it's not going to much of a walk of faith. More a crouching insecurity, a paralysis of faith, a timidity of heart. So I'll leave the wardrobe to be a place to store clothes and not a place to wait for the future to write itself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doing what?

As I promised, here's the outline plan for the future such as it is. The more I talk about this idea, the more it seems to become real, but it remains a long off right now.

We have begun to look at houses not too far from where we are at the moment. We've made friends with some folk beyond church and in all honesty I don't want to give up those friendships and start all over again in yet another new place. I'm tired of doing that. When you move on from a place everyone talks about staying in touch, but few rarely do. Life is busy for us all, and although we can pick up the 'phone, send an email or even a letter, we don't. I don't!

So, living somewhere with easy access to Canary Wharf will be good for Anne's commute. But what am I gong to spend my time doing? I could spiritualise this and get all holy about it, but the bottom line is that I could make a case for prayer and other valuable spiritual pursuits as priorities, but I also need to be doing something that contributes to our household income. So I've decided to explore becoming a Sports Massage Therapist. It will take me a year to train, but while I'm training I will be doing some practice (any willing volunteer clients?). There are therapy logs and case studies to do. The course is one day a fortnight over about 11 months.

At the same time I'm going to do a short course on nutrition and maybe have a look at some life coaching stuff. In my ideal world this will provide me with opportunities to work flexible hours and leave sufficient time to explore how to do church organically and simply. This is a true expression of bi-vocational ministry. It's not full-time ministry on the cheap for the church that cannot afford it, but ministry done in partnership with others who all bring their gifts to the table and share fully the responsibility for leadership.

So there it is in the proverbial nutshell. A new adventure in a new area of skills with a new focus but the same heart to serve God. Hopefully that will never fade away. Perhaps it might even be renewed as the pressure and expectations of ministry fall away.

Monday, November 21, 2011

At the O2

Not the best photo in the world, but it wasn't easy to take pictures! This is the view at the O2. That's Andy Murray to the right, prowling around the court on his way to losing to David Ferrer this afternoon.

We saw a good game of doubles first up and then the singles. We had about five minutes between the two matches, so no real time to do much except stretch and sit down again.

After the Murray match there was a presentation to Roger Federer of the fair play award and the fan's favourite player award.

It was certainly a very good venue for tennis. I wouldn't have minded trying the court, it looked like a very nice surface to play on! Had to settle for the all-weather courts back home in the evening where I won my mens doubles match 6-2, 6-4!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Adventure?

It is now public knowledge that Anne and I will leaving our current church setting in a few weeks time. It's been a hard decision to make in many ways, but the truth is it was probably the only decision to make. I'm not about to dissect what has been happening that has brought us to this point. It's enough to say that things haven't really worked and it's time to recognise that.

The question is: What next?

The answer is: We don't know!

What we do know is that it's unlikely that we will be going to another church with me as the minister. We're not leaving the church or rejecting the church or losing our faith or anything of the like. God has, or at least I think he has, been challenging us both about the nature and expression of what it means to be the church. We've tried to explore this in an established church seeing, but it's become increasingly difficult to do so.

So, before we get too old, it's an opportunity to explore simpler, more organic ways of being church. I'm going to retrain in order to become self-financing if possible, and we're going to look to settle into a community and put down some roots.

This post is by way of introducing the plan, such as it is, and to open the way for me to share thoughts and conversation with others about the journey we are about to take. There is much that scares us. Finding a house, getting a mortgage, learning new skills, getting a job or starting a business/practice (I'll blog more about my ideas later), are all big things. But probably scariest of all is setting out on an uncharted journey without any maps and no familiar landmarks by which to navigate.

At the moment we feel very much alone in this, but by God's grace we will meet others who will join us on our journey, keep us company and keep us sane! As news develops I'll try to reflect on it through my blog. Please feel fee to enter the discussion through comments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shallow answers to deep questions

There's a man on the radio proposing a simple strategy about giving up your car. He is not saying that everyone should do this, or that it is practical that everyone should. He is not saying that a car is a bad thing, an unnecessary bit of equipment that destroys the environment and a danger to life.

But you'd think he had from some of the immediate responses. "Try living in rural West Wales without a car," was one text. "How do you go shopping with a family?" was one question asked. I grew up in a village with a limited bus service. We survived and we didn't even have our own dedicated telephone line. Shopping trips were made by bus and were a day out not a daily excursion.

My point is this: how easily do we get angry and upset with an idea primarily because we fail to engage with the idea beyond a very superficial level. We think we understand way before we actually understand. We open our mouths before our brains have done any useful listening and reflecting.

The lesson is simple. We must slow down, and listen more than we speak. It's always easier to produce a knee-jerk response to any question. And that is never more true than in deepening our discipleship. There are no shortcuts to a deeper walk with God.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Been away

So we've been away for a short break in Portugal. All very nice. Played tennis, walked around the marina, sat in coffee shops talking about the future and most importunely on a holiday like this... picking out a shortlist of villas and apartments to buy! If only we had the money!

That'a the thing about holidays, you can dream about what it might be like to live in a place without actually doing it. I don't know if we'd really want a place on the Algarve or in Spain or somewhere similar. Truth be told, I could list a whole lot of places I'd like to spend my unlikely early retirement years.

Anyway, let's not get all melancholy about it. A week away was certainly what we needed, and it came at just the right time. Now we're back we need to begin the process of focussing on the shape of our future. Before we left we'd made the decision with the church to step down from leadership. We will finish in December in terms of all the public stuff and then we will have several months to sort out where to live and what to do next. At this point we are not thinking about another pastoral role in an established church setting.

Quite what shape the future will take is uncertain, but I'm looking at retraining in order to be financially independent, which in turn might enable us to explore new ways of being church that doesn't require starting with an established congregation meeting on a Sunday morning to sing songs and listen to a monologue. But things are far from clear at this moment in time.

Now we are back, and now it's publicly known that we are leaving our current setting, I can blog a bit more about what's been on my heart and where that might take us. We are not giving up on church, and we are not giving up on ministry. We're just stepping out of what we've been doing for the past 20 years and into a new adventure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Protesting Church?

It's both fascinating and sad to watch the story unfold at St Paul's. Sad because of the distraction form the issues raised outside the building because of the events inside the building. and there's the sign that keeps popping up on the news bulletins: "What would Jesus do?"

What would Jesus do? Would he join the protesters outside in their campaign, would he sit inside the building teaching those inside about the implications of what is happening outside? What would he do?

Would he provide Latte's and Panninis for the gathered crowd? would make enigmatic comments about paying tax, taking responsibility and the dangers of increasing pay gaps and inequity in the workplace?

I don't know.

Maybe the only thing we might be able to say with any certainty is that he probably wouldn't be looking to the legal system to address the issues.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Who's paying the price?

So, directors pay at the top companies is up 50% in the last 12 months.

It does rather beg the question how does that reflect the present government's mantra that we are all in this together, sharing the burden of the financial woes, now doesn't it?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Taking up a new challenge

I have a friend called Phil. Phil is another maverick kind of person who believes that the church needs to change, but that's not all he is. Phil suffers from a condition that has seen his sight deteriorate over many years, but that hasn't really stopped him. Last year or earlier this year, I can't quite remember circumstances changed as Phil's sight disappeared completely.

He's blogged about how this has affected his life and the changes he's had to make. But here's the thing. He's become a sportsman! Encouraged by others, Phil is now taking part regularly in sport. Ask him yourself and you will find out that it's the last he expected to be doing. But just taking part in sport isn't the only reason that he's become captain of the NRSB cricket team.

He reflects on it all here, and it's worth reading if you need a bit of inspiration to take up a sport, or if you are wondering about how to increase your connections with folk who are far from God (one of my reasons for taking up tennis last year). Maybe he wouldn't use quite the same words that I use, but like me Phil is putting himself in close proximity to people Jesus misses, and he's enjoying it too! If Phil doesn't do it, who will? If I don't do it, who will? If you don't do it, who will?

Both he and I are doing something we love in a way that, by the grace of God, might just make a difference in someone's life. Neither of us would ever say that we set out to play sport in order to do evangelism. That would be the worst of reasons. I'm glad Phil is enjoying the friendship and enjoyment that comes through sport. So am I. And I'm considerably older than he is!

The point I'm making is simply this. Why do we always seem to want to reach people on our terms, inviting them onto our turf, to do things our way at a time that's convenient to us? Why don't we occasionally try inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of the kingdom?

Speaking of which, it's Thursday and I need to get down to the tennis club for a fun morning of doubles.

All power to your elbow Phil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Now but not yet

I saw a link on a web feed that said: "Jesus helps a woman with a "Personality Disorder". Now I don't want to disrespect what Jesus has done for this lady, praise God for any healing she has received, but it did make me smile as I thought to myself, "given some of the Christians I've met over the years, this hardly sounds like headline news!"

On a serious note it also reminded me of my friend Keith. He died at a young age from complications that arose when his appendix ruptured. He refused treatment from a lady doctor because he was a man and she was a woman and that didn't seem right to him. He took his Bible very literally and once told my wife that if she wanted to work she should sell cloth because that was what Lydia did.

Keith was a bright, intelligent young man who had gone to university but who dropped out when his schizophrenia began to surface. I don't know enough about the condition, but apparently someone spiked a drink with a drug of some sort and that either precipitated his illness or exacerbated an underlying condition. Irrespective of his condition, Keith's faith was deep and personal. If you looked closely, and past his illness and the effect it had on his personality, you could often see the inner struggle he faced, you could almost see the battle raging in his mind.

The great thing about our faith is surely this: one day I will see Keith again. He will be sitting somewhere in heaven, maybe under a shady tree, and he will be at peace. His mind will be clear and the battle will be over. Jesus will have set him free, totally free from everything that held him captive through those difficult years. During his life-time he never experienced the full release and healing that might have been, but now he has.

Maybe that's the deeper message of these two stories. Some people get to be healed now and enjoy the blessing of that experience of the power of the kingdom, others wait. In the end though, everyone who trusts God will experience it one side of heaven or the other.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Monday again!

It's Monday morning. Two pigeons are sitting on the wall opposite the house. One sits quietly, the other edges closer. He's probably a male of the species trying to sneak up on a female as pigeons are prone to doing. I think they are just as confused by the unseasonal weather as the rest of us.

A crow and a magpie are having a dispute about where to sit on the roof of the house beyond the wall, and apart from the quietness being broken by the sound of a passing aeroplane, nothing much is happening out there.

A take-away coffee cup lies in the gutter, unmoved by passing traffic and of little interest to the pigeons who have left the scene, only to reappear on the grass verge pecking at the ground. Perhaps they are just friends and there is no amorous intent from either one.

It's a quiet start to the week!

The reality of life is that is actually mundane most of the time for most of us. We go about our daily routines with the expectation that tomorrow will be just the same. It's pretty difficult to imagine living a life of significance in the middle of normality, in the middle of the simply ordinariness of life. But this is where God has placed us. Perhaps even those who we secretly envy for their dynamic and large-scale ministries, who have amazing stories to tell about how they helped this person find faith and how God spoke to them and directed them to make this stop on their journey, perhaps even they get up most days to an ordinary life with ordinary struggles and ordinary falling short of goals. Maybe their to-do list never ends just like yours, and their disappointments accumulate just like mine.

And yet, it is in the very midst of all this ordinary living that we are called to serve an extraordinary God. To offer our lives as living sacrifices, to take up our cross each day, to bear burdens, share good news, weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. Called to weep for the lost, for the cities.

I hope and pray that your day, and my day, unfolds into a canvas upon which we draw with God the story of our lives as we interact with him and with others. I pray that today God will use me to sow seed, to water the ground and to bear kingdom fruit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tim's Goliath thing!

Not quite sure how to introduce this, but here's something Tim from our church wrote. I'll let him fill in the details.

As I sat listening to my church minister talk about the story of David and Goliath, he drew out some key points that I had never heard before. In that moment I felt as if God dropped a concept into my mind. I’ll begin with a paraphrase of what my minister was saying;

Saul was a man chosen because he was head and shoulders above everyone else. He was Israel’s ‘Big Man’. When the Philistines drew up their battle formation they called forth their ‘big man’, Goliath. Goliath called to Israel ‘Bring your best warrior to fight me!’
What Saul saw as a man too big to defeat, David saw as a man too big to miss!

The concept that fell into my thinking was this: Today’s modern church has a ‘Saul’ mentality about it. The church used to be looked up to and respected, and like Saul has a reputation to defend. It was once a proud institution that commanded the respect of people and leaders and kings. But over the years ‘Goliath’s’ have risen up to challenge the church and it has shrunk back behind its battlements in fear. Pride and tradition and misplaced expectations have crippled her. A failure to see with eyes of faith for what God can do through obedient humble people will bring the mission of Gods church to halt.

And then along comes David. The runt of the litter, the boy, the shepherd, the youngest, who brings in supplies for his brothers. With eyes of faith he sees this target that he cannot miss and asks permission to bring down this blasphemer. But look at what Saul does! He tried to put David into his armour!

This is what the church has done to modern-day Davids! Anyone who sees with eyes of faith and desires to take a stand has rightly sought the wisdom of the elders and been told, ‘this is how you must do it.’ But those ways WON'T WORK. That armour is too heavy. It isn’t that David is not yet big enough or old enough. The simple truth is, he can’t win a battle with human wisdom and human strength or by human tradition! David fought in the name of the Lord, and there are young people rising up in faith and we must let them take their stand or the church will be overcome by ‘Goliaths’.

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Psalm 119

As I continue to read through the psalms, I find myself consistently being challenged about the quality of my devotional life and the impact it has on my lifestyle choices. So often the things we choose to do are at odds with what we know to be biblical, yet chose to ignore because it's simply inconvenient. Perhaps issues surrounding the environment are not the only inconvenient truths with which we must contend!

Take today for example. As I'm wandering through Psalm 119 I came across the following statements:

My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life


You are my portion, Lord;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.

If you read that and think, "So?" then read it again, slowly. Have I made and kept that sort of promise? Have I really sought God at that deep and intimate level? Am I that quick to obey?

These are the questions that arise immediately in my mind, and many more. In the Old Testament, seeing the face of God meant certain death. If it meant you would die, would you still seek it?

No wonder Paul spoke about having been crucified with Christ and yet still living.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ongoing thoughts about discipleship

A couple of interesting things from a book I'm currently reading called Growing the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

People need to be incorporated into the kingdom of God by being born again. The fruit of the Spirit needs to be cultivated so that people are transformed into increasingly Christlike character. Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God must be nurtured, growing people in their understanding and in their personal relationship with Jesus. And men, women, and children need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit so that they can be empowered to do everything that Christ commands, each playing their unique roles as members of the body of Christ. 

This sums up the early chapters of the book rather well, and the foundational argument of the book as a whole. But it's also an important summary of the fundamentals of church.

Later there is a compass point illustration which is rather helpful:

N: New life (incorporation)
S: Sanctification (transformation)
E: Empowerment
W: We (fellowship)

As I continue to think about discipleship, these things are proving helpful along the way. I was listening to an interview with Bill Hybels the other day and he said something very interesting. The Reveal Study has been on the receiving end of some harsh, and unwarranted criticism, over the years since Willow first shared its findings. But I've often wondered if that is because it revels exactly what we've actually known deep down inside.

People don't tend to grow through a programme, they tend to grow through active personal involvement and engagement. Not that might be over simplifying things, but I've watched and participated in a lot of personal evangelism training and I don't see any great improvement in my ability to share the gospel or in the church's engagement with mission. I've prepared a lot of Bible study notes, but I'm not sure that I've seen much actual spiritual transformation taking place as a result. I've preached a lot of sermons, but I cold count of the fingers of one hand the number of times anyone has accurately reflected the content of a sermon back to me.

Anyway, the thing Bill H said was how he would remind the congregation that they were responsible for their own growth. "We can't read your bible for you, we can't say your prayer for you," is a paraphrase of what he said. That isn't to say that the church as an organisation doesn't have a role to play, but spiritual growth depends on the desire of the individual to grow not on the range of courses offered.

Friday, September 30, 2011


A couple of weeks ago Mike Breen posted the first part of a series of posts about discipleship. It caused a bit of a stir, mostly because it forecasts the failure of the missional church movement and people seemed to have latched onto that. Read the article carefully and you will clearly see that the point is that any model of church without discipleship will fail, not just those who call themselves missional.

Through the series the process of discipleship and its importance is discussed. We cannot ignore the validity of Mike Breen's point. His analysis is surely correct when he states that:

The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples.

It's not the type of movement, its the basic structure of most Western models. Have we not learnt this lesson form all the studies and reports and analyses we've had over the past 20 or more years? We simply are not making disciples. People are not becoming whole-hearted, fully devoted, followers of Jesus Christ. We are making users more than we are making disciples.

If one was being cynical, you might say users are easy to spot. They are the ones who ask if tithing is really important and did God really mean 10% and is that before or after tax. Users are usually familiar with Bible stories but can't paint a big picture of the biblical narrative. They are, to put it plainly, biblically illiterate. Users are often more interested in what they get out of church than what they put into church. More interested in how their needs can be met than it how God's mission can be implemented. For users discipleship is an inconvenience that disturbs their essentially selfish pattern of life. It is too demanding, too time consuming, too life altering and too costly to comtemplate. "Just give me forgiveness and assurance and let me get on with my life", might be their motto.

That might seem harsh (re-reading it and it does seem quite harsh), but maybe it's time we took a long hard look at the reality. It's time to ask ourselves some tough questions. When was the last time you took stock of your Christian life? When did you last try to answer question like:

  • How is Christ being formed in my life right now?
  • What am I learning about God through my daily interaction with him and his word?
  • How am I partnering with God in his mission to the world he loves?
  • What things are holding me back from full commitment?

None of us really like being asked these kinds of questions, but how are we supposed to grow as disciples if we won't ask the basic questions we need to ask? Have we really reached a point where we actually think that tomorrow we will wake up more committed than today without doing a thing to grow?

It won't happen.

I rant, or appear to rant, simply because I know myself. I know how much I resist asking the tough questions and avoiding the honest answers. Yet if I truly want to grow, if I want to develop the spiritual capacity to walk with Jesus, sensitive to his prompting and obedient to his mission, then I simply cannot afford ignore my discipleship.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Articles to read

I have a confession to make. I believe I'm far from alone in this confession. My confession is this: much of my life is shaped by irrational beliefs that make no sense. So, just because I make a mistake or someone criticises me, I drift towards believing I'm a terrible person destined to fail forever.

If you never feel this way, then bless you. But I do, and I'm not alone from the evidence of conversations I have.

There's an interesting and helpful article, particularly for church leaders that discusses three irrational beliefs that I certainly recognise in me and maybe you will recognise in yourself. Read it here.

A second article is more of a short review of Michael Quicke's book Worshipless Preaching. The book looks interesting. The review article is a bit short, only really introducing the idea and illustrating it. But it's enough the make you stop and think for a while about the place of the sermon in worship and the place of worship in the sermon.

I've long since wondered what we are trying to do when we preach. My formative Christian life was in a church where the preaching was very much the teaching focus of the church. That extended into the para-church organisation with which I was connected. Over the years I've come to realise that the church teaches a lot and sometimes does something with it. Much preaching seems to feed the mind but fails to inspire change.

I have my theory about that and the reasons why it is so, but I won't go into that now!

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Taking your church Missional

Taking your Church Missional is a downloadable paper from It makes interesting reading. The focus of the paper is the cost to the church leader. Here are some of the more challenging quotes to whet your appetite:

In his book, The Present Future, Reggie McNeal warns, “It takes enormous courage to give spiritual leadership in the North American church culture, because the church is increasingly hostile to anything that disturbs its comfort and challenges its club member paradigm.
“The biggest thing to realize is not to model yourself on the traditions of the past, but on Christ—what he did, how he would love people and talk to people. And that gives validity to the model,” says Lee Clamp.
“For years we have trained our congregational members to come to the pastor when the system becomes off- balance—a personal problem, a complaint, a boiler issue, a janitorial issue. Becoming missional means spinning off small satellite clusters of folks who offer their assets to the larger group. It is a cost because people have grown accustomed to running to the pastor. Redefining the call of the pastor finds new ways of working together, with Christ—not the pastor— being the centrifuge that keeps the system turning.”
“Leaders are shifting away from being the doers and concentrating on leadership development. God puts the passion in people—we’re not going to do it for them. Well-meaning churches have had the hired gun mentality, but now we are equipping people for works of service. It’s a transition from catching people to releasing them, and getting people to see their own personal mission.”
“Going missional sounds risky, doesn’t it?” Reggie McNeal. “That’s because it is. You will bet your life and ministry on it. But you may also discover that committing your life to the missional journey will help you find it.”

So there you go. I'm not commenting on the validity of these comments, but I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to get your head around some of the issues that face you as a leader as you seek to shift your ministry towards a missional focus.

You can find the paper in the resources section of the website. It's free and there are plenty of other papers worth a browse too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jeff Vanderstelt on being missional

I'm often asked questions around why I am so passionate about the need for the church to change, for the church to grasp the fundamental idea of what it means to be missional, to be in partnership with God in his mission in a whole-life way. Trying to help people grasp that mission is not something we do but something we are is quite a shift for many in the established church.

One way to help is to keep trying to expose ourselves to new ways of thinking about church and understanding this language. Somebody who I find really helpful in doing this is Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Communities.

Here's a short video interview with him where he talks about being missional, what it means, how it applies and what the journey for an established might look like. Listen out for his definition of missional life in terms of family, missionary and servant and for his observation on the problem of the traditional church model. You might not like what he says, but personally I think he's absolutely correct in his analysis.

Jeff Vanderstelt // The Meaning of Missional from Newfrontiers USA on Vimeo.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psalm 113

 1 Praise the LORD.
   Praise the LORD, you his servants;
   praise the name of the LORD.
2 Let the name of the LORD be praised,
   both now and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
   the name of the LORD is to be praised.
 4 The LORD is exalted over all the nations,
   his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the LORD our God,
   the One who sits enthroned on high,
6 who stoops down to look
   on the heavens and the earth?
 7 He raises the poor from the dust
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
8 he seats them with princes,
   with the princes of his people.
9 He settles the childless woman in her home
   as a happy mother of children.
   Praise the LORD.

"Praise" occurs five times in the first three verses. Do you think the psalmist is trying to draw out attention to something important?

As I read this I almost said out loud, "I think we get the point!" I wasn't angry, I was just smiling and thinking to myself how easily we forget to praise God. I wondered when the last time was that I started my day with praise rather than lament or petition. When was the last time I responded to something with praise and worship as my first instinct. Maybe we need to train ourselves to do this, to make a disciplined choice to start with adoration as the old ACTS acrostic reminds us so to do.

Did you start your day with praise? Are you willing to stop now and put that right?

Non-Religious Funerals

Imagine getting a call from a Funeral Director asking you if you'd be prepared to take a non-religious funeral. What's your very first thought? Is it, "What do they mean by non-religious," or is it, "How could I dishonour God by taking part in something that doesn't acknowledge him."

Our response is crucial, and our first response might actually say more about us than we imagine. 

Okay, you might not think in terms of dishonouring God, but I'd hazard a guess that there would be all sorts of questions that might have more to do with missing an opportunity to preach the gospel or something similar. I have them too. But I'm also drawn to wonder what role I might play by getting alongside a family and simply serving them as best I can in a way that meets their needs at that time rather than fulfilling some theological criteria.

And it's not just a theoretical question. While I haven't yet been asked to do a non-religious funeral, I have been asked if I'd be prepared to do one. And that in itself makes me wonder what I might do and how I might do it. It seems to me that while the family might not want anything religious that doesn't mean I can't prepare prayerfully, serve prayerfully and support them in prayer, even if they don't know it! I don't stop being a disciple of Jesus Christ just because I'm in a non-religious setting, doing non-religious things.

In the end, non-religious might simply mean not having someone in a cassock with a dog-collar on. I've done plenty of funerals where the family have said to me, "He wasn't very religious you know. He didn't go to church, but he did say his prayers every night."

It's not for me to judge, I'm there to serve. All people matter to God. It's a phrase I learnt from Willow Creek and it's a phrase that shapes much of what I do and think. All people matter to God, and therefore all people should matter to me. 

Perhaps a final word from Paul might focus my thoughts:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thoughts on Psalm 112

I most definitely do not subscribe to the point of view that suggests that God wants all his people to be rich, but Psalm 112, at first glance might be saying that this should be true. After all those who fear God and "find great delight in his commands" are blessed and "wealth and riches are in their houses".

While most of us probably wouldn't balk at the idea of facing the dangers and pitfalls of wealth, of which there are surely many, most of us will not get the chance to find out if it's difficult or not to remain generous and gracious, full of compassion and lending freely, conducting our affairs with justice.

The issue of personal wealth is not actually the heart of the message of Psalm 112. The Psalm goes on to talk about facing darkness, enemies and bad news. Perhaps the downside of wealth is that no matter how wealthy you are, you can't avoid bad news.

Whilst their houses might be full of riches, it is their righteousness that endures for ever. It is as the righteous that they will be remembered, not as the wealthy. What they do for the poor far outweighs what they might have done for themselves. I guess that's because our ability to be generous is predicated upon our experience of the generosity of God. If we have not experienced God's grace, if we fail to live in the shadow of that grace, then we are highly unlikely to extend that grace to others, especially if it is going to be personally costly to us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Same seed, different soil

A long time ago, in a church far far away.... Well not that far and certainly not that long ago that it sounds like a Stars Wars epic, I preached about the sower. It is such a familiar story that we don't often dwell with it to see beyond all the normal things we've been taught to see. Of course that's true of most of our familiar and favourite passages in the Bible.

One day, so Jesus said, a sower went out to sow seed. The seed went everywhere, indiscriminately falling  in all sorts of places. Good, fertile, well prepared soil; along the path, trampled down and hard by the passing of many a pair of feet. Some found it's way into gaps between hard ground and rocks where there was some soil, weed free but shallow and some of the seed bounced around in the thorn bushes until it hit the ground beneath them.

Every place you could imagine became home to a seed, the same seed.

But not all soil produces the same crop from the same seed.

Some of it rejects the seed because it's hard and the birds get to eat it, picking it easily from the surface. Some soil is too shallow to sustain lasting growth because it doesn't have the nutrients or it can't retain the water needed under the prevailing weather conditions. Some soil is too busy feeding weeds to provide space for the growth of the new seed, a more vulnerable seed than the apparently defiant, resistant and more resilient thorns and briars.

Some soil is good. It receives the new seed, nurtures it, sustains it and as result it flourishes, producing fruit that can go way beyond the imagination of the sower.

It's a great story, but what about the sower, the character almost at the heart of the story. Was he a success or a failure? An accountant might say he's a failure because he's careless about how he sows. He might get lucky with the crop he gets, but how much more could he have harvested if he'd been just a little more careful about the sowing process.

But what if the sower's only job was to sow? All he, or she, had to do was to give every type of soil the opportunity to work with the seed that was being sown. Whether the soil responded or not was someone else's responsibility. Are they a success now? You decide.

Just remember, if Jesus has called you to sow the seed of the kingdom of God, then don't ever forget to sow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A question of discipleship

Mark Greene in his monograph The Great Divide says something along the lines of: the greatest challenge facing the church today is the need to develop whole-life disciples. Apologies to Mark if I'm misquoting, but I think I have the gist of it and as I recall you'll find the exact sentence of page 20 unless mt memory is playing yet more tricks on me.

Anyway, the point is this, we need to be making disciples, followers of Jesus Christ, who are living out that discipleship in their everyday lives not just their Sunday and housegroup lives.

Discipleship has always been at the heart of the things that move me most. I'm constantly asking myself about what discipleship really looks like, if it's actually defined by all those evangelical niceties I was taught when I first came to faith, or are they a smoke screen that too often allows me to treat my life with God superficially? A topic for more thought I feel.

Well, I was catching up with stuff from around the blogosphere this afternoon and a post from David Fitch popped up about the Missional Learning Commons that is coming up in Chicago in October. I see the information about these events and wish I could be there or at the very least find a few like-minded folk who would do it here in the UK near me!

These are some of the questions that will be shaping their discussions this October and I think they are questions that should be shaping our thoughts too.

  • What does discipleship actually look like in our lives?
  • Does the gospel we preach naturally and organically lead people into discipleship, or does it feel like an extra-curricular activity?
  • How should the call to make disciples shape and guide our church practices: what we do, and how we do it?
  • What is the significance of discipleship as the core component of the formation of Christian leaders?

Perhaps we should add at least a question about what we are going to do next about discipleship in our particular setting. At least that makes it practical and focussed.

I'm particularly drawn to the question about the Gospel we preach and whether it naturally leads to discipleship or not. Certainly in the past we preached a gospel of escape from judgment rather than one of transformation.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Feeling another's pain

Yesterday I spoke with someone who is having a bad week to say the least. Very little has gone right, and as we talked I felt the pain, wished I could have been able to do something to change things and make them better (which I can't do) and wanting so much to absorb the pain myself (but I can't do that either).

Of course as a follower of Jesus, I can pray and pray I have and pray I will.

I think that if we are not attentive we can so easily see prayer almost as a none response. Maybe even to the point of thinking, "What good will that do, things won't rally change." I think happens because our understanding of prayer, particularly answered prayer, is more focussed upon getting what we want rather than on submitting ourselves into God's hands.

Changing tack, I read an article yesterday about skipping church. It was by a minister and was his reflection on having what everyone else might consider a normal Sunday, actually a normal weekend. He used an interesting phrase when he talked about the sacrifice people in ministry make because their weekends have no options to wake up and decide to do something different. Already I can hear the cries that it's only two day a week that are so defined for ministers, everyone else works a five-day week at the least.

Sorry, but that's not the point. Many, if not most, manse families have two working adults. That accounts for all seven days every week. Anyway, this isn't a moan about time off and understanding ministry life. The point the original author was making was somewhat different and I've drifted into other areas. I love the flexibility inherent in ministry, but sometimes I wish I knew when my day ended or when my week ended. I'm never quite sure. Mind you that makes a weekend off even more special.

Talking of flexibility, I've been thinking about how I can connect with more people who are far from God. Some time ago I thought to myself that one of the problems with the way we usually do connecting with others is quite artificial. Ages ago, in a previous setting, I wondered about setting church money aside to enable church folk to take up an evening class. Not just as an evangelism strategy, please not another put-them-under-pressure-to-share-the-gospel programme. No, just a simple way of helping people make friends with people far from God. Maybe it's because I have so few friends outside of church (do I actually have any in church I find myself asking!) that I think like this, but that was my thought.

It then morphed into the idea that why not find something you really enjoy doing and then go and do it with people who are far from God. Not original to me. I got the idea from a story I heard Bill Hybel tell about buying a boat and sailing with a bunch of non-Christians. I've just got permission to run a social tennis morning in the park. I wonder what connections that might make.

Well. the day calls. Errands to run and jobs to do. I've just got a text message from my wife that read "Ecc  3 12 to 13" I assume that's a Bible reference and not a chess move. Better go and look it up in case she quizzes me on it later.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Rethinking church and its mission

Here's a helpful reflection on the process of rethinking the church in a context of mission. It doesn't use all the confusing language of missional church that seems create uncertainty and panic for some, but the heart of it is about asking what the church looks like in a new context. a question at the heart of the search for a missional expression and understanding of the church in a cultural setting that no longer shares the same narrative or values.

Early Prayer

Getting up early to pray might be a laudable thing to do, but when the alarm rings and you haven't slept much, it can be the last thing on your heart. Today is the first shot at having a dedicated prayer day in the life of the church. I don't how many people have remembered it, and it probably didn't help that it wasn't mentioned on Sunday, but we're making a start.

I would say we've planned, but the truth is it's my idea and I've suggested a plan of having three times for corporate prayer through the day. The first was at 7:00am, the second will be at 9:30am (although I think some might come for 9:00) and the third will be at 8:00pm. The two morning times are half hours and the evening one a full hour.

My hope is that each month will have a theme or a focus that will shape part of the prayer time together. Today the theme is simple: Unless the Lord builds the house the labourers labour in vain.

Other times I hope we will focus on things like those who work in retail or those in care services, education, the business world, etc.

This morning three of us gathered at 7:00am, if you can call three a gathering! We had a great time. It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful as we shared our hearts with God. In fact I think it was probably the most peaceful it's ever been in church! Sometimes the noise from outside filtered in through the open door, but that simply served to remind us that we are in the world even if we're not part of it as Jesus might say. And yes I'll be honest I was expecting to be alone, so having two people with me was a great encouragement.

For next month I hope to be able to provide some basic information the Sunday before, just to keep everyone in the loop. But we really ought not to need too much paperwork in order to be able to pray.

All this reminds me of something I have buried away somewhere in my study about the differences between a church that is committed to prayer and a church that prays. While the differences might be obvious I've yet to work out a successful plan for making the journey from one the other, from praying to a deeper commitment to prayer. And that's as true for my personal life as it is for the life of the church. It's far easier to not pray than it is to pray. As the sign outside one church read:

Why pray when you can worry and take tranquillisers!

Speaking of which, sine I don't take the pills I'd better get to praying again.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Missional Community

I know I worry some folk when I talk about simplifying church and missional church and doing life together and other such crazy talk. But it is precisely because I am passionate about the local church reaching its full potential as agents of of God's kingdom that I am drawn to ask deep questions about how we do church.

Anyway, here's an inspiring article that tells the story of one small missional community, how it began and how God has been at work through it and in it.

A story of one MC.

Shane Claiborne Podcast

If you want to listen to Shane's talk from the other night at the Oasis Centre, then there's a podcast of it here.

It is worth listening to, especially if you haven't read the book.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

A Feral Underclass

So, Ken Clarke has given Middle England the data it needs to breathe a huge sigh of relief that the riots indeed where the work of a criminal underclass. According to the statistics on the BBC Breakfast News this morning, 75% of those arrested in connection with the recent events had a criminal record.

Case proved, it's not our fault.

At no point during the hour the news was on this morning did I ever hear anyone ask why they had a criminal record and what might have contributed to the situation. Again the marginalised are simple pushed further away from protected green belt of middle class morality.

Let me say that in no way endorse any of the behaviour that we saw so vividly displayed on our televisions. There are no excuses. But there are explanations, and until we get to grips with the social and economic conditions and inequalities that create any kind of underclass nothing will get solved.

Telling us they were all criminals already really doesn't help solve anything.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Achieving something

There are days, weeks even, when the though of achieving anything is a somewhat utopian ideal. At least it feels like that! It's nice, then, to be able to report that I actually did achieve something in August, if only in the arena of counting steps.

At the beginning of the month I set myself the goal of taking 500,000 steps in a month. I'd never done this before. In fact I think I only broke the 400k barrier once or maybe twice last year. (I've just looked, it was three times!) So 500k was, to pardon the pun, quite a step up. It meant doing the equivalent of nearly 8.5 miles of walking a day, every day for a month. In a straight line, that would be about 250 miles. Imagine where you would be if you travelled 250 miles from home.

But I did it. It took quite an effort in the last three days because I had one day when I didn't walk at all, doing only 2000 steps. Now at the beginning of the month making up the difference over the course of a week would have been okay, but I had three days. That meant 10 miles a day, but I had a plan. On Tuesday we went to this event with Shane Claiborne and I made sure I walked everywhere I could. On that day I did 31k steps, which made it a whole lot easier to complete the job. So, yesterday afternoon as I set out to walk to church to do a small job, I passed the 500k mark. There were no balloons or major celebrations.

To be honest it has been far more difficult to hit a daily target of 16k than 10k for obvious reasons. It's further! But it's more than that. I can do 10k just walking to the station and back twice a day with Anne. That's a fairly steady, even distribution of steps. But the higher target relied more heavily on big days making up for low days. And by low I mean down around 12k! Anything below 10k was really low.

So, for example, I had 7 days over 20k and 1 day over 30k. I had 9 days where the cumulative average was below target, and overall I missed my target on 16 days. So it was a lot tougher than any previous challenge. But in the end I made it and I'm glad I did. To have missed out would probably have meant that I would have tried again, although probably in October because that's the next month with 31 days!

I guess I've learnt that I can do 8 miles a day, that 15 miles is still possible, and that it takes a large dose of disciple to sustain yourself to the end.

What's next? Well I will probably keep using the pedometer, but I'll stop keeping a daily record. I'll walk less, but I'll swim more. I haven't been in the water for a long time. I pulled a shoulder muscle or damaged a tendon of some sorts that kept me out of the water and I couldn't swim and do my 16k steps every day. So maybe this month I'll swim more if the shoulder is okay.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Transformation from the inside

Take some time to think about this:

We often want to force change on a culture when we see it does not align with Scripture.  Forcing change from the outside is like kicking down a brick wall – it is possible, but it is going to take a long time and it will hurt.  Instead of forcing external change, we need to plant the Gospel within a culture, disciple people to obey what it teaches, and enjoy watching God transform that culture from the inside out.  Although the process of discipling this way takes time and is not easy, the transformation is deeper and more lasting.

You can find a video along with this quote here.

How can you plant the gospel in your cultural setting so that it can bear the fruit of transformation from the inside out?

The Upside Down Kingdom

We, as in Anne,  Ally and myself, had a really good evening at the Oasis Centre last night listening to Shane Claiborne on the upside down kingdom. There's one London date left on the tour in Bromley tonight and there are a few tickets left. visit Bromley Baptist Church's website for details.

Much of what Shane had to say is in his book The Irresistible Revolution, but it was good to hear him speak and to reflect again on how we step towards living in this upside down kingdom where the first become last and the marginalised are welcomed. Not everyone in response to the call of Jesus will move into an inner city area, form a community and challenge the status quo. But everyone can, and everyone should be thinking about what being kingdom Christians means where they find themselves.

We live in a very middle class place, among very middle class people. So what does the upside down kingdom look like here? Answers on a postcard please. Maybe it's time to consider starting a movement of Suburban Expression!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Psalm 103

I reached Psalm 103 in my slow passage through the book. I remember learning several verses from this psalm many years ago. Perhaps I should have learnt more! Anyway, here are a selection of my favourites:

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
   or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
 13 As a father has compassion on his children,
   so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
   the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
   and his righteousness with their children’s children

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Up in the air

No, this isn't about unknown futures or playing volleyball. Yesterday I went for a flight in a light aircraft. I saw the local area from 2,000 feet from a small two-seated cockpit. It was quite an experience!

There were moments of pure wonder as we left the ground and as we circled around. There were also moments of near panic as we made what seemed to me to be very steep turns! At one point we dropped about 500 feet very quickly. It took me by surprise.

So okay, there were moments when I wanted to say can I get out one please, but it was good. I don't think I'll be doing it again. I prefer something a bit bigger and with a little more legroom (although some passenger jets are not great for someone of my height).

The world certainly looks different from two and half thousand feet. there were things I never knew existed because from ground level you just can't see them. Makes you realise that if it's true about geography, it might just be true about life. Perhaps there are things we can't see unless we look from a more heavenly perspective. But I didn't really have to get philosophical, I was concentrating more on not looking straight down!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Whom do I serve?

An extract from an interview with Richard Foster, author of Freedom of Simplicity, Celebration of Discipline, streams of Living Waters.

Dallas Willard once told you, "You need to decide if you are the minister of the people or a minister of Christ." What's the difference?

Dallas knew that I was being pulled in all kinds of directions because of people's expectations for a pastor. If I'm a minister of the people, then I'm controlled by what the people think and feel. If I'm the minister of Christ, then he is the one who calls the shots, and then I serve the people. Be a minister of Christ, then your work among the people finds its proper place.

Can it really be that simple?

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Friday, August 12, 2011


Before we condemn outright those involved in the recent outbreaks of violence and criminal damage in our cities, perhaps we should spend some time listening to those who know the communities and who understand what marginalisation and hopelessness does to a people.

Perhaps too, those middle-class and middle-aged Christians and non-Christians who advocate National Service as a solution should remember that our elders thought the same about us.

Justice, yes, but what about education, opportunity and hope. Who is going to to provide that?

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The Great Commandment

I was preaching this last Sunday on "The Great Commandment" from Luke's Gospel. Jesus is approached by an expert in the law who asks about the greatest commandment. Funny how religious people can be preoccupied with what the most important rule might be.

By way of an answer we hear words that would have been very familiar to the religious community of the day. Put simply: Love God wholeheartedly and love others in the way you want to be loved. this precipitates a further question about neighbours and the parable about a good Samaritan.

What intrigues me about this discussion between our expert in the law and Jesus, the fulfilment of that very same law, is that he never asks Jesus about how to love God. He has no question about how to love God wholeheartedly.

He has no questions about what to do with the philosophical questions that he faces or the temptations he conjures up in his imagination and what that has to do with loving God with all your mind. He seems unconcerned about how you keep loving God even when you reach the end of your physical, emotional and spiritual capacity to do os. When you’ve used up all your strength.

None of this worried him. He’s just bothered about who his neighbour might be.

Is that you? Is it me?

Are you so concerned to make sure that you limit the measure of your grace towards others so that it is manageable but still honouring of God that you’ve forgotten that the primary commandment is to abandon yourself into God’s hands?

Surely there is a missing the question that this expert ought to be asking: How do I love God that fully?

Paul gives a clue about how he saw it working out in the lives of Christ-followers:

#1 Root your faith

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2:6-7)

#2 Focus your heart in the right place

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Col. 3:1-2)

#3 Serve God in everything

Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord (Col. 3:23)

What are your missing questions? Are you more concerned with making your faith manageable? More concerned about fitting Jesus into your life than building your life around him?

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Monday, August 08, 2011

The Great Commandment

We began our summer series with a look at the great commandment in the story of the expert in the law and the parable of the good Samaritan. It's interesting isn't it that just like the rich young ruler, the expert in the law is preoccupied with a sense of personal justification that obedience to the law doesn't appear to be giving them. They both as the same question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Note the emphasis on self and on doing. But the gospel is not about what we do for God, it's all about what he has already done for us. Without the cross, the commands are just rules that lead to self-rightous moralising if we are not careful. 

But there's a twist in the story in the form of the missing questions. This expert never asks about loving God. Surely that's the big question. How do I love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind? 

I wondered yesterday if we too focus out attention on the limit of our grace towards others in order to avoid  asking the difficult questions about our life with God.

Summer series

We began a short summer series looking at four great themes through Luke's gospel. Interestingly we started withe great commandment from the Good Samaritan story, which happens to contain great compassion, great commission and great commitment too!

The artwork was the easiest thing I could think of doing!

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Monday, August 01, 2011

End of the year!

Having faithfully carried my pedometer since August 1st 2010, I've completed a whole year of recording my steps. The bare statistics paint one picture, but the whole is more than the sum of the parts. July saw the greatest number of steps taken in a single month since I started to keep a record (422766) compared the previous highest which turns out to be June! So the last two months were the most successful if you count success in terms of steps taken.

But what if you count days when more than 10k steps were taken (the daily target)? Well, that would make May the best because I didn't miss a day and I took the most steps in a month when I didn't miss a day.

The value of the pedometer is not just in the simple accumulation of steps, but also in the motivation to monitor activity. It's so easy to sit at the desk for a day and do nothing. The numbers, for me at least, got me out of the house and into my trainers.

So, for the last time in the past 12 months, here are the facts:

From August 1st I've walked a total of 4,565,972 steps, which is about 2283 miles at an average of 6.25 miles per day.

The pedometer will stay in the pocket as a reminder to get out and walk, but I think I might just stop keeping a long term record although I might set myself a new target, I'm not sure. I'm still wondering if I could hit 500, 000 steps in a single month. Given that August has 31 days, it might not be a bad month to try!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prayer and Preaching

Here's a useful article about the importance of prayer in the process of sermon preparation.

It's true that prayer often features as a perfunctory step in the process, even as an act of desperation as Sunday morning approaches. But we all know that payer ought to be a central feature not a peripheral part of the process. As the author of the post says:

We need to regain a theological vision in which prayer becomes the posture of the preacher, for before our people can hear from God through us, we must hear from God ourselves. And hearing from God through his Word is the fundamental work of prayer.

But not only is prayer about hearing from God, it is also about something more fundamental too:

The point of prayer is realignment, as our hearts assume a posture of dependence and humility before God. Prayer places our needs in the perspective of God's sufficiency, our problems in the perspective of his sovereignty, and our desires in the perspective of his will. Prayer is not a monologue. Rather, prayer invites God to have the last word with us, and for his Word to shape and define us.

This is true whether you are praying as you prepare to preach or whether you are praying as you prepare to live out your daily life for the glory and honour of God.

I'm a father-in-law!

I think it might just be sinking in that my daughter is now a married woman. Even on Saturday, as I swapped between leading music and solemnising the marriage, it all seemed a little unreal. As Ally and I sat in the wedding car–a white classic VW Beetle convertible–we both said how surreal it all felt. But there we were, Ally in her wedding dress and me in my dress-suit.

At church we had a great time. Thanks to everyone who took part the worship was good and the congregation relaxed and informal. Even the photographs were fun!

So, now I'm a father-in-law and I've handed over responsibility for my daughter to someone else, not that I will ever really give up being responsible, but now they have a life to build, a life that we will be a part of but not shaping. It will be their choice. I wonder how you work out the line between concerned intervention and interference?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The problem with church is...

We had an interesting discussion at the ministers' gathering yesterday. Sparked by me I have to say before anyone looks for someone else to blame! The question I wanted to raise comes out of a continuing desire to see the church blossom and flourish as a missional community in partnership with God. It does not arise from any personal agenda beyond a conviction that we are not all that we could be. That there is an adventure of faith that we are yet to experience and enjoy.

I just needed to say that before anyone gets upset or worried about the question I raised and the analysis I offered.

My question was this: Is full-time ministry as we deploy it in today's churches the very reason the church is not flourishing? In other words, are we as minister the problem?

The reason for the question is probably rooted in a concern that the primarily management model of ministry into which we have fallen has removed the pioneering, church planting pattern of the early church. We have as they say, moved from mission to maintenance, and we need to move back again.

But there is more. This shift has produced a professionalisation of ministry to the point where I think it is in danger of being detrimental to the spiritual growth and ministry involvement of the majority of the church. We defer to the minister as the one trained to do what biblically we are all called to do. We look to our ordained leaders as omni-competent, able to fulfil all the required roles of the leadership of the church. This is not good. I don't believe any one person can fulfil the role of apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher and evangelist, and neither does anyone else as far as I can tell. But we act like it's true. We say the days of the one-man band are over, but we carry on doing things in the same way. Perhaps, if we didn't have so-called full-time minister, we might see more leadership talent released and more ministry happen as we all share from a similar position busyness. Who knows.

A second danger is the reenforcement of the sacred-secular divide. Ministry is what the pros do in the scared places at sacred times. Everything else falls outside of this and is therefore secular. Any meaningful engagement in ministry for the non-ordained specialist is limited to occasional involvement on a Sunday or in a mid-week group. How unhelpful is that?

I recently attended a meeting at LICC where Mark Greene did a great job launching a new initiative aimed at supporting Christians in their workplaces and challenging the churches along the way about how they empower them to be effective whole-life disciples.

All of this makes me wonder if we don't need a radical reimagining of leadership and ministry in order to make the shift to a more fully engaged and involved community of faith. If the five-fold pattern of Ephesians is a workable model of leadership then most churches cannot afford to pay for that, so it would mean a flatter, less professionalised understanding of ministry and leadership.

Still much to reflect upon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Thinking about stuff while waiting to catch the train

Has discipleship replaced having a hobby for many Christians? That's crazy talk I hear you say, it's ludicrous. But hear me out as I think out loud about it for a moment. And anyway, even if it is crazy, this is my blog and I can be as crazy as I want to be in my own world can't I?

Back to the question. I keep thinking about the number of spaces we all occupy. There's the family space, the work space and the leisure space. Some argue that there isn't room for a fourth space, so Church or faith activity has to compete for attention with the other three spaces. Work is a non-negotiable space for most people, so in fact the competition is with leisure and family. When we fill our diaries with lots of well-intentioned activities focused on being part of a faith community, it will be either our leisure time or our family lives that will have to give up part of their space to make room for being a follower of Christ.

So maybe the discipleship question we should be asking is how do we integrate faith into our lives in order that it doesn't have to compete for time and resources and space. In other words, how do we we become everyday followers of Jesus, following him and serving him through the ordinariness of everyday life?

I don't have an easy answer to that question.

What I do know is that there are times when we are clearly too busy being Christians to be effective in God's mission. Our wholehearted commitment to meetings and planning and events distances us from the very people with whom we could be spending our time and who we could be influencing for the kingdom.

I don't invite people who are far from God to come to any church related events because I simply don't know any people in that category well enough to know how and when to invite them (and what to invite them to as well!). I'm addressing that by becoming intentional about getting to know some people who are far from God, people who are missing from the kingdom.

It's not easy. It's time consuming, and in my case energy sapping because it involves throwing myself around a tennis court for the most part! But I'm doing it, not to create evangelistic opportunities but to get to know real people who matter to God just as much as I do. Maybe one day I'll get the opportunity to extend an invitation and maybe one day someone will say yes. What is certainly true is that without this intentional move on my part, I probably would never get the opportunity in the first place.

Friday, July 01, 2011

No Longer Alone

It was while I was studying theology at what was then LBC (now LST) that I became aware of my grandfather's involvement in mission. He responded to an urgent call for mission workers to go to Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Disillusioned, as far as I can tell, he retuned home a few years later and it would appear had little to do with the church after that. I never knew him, so I never had the chance to ask him why.

I've often wondered where he stood theologically, and whether we would share anything in common. I've wondered if he prayed while in Africa for the church in the UK to be renewed and to recommit itself to God's great mission. I've wondered who or what inspired him to cut short his studies and set off on his missionary journey.

All of this has often left me feeling somewhat alone in the family. I don't dwell on it, but there are times when I would love to be able to reflect on theological issues with my close family in a way that just isn't available to me. No one has gone this way before, or so I thought. And then I found out something new.

My Grandmother was my Grandfather's second wife. His first wife was called Mary, and they had a son and a daughter as I recall. Owen and Dorothy. Mary, it turns out was the sister (I hope I'm remembering this correctly) to Uncle Ernest. Uncle Ernest turns out to the J Ernest Rattenbury a Wesleyan theologian. It gets more interesting too. Ernest and Mary's grandfather was John Rattenbury, another Methodist leader from the late 19th century.

A quick email to a methodist friend of mine produced the following response:

Hi Richard, 
Always good to hear from you dear friend. Well how amazing. As your e-mail came in I was reading an article about the Methodist Conference of 1861 which was held in Brunswick Chapel Newcastle, the place where I subsequently grew up. The President of Conference that year was, yes you have guessed, Rev John Rattenbury, described as a hypnotic revivalist preacher! His son was H Owen Rattenbury the father of Revs J Ernest Rattenbury and Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury.

So I no longer feel quite so alone as I once did. Maybe John was a maverick too, a preacher passionate about God's mission, determined to follow Christ and preach Christ.