Friday, May 27, 2011

Sunday School

I only went to Sunday School for two weeks. After the second week, when I arrived home, my mother asked me, "How was Sunday School?" "Boring," I replied, "I'm not going again," I added quickly.

I was then informed that I had to go because it was good for me to go to church. My response was to point out that my mother didn't go so why should I.

I never returned to Sunday School!

If you are responsible for Sunday School or if you are wondering about how to reinvent it, then this blog post might help get you thinking.

The post ends with some great questions:

Do we want our children to learn how to be be compliant and "good"? Or do we want them to know to their toenails that they are beloved children of God, called to be ministers?

Do we want our children to know rote verses and have cultural literacy in terms of being able to identify the stories about Noah, Abraham, and Jesus? Or do we want them to understand the spiritual journeys of our spiritual foremothers and forefathers while figuring out their own?

Do we want our children to focus on getting themselves into heaven (which seems rather self-serving, doesn't it)? Or do we want them to learn that following Jesus is the best way to live on earth?

There's also a great book out of Willow Creek called The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School that helped us reshape children's ministry in a previous church.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Revised date for world's end

I heard on the radio this morning that Harold Camping has decided that his maths was wrong and in fact the world will end in October.

How is it that someone can miss the most obvious statement of Jesus that no one knows, and get others to believe them?

It's a salutary lesson to everyone who would seek to become an expert, a teacher first and a disciple second.

Preaching from Isaiah

So, I took on the challenge of preaching through Isaiah as the result of a conversation with a small study group we have at church. It's a big book, but that doesn't mean we should shy away from it just because of its length. Neither should the complexity and span of history put us off either.

I decided to try to take a fairly broad approach and pick up about a dozen themes and ideas from across the whole book. One of the things I keep saying to both the study group and the church congregation is to look for echoes. Echoes of both the New Testament in the Old and of the Old in the New. For example, when Isaiah speaks prophetically about the gathering of the nations in worship and discipleship in chapter 2, where does that echo in the New? Possibly Paul's declaration that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess or when Jesus speak of making disciples of all nations.

As I work through I'm also reading an interesting book about Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus. It has quite an interesting survey about how the early church did it, and it lays out a method with examples of a Christocentric model. I'm also using Motyer, Goldingay, Webb and Oswalt's commentaries and a very useful book by David Jackman called Teaching Isaiah. It's a guide to developing sermons and series.

What have I learnt so far? Well a few things come to mind. Firstly I guess it becomes very clear very quickly that the nation, indeed the nations, have a case to answer before God, but while God's judgement is inevitable so too is the hope that comes from God's eternal purpose of redemption. In fact you can quite easily see why some of the church fathers looked to Paul's faith, hope and love triplet as a basic hermeneutical method.

Secondly, there's the challenge to choose your story. Chapter 7-9 express it clearly as Isaiah paints the picture of the present reality, the near future and the distant future to come. You can choose to live by the story of gloom and distress or you can choose to live by the story of hope and redemption.

There is so much more that has direct relevance to our present-day situation that Isaiah cries out to be preached. I just hope we do him justice!

Praying in the pool

So I went for my first swim in ages yesterday. Didn't swim far, the pool got busy and there was a water aerobics class starting that I hadn't noticed in the timetable. I did about 24 lengths, and when I stopped for a breather and to take my goggles off for a moment, I got talking to a fellow swimmer about life and stuff.

It wouldn't be appropriate for me to share what was said, but it's where the conversation went that caught me by surprise. A simple remark opened the door to the opportunity to pray, and so there we stood, by the edge of the pool, with swimmers going up and down and me praying a blessing on someone I'd never met before.

Weird isn't it? I often wonder how many God-moments I miss in the daily run of my life. We're all so very busy going somewhere, doing something, that we probably don't notice a lot of what is happening right in front of our eyes. Worse still, perhaps we are like the religious characters in the story Jesus told about the man who got mugged by thieves and ignored by religious people. Stepping over his body or crossing the road, they moved quickly to avoid contamination that might interrupt their ability to be devoutly religious.

As I continue to read Isaiah, and remind myself of some of the other prophets too, I can't help but notice that when it comes to religious service, God seems to have a somewhat different perspective to us. Rather than focussing on the songs we sing or the sacrifices we make, or the prayers we speak, he talks about the justice we seek on behalf of others, he speaks about righteousness rather than self-righteousness. To use post-modern missional language, he seems to talk about engaging with our culture to transform it rather than huddling together in isolation in order to condemn it.

Do you think that being incarnational might just be reflected not only in the way we live out our discipleship spiritually, but also in the way we live it our practically?

I wonder, when I go out later today, if God will present me with another opportunity to be his co-worker?

Monday, May 23, 2011

More of Reggie McNeal on Missional Church

Came across this video of Reggie McNeal talking about missional church.

What caught my attention in this video was the discussion about "Cross Domain" partnerships. The idea of working with the community rather than for the community. When we work for the community we are less likely to engage the community, but when we work with the community, engagement is set to rise.

So I guess the question is: Where might God be calling us to work with our community as we partner with him in his redemptive mission?

There are some other resources available too, particularly a paper about engagement. This can be downloaded from here. The paper is called: Fast Forwarding Your Church’s Engagement in the Community

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Telling stories

I had a thought as I walked up to church this morning. All this talk about stories got me thinking. We have Alpha and we have Christianity Explored and we have a whole plethora of access courses for people who might be interested in faith, but is there room for something different? Maybe it already exists, I don't know, but here's an idea.

A course based around the simple practice of retelling the stories, the story if you like, of God. Stories about his love and grace, about his involvement in human history and his intervention on our behalf.

We could start in Genesis with creation. Not as a way of arguing against evolution, but as a way of telling the story of who God is, reflecting on why we are here. We could look at Genesis 3 and talk about how we got into the mess we appear to find ourselves in, the loneliness and emptiness that sometimes invades our lives.

Of course we would tell the stories of Jesus and the early church too as lives got changed.

The thing is, much of our "investigating Christianity" material can require a high degree of Biblical literacy, but how many people know the stories? And telling the stories is not about educating people in Christian narratives, but opening minds to the possibility that God actually is at work in the world around us.

Just a thought.

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Standing firm

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.

This little phrase slips into the narrative of Isaiah 7 almost unnoticed. With so much attention given to the sign of Immanuel, Isaiah's words to Ahaz about faithfulness can easily get missed. But if you stop and read carefully, these 15 words hit you square between the eyes.

Ahaz was not a faithful king. Uzziah and Jotham before him, even with their faults, were basically faithful kings, and Hezekiah, who would follow Ahaz, was another faithful king. But Ahaz was not like his father and grandfather, nor was he like his son.

Yet God still called him to faith, to live out of a position of trust. He spoke to him as if were a person of faith. That doesn't mean that he was, just that God treated him as if could be. In a sense, I guess you could say that Ahaz was full of faith potential, he just refused to act upon it. He'd rather look to kings and countries than to God for security.

Driven by a fear of everything except the power of God, and believing anything except the word of God, Ahaz had no faith in which to stand firm. The conclusion is there before us. He would not stand at all. His political alliances would let him down and his false piety would reveal his brokenness.

But as for me, well today is another opportunity to stand firm in my faith. It's a day-to-day opportunity. Yesterday's successes or failures belong to history and tomorrow's can wait their turn. I can only stand one day at a time!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Missional Community

There is a great video over at Missional Church Network that gives a great insight into what it means to be part of a missional community.

Definitely worth a watch.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Church for Men?

Been reading David Murrow's book Why Men Hate Going to Church, very interesting. Having recently been to a meeting about church and men, it's given me quite a lot to think about. We are looking at how we  do ministry to and for men at church, and the questions raised by both the recent breakfast meeting and Murrow's book need addressing.

The pivotal issue is simply this: is church to feminine? To which the answer is almost certainly yes. Odd then that if the culture of the church is predominately feminine, why are most of the senior leaders still men? Hmm.

Murrow suggests that over time the church has simply fallen into line with the culture of the people who fill the pews, on average 60-70% female. So we come into buildings that are decorated with flowers, painted in pastel colours and designed around a nurturing, comforting, caring ethos. Now none of those things are bad, no one is saying that. The point is that the environment and the content of our services leans away from a masculine agenda and towards a feminine agenda.

How we reset the balance, according to Murrow, is to choose to set the thermostat of the church to more male-oriented settings like challenge rather than comfort. But doing this is maybe not so easy to work out. We can preach challenging sermons but are they presenting the right kind of challenge? I don't know. But it certainly bears some reflection and some thought about how we prepare and present our material in order to challenge everyone in appropriate ways.

I've always maintained that following Jesus was the most courageous decision I have ever made in my life. It has been a hard life, not the easy life that many non-believers think it to be. If I hadn't have chosen to commit myself to becoming a whole-hearted follow of Jesus Christ I could have sailed through life selfishly seeking my own goals and meeting my own needs. I could have been driven by whatever desires I had. Instead I chose to submit myself to someone else's authority. I also chose to follow God's call into ministry, another courageous choice that has been anything but easy.

So why does the gospel I preach come across as uninteresting or irrelevant to men? Maybe I've failed to emphasise the risk and challenge of following Jesus in favour of the language of relationship and sentimentalised commitment. Maybe I've not lived out a discipleship that is strong in heart.

Whatever the reasons, the need to think seriously about we engage men for the kingdom of God remains.

More to come I'm sure!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Choosing your story

Working through Isaiah for our current Sunday morning series is a challenge! It seems a bit of an understatement to say it's a big book and doing it justice in a comparatively short period of time is a tough ask, but it's a good challenge.

Anyway, some of the things I've been reading and thinking about fitted quite interestingly with a discussion we had at our monthly Baptist Ministers' lunch. We got talking about the general level of illiteracy about the Christian narrative in our society and what we could or should be doing about it. As I thought about it, it struck me that as evangelicals in particular, we have become somewhat fixed on telling the whole story at every opportunity. But typically we don't actually tell the whole story, we just tell the bit about atonement and repentance and sin and grace. Now that's not a bad story to tell, but if the world around us doesn't share our frame of reference, they have no context in which to understand our story of redemption.

Perhaps, I suggested in our meeting, we need to retell the stories in order to provide that framework.

I then got thinking about Isaiah and the topic for Sunday and the chapters I'd been reading and studying this morning. As the prophetic narrative moves from chapter 7 through chapter 8 and into chapter 9 there seems to be a very simple question being posed to the listener: Which story will you choose to live by? Will it be the darkness and gloom of the Assyrian invasion, or will it be the light and deliverance of God's new king and new kingdom?

While this story is most definitely a story of redemption, it is also a story about hope. And who doesn't need a story of hope. Could these be the stories we need to be telling, stories of hope, stories of peace storied of reconciliation. And as we tell them, to frame them in the wider, bigger story of God's redemptive work done on our behalf.

I'm not sure how we do this, but I think it is something that we need to take a good look at and ask ourselves what the stories are that we tell the world around us. I fear we might find out that we're actually telling the world how doomed it is and how dreadful it is and how dark it is rather than telling it how loved it is and how available light is to it.

Perhaps, as someone else pointed out, too few of us actually know what our hope is, and therefore cannot tell the story.

It was a great discussion and reminded me about the things I still miss from college life 20 years on from completing my MA.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

More on being bi-vocational

Here's an interesting post from David Fitch about bi-vocational ministry. Although he's talking about the kind of excuses we can all use to avoid approaching ministry in this way, he also offers a helpful insight into why it might just be the best way to re-involve theologically trained and professionally equipped church leaders in God's mission. Here's a quote:

Bi-vocationalism is attractive to many seminarians. For them, the vocational full time pastor job in a church can separate you from Mission. You work and hang out with mostly Christian people all day (and night). Today, there are more and more seminary students who find the structures of the larger churches incompatible with their vision for on-the-ground mission and ministry. The culture is not a churched culture anymore and this form of church is not reaching that culture. The role of the established pastor seems to be like caretaking existing Christians. 
The key here is the overriding sense many an established church  leader feels let alone a fresh new graduate from Bible College. We are cut off from the very people we are trying to reach. Sometimes we turn this into a reason to professionalise the evangelistic process–let the members of the congregation get the missing into church and we'll do the rest for them. But this disempowers everyone. It tells the so-called ordinary Christian that all they need to do is connect their friends with the church, and it tells the professional leaders that all they need to do is preach the gospel. This is not a solution, it's an excuse!

David Fitch goes on to describe the drive for a new way of doing ministry like this:

We seek a neighborhood nearby where the need for the gospel is especially evident. We seek God and His call to move there and take up residence. We get normal jobs, live life together, get to know our neighbors, hang out in the coffee shops, the laundry-mats, the McDonalds (wink wink), the bars, the local school meetings, the civic association, the places where hurting people are. Learn to be intentional in the way you organize your life, so that nothing is a burden, just a rhythm. Gather a people into the rhythms of God (worship, fellowship, conflict discernment, serving the poor, prayer for the sick, eating meals of fellowship, etc. etc.). We learn how to come alongside the poor, vulnerable, broken, hurting. We learn how to minister, pray with, supply support to, encourage and even disciple and be discipled by the poor in the process. We lead by coming alongside other leaders who also move in and together we use all our leadership skills, and spiritual gifts as well as preaching and teaching to lead this community.
So I'm not crazy when I talk about bi-vocational as the way forward for the church. I'm not looking for an excuse to get out of one thing and into another. I'm just trying to follow God, to find my way as a partner in his mission.

Perhaps I ought to balance this by pointing out some of the positives about full-time ministry, but that's a thought for another day, and if you read this blog regularly you will know that I see many privileges in being released full-time.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

April Steps

So, the challenge continues. There's three months left for recording my steps and then we'll see what happens after that. It is getting to be a bit tedious, but then again it is interesting to see the statistics. So for all those who are keeping count...

For April

Total steps: 377840
Equivalent to: 189 miles
Average: 12595 a day

Since August that makes 3341622 steps. That means that assuming I continue to walk 10k+ steps a day, I'll pass the four million mark sometime towards the end of June, beginning of July.

I had two days of over 19k steps, one more in the 18's and one in the 17's. I missed my target on only one day because I forgot to check my counter in the evening!

Well I find it interesting!