Monday, December 31, 2012


Another year done, another one ahead. Sometimes I wouldn't mind taking a break from time! It must be rather nice to hibernate. Sleep through the winter, wake up in the spring. The only problem is that I live in the UK, and no one can predict quite when those seasons will start and end!

So, if hibernation isn't an option, how can I make the most of the coming few months as winter tails off and spring begins to appear? I suppose one thing would be to set some new goals. I'm not big on resolutions because they often lack clarity and measurement. We're all aware of the SMART principles for goals, and it's not a bad place to start, but this year I have a new dimension with my training coming to an end in the next month or so. Hopefully I will pass my final exams by the end of February. I still have my case study to complete before I can book the written and practical exams.

That would make goal number one to complete my case study, and using David Allen's GTD principles, the first physical thing I need to do for that is to arrange the final session with my client. Getting back into the GTD habit wouldn't be a bad thing either. I've rather drifted away from any expression of organisation.

There's lots to do around the house too. I need to tile the kitchen, box in the pipes in the extension, tidy the garage and organise the utility end of it. I need to rehang at least one door, finish the cupboard in the hall and sort out the garage roof!

It seems to me that a few days writing down all the things that need to be done and then setting out  a plan for doing them might not be a bad idea. You don't need a new app or flash bit of software to do this. Years ago I used to take a sheet of A4 and draw three columns. In the first column I'd write down all the things \i was doing and the things I wanted to do. The next column was the rank I gave to all these tasks. The third column was the timescale. This was great for introducing new topics because I could see when time would become available. You could then transfer these things to a year planner if you wanted. I used Excel to create a year planner rather than a paper based one. The key is not to let it get too big. A friend of mine makes great use of project software that allows you to see different layers of projects and plans. i never got my head around that, but something as simple as an outliner light do the job. Perhaps I'll try that this year.

Trying new ways of organising stuff can be a real help because it gives you a fresh start and something new with which to play!

And lastly, it's never to late to start a plan or revise an old one. Just because it didn't work last year, it doesn't mean it can't work this year. Look back and reflect honestly on why things didn't happen, don't get sucked into believing it's because you are inherently bad at stuff, and revise the plan.

Maybe 2013 will be the year that I finally find out what I'm good at! Maybe it will be the year that your plan finally comes together. Who knows.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I think the Archbishop got it wrong

You only have to read the headlines about the archbishop of Westminster's sermon to actually come to the conclusion that he got he wrong. He may have a point, he may even have won a few friends among evangelicals, but is a Christmas sermon really the place to attach a government policy? To balance the books, I think the Anglican bishop of York got it wrong too to talk about troop funding or whatever it was the John Sentamu spoke about in his address earlier in the week.

I do believe that our faith has something to say about and to the political world, I'm jut not sure that Christmas is the best time or a sermon the best vehicle for so doing. And I speak as one who has preached a lot in the past! Brian McLaren in his book Everything Must Change raises the question that if our faith has anything to say, it will have something to say about the big issues of our day. So yes, our faith does have something to say about gay marriage and war and poverty and injustice. Using his sermon to focus on one issue, an issue that simply reinforces the stereotype of Christians against whatever it is that is being proposed, doesn't help the debate.

Who is answering the question about the differences between marriage and civil partnership? Is there a difference in law and in the way a civil ceremony is conducted? I don't know, no one is setting out answers to those questions. If our only concern is for some idea that the institution of marriage will somehow be undermined by this policy, then what does that say about the way the heterosexual community has systematically undermined it for centuries if not millennia? You see, we need more than sound-bytes.

There's another reason for my disappointment too. Did either of these sermons point people towards the centre point of our celebrations? Possibly, but that's not what hit the headlines. Carelessly focussing on the wrong issue meant that the amazing story of the incarnation got lost again. We missed a chance to tell the world to good news. We became bad news people instead of good news people. How sad is that?

So there, I've had my little rant. Born out of frustration of so many carol services and events up and down the country that probably missed the same opportunity and so many that didn't but equally don't hit the news.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Really? Still talking about a building?

An almost conversation I nearly had the other day, but narrowly avoided, would have focussed on "church" and how we use that word still. To be honest I just wasn't inclined to get into a discussion that would go something along the lines of:

Them: "We're hoping to have a church soon"

Me: "By that  you mean a building from which to operate rather than a gathered community by the sounds of it."

Them: "Well yes. Oh I know that the church is not the building and all that, but we know what we mean. We need a place to gather."

Me: "Ah, so your group has outgrown your lounge then. Why not start a new group?"

At this point the conversation would follow a pattern where I'd suggest that there are plenty of "churches" already built we just normally call them houses or homes. I'd get called picky or pedantic and then there might be some debate about how would people know where to find "the church" if it doesn't have an identifiable base or building, and so it would go on.

Maybe I am pedantic, maybe I am picky, but it's because I really am becoming more and more convinced that every time we bottle the church and stuff it in a building, we are in danger of institutional crepitus and long term irrelevance. Harsh? Maybe. The problem is that a building demands a purpose and that purpose is usually self serving. It might begin with good intentions, but it can so easily slide into becoming the focus of all our energy and time. We begin running programmes form the building and before you know we are lamenting the fact that people don't come to our building. Except we call it our church, and therefore people aren't coming to our church and the church has suddenly become the building and not the people.

I am no longer committed to serving that pattern of church life. I don't think I've ever been committed to it. In fact, I think a few people believe I ought to be committed because of it! Here's the thing. We do not need buildings to make disciples, and surely making disciples is what we have been commissioned to do. Helping others to become followers of Jesus should be in our DNA.

The longer we stayed attached to the building as the defining characteristic, the further we will find ourselves removed from the people Jesus misses most. exactly how you go about leaving the building and entering the community I don't know. All I can say is that if you ever hear me lamenting not having a building were we can focus our efforts and our worship, just take me to one side and remind of these things. I'll take a building one day if we use in, for and with the community. If all we do is keep it to ourselves and isolate ourselves, then I'm not interested.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Still in Luke 10

I'm not finished in Luke 10 yet, not even with the mission on which Jesus sent the disciples. As they return they report back the outcomes: "Even the demons obey us when we use your name," they say. Had they tried without? I doubt it!

Jesus is clearly excited about what he hears. Perhaps this rag-tag band is finally getting it. Before they get too excited at their new authority he tells them what is really key.

 “Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!  Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.  But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”

As this short story comes to an end, I got thinking about the simplicity of the mission and the powerful impact it had. The blessing that comes from the presence of the kingdom seems to be enough to destabilise the powers of darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light. When light comes, darkness disappears. The absence of light is what allows the darkness to flourish.

Yesterday we began our journey to pray God's blessing down every street in our community. As we walked and talked and prayed simple prayers (I tend to go for Aaron's blessing), it just felt right. There were no flashes of insight, no "power encounters" to report. There were moments of reflection. For example, I thought about how the original planners probably had a vision for the community outcomes for the development we were walking through, and how it probably turned out quite different. Maybe God was telling me not to worry if the end product doesn't match my dream!

In all this, we are simply trying to pursue God and partner with him in his mission. I think that's what Jesus wanted his disciples to do and what he continues to ask us to do.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Grace or vilification?

Let me begin by expressing my personal sadness at the death of the nurse who took the hoax call at the King Edward hospital. Nothing can change the enormous tragedy of these events. When pranks go wrong, someone suffers but surely no one could have predicted this outcome.

So here's my question: Do we show some grace towards those responsible for making the call or do we join the chorus of condemnation and vilification of the two radio presenters who made the call?

I hope someone has got alongside them and shown them some grace. Our actions have consequences and we live with the consequences. They will have to live with the consequences of their actions. Do we need to pour more scorn on their heads?

And if it were you, if it were your error of judgment, would you want grace or judgment? That's not about a licence to do what you like without consequences. It is about a recognition of our imperfection, an acknowledgment of our falleness. We make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Thoughts from Luke 10

Having decided that our next step is to develop a prayer strategy for our community, we've set out a table of streets, grouped by location from our map. We have just over 150 streets in our community and we want to pray for each one of them. It's not that difficult to work out the logistics and a bit of trial and error goes a long way too. But what underpins the principles and ideas? Well I've been reflecting on Luke 10 as I think about this and here's what I've explored so far.

1. Not alone

It's not a solitary mission, but a shared mission. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. That's not rocket science, but it is a reminder that taking a partner with you is strategic.

2. No empires

He instructed them to pray for others to join in. This is not about building an empire but sharing a mission. It's not a case of the workers are few so I'll go it alone, but rather the workers are few, let's pray for more workers to join the party.

3. Go vulnerable

Jesus said to go without spare shoes and luggage. When we go it's not about what we can give to the community out of our abundance. Perhaps that's because it forces us to be dependent upon God already being at work. When we turn up with a ready-made solution what room is there for God to do something extraordinary?

4. Always bless

The prayer strategy that we are going to use is simply to pray God's blessing down every street. We're not "treasure hunting" or seeking to drive out darkness. We just want to ask God to bless the people amongst whom we live. There is a time and place to confront darkness and challenge evil, but let's start by blessing people. That seems logical and valid to me.

5. Don't agonise over the response

If a place is not a place of peace then so be it. We're not going to judge, just to bless. whichever way it goes, the kingdom is here whether people notice it or not. I have this intermittent privilege of serving families at a time of loss. That now includes doing the occasional non-religious funeral. I've blogged about that elsewhere. I'd hope that all the funerals are non-religious in a way because religious usually means rites and rituals without any real depth of faith. On the other hand all the funerals I lead are strongly rooted in a Christian faith perspective even when God is not mentioned and prayers are not said. Why? Because I'm there and I pray. Not at the funeral, but at home, in the car, at the crematorium, just not in the service or with the mourners. I don't agonise over the lost opportunity to share the gospel or missing element of fait, I just do what I can and leave the rest in God's hands.

6. Be prepared to be amazed!

God does some extraordinary things. He has the habit of showing up when we least expect him to and doing something equally unexpected.

So, how complicated is it to walk down your street and ask God to bless the homes and businesses in it? Are you afraid you might bless someone who doesn't deserve it or who might be doing something that doesn't honour God? How righteous do your neighbours need to be before they are worthy of your prayer of blessing? I'm sure that somewhere in our community someone is probably making illicit adult films, planning crimes, taking drugs or evading tax. IT seems to me that praying for them is the very thing I ought to do.

Here's one last crazy idea. In our village we have a Kingdom Hall. What might God do if I pray a blessing on that place!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Allergic reactions to church

Every so often a link passes across my RSS feed that catches my attention.  Quite a long time ago I blogged about a talk by Reggie McNeal about the missional church. It was a talk that sat and listened to one Sunday morning while on sabbatical in 2008 I think. Well, here's a link to a series of talks he gave at a conference in early November. According to the link the videos will only be available until the end of January, so if you're reading this post January 2013 I'm sorry if the link no longer works! Many of the stories he shares and the challenge he presents are in his books and probably available via other links too, so it shouldn't be difficult to find him somewhere on the web talking about these things.

Here's the link.

I noted down a few things from what he says in the first session.

Talking about the rapid growth in the number of people in North America that consider themselves unaffiliated to any religious movement, he spoke about revealing a "precipitous allergic reaction to institutionalised religion". People are not allergic to God or spirituality, just institutionalised religion. If that is true then painful as it may be to hear, no matter how well we might be doing church, people are not going to come. It's a false premise that better worship, more multimedia, shorter sermons and clever drama will somehow attract people into our buildings. It won't. As McNeal says, "Fewer people are interested in becoming congregationalised."

We're building better auditoria than ever, in some parts of the world at least, but people aren't coming. Church has become a vendor of religious services. If doing church well was going to change this tide it would have worked by now. The question is not about how to do church better but how to be church better.

The church is not the point. The mission of God is the point. The Bible begins and ends without a church. No church in the garden, no church in the city.

Instead of  telling the stories of God showing up and showing off (this is one of his favourite ways to describe the nature of God, not as an arrogant deity but as a God who just loves to bless beyond our capacity to imagine). We need more present stories of God-sightings and fewer historical retellings of Pentecost!

Anyway, as usual with Reggie McNeal there are lots of stories and lots of jumping around in his topic, but it's worth settling down with a cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate and a suitable low-calorie snack to listen to what he has to say.