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.

Everyday Church

As I think about what to do next in terms of Sunday mornings, I began to think about a series based in Peter's letters. To be honest, I've often shied away from them so that I don't have to try to explain about spirits in prison and the place of the ark in salvation history!

But those things aside, Peter's first letter has alway struck me as an important reflection on life as a Christian in a non-Christian world, and that's just the kind of world in which we generally live in the Western world. We may have some modernistic view that the world around us was once Christian and that the church ought to have a preeminent place in society, but such a world, if it ever truly existed, is long consigned to the past.

Anyway, thinking about Peter's letters, I came across Everyday Church along with one or two other resources and set about reading them through. I haven't got too far into this book, but I do find it refreshing and interesting and thoughtful and helpful as I prepare to outline my ideas.

The book is not a commentary but rather a reflection from a missional perspective on the implications of life for the Christian community in a hostile environment. Seven chapters cover the ideas of life and hope on the margins, what "everyday church" looks like in this context ad some thoughts about the next steps to take. Community, pastoral care, mission and evangelism are all explored.

A few things have caught my eye in the early pages. firstly the idea of storying. Storying is the process of understanding the culture of the people you are trying to reach and then creating a set of Bible stories that cover the key turning points in the story of salvation, along with bible stories that address the barriers and bridges to belief in that culture. I want to find out more about this, o I will need to do a bit of research but it sounds interesting.

The second thing that has caught my eye is a series of questions we need to ask ourselves. Boiled down, they become:
  • Where are the places and activities in which you can met people ('the missional spaces')?
  • What are the patterns and timescales of your neighbourhood ('the missional rhythms')?
  • What 'gospel' stories are told in the neighbourhood (stories about why we are here, what has gone wrong, what are the solutions and what are the hopes)?
There are of course many more questions, but these questions draw us into a deeper engagement with the world around us. It forces us to ask "What does the gospel lok like and sound like for the people of my neighbourhood. It forces me to stop asking why they don't conform to my story and to ask how I can influence their story with God's great story.

I shall continue reading!

June Walking

I thought at one stage that I might have done another 100 consecutive days, but that came to an end after 46 days when I took a rest! With one thing and another, I've had a few more days that below 10k, but then again I've had 6 days that were over 20k, so the average for June turns out to be 13, 709.

So, the numbers for June were:

Total steps: 411, 271

Approx. miles: 206

This takes my total step count from August 1st last year to 4, 134, 206, which is about 2067 miles! That's only the second month when I've passed 400k steps, March was 405k.

July will probably be my last month of record keeping, but I will keep walking. I wonder if I could do 500k steps in a single month? That would be over 16, 600 a day or about 8 miles. Maybe if I played tennis everyday I could manage that, but I doubt that is going to happen!