Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Church Unleashed

We're currently doing a series from Acts. I like Acts. I like it because it describes the early church as it develops through the ups and downs of discovering and following God's big plan.

On Sunday we reached Acts 13 and I talked about the church unleashed. The titles for this series are all borrowed from a study guide I picked up, but I can't remember who wrote it. If I find it any time soon, I'll give proper credit to the author, but meanwhile I'll just say thank you to whoever it was that came up with the titles I've purloined for use in this series!

So, the church unleashed then. I have pretty strong views about the church, don't we all. I have my share of frustrations and issues with the way we've become institutionalised over the centuries and I long for a simpler, more relationally based expression of church than I currently see in almost every church setting I've served or been a part of in any way.

When I look at Acts 13 I am always challenged by the sheer simplicity of worship, prayer an fasting, followed by hearing, discerning and acting. we are so quick to look for long-term strategies and sustainable outcomes, both of which are important, but sometimes done at the expense of simply getting on with being the church born of and built by the God of mission.

In Acts 13 cultural barriers were crossed, malevolent forces encountered and persecution experienced. There were setbacks and triumphs, successes and failures. But the church grew and the kingdom advanced. All of which was at the very facilitated by a group of unnamed pioneers who pushed out beyond the primarily Jewish confines of the early community. Faith was spelled r-i-s-k, and they just got on with trying to be good news the people around them.

People who can think like this and act like this are probably quite rare. Most of us are shaped to fit our culture and work within it. We're not naturally disposed to think differently. But we need those who can. Without such people we might still have a slave trade, women might not be voting and children might still be working in factories and mines. Someone saw a different world and showed it to others who saw it too.

A number of years ago a book was published called something like On giant's shoulders. It was either Melvyn Bragg who wrote or Melvyn Bragg who hosted a programme on Radio 4 discussing it. I don't remember. I do remember the argument of the book. It suggested that it would be wrong to assume that if key figures like Einstein or Newton hadn't made the discoveries or developed the theories that they had, others would have done so. These men and women of history were giants upon whose shouldres we all get to ride. Without them, development would have been quite different.

So those pioneers in Acts didn't do what anyone could do, they did what they could do, and maybe they alone were destined to do.

If we're going to become the church unleashed in the 21st century, then perhaps we need to recognise a few giants too. And if not giants at least we need to think differently.

And as we think, we shall also need to pray, worship, even fast, as we seek to discern and then follow God's lead.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Continuing reflections on church

As I continue constantly to reflect upon the nature and purpose of the church, upon the need I see (and desire I have) for simpler expressions of church life and the questions I have about the structures we impose upon the movement we have made into an institution, I can't help wondering what questions we should be asking and what questions we ought to avoid. All too often we ask church centred questions rather than gospel centred questions. We ask what the church should be in order to reach our wider community more effectively. But ought we not to be asking what the gospel looks like in our modern cultural setting?

I'm not suggesting changing the core message, but surely we have to agree that only church people think in terms of the role of the church. Most people outside the church see it as little more than an irrelevance. At best it's where you might consider getting married, if the setting will give you nice photographs.

Our structures also bear little relevance to the world beyond the bricks and mortar. I have a Masters degree in theology. If I wanted to teach in a theological college I've been told I would need a doctorate or at the very least a published book! But neither of these qualifies me for anything in the wider world. Outside of the church these degrees and diplomas mean nothing. It means very little to very few people.

What does matter is that I'm there when a member of the family passes away. What might matter is that I'm there to cheer them on when everyone else has given up on them. What could matter is someone being available when they need friendship. And you don't have to be a minister or pastor to do that!

Perhaps the gospel looks like the community we say it is but often fail to live out in any real sense. Like everyone else we've become too busy in our individual world to be connected to anything beyond ourselves.

All this rambling brings us again to the need to live the gospel and not just preach the gospel. For we preach the gospel in isolation to the already converted for the most part. And all. The while, those who desperately need to both hear and experience good news are beyond our reach because we don't have the time in our busy and complicated expressions of church to spend any quality time with them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tennis Break

With a little apprehension on both our parts, Anne and I set off for a few days in the wilds of Norfolk on a tennis break. We've never done this before, so we both wondered what it might be like. Anne, as a beginner, was having some specially arranged private lessons and I was joining the group course that was at the heart of the programme.

As a novice I suppose I was more concerned that everyone else would be so much better than I was and that I'd just end up embarrassing myself. I needn't have worried. Lots of encouragement and fun was the order of the day.

We came home with a few sore muscles and a new group of friends who we hope to meet again if we're ever on another break together.

Many thanks to Nick Ring Leisure who organise these things and who went out of their way to meet our needs by adding the private one-to-one lessons into the schedule for Anne.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Simple Church

I've often looked at the life of the average cutch and wondered to myself how it managed to get this complicated. The church, in its mainline, established form, take a lot of organising. There are meetings to plan, events to arrange, rotas as to fill. Hardly surprising that one well-known church leader once said they resigned because they no longer wanted to "run the church".

I have often commented that the church is more like a garden than a business. It needs nurturing not running. But we so easily fall into maintaining our structures and meeting our internal needs, that in the end it can look more like a maintenance programme or a business plan than a mission.

So it is that I find myself wondering how to simplify church. When I first read Neil Cole's book about Organic Church I was captivated by the idea of simple church structures that allowed a more organic approach to church to flourish. It's not without its challenges for an established church, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the effort of exploration.

Two websites have come my way recently that together explore simple church and tell stories about it. If you are interested in exploring these ideas, then you might like to visit Simple Church and its related site Simple Stories.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Blasphemy laws

I was interested to hear a bit of a debate on the radio this morning about our need or otherwise of a blasphemy law in the UK. It's been some time since we had one, I think the last one was repealed sometime in the early 70's.

I've often thought that such a law is actually an expression of weakness when it comes to religious faith. I don't think we need this kind of protection from those with whom we disagree. If we, as Christians, want the freedom to express ourselves freely, then we have to live with the freedom of expression of those who don't like what we believe. Whether they do so militantly or thoughtfully doesn't really make a difference.

February walking stats

For the shortest month and one day when I was so ill I didn't leave the hotel room, I didn't do too badly.  Overall I managed 321022 steps which is approximately 160.5 miles. My best day was 24697, equivalent to almost 15 miles of flat walking.

So, after 7 months I've managed 1270 miles and over 2.5 million steps. And I've also discovered a possible simple repair to the worn heel lining of my shoes. After only two and half months I've worn away the lining on the heel of my tennis shoes. Something I also do to my trainers albeit over a slight longer time period. Usually the shoes are still pretty good and I keep wearing them, but every so often the worn lining begins to rub a blister on my heel. The reason for the wear is a small bump on my heel that feels like extra bone.

Anyway, I've tried all sorts of running repairs using tape, but this usually just rolls up and creates more of a problem. What I needed was something soft to put over the worn patch. I found some foam sheet we'd bought in Hobbycraft. It's a bit like felt, but latex. I cut a square out and fixed it in my shoe using double-sided tape.

You need to be careful putting the shoes on, and make sure you don't roll the edge over, but it seems to be working a treat. My tennis shoes no longer rub my heel and their life has been extended. I'll try it in my trainers when they wear out sometime in April.