Leadership languages in a multi-coloured, multi-lingual world

Nigel writes…

Sadly, my team was knocked out the of FA cup last weekend. Despite dominating large parts of the game we were out-thought tactically by a very determined Arsenal team. Their manager, Mikel Arteta is new in the leadership role of Head Coach. To make the matter of the defeat worse, it was the manager of my team that apprenticed him. Arteta’s emerging leadership skills outwitted those of his discipler.
Because there are no crowds in the stadia at the moment, you can hear on the TV coverage what the players and managers are saying and shouting at each other during the game. At one point during this game we were able to hear an example of highly astute leadership practice. Like all of the top football teams, Arteta’s Arsenal team are made up from players from all around the world. They are multi-cultural and speak a variety of languages. What was so poignant was that Arteta could be heard during the game shouting instructions and encouragement to his players in their own languages. Effortlessly and fluently, he switched from English, to French, to his native Spanish so that he most effectively led and engaged the players he was seeking to influence in the manner they best understood.
When it comes to fresh expressions and pioneering, and just about everything else in life, we know that effective leadership is key to what happens. Without effective leadership, it is almost impossible for anything to develop. We know from anecdotal evidence and more formal research (E.g. Encountering the Day of Small Things, George Lings, Methodism’s Hidden Harvest) that when it comes to fresh expressions, new forms of leadership have emerged. These are not about what titles a person has, what qualifications they have, what their ministry status is, or what training they have had. It’s about how effective their leadership is in the moment and season; this is particularly the case in this present moment of crisis and uncertainty when we can see who the players are, and who the pretenders are.
As a pioneer and ecclesiastical adventurer, I too often find I speak a different language to those who are part of inherited and attractional models of church. My conviction – like that of Mikel Arteta – is that if we want to be the best we can, we need to speak the languages of those we are seeking to engage. Of course, this understanding is not new. In the book of Acts 2: 1-21, we read how people heard things in their own language. God’s commitment to communicate in people’s native languages.
I’ve recently discovered the theory of spiral dynamics. Space doesn’t allow a full unpacking of this theory, but you can discover more about it HERE – My newly gained insight has taught me afresh, that we often think differently to each other. Spiral dynamics teaches us that we are wired in different ways and this means we might speak different philosophical languages. Those behind the idea have assigned colours to the different ways we might think. In spiral dynamics terms, I – like many pioneers and those in fresh expressions – am green (promoting community, avoiding dogma, post-modern), yellow (fluid, flexible, open to change), and turquoise (holistic, purpose-driven, integrally transcendent). However, I note that many in more inherited and attractionally orientated churches are either blue (liking authority structures, rules, hierarchy) or orange (competitive, materialistic, success driven). This presents a language and a leadership challenge when we seek to communicate with each other; as we perceive things differently.
But here is the thing – I can speak the languages of blue and orange because I live in the worlds where blue and orange are spoken frequently. I have played to the rules of blue. Operated to the materialistic demands of orange. But now, I aspire to the hope of community and common good green. Flex and flow in the chaordic needs of people, project, planet and purpose yellow. Seek the holistic, intuitive, spiritual, expansive big picture of turquoise. Being what is called a ‘spiral wizard’, I can do a little of what Arteta did and what the spirit enabled in Acts 2: speak in different ways to different people in the hope of best engaging them in ways they will best understand. However, those who come from the worlds of blue and orange don’t yet speak yellow, green, and turquoise.
This becomes a problem for me and for other similarly positioned pioneers. We get misunderstood, side-lined, sometimes maligned, and often unfairly judged for speaking a different ecclesiological language. In reality our predicament can be somewhat worse than I describe. The response from those who don’t speak green, yellow or turquoise can be worse than simply not understanding the linguistics. The very words pioneers use can produce such a negative emotional response within that blues and oranges can end up precluding themselves from even hearing what pioneers are trying to say.
I say this not to invoke sympathy or out of a sense of self-pity. It’s more that we need to help those who come from a different worldview and speak a different language to better understand how we yellow, green and turquoise pioneers think, feel and behave.
My fear is that if we can’t manage to do this we will never be able to share the joys and delights of what we see God doing in our culture and language. Those from a blue and orange culture and language risk missing out on what the founder of spiral dynamics thinking, Clare W. Graves, calls the ‘unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiralling process’ that for many of us is akin to an ongoing Pentecost experience … and I don’t want them to miss out.
Dr Nigel Pimlott
Expressing a personal reflection especially for Sunday Papers

The gift of the edge and bias as a virtue

Nigel Pimlott and I spent well over a decade at FYT and we have both moved from there to what I would call the edge of the inside. Nigel now works with the Methodist Church as Regional Learning and Development Officer (4 days a week) and church-wide Evangelism and Growth Officer (1 day a week), and I work as the Director of Mission Innovation and Fresh Expressions in Cumbria. So, in the next few posts Nigel and I will explore some of the early and more recent pioneer learning and explore why the church can seem reluctant to draw on this resource.

To set the scene I want to revisit some of the cultural backdrop and responses to the story we now find ourselves in. The pace of cultural change has been accelerating over the last 70 years. Where previously we talked about longer term generational change, more recently significant cultural shifts have been noted at least every ten years. The Face Magazine back in the noughties was talking about significant shifts every decade: 1960’s The Decade of Optimism, 1970’s The Decade of Decline, 1980’s The Decade of the Individual, 1990’s Caring and Sharing, 2000s The Digital Decade. Although the Face article only went up to the noughties, several commentators suggest 2010’s as The Decade of Participation. This with the larger overarching constructs of Post-Modernism and Post-Christendom was the culture I swam in when I started in ministry back in the late 80s. For at least two decades I felt I was swimming in a completely different sea to everyone else. During that time I was grateful to link with Frontier Youth Trust who grew in response to the challenging culture of the 1960s seeking to respond to these new entities called “teenagers”. With FYT I started to recognise, thanks to the brilliant work of Jim Punton and Terry Dunnell, that as well as finding new ways to do things we also had to find new ways to think about things. I learnt that practice and reflection went hand in hand and as early as 1993 with others we started thinking through the need for a new type of ecclesiology. We had critical conversation partners such as Jim Punton, whose work on shalom was key, and several early pioneer workers and thinkers with decades of experience, like David Watson (and Graham Cray), Jeanne Hinton, Pip Wilson, and David Sheppard. It is interesting to reflect on how well these people were listened to at the time and how this helped prepare the way for some radical change, and later Nigel picks up why we may struggle to listen as well to edge now.

The two Loops of Change theory talks about the need for innovators to network and this was key to the survival of what was being birthed throughout the 90s and 00s. Towards the turn of the century a clear emerging church movement was building (often with youth workers getting older and trying to work out how to connect to their culture) and slowly we met others who were in the same ocean. Eventually the structures also started to recognise what was happening on the edge, and that they were perhaps not as well equipped as they thought to swim well in these fast moving currents, so Fresh Expressions was bought into being. Someone once said that Fresh Expressions was the “Research and Development wing” of the church. For the past 20 years several key denominations have been investing in Fresh Expressions, this generosity is a gift to pioneers and now maybe this wealth of learning could be a gift to the church.

With the two loops in mind churches have innovated well in the lockdown, either in the online space or in other ways, so it maybe worth asking, how are you networking with others to build knowledge and support yourselves? Many churches have been brilliantly creative, but innovators need to network not just for new ideas but more importantly to build the resilience needed to resource continuation. Someone once asked me when I was speaking at Greenbelt to say in three words what is needed in today’s missionary context and my answer was Courage, Courage, Courage. As churches reopen the pressure to restart the old will be on, but we can’t do everything, and you will need courage to say no, to not restart some things, courage to stand with what the spirit has been doing for the last weeks and courage to go to new places theologically. Networking will help you build the knowledge and story base to hold the innovative space you have found, and the friendships you build through networking will sustain and nourish your innovation, but alongside this maybe invite a local pioneer to walk with you through the processes, they will probably have more questions than answers but that is important right at the top of change curve.

Richard

Appreciating the hidden harvest: bias as virtue – Nigel writes…..

I’ve recently done some Unconscious Bias training. I’ve worked hard over the years and hopefully become more fully aware of my biases. As a white middle aged man, I think I have reasonably successfully endeavored to raise consciousness-levels regarding any gender, sexuality and race bias I may have had and I have sought to change my thinking and behaviour accordingly. However, I have recently become very aware of a whole set of biases that I embrace which I didn’t really know were there. I am pondering if these biases are a problem, or if they should not be called biases at all, but rather aspirations, virtues and/or essentials. Let me explain …

I am biased towards the ‘new’ and innovation – I think that’s an aspiration. I am committed to working in diverse and creative ways – I think this bias is a virtue. I remain passionate about involving younger people (participation) in the life of the church and I am biased to hearing all the voices in as many ways as possible, and on their terms – I think that’s an essential. Bias on the basis of gender, sexuality, or race is, I believe, a big problem, but the biases I refer to here I consider virtues, not problems. My challenge is, I note other people don’t see things this way. For them, my ‘new’, ‘creative’, ‘younger’ biases are a threat.

In 2015-16 The Methodist Church carried out research into 15 years of involvement with fresh expressions and in 2019 produced a report of the findings – Methodism’s Hidden Harvest. The research concluded that fresh expressions have been extremely successful in welcoming previously unaffiliated people into Christian faith exploration and participation, certainly much more successful than the vast majority of inherited Methodist churches. So why isn’t everybody who wants to reach unaffiliated people drawing on these research findings and deploying them?

• Why isn’t everybody looking to start something new rather than simply maintain ‘what is’? The research notes that fresh expressions are evangelistically fruitful, with an estimated 65% of those attending having no previous involvement in church.

• Why isn’t everybody looking to grow the church working in diverse and creative ways – the research notes that fresh expressions work in multiple and creative ways to make disciples and asks if this is an important factor inherited church needs to embrace if it is to similarly attract unaffiliated people.

• If the church wants to engage and disciple younger people, why does it not embrace how fresh expressions go about doing this as they appear much more successful at it?

Could it be that the reluctance to embrace the new, creativity and younger people’s participation is the unconscious bias, perhaps conscious bias, of some people against such things? If so, this bias is putting them in danger of disregarding things which don’t fit their own templates, paradigms and worldviews, at the expense of making disciples and growing the church. In other words, the problem isn’t my bias for these things, but the bias of those who will not embrace such things.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, nor a binary choice, and hopefully not a case of inherited church vs fresh expressions; ‘them and us’. Having said that it sometimes feels like it is! Drawing on a bit of political bias thinking, I will explain what I mean.
There is what is known as Confirmation bias – in our context this is when someone favours information about church that affirms their existing paradigms and worldviews. People who like inherited models of church and who don’t want to change might, for example, draw exclusively on narratives that value tradition and predictability of output. They might use information that espouses the familiar, embeds and promotes an ‘it’s what we know’ paradigm. In my experience, whenever I draw on research findings like the Hidden Harvest? report, endeavor to facilitate debate, and/or offer suggestions to those in declining churches facing uncertain futures, there is more often than not push back and a negative response to counteracting information – like the value of new approaches, creativity, and aiming younger – which conflicts with favoured information.
Then there is what is called Coverage bias – this is when, for example, someone happily tells (covers) stories that relate to the ‘good old days’, when the church was full, overseas mission adventures from yesteryear, what happened in 1970, but rarely, if ever, tells stories or allows space for others to tell stories, about what is happening now in new forms of church and the changed lives of those becoming disciples.

Thirdly, I would highlight Concision bias – where people selectively focus on information, ignoring nuance and context, in ways that crowd out different views that take longer to explain. For example, someone will often counteract my encouragement for the new, creative and younger with a tale of when a fresh expression closed, a project failed or a young person left. The detail, reasons, learning and legacy are never portrayed, just the (perceived) negative outcome.

A couple of years back I had surgery for cancer. It was radical, impacting and has meant things will forever be different. If I had not had it, my future was uncertain, and I probably would have died many years prematurely. I needed to set aside my bias against someone chopping bits out of me, having lots of injections, not to mention several other deeply personal things that might not be appropriate to mention in a public blog. It was challenging but necessary.

If we are to set aside our biases and embrace the virtuous findings of research and development from fresh expressions of church, the consequent changes we need to make will be challenging and necessary. If we don’t make them, we may discover our end is also more premature than it might have otherwise been.

You can access the full results of the Hidden Harvest? research here

Dr Nigel Pimlott
Expressing a personal reflection especially for Sunday Papers

Why reopen, what and when?

So it has been announced that church buildings can reopen in July, without singing and in smaller groups. This is good news for some but as Shane L Bishop a pastor in the States pointed out “If your church was ineffective and in decline before the COVID shut down; the last thing you want to be thinking about is “returning to normal.”
So I have taken the liberty of adding the previous post on Deeper Magic and and maybe if you’re not into magic before you read it check this out from the RSA.

A friend who is a political theologian in Germany recently highlighted how one symptom of the loss of power and hold of Christendom was the rush of many to reopen church buildings. Prayers are no more special or effective because they are said in a particular place, and yet, it is equally true that holy places (hills, buildings, beaches, pilgrimage sites) can bring solace, connection. The nature of corona has been apocalyptic as true to the meaning of the word apocalypse it is uncovering a lot of different stuff. Whilst the church has done some amazing things locally in it’s communities with acts of love, bravery and service, some great examples of online services, for many who have honestly asked there has been an increasing uncovering that despite this their church is no longer at the centre of the community and that’s ok. At the same time it’s clear that many have had Christendom blinkers on, evidenced by the conversations (and their tone) about getting back into church buildings, not holding Eucharist online, ‘harvesting’ the rise of people praying for the first time, a lack of critical engagement with those already in online spaces, judgements about what is or isn’t church in the online space, etc. This is uncovering that many are still oblivious to the culture shift that has happened over the last 50 years and living to a greater or lesser extent in a Christendom bubble and whilst I would like to say that’s ok too, because it can be hard to see the systems we are caught up in, but I’m not sure it is. I love the part in the Narnia story where Aslan tells the children of a “deeper magic” and I wonder with all the anxieties around if we are still trusting enough to help push deeper. I saw Ian Paul had used a quote from Alan Hirsch who suggested “If you want to learn to play chess, then take away the queen—then you see what the other pieces can do!’ For many churches, Sunday services have been the ‘queen’ that we have lost. Which I thought was a great commentary on the situation, but as a friend pointed there is an assumption you know how to play chess the first place, and we may be playing chess whilst the rest the world has moved onto Ludo or more likely in the west Monopoly.
BUT despite this once again I want to shout out and congratulate those churches who have served so well without services, wether you have been dog walking for your community, organising food, doing prescription runs, organising sunflower competitions, supporting parents home schooling, and say don’t automatically drop these things because you want to refocus on sunday gatherings. Ask yourselves how can we keep these connections going, so we can keep building on what God has been doing through lockdown, perhaps God has even been showing you, you can improvise, you can change and do things differently. So if services aren’t what’s next, what might be? How can we continue to journey with people in a new way? What about those with dogs in the church arranging mini meet ups with those who can now walk their dogs again, what might a socially distanced homework club look like with a few adults on hand to help any children who have been struggling catch up. The church has learnt to do things differently and proved to itself and many skeptics that change can be done quickly when needed but as Blanchard warns in the seven dynamics of change “If you take the pressure off, people will revert back to their old behavior.” and perhaps the best way to avoid this is to recognise the sacredness of the spaces and relationships created in lockdown. Seeing God where you have creatively and effective served and changed your actions and communities and that this may well have been about you following the missionary impetus of the Holy Spirit into the new. So let go of some things and don’t rush to pick back up other things, even if that is your queen, give yourself the time and space to keep following the missio dei to places you nor I have been before and where the deeper magic happens.
If you need resources or support to do things differently it’s ouT there, but maybe in not in the places you expect. For decades the church has been in investing in Fresh Expressions and for decades before a wealth of mission nouse has been building so maybe those pesky pioneers and prophets who have been a pain in your arse might be worth taking for a socially distanced coffee. Or if you’re in Cumbria sign up for the new pioneer mission certificate here or book on our taster day here

A deeper magic

A friend who is a political theologian in Germany recently highlighted how one symptom of the loss of power and hold of Christendom was the rush of many to reopen church buildings. Prayers are no more special or effective because they are said in a particular place, and yet, it is equally true that holy places (hills, buildings, beaches, pilgrimage sites) can bring solace, connection. The nature of corona has been apocalyptic as true to the meaning of the word apocalypse it is uncovering a lot of different stuff. Whilst the church has done some amazing things locally in it’s communities with acts of love, bravery and service, some great examples of online services, for many who have honestly asked there has been an increasing uncovering that despite this their church is no longer at the centre of the community and that’s ok. At the same time it’s clear that many have had Christendom blinkers on, evidenced by the conversations (and their tone) about getting back into church buildings, not holding Eucharist online, ‘harvesting’ the rise of people praying for the first time, a lack of critical engagement with those already in online spaces, judgements about what is or isn’t church in the online space, etc. This is uncovering that many are still oblivious to the culture shift that has happened over the last 50 years and living to a greater or lesser extent in a Christendom bubble and whilst I would like to say that’s ok too, because it can be hard to see the systems we are caught up in, but I’m not sure it is. I love the part in the Narnia story where Aslan tells the children of a “deeper magic” and I wonder with all the anxieties around if we are still trusting enough to help push deeper. I saw Ian Paul had used a quote from Alan Hirsch who suggested “If you want to learn to play chess, then take away the queen—then you see what the other pieces can do!’ For many churches, Sunday services have been the ‘queen’ that we have lost. Which I thought was a great commentary on the situation, but as a friend pointed there is an assumption you know how to play chess the first place, and we may be playing chess whilst the rest the world has moved onto Ludo or more likely in the west Monopoly.
BUT despite this once again I want to shout out and congratulate those churches who have served so well without services, wether you have been dog walking for your community, organising food, doing prescription runs, organising sunflower competitions, supporting parents home schooling, and say don’t automatically drop these things because you want to refocus on sunday gatherings. Ask yourselves how can we keep these connections going, so we can keep building on what God has been doing through lockdown, perhaps God has even been showing you, you can improvise, you can change and do things differently. So if services aren’t what’s next, what might be? How can we continue to journey with people in a new way? What about those with dogs in the church arranging mini meet ups with those who can now walk their dogs again, what might a socially distanced homework club look like with a few adults on hand to help any children who have been struggling catch up. The church has learnt to do things differently and proved to itself and many skeptics that change can be done quickly when needed but as Blanchard warns in the seven dynamics of change “If you take the pressure off, people will revert back to their old behavior.” and perhaps the best way to avoid this is to recognise the sacredness of the spaces and relationships created in lockdown. Seeing God where you have creatively and effective served and changed your actions and communities and that this may well have been about you following the missionary impetus of the Holy Spirit into the new. So let go of some things and don’t rush to pick back up other things, even if that is your queen, give yourself the time and space to keep following the missio dei to places you nor I have been before and where the deeper magic happens.

What counts?

How many people came to church on Sunday?  How many baptisms?  How many weddings?  How many came to the Fresh Expression gathering?  Are the numbers going up?  Are our churches growing?  These were our questions three months ago.  Then we left our buildings and we had a whole new set of questions.

How many logged into church on zoom?  How many watched the video on youtube?  Hurrah, more people are connecting remotely than ever came to church in the building!  Then more recently: How many of our online viewers will join us when we are back in the building?

But what if these are the wrong questions?  What if we are not supposed to be concerning ourselves with church growth at all, at least not in the numerical sense?  Dare I say that we should concern ourselves with other priorities than church growth?

Forty-six years ago Lesslie Newbigin returned from India and in 1989 wrote a book: ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.’   It has become a classic, much read and quoted but the point often missed, because his point is that committed faithful believers will always be a minority.  It is how it always is.  It happened to Jesus so who on earth are we to think it will be different for us – he had crowds in the beginning but numbers dwindled.

Newbigin argues that the church has a key and important role to play in wider society, that our presence within society bringing challenge and change is critical.  We are to be confident in what we learn from Jesus, to live out and communicate faith.  But we are to bear in mind that our individualistic society has blinded us to communal aspects of salvation, meaning counting numbers is missing the point.  We’re to focus on changed society as the outcome rather than church growth.  Newbigin writes: ‘We get a picture of the Christian life as one in which we live in the biblical story as part of the community whose story it is… from within that indwelling try to understand and cope with the events of our time and the world about us and so carry the story forward.’ (p.99.)

What if we take seriously the calling to be salt and light, yeast in the dough, at times visible and other times invisible, a small ingredient that changes the whole?  What are our questions now?  How many people turn up on Sunday morning is no longer the priority, unless we have fallen into the trap of caring more about the institutional structures than the heart of what God is doing.

The questions then become about what the world need us to be and do, right now, as we face this crisis and wider societal challenges.  What is God working on?  What needs to be said and done in order to support society to re-engage well, to move forwards into something more connected, more earthed, more real, kinder?  Who are our partners in this work for the Common Good?

I find it hard to care as much as the church thinks I ought to about numbers coming to church.  I understand that people gathering to share together in the story of God is a good thing.  We need refreshing in what renews our vision, we need one another, we need God.

But turning up isn’t the point – the point is whole lives lived in God.  Right now, there are bigger questions at stake than numbers at church, whether in a building or online.  We have a unique moment as society, we have choices to make.  Right now, that is what I care about, that is what matters, and that is where my energy is going.

Cate Williams 1st June 2020

A parable about the unlocking of lockdown

I was flicking through Facebook and the mix of memes about getting back to normal, hitting the shops, and comparing this to the comments of a few weeks ago about not rushing back. The FB feed included similar mixed comments about churches starting to return to buildings, at the same time as seeing a really impressive rise in the creative content and approaches from some ministers as they grow in confidence online.

When I saw this meme I was suddenly reminded of a parable I wrote for Off the Beaten Track 16 Years ago!

The prison walls had become the home they had forgotten; so long had they been there in the dust and dirt that any memory of the outside world was just a dream to them. One day they huddled together as usual to have the same conversation they’d had every day for as long as any of them could remember. They talked about escape – how they would they do it, what they would do once they got out, how much better life would be. In the middle of this discussion something unusual happened. The cell door swung open. The prisoners cowered against the back wall, shielding their eyes from the bright sunlight. A man stood there, someone they didn’t recognise, for they had not seen or heard anyone new for very many years. The man spoke to them, saying “you are free to go”. The group sat in silence, for though they had talked about leaving and made plans to leave, now they were too afraid to do so. What world was out there? It was surely a place that must have changed beyond recognition. The prison walls suddenly seemed appealing, for this had become their home. No-one moved until one man, cautiously got to his feet, crossed the small cell and, averting his gaze from what lay beyond, quietly closed the door.

The relentless fight for political freedom from the market, a missional response

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At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln gave and address at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 that contained these words. “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  What we sometimes forget, is that this battle was directly related to the global market system of the time.  The battle in the USA was whether the State was there in the vision of the founding mothers and fathers of the nation to be centred on human freedom, or like many other nations, end up just another expression of an oppressive feudal state where the uber rich oppress the many.  The battle at the heart of this civil war was for the right to enslave human beings as the cheapest form of labour in the growing of global commodities of the time.  Lincoln won the battle, but I do not think he won the war.  Looking back at the USA now in 2020, I think we can clearly see that the market won and civil rights has never been fully delivered in one of the most divided and unequal societies in the world.

What exists now in the USA and now in the UK is economic slavery, maintaining cheap labour with reduced employment and terrible wages.  The Global Market won, and democracy and equality lost out.  We are now all commodified and where human dignity is now in decline.  You could argue that actually there has been a constant state of battle in the Western World ever since the Black death in 1346, when the feudal system and oppressive market society collapsed in the pandemic, as there were too few workers, so that wages and freedoms had to rise to ensure crops and industry were sustained. It was purely economics that drove this social change, and that since then there has been a battle between a society of justice and fairness v a market feudal oppressive system culminating in our current society.  Until recently you could argue the market had won, but now in another global pandemic, will this give us an opportunity again to diminish the power and relentless scourge of the market society? Or will it actually make a more feudalist system more likely to be reimposed? How does the church respond?

We remember that Jesus’ entire ministry happened in the context of the oppression of the Jewish people under the super power of the time, and that included the imposition of an international market system at the time.  It has always been a personal bafflement to me why Jesus did not call out this oppression at the time, other than Jesus being clear about money about fairness and money being of this world in Caesars name. The only hint of challenge to this, are the words of Jesus before Pilate after he had been flogged where he says “I am not of this world’.  Chad Myers helpfully reminds us that the greek here for ‘world’ here is ‘Kosmos’ the same as ‘domination system’.  With this in mind, Jesus is calling out the Roman Empire as a militaristic market society as a domination system and so we Christians, holding onto our understanding of Jesus ‘now but not fully yet’ Kingdom in the context of having to live in a domination system, but not of a domination system,

I want to point out at this point, I am not being an extreme Socialist or Communist, this is the stories of the Gospels and and Letters of the Apostles, and my thought has always been that more conservatively inclined Christians really need to get back the Gospel narrative, as you will be in for a shock!

So how do Christians react to the reality that our market society continues to oppression and now leads to destruction with global warming and ecocide.  Mission has to start with economic, ecological and social justice.  These are the heart of the Judaeo-Christian understandings of stewardship, jubilee and the Kingdom.  We can not idly sit by and see successive governments just continue to oppress people.  What will it take for Christians in the UK to stand up to the oppression of the market and the invisible power of the super-rich as Jesus sides with the unbearably poor?  What will it take to seek a Government that prevents the excesses of the market system by what used to be called a mixed economy?  What will it take for this to be seen by the church to be a missional priority?  It is not just about evangelism , fresh expressions and new ecclesial communities.  like Jesus turned over the market stalls in the temple for causing de-sacralisation, so we as Christians should be challenging and turning over the market stalls threatening the wellbeing of people and the continued existence of our planet.  It is high time that the Christian Church rediscovered it’s calling and historic roots. Now in this pandemic, can we face this calling to prophetic witness and prophetic living.

People are more than pyramids and we can be here and here

There has been a post doing the rounds on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it gets pretty much to the heart of things with the two base needs circled “we are here” and the higher needs circled with “not here”. It sparked a number of questions in my mind about many of the conversations I had been having about the future of church post and resonated deeply with why it had taken so long for my brain to kick in and being to be able to reflect on the current situation and start posting. When I used to teach practical theology and mission I would often use Maslow. One the key pieces of research around Maslow wasn’t just about how hard it was to progress up the pyramid until the base needs were met but also how if you experience a signifiant period or trauma where those base needs are not met (for example living in childhood poverty, or with and abusive parent etc) that this has a long term impact on your ability to actualise in the higher needs even if future you are secure in the more base ones. So whilst the Beyond Broadcast post addressed participation in the liturgy I want to unpack participation in more of the social action type responses. Whilst this may sound dualistic I hope you will see as this post unfolds its not.

People are much more complicated than a simple pyramid and I want to suggest that how we respond to the basic needs also has an impact on the higher needs. I was reflecting on some local conversations where despite the church having had a good presence in meeting peoples base needs (food banks etc) people did not engage in further higher pyramid space conversation and this made people wonder if churches had overestimated in how well the church was really connected to the community. At practical level (if you apply Maslow) this isn’t surprising as it is a basic needs first in a time of difficulty. However perhaps part of the reason for further engagement is in the consumer driven culture and context and HOW the church is seeking to meet these base needs. When reconsider that people are more complicated than pyramids and when we work WITH people to address the basic needs ( think ABCD) rather than doing so as a service provider we are also creating the space for those higher needs to. Part of why I like this approach is that there is no such thing as missional structures just missional people. Missional people understand the breadth of mission and that our future is wrapped up with those around. There has already been much talk of churches gearing up their mission plans with extra foodbanks, debt advice, and undoubtedly this will be key BUT disappointedly too much of this discussion has been as a start point of a pyramid that must be met so we can then sell the gospel or self actualisation. Perhaps part of what we have learnt in this time and in their questions of the “new normal” is that people are more than pyramids, and can actually be in more than one space at one time. Indeed part of what people will need (as well as the practical help) will be to work through the emotional and psychological impact of the situation. So perhaps part of how we need to respond practically is the same as we the issues raised in Beyond Broadcast, and we need to be co-creating our practical responses with people in more wholistic and joined up way. Doing so may well help us and those around us not only cope with the trauma we have seen over the past few months to our base needs (physical and safety) but may also help us work through together any longer term issues caused by this trauma. So if you are are asking questions of your mission strategy maybe the most important place to start is now in building connections with others beyond your usual circles, and inviting the community or work out with you how we support one another after this, and to make sure you invite those first people through the doors to the foodbank or what ever to join in with the process.

Beyond Broadcast services to scratch the corona itch

Firstly I want to say clearly THANKYOU to the church leaders who have courageously tried to keep serving their communities throughout this time, through moving content on line etc (as well the practical acts of service such as food banks etc). Many of whom find technology difficult and unnatural, you are doing a great job and this post isn’t criticising what you are doing but I am trying reflect on the context we are now in and how else we might respond. I also do NOT want this come across that Im saying in any way that corona has been positive in giving us a massive opportunity for evangelism that we need to capitalise on, but I am asking like we should always be asking how can the church speak and act faithfully in the context and culture we find ourselves in.

In this post I want to specifically explore how we might respond to the the fact that several churches are observing increased numbers of people dropping into services being held on line, and how we might engage more fully with these “new” people* by unpacking a little the notion of “broadcast”. I want to think about the place and importance of participation in learning and use Mark Searle’s and Friere’s work to raise questions about broadcast liturgy and why simply moving services on line might be missing some opportunities to engage these “new” people.

Often the increase in new people engaging with services on line is seen in churches with strong community engagement before and during corona, although it seems that there is some evidence that these initial numbers are starting to wane. One of the things happening throughout the last few months has been a recovery of the importance of local as people serve their neighbours, stay home, walk locally etc. For many people, churches online services have provided some space to help people connect beyond their immediate neighbour but remain rooted in the local. They might know of the minister, or have an echo of a memory of the church in the town or area and so tune in online. One minister commented how many people from the wider village had joined in easter services as they valued the simple opportunity to gather in a sense of community.

In real life church services are usually delivered in “broadcast” mode, whilst some may argue that the liturgical responses, singing or shared readings etc are participatory, I would tend to disagree. Yes to an extent there is participation but questions abound about how participatory this really is particularly if you have understanding of participation rooted in in youth and community development and I doubt many church services would get beyond rung 3 of Harts Ladder . Whilst in established congregations there maybe a higher degree of active real participation (rung 4 or 5) as people might understand what they are saying and have enough relationship with the minister to do some shaping, the reality is, so much of the liturgy is fixed. Indeed some would argue that nowadays liturgy is no longer constructed by the people for the people but maybe more rooted in notions of power performance, provision, possession and control (buts a whole different blog series). Where the church is great at co-creating liturgical space with people and encouraging real participation are major life events such as funerals, weddings, and births, and this will be explored more in a follow up post.

However what we are in the midst of is a major life event. I was walking with my daughter and she said how in years to come people will be studying this period in history lessons and how weird is it that we are living in that now. So how do we speak into the changed context we find ourselves in, the massive cultural rupture going? Specifically one way that rupture is manifesting itself is the questioning of normal. If recent surveys are to be believed the fact that only 9% of people want to return to normal, we must ask how might these online church services help people serve this desire to do life differently? Indeed perhaps one outworking of this desire to live differently afterwards is why we are seeing the increase of people either connecting locally and/or dropping into church services or surfing and finding different services in different areas(1). The response by many clergy to move services online has been great but like real life these are still very much in broadcast mode. Yes there will be positive feedback from church members but where the services reach has trebled or more in places who is this Broadcast serving and how is it supporting these “new” people, many of whom will have little or no faith reference point, navigate this major life event? Furthermore how might discipleship and growth be given space and animated for these new people at this time.

Conscientization is an educational process Freire developed and dialogue and praxis is at its heart, conscientization helps people move from action to reflection, from a reflection on action to a new action. The process calls into the critical consciousness, the words and concepts used, often exploring these through peoples experiences, feelings, and enabling people to distance themselves and so learn to think more critically about things that they have previously taken for granted. Frieres insights are key at the moment as so many people are questioning the dehumanization of the existing systems, embracing the possibility of change and seeking a new normal.

The church might have been late to the online party, but for many people the online world is participative, you ask locally in groups for people to recommend builders etc and people offer different perspectives. We may think “likes, thumbs up and comments” are vacuous but often they are used discerningly, people trust online reviews, talk about the news they see etc. In many ways in the online space is already a critical particpatory space so if we can somehow embrace Frieres process and commitment to ongoing critical praxis and weave that into the church services offered on line, then we might be scratching where people are itching. One natural outworking of this critical process, that many will find threatening is that if we are going to embrace conscientization is that the service itself and liturgy must also become the object of critical reflection. Indeed so this will in itself go a long way to help people begin to understand the liturgy and faith being expressed and navigate a way forward.

For those of you in Cumbria, when I keep banging on about the importance of co-creation in developing emerging church communities, it is Frieres notions of conscientization that I am often drawing on.

Searle explores the liturgy of the Church as a public undertaking for the common good, and how in many ways it calls and exposes the myths that we are sold BUT that only works within a context of understanding, and where space is given to unpack what is going on. So we need to move from broadcasting services to inviting people into dialogue about the liturgy being presented, and even move beyond this and co-create new liturgies applicable to the current context which could be immensely powerful. Imagine for a moment a vicar uses a village facebook group to dialogue about what people are going though and invites people to write poems, draw, etc and builds a Sunday service around this co-created with the pub landlord, who knows a lot of what people are feeling because they have been hearing peoples experiences when out delivering food as they shifted from pub grub to takeaways during lockdown. In our Mountain Pilgrims fresh expression for several weeks I asked in different online communities “what does being lost in the hills teach you about how to cope with being in lockdown?” The answers and dialogue ranged from the simple to the profound, and informed our first virtual Mountain Pilgrims service “attended” by many new people who had commented in the community groups where the question was posed. So whilst the church argues about if eucharist can be done on line among themselves are we missing the chance to build a new understanding of communion WITH the new people dropping into our services and in the process disciple ourselves and them into new ways of being, meeting the 93% of people who don’t want to return to “normal” where they’re at!

Mark Searle goes on to argue that this possibility of critical liturgy might also help us begin to realize the degree to which liturgy has been used as an ideological tool in the past. (see Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal) and indeed the style of Jesus teaching, which was largely ‘nondirective’ and subverted people’s worldviews and ideologies by inviting them into new ways of viewing the world through signs and parables, that they critically engaged with. Jesus raised questions, named things and told stories that enabled people to see the truth about the world and their lives within it, exposing the oppressive systems that people had internalized for what they were. Are our online services with increased numbers like the crowds that gathered around Jesus and if so how might we animate these spaces? Searle was arguing back in the 1990s before the online world really took off that it was this sort of critical approach that the Church should seek to follow and I wonder if at this time and in this context it is even more important to make space for critical dialogue about what is happening in the liturgy of services both as they are offered and in discussion space afterwards. We need to rise to the challenge of getting to know who is listening in, beyond the usual congregation which will be hard as people will like to lurk and not comment as they check you out. Perhaps the first step towards this is to resist the power to simply provide, process or perform (2) or broadcast on line, and instead to act locally with one to two others in local on line groups to discover the questions people are really asking and shape our services around this. Maybe this will even unlock new possibilities and ways of being church now and beyond the lockdown. It may sound challenging but clergy are brilliant at co-creating during the major life events of funerals, weddings and births often with the families they don’t know to develop thin spaces where heaven and earth are very close and I am sure they can do likewise in this major life event for the new people tuning in.

* the jury is still out on how many of these new people might be friends and family of the minister, dechurched, or genuinely new people.
(1) I am also aware there is massive inequality in access to online due to poverty and for a variety of other reasons and so in some cases services broadcast eg by phone is an important aspect. Likewise what we do offer needs to be as accessible as possible.
(2)See John V Taylor on the the three Ps.

Play and Dissent In complex systems

On the 8th Feb we are having a taster day for the certificate in pioneer mission that will be starting in September as part of the Northern Pioneer Centre. The day the Pastoral Statement landed I was planning a session for the taster event on the stories pioneers find themselves in and using Arbuckles notions of dissent and lament. Particularly how pioneers led by Jesus find themselves so often on the edge and how they need to value the experiences of seeing the beloved manifested in those places as resource for hope and a call to dissent. “There can be no constructive change at all, even in church, unless there is some form of dissent. By dissent I mean simply the proposing of alternatives, and a system that is not continuously examining alternatives is not likely to evolve creatively.”
Arbuckle Refounding the Church
I guess this is where the church (as denominations) often gets caught, as it fails to understand system complexity. This system complexity helps make spaces that try to examine, try to propose alternatives, and even try’s to listen (E.g. shared conversations) but is placed within an institution (and fixed false orthodoxy paradigm rooted in the enlightenment) that favours reductionism that can never compete with the complexities of following the way of love in the person Jesus. So dissent really matters, because orthodoxy that exists in a vacuum is not truth, and the Jesus way demonstrates orthopraxis that love is a way of dissent toward shalom.

At the same time my FB memory popped up with “ Whisper, somewhere beyond usefulness is a land where play reigns.” For May 29-31st we are following the Taster day with a Pioneer Fiesta(all ages welcome). In the heart of the Lakes there will be camping (with the opportunity to come early if you want a holiday) or book a B&B, and join in the stories, food and play. We are playing with different voices animating Mark 4 going to the other side of the lake. The word animating is used deliberately as there will be playful experiments including a messy take, an outdoors take, an artists take, an entrepreneurs take, a priests take, an inclusive take etc all around Mark 4. We are also Literally taking a paddle steamer to the other side of the lake and having a band and party on board. If you want to find out more email godforallevents@carlislediocese.org.uk.

At the moment I know I am called to be on the inside edge of this system and my commitment to the bride of Christ keeps me hanging there. At times I find playing with words is one of the few ways I can cope when the institution gets too much so here is an offering Of hopeful playful dissent.

Love is judged unworthy and tears of sadness grow.
Acidic edicts, camouflaged in priesty garments,
close doors to grace filled embraces.
Love sits outside with the masses
Bewildered at processes so reduced so disconnected
and so this holy water from different wells will flow.