5 Turns the church needs to take

In creative thinking Edward de Bono talks about the idea that our thinking is pretty one way and we need provocations that act like stop signs to help us move from the one way street to change direction. In this post I want to identity 5 Turns that the church needs to make and suggest some provocations that may help people make that turn. These are sometimes deliberately designed to be theologically ambiguous, because the action (the turn) takes places in reaction to the sign (provocation) so it doesn’t really matter how spot on some of the provocations suggested are.

From a Gathered church to Gatherings
There is something good about being together, but the way we talk about the gathered church and hold onto it as a concept takes peoples thinking down the line, that church happens at a particular time or place. We don’t mean to do this and preach that church is about people but the medium is stronger than the messages we preach. A provocation that may help is to start calling the different groups you have church, Toddler Church, Breakfast Church, Youth Church, Walking Church, Lunch club Church, even if you are not sure that is exactly what they are. If church starts where Jesus is with others, and it is about people not buildings see where this language takes you…

From Walls to Wells
This comes from a well known story. When a sheep farmer from the UK visited vast farms in Australia and asked the local Aussie “how long does it take you to build all the fences?” and he replied “we don’t build fences we just dig wells”. People in churches are on the whole great, most I meet are loving, kind, generous, and just good people to be around. But we have so many walls that stop people encountering this well of human goodness, we build them with theological positions, membership structures, hoops we like people to jump through and we are perceived to be closed in. Extend whatever practices you have that build community in your church and help people in the church when they are in need beyond your walls. If you do cake after the services well, bake cakes for the local brothel. If you do meals for a week when someone has a baby, contact the local midwife and offer the service locally. If you welcome a new minister with cakes, a guide to life in the village, and local tips on the best pubs and when to put the bins out, do the same for anyone who moves into your street.

From Contextualisation to Inculturation
Churches are slowly waking up to the fact that culture has shifted, that we need to be in missionary mode, and so people are doing a lot of work to try and ensure the services (no just sunday services) are relevant to the context. Those at front are more often than not aware that language needs to change, people don’t understand the jargon and we need to find ways to share the gospel with people that relevant and real to the local language and context, (contextualisation). However there is a bigger cultural backdrop that requires a missional response that is more than contextualisation. Culture is a semiotic fluid thick, with meaning and culture eats contextualisation strategies for breakfast. We need to recognise the participative nature of God, who is active in the community before we get there, and already working in the culture. We need to move beyond contextualising the gospel message to what theologians call inculturation, a process that is far more participative, reciprocal and equal. Where we allow those we are serving to speak into our context, shape our beliefs about what is church and even what is the gospel. Most people in churches are pretty well networked with friends, family, and have contacts with people who simply don’t do the God stuff, rather than asking how you can reach them, find out how can they reach you with the gifts God has already planted in their lives. Why not develop an open PCC policy, where there are three or four members who do not attend church. Develop a council of reference made up people from outside of church, who can advise you and look at the ideas the church has, how it communicates, and what it says about what it believes. Host a community meal where ideas are presented and church members are asked not to speak, but to invite friends and be there to encourage those friends to speak honestly into your context. Make it the church members responsibility to follow up the suggestions made, and make sure the church changes as a result of the process.

From Answers to Questions
This one is really quite simple, we need to communicate more like Jesus. We need to tell stories and ask questions. When church held a more central position in society and christendom was still in place, we got used to providing answers. We even developed systems to help this answer driven approach, like apologetics, which at one level for that time when culture was open to the idea of fixed truths, was okay. (I’d probably argue it was more to with power and control than Jesus but lets not split hairs).
A sermon does not become interactive simply because you throw out some rhetorical questions that the christians know the answers to anyway. We need to embrace a far humbler approach to mission, and see ourselves as co-searchers for truth. To find the right questions to ask, and develop participative process that provide spaces for people to genuinely explore. Redesign a church service into a genuinely participative space (a byproduct of this maybe also genuine all age services), where regardless of age, all are seen as experts at the experiment of being human. Then instead of spending hours coming up with 3 points that answer a question few people are asking, the leader wrestles with God to find the right three questions to ask, and creates a space where those are explored by all the experts in the room. You could even tie the questions to the previous turn and ask your council of reference what are the questions we should be asking.

From Exclusion to Inclusion
When we follow the missionary god we cannot help but recognise the inclusive, loving, arms outstretched Jesus who died. So once again I quote Michael Curry “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” This is also not just a gay marriage issue, but about developing an inclusive way of being where all are welcomed, valued and served. Lets move beyond the arguments to find a way of being human and welcoming to all. So the the final provocation that may help us walk in a different direction is why not develop your own welcome notice like the one that was doing the rounds on Facebook a few years ago. welcome

Put your wetsuit on

It is not often I write out of a sense of frustration, and accordingly I have held off this post for a while. However I have growing sense that the majority of the missional conversation is still paddling in the shallow end and asking the wrong questions.

Norman Iverson blogged about a sense of a lack of real change around Fresh Expressions and church. It is interesting to see an insider raise some the same questions those on the edge have had for a number of years about the FE Movement, perhaps it is time to review those questions. My comment on the post was “The unwillingness to embrace death (of ideas, orthodox Ecclesiology , power) will mean a lack of interest on real change, so the sense of cognitive dissonance that things that FE bring will be embraced instead. But like the institution I fear they too are not really interested in real change.”
Another place of paddling in Fresh Expressions and the emerging church conversation is around the idea of relevance. As if we listened to the community we would discover how to become a relevant expression of church. But we will never really hear the community whilst we are so rooted in our current models of church and orthodox Ecclesiology . An example was a recent post Is your church too cool. My comment again was rooted in the need to practice a completely new way of being and engaging with the question. “Church can never be relevant in our understanding of the word whilst it remains rooted in a concept of gathering outside of the wider community for a supposed experience of worship. Articles like this are asking the wrong questions”
It is easy to fall into the trap of meeting with other christians and thinking we are doing something new, doing something differently. However this, gathering in an exclusive way (i think we often kid ourselves that we are more open than we are) outside of a wider community is part of the gravitational pull that produces the sense of cogitative dissonance that means a lack of real change and keeps us in the shallow end. It is rooted in our false history that we can suggests we can get closer to G-d through a worship service. There is a brilliant article here exposing this myth and its problems.

I am part of a number of emerging (note not gathered and most of which have christians as a minority) communities, and more and more I am convinced that we need to loose any ideas of coming together for a time of prayer, a time of worship, or a church service. They all simply produce a sense of security that stops us finding out what it really means to love and serve. That is not say we give up meeting together but we meet head on the myth that god is present in the gathering more than anywhere else and work out what it means to put our wetsuits on and ask better questions and swim deeply with G-d.

Living with Metaphor

For over 5 years now I have been using the metaphor that church is both the city on the hill and the journey to the city on the hill, which connects the action and attitude aspects of the allegorical descriptions of church in the bible. I play around with the edges of this; like the city is lit by the ethic of christ, or we loose sight of the city from time to time but just see a distant glow. For me the metaphor is also rooted in the connecting of mission, worship and church into a more fluid whole entity.

The sense of openness that using a metaphor brings is liberating and disconcerting. However in the last couple of years i have heard more tweets, status updates and conversations connecting the action and attitude parts of worship, or church or mission. The most recent from Ben that “Worship is about telling the story and living it out”.

I think this type of approach is a step in the right direction but I wonder if there is something in thinking about the trinity as a metaphor for a reconnecting of worship, mission and church. That being caught up in God and embraced by the dynamic relationship is to be caught up in mission, worship and church. not sure yet…..

Missional church

Listening to Mike Frost and TSK HERE and Frost defines he defines mission as All that we do outside of ourselves to alert people to reign of God in Christ (a Bosch quote). He sees church having four equal elements – Mission, Worship, Community, Discipleship. He defines missional church is one where the community is attempting to discover, what does it look like if mission shapes or catalyzes the conduct of the other three functions.

He then asks the questions what would our worship/community/disciple making look like if they were shaped by mission. I think this is a really helpful way of looking at things, and good question.

I am interested that in two of the four elements he identifies for church we see the nature of God (Mission – missio-dei and Community – trinity) but not sure why but I think it maybe a key to some of the questions I have about some of the other things he says.

Questions to hold through Lent

I have been into this idea of a question to hold for a few weeks now since I posted this The Brood rip Napoleon Dynamite download

Madea Goes to Jail buy

short reflection. Being unconvinced of the set time for God approach and an in-disciplined person when it comes to the blog I wondered what I could do through lent, that didn’t mean a daily reflection, but was more in line with connecting with God through the concepts of living your life as a life of worship, and praying constantly. So I hope to post some questions to hold as way to help me focus, and I wonder if anyone out there also wants to offer any questions to hold. No answers just questions!

A question to hold, for me is a pathway of prayer, it connects with images of prayer that are about silent connection rather than rambling words. They are questions that cannot be answered by intellect or study or theology but by the practice of holding and living, and discovery. My favourite question to hold and one that sustained me and help me survive our the years has been “what does it mean to be still and still moving?”

As we move from Ash Wednesday deeper into Lent, I have been exploring Luke and one commentator sees in Luke’s gospel the God who is in the connections we cant make. I love this concept particularly challenging is the idea that God is in the connection or process when we are often conditioned in seeing God in the person (which is also true) So my first question to hold is

Who is the God who makes the connections we cant make?

A desert reflection

I recently read a book by Simon Parke called Desert Depths, which is the story of a vicar visiting a desert monastery. Each of the brothers/sisters has a name that they have come to own and this is the theme I want to use

First – A question to hold – by this I mean it is not a question that you should seek to answer by logic or theology but simply to hold, in your heart.

How do you approach mission – a desert or oasis?

As we pray today spend time reflecting on the names given to the residents of the monastery in the book

Peter the fool is the abbott, “seeks enlightenment above grace, expertise above mercy, wisdom above love,”
Dalip the empty – who cared, gave advice, and felt he was put on the planet to help others, yet in the desert came to realise it masked an inner emptiness, and though he got to know his soul and changed he didn’t change his name because “instincts remain” and “the desert likes accurate names”
Santos the flighty the hermit called so as he searched from one idea to another for enlightenment never realising the depths any.
Bernadette the chisel – in her there is “a critic a judge, who judges her and others, it drives her to do but never says to her ENOUGH”

Lets pray for one another and the journeys we face, our defaults and the surfaces of our lives that this week God may show us new depths.

Finally when you reflected on the names was your instinct to identify yourself with their names or the reasoning for their names? As you hold the question we first set How do you approach mission – a desert or oasis? Remember the “the desert likes accurate names”


Spring Breakdown movies

Forgive us

When we betray you, we betray ourselves.
Forgive us

Every time we allow another person to belittle us, patronise us and walk all over us, we betray you.

Every time we put ourselves down, think negative thoughts about ourselves and criticize ourselves, we betray you.

Every time we see injustice and deceit and lies and remain silent we betray you.

Everytime we scuttle past the street dwellers feeling embarrassed and avoid the big issue sellers because we are in a hurry, we betray you. When we give no eye contact to those who hold out their hands for money, when we de-humanise people, we betray you.

Whenever we side with the powerful over the powerless and the articulate over those with no words, we betray you .

Whenever we choose to remain silent in the midst of injustice, whenever we are passive when faced with destructive behaviour, whenever we close our eyes to the pain of the other – we betray you.

When we laugh at others misfortune and judge and criticise those who don’t come up to our standards – we betray you.

Everytime we vote for violence over peace and justice – we betray you.

Forgive us and help us to forgive ourselves
Help us let others go and let ourselves off the hook
Enable us to lose life and find that which is more precious.Clue ipod

The Two Prerequisites for Love (?)

What God wants of us is for us to reflect his love. What do we need to do this all encompassing thing?

Well, one thing we need to show love is God himself:
1 John 4:7
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

What else do we need to love?


Without time we cannot love, as love is something that we do, something that takes time. All that we do needs to be out of love – we even look after ourselves and provide for our own needs out of love, enabling us to look outward and love others. However, sometimes we spend our time outside of love, we sometimes busy ourselves providing for our selfish desires.

Sometimes I think that perhaps we spend too much time making money, and sometimes we justify that by pointing to the good we can do with the money. However, I don’t think that God is short of a bob or two, but I do think that God would like more people to do His works of love. The one thing that we have that God doesn’t, unless we give it to Him, is our time.

Acts 3:6
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

The love that God gives us is much more precious than silver and gold. I’m trying to focus more on giving my time. To do that I’m trying to reduce my requirement for money and therefore reduce my need to work for money. I’m trying to live more economically and not be so caught up in our materialist culture, but I’m not forgetting that we do need material provision – as with most things it is a balance.

Emerging church as a manifestation of our subcultures weakness PART 2

Often interpreted as a place of shelter and support for birds, the mustard seed of Jesus has indeed grown into a huge tree, but the birds are scavengers that have taken the seed of the word from the world, and are now a great evil harbouring in the branches of the church, that over time has corrupted it. The seed of the word has been genetically modified and what has been re-sown into the world is only a shadow of it’s former self.

A sweeping statement, and I know there are good and bad, but I wanted to start with this alternative interpretation of the Mustard seed, as I seek to re frame church in order to highlight and recognise the need for change.

Over time the corruption has led to a multi-faceted dualism, that splits worship between lifestyle or an activity, sees church as activity rather than a community, changed the inclusive kingdom of Jesus to an exclusive club, and reduced prayer to a time rather than a constant. So how do we progress if as in the last post, radical change is seen as inappropriate, and evolution is part of this trees sub cultural weakness. (Read yesterday’s post to see how this fits)

One thing we can take from the emerging church is the willingness to experiment, but we need to experiment from a different starting point. One that is different to the multi-faceted dualism, but which starts with defining Church in the light of the whole of the word, rather than one that focuses on style or a single activity. An emerging church that does not address mission, or is about a group of people coming together to worship in ways that they can relate to stemming from their cultural experience, cannot be church. Whilst I acknowledge the emerging churches would hope to develop a more holistic approach (and many have), there is still much to do.

We need to reconnect church with a life of worship (thus redeeming worship), reconnect church with prayer that never ceases (redeeming prayer) and by doing so to reconnect church with the life of faith and church the whole of our life.

Therefore a new definition of Church in the post- Christendom west that I would suggest is a way of being and living that is a series of chaotic but intentional encounters with God, one another, and the world, founded on the holistic teaching of Christ.

We need a community led approach to church that is inclusive of outsiders, and exhibits this chaotic but intentional way of being. I would advocate a valuing and engagement of all that each member of community brings, regardless of whether it is deemed as secular or sacred because through the redemptive process of reflection (see Outside In part 2) even that which seemed wrong or difficult can add to help us understand God, connect with one another and engage the world.

I will post what I think this can/may look like in practice tomorrow.