Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Catching up, getting back on the horse and other wandering thoughts

It's been a while since I simply blogged about the state of life, the universe and everything around me. It's also been over a year now since we stepped out of local church leadership and into the unknown. I often look back and wonder how things might look now if I'd made a different decision 15 months ago or even three years ago when I sensed it was time to move on from a very settled life in Bedford. But I can't go back and change any of that, so there's little point dwelling on it all now.

So, what's been happening in our little corner of the universe? Well, I've been rather busy this month with funerals. I guess some folk will be surprised that I'm still actively involved in this, but  am and it's good for me and it's a really important ministry. I know there were some who thought I did too many funerals for people "outside the church", but let's face it, most people are "outside the church". And just to make matters worse, they not even looking in from the outside! Possibly the biggest shock to our collective evangelical systems is the realisation that the people we usually call lost don't actually feel lost and are not as unhappy and unfulfilled as we like them to be.

These are things that drew Anne and me out of our comfort zone of a nice tidy church life and into something altogether more unpredictable and less easily defined. We know that circumstances probably look very different to some, but the simple truth is that every day the fit was less and less comfortable. Right from the start of my church involvement I was awkward and uncomfortable with the prevailing culture of the church as I experienced it.

So here we are, and we're making this journey slowly. We've begun the pray for the community. Still a bit haphazard really, but we are developing a plan, and as soon as it warms up a bit I'm sure we'll be out on the streets praying blessing wherever we go. Okay, so we're not really just fair-weather folk, but it'a been busy and cold and horrible and we've just not really got stuck into it.

I've been busy with my coursework and I'm hoping to get finished next month if I book my final exams in time. As part of my course I've had this great opportunity to run a free sports massage clinic at a large media company in London. I've done almost five months there, and it will come to an end around March time. It has been a great learning experience, and I've met some interesting people with some challenging soft tissue issues. Fortunately I've some good successes sorting them out and today I was even told how highly recommended I've become! I also work with the physio at a local rugby club. That's been great too, for a whole different set of reasons. I hoping that I'll be able to stay on after my course finishes and I'm all diploma-ed up. I organised this one myself, so it's not really a placement and I seem to be appreciated there too.

My relationship with my denomination is becoming clearer. I won't say too much about it now, but I've decided that there are somethings that I need to control rather than allow others to make the decisions. Over the next few months I'll bring the process of reflecting on those things to a conclusion and make a decision about the future. I went through a phase of feeling rejected and cast aside like a puzzle piece that didn't fit, but I feel less like that now as I begin to see the place of some of the issues and some of the questions in a broader context.

We have some great friends that we don't see at all, but who respond to our Christmas news with encouragement and wisdom.

I keep wondering about trying to collate my wandering thoughts into something more book like. Not a print thing, maybe an e-book or something. It would be good to explore doing that somehow. It wouldn't be a book on a set theme, just a sort of journal of thoughts and reflections. There's also a couple of ideas I've had including writing a simple guide to planning a funeral. I've seen a few more substantial books, but nothing short and to the point.

Last thing in this ramble then is preaching. I've preached once since leaving legacy ministry and often wondered if I'd every preach again. Well, I've got one visit booked (to talk about our journey and what we're doing now), and I've had another invitation come through recently that I need to think about. Not sure I want to step back into the everyday stuff, but these will be interesting explorations of how I feel about getting behind a lectern again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The positives about bi-vocational ministry

I've blogged before about bi-vocational ministry (6 posts apparently!) and why I think it's important and not just a way of fixing the budget in small churches. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I might just be approaching the conclusion that any minister that is solely focussed on the church is in danger of irrelevance in the bigger picture of the mission of God.

Anyway, that aside, I came across a really interesting article about being bi-vocational on the Leadershipnet website. Here's a summary of the article, it's well worth a closer look.

The author, Ben Connelly, cites 5 ways God can use a bi-vocational ministry:

1. Stewarding God's money
our church has been able to put money toward things that we couldn't otherwise. We send more to missions, we help hurting couples who can't afford professional counseling, we financially support other folks to use their gifts for the good of the body.
2. Making Disciples
I love the local church, but I know that there are always more people outside the church walls than inside...
Through my second job, I'm prayerfully pursuing the Great Commission on the campus that Playboy ranked 2012's number nine party school in the nation...  once in a while, I get a note from a student who finds him or herself in crisis that says—as one young man wrote—"I don't have anyone to turn to for advice, but I think you told us you were a priest or something." By God's grace, bi-vocationality opens doors to disciple-making.
3. Building credibility
My time is divided, and for ministry to happen, I have to pull late nights and have folks over for dinner—just like everyone else in my church. Living in the "real world" and finding points of connection have allowed me to become "all things to all people"—bi-vocationality has built my credibility with those inside and outside our church.
4. Equipping the saints
I used to get paid to do ministry work, so members had a hard time understanding why clergy didn't do all the ministry.
Bi-vocationality removes expectations and pressures from both our church and my family... In other words, bi-vocationality demands all God's people step up and live out Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12: everyone plays a part, according to their gifts and passions.
5. Tearing down idols
The the greatest benefit to bi-vocationality hit me somewhere I didn't expect: my soul. Most leaders I know are control freaks. I am, too. Bi-vocationality is one of the most sanctifying things I've experienced. By necessarily giving several hours of my week to work outside the institutional church, God reminds me daily that it's his church, not mine; they're his people, not mine. Jesus says, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matt. 16:18. Emphasis mine). I can't do that. As I put aside the common idea that every waking hour is given to "my" ministry, and that nothing can happen without "my" involvement, beautiful things have happened. 
I know that some of you are reading this and thinking, "I don't have enough hours in the week to do my one job of ministry let alone do something else." But be honest, how much work do you make for yourself to fill all those hours you feel you ought to work just to be worthy of your pay? Ministry is one of the easiest jobs, vocational or otherwise, in which it is possible to look busy and do little. It's also one of the most misunderstood roles in life you can have. I remember being asked how much of my daily prayer time was spent praying for myself and family and how much for the church, as if some of my prayer were legitimate working hours and some were not. If I play tennis for an hour with a church member am I doing pastoral work, if it's with a unchurch person is it mission, or are both just about me doing something I enjoy with people I know?

In the end, whether you're full-time paid or not, the point is surely the kingdom. I just wonder whether the kingdom would be better served and the church better equipped if our ministry budget was used to release ministry through more hands than those of a single leader.

The article, Five Perks to Being Bi-vocational,  is available here

Friday, January 18, 2013

Spiritual goal-setting

Okay, so January is fast closing in on it's last day. Snow is about to bring the UK to a grinding halt. Some people are really happy about the snow, school closures and days off, but give them a few days and they will be just as frustrated about it as the rest of us that don't mind snow, but don't embrace it in quite the same way.

But while you're buried under a blanket trying to keep warm without putting the heating in order to save on the gas bill, why not stop watching mindless TV or endless recorded films and TV series from your DVD/Blueray/digital library and give some though to some spiritual goals. You don't actually have to be religious to have spiritual goals, sometimes it can even get in the way!

From a Christian perspective let me offer a few suggestions now that you've probably let slip your New Year resolution to read the Bible four times this year, at least once in a original language. First of all, keep them simple and achievable. For example, why not join the growing group who choose to sat The Lord's Prayer everyday at 12:00 noon. I have a repeat alarm on my iPhone that goes off at 12:00. I don't always hear it if it's out of range of my hearing or in a bag, and I don't always get the chance to say the prayer if I'm in the middle of a funeral, a meeting or even a tennis match.

Or, if a daily event isn't your thing, what a simple commitment to prayer each week for your neighbours. I sometimes pray Aaron's blessing over the streets along which I walk on my training routes. As we work out how to pray down the streets of our community, we've applied the same principle. Rather than go out desperately seeking revelation about families and houses as we walk, we simply prayer prayers of blessing. If God reveals something, fine, if not we can still bless our neighbours as we go.

There are probably hundreds if not thousands of simple things that you can incorporate into your routine that will form good habits if you just sit down and think about it. Rather than setting out some grand plan, go simple, even easy. you can always build on it later once the habit has developed. For example, if you take up the Lord's prayer challenge, once a week you could take a little longer to apply the principles of the prayer. After all it's a pattern of prayer not just a prayer. Think about what it mans to cal God "Our Father, who is in heaven". And so on.

Go on, go on, as Mrs Doyle might say (meaningless if you haven't seen Father Ted), use your snow day to set some goals!

"What's that all about?"

I've been asked variations of this questions quite a lot recently, and in some interesting circumstances. As many of you know, I spend some of my time supporting families through times of loss as what you would probably call an independent funeral celebrant. I always take the time to introduce myself and explain briefly my background and current situation. I'm not trying to impress people, I just want them to understand as well as they can what I do and that I'm not currently "in charge of a church".

After the funeral, if I find myself with the family, there's usually someone who comes to speak to me about this rather strange notion of starting church from scratch. For some it's strange because church is an ancient building with long traditions and unfathomable rituals. For others, church planting is exciting but typically a matter of gathering a reasonably sized group in a borrowed building on a Sunday morning to "do" church where there either isn't a church at all or there isn't a particular brand of church.

Each time I have one of these conversations, and it doesn't just happen after funerals, but in lots of settings, I find myself struggling to describe anything recognisable to either group. not wanting to stick 30 people in a local hall seems odd to the churched, and smacks a little of being somewhat weird. To the unchurched it's hard to articulate the concept of trying to discover what the incarnated gospel looks like in a community without the trappings of "normal" church life. Remember that for some folk Songs of Praise is the only expression of church they come across.

But maybe I'm not the only person who should be answering such a question. Maybe everyone who is involved in kingdom stuff should be answering the very same question. Each time I'm faced with questions about what I'm doing, two things generally happen. I get excited about describing the vision while struggling to find an adequate vocabulary to make it accessible, and secondly I remember Craig Groeschel's Leadership Summit session from several years ago. The phrase that reverberates around my head is this:

If we are going to reach the people other people are not reaching, we are going to do things that other people are not doing.

It might no longer be a verbatim quote, but the message clear. Of course the flip side of this equation is that if we keep doing what we've always done, we will get the same results we've always got. A different result requires a different approach.

Sadly in church, as in so many institutions, we are stubborn enough enough to simply carry on doing what we've always done in the hope that the response will change. We presume our way of "doing church" is somehow ordained and therefore the problem doesn't lie with the pattern, it lies with the world outside that fails to engage. Yes, people love darkness because it covers up their fallenness, but that's not the reason we fail to reach them.

I have no idea whether what we are doing will be any more successful than anything else I've done over the last 30+ years of following Jesus. I just know it has to be different. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of the kingdom and the sake of the missing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When I grow up...

If, at the age of 5 or 6, some had asked me what I wanted to be or do when I grew up, I'm not sure what I would have told them. I can't even remember if I actually had any ambitions at that age. If I had any ambitions it was probably to do with becoming a fireman or policeman or something similar.

As I grew up I became a little more academic and the pressure was on to choose something more challenging, but even through senior school I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to do beyond going to university. In many ways my first degree was more something to do because it was expected of me than a positive choice on my part. I did pick the course because I liked the outline. Actually it was quite strange. Initially I'd applied to do biology but as I did my A Levels I became more interested in chemistry. At my interview one of the lecturers mentioned a course in chemistry and environmental science that sounded perfect and I knew that's what I wanted to do but didn't know how to go about changing course. Anyway, I ended up on the course, so it worked out okay.

Throughout all of this two things remained true. First, I still had no idea what I wanted to do and second I could never have imagined that I would end up doing all the things I have done. If, even at university, you'd have told me that I would work in research, retrain twice and embark on launching myself into self-employment in my fifties, I would have thought you mad.

But here I sit, writing a case study, planning exams and thinking about life as a therapist. Part of me wishes I'd done this when I was a lot younger, but sports therapy wasn't on the agenda in the 70's and no one suggested becoming a physiotherapist to me at that time, so there's little point looking back and wondering.

Perhaps the motto for my life should be simply to keep exploring. Maybe I destined not to "grow up" and settle into one career. Maybe I'm just a maverick who actually needs to work for himself. I don't know. I'll find out. At least if you need an independent, ordained Christian minister who has worked in research, is a qualified counsellor, certified personal fitness trainer, first aider and soon to be sports and remedial massage therapist you will know who to call!

Friday, January 11, 2013

If we want the best people....

Can some one please help me understand why I heard the same old worn out argument about pay and quality, this time applied to MP's? Driving home last night from my 3 hour stint volunteering, ie working without okay, I heard a trailer on the radio for an item about MP's pay. Apparently most of them believe they ought to have a 32% pay increase and one argument in favour was, "If we want the best people to serve in public office then we need to pay them well." Apparently £65,000 is not enough to keep a family in the manner they would like to be kept.

Did we not hear the same thing about industry and banks and everywhere else? Strange how this same logic doesn't apply to nurses and bus drivers and factory workers. How come the best CEO deserves to be paid extremely well, but the best delivery driver or cleaner has to get by on tax credits? And if they were the best, how come the banks collapsed and the economy crashed?

This logic about pay has lead us into this financial crisis. Greed, not ability is the driving force. No CEO should be earning more than 100 times that of the lowest paid worker in their organisation, but in some instances I suspect 100 times is a conservative estimate, a very conservative estimate.

Perhaps £80,000+ is a more realistic salary for an MP, but don't keep telling me it's to get the best. That argument doesn't work anymore, and it's an insult to the best who are forced to settle for a lot less.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Dreams of fitness and running

Last summer I read Born to run. I came to the party quite late, given how many people had told me I should read it. I have not become a runner as a result. I have experimented with barefoot shoes and find them quite interesting to wear, especially the Vibram Five Finger variety, but I don't run much anymore. Age, fitness, weight and injury have all taken their toll!

My great sadness about not running is a mixture of time (I can't go as far walking in an hour than I could when I ran-obviously) and the sense of freedom that came with running that you don't quite get walking. I console myself with the fact that over the same distance, whether I run or walk, I use the same amount of energy. It's only the time element that changes. But it's not the same. If you've never been a regular runner I don't suppose you can get this. There's something about the rhythm of running that becomes almost soothing. Weird, I know.

So my question is: Can I get back to running, or is it just too much to ask of my somewhat worn joints? Studying gait and mechanics, posture and massage, has made me understand more deeply the functionality of my joints and muscles. But that can be somewhat depressing! I now, for instance, that I will probably never toe-off correctly anymore no matter how hard I try to fix it. The alignment of my big toe and the muscles of my feet simply won't let it happen. This in tun probably accounts for some of my knee issues, although not all of them. And so the chain of cause and effect work it way up through my body.

But I want to run. Even as I walk my 4-7Km that I do most days, something inside of me cries out to run. And occasionally I do. Well I break into a slow, lumbering jog to tell the truth. I wonder to myself whether I'd still be running had I managed to stay fit through my 20's, 30's and 40's. What if I'd stayed that fit 76Kg (168lb) squash playing, bike riding, lunch-time jogger? Would I still be running now? Maybe. Maybe not.

Given that it's not possible to live in the past, the best approach is surely to learn from the past but not dwell upon it. Not a bad lesson in life, let alone fitness. And I guess it ought to be said that while I was probably the fittest I've ever been during those brief years of my early 20's, I was probably fairly unhealthy. My diet was pretty poor, and eating patterns haphazard to say the least.

So, now I'm 55, what shall I do? The last couple of years has seen me get fitter and healthier, but there are a lot of things I'd like to do. I'd like to be able to run 5K in 30 minutes again, but to do that I think I need to take some pressure off my knees. That means losing some body fat, which naturally means losing some weight.

I think I could probably do with dropping to about 84Kg. That would be about 14% body fat and light enough to make running a more realistic possibility. That's quite a big ask, but not impossible. I know my current BF% is around 24, so there's room!

In case you're wondering how to do the calculation by the way, the most accurate is the get someone to do the skin fold measurements. The easy way is to use some body composition scales, but be aware that the reading will vary with hydration and other factors. Once you have the BF% it's easy maths to calculate what everything but fat weighs and from there to calculate your target weight based on your target BF%. Want to see and example?

If you weigh 90Kg and have a BF% of 25%, then everything else weighs in at 67.5Kg. If you want a BF% of 15, then your 67.5Kg has to be 85% of your body weight. This makes your target weight 79.4Kg. Okay, so most people when they lose weight don't just lose fat, they lose muscle too, but you get the idea. In an ideal world we'd even build some lean muscle along the way because that burns more calories etc etc.

Back to my dream. So, this year my goal is to get down to that 14% mark or as close as I can. It would be interesting to see if I can both do that and whether it makes running a possibility. I don't harbour any desire to do a marathon or even a half-marthon, just to be able to do that 30 minute run we used to do around the park at lunchtime back in the day. Maybe then I won't just feel like running, I'll actually be able to run!