Thursday, 17 December 2009

Shared Values & Shared Hearts

I was talking to someone the other day who is thinking about joining one of the MSCs. Our discussion centred around shared values and a shared heart. You have to share values - for instance the Wanderers group demonstrates a high value on getting out amongst other people, Outnumbered highly value family life - it seems to me that there is an hierarchy of values - some are higher than others.... and you need to agree to walk in these values with others. The Wanderers value family life of course - but it just isn't their defining value. But shared values aren't everything.... you need to share a heart as well. This is much harder to quantify - maybe the person of peace teaching of Jesus helps... if someone is open to us, welcomes us, if we feel a similar welcome and openness in our lives - if we are able to think 'I can do and want to do business with that person' then probably we share the same heart as well as values. But eventually we have to do it to see it - the more time we spend UP & IN & OUT together the more we'll clarify whether indeed we share values and share a heart.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Agreeing to walk together

"Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" Amos 3:3

A little gem of a verse as Amos brings the word of the Lord to and against Israel. Here is God's chosen people - the covenant people who have entered knowingly into covenant... agreed to walk with the Lord. They have instead chosen to try to walk in disagreement - not sensible.

There has got to be buy-in and that is what the Lord calls for in his chosen people.

Here, as we choose our new church name, as we continue in the process of living the vision that I have cast for the church we will increasingly find that the heat is turned up on our commitment. We need to walk in agreement together and where we find ourselves trying to walk in disagreement (a very uncomfortable place to be in) we must seek to address this with integrity, honesty, love and without fear.

There needs to be buy in. It is interesting watching the development of our first MSCs - they are so dependant upon a group of people agreeing that they will walk together - sharing a vision, deciding on a convergence of paths and a making of space for each other. In these agreed walks we will need to find ways in which to break open and apply the scriptures, ways of worship, ways to support and disciple each other all united under a common vision, purpose and missionary task. I think in the first instance we often understimate the challenge of agreeing to walk together. In a fragmented culture we are being counter-cultural to share our lives in the kind of agreement that MSC implies. It is worth persevering because the community we build is an amazing gift to the world around us.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mission from anywhere to anywhere

We had a great day with Bob and Mary Hopkins recently. They are amazing people in terms of experience and connections meaning they can speak wisely in regard to church planting and mission in these days.
The morning with them consisted of great input about the two realities of christendom and post-christendom both clearly represented in a town like Harrogate and a Diocese like Ripon and Leeds.
There are clearly still ways in which the church functions as a unifying central point - Christ Church on the Stray, St Mark's and St Peter's all function in this kind of way quite effectively. However the other reality is that the church in many ways is off-centre because of the enormous influence of secularisation and pluralism - thus many people won't necessarily be attracted back to the 'christendom churches'. The attractional church has to have 2 main things in place to be successful 1) a good welcome 2) good teaching that relates to everyday life. It is event centred and the challenge is to ensure the event doesn't stop discipleship. Thinkers in this field will also talk about Emerging Church as the church going out in listening mode - out amongst those who don't yet know the Lord. They would also talk about the Engaged Church which is somewhere between attractional church and emerging church. I think increasingly larger churches are seeking to be engaged churches - making the most of attractional opportunities but seeking to go out and engage. At a church I recently preached at I felt the Lord giving me a phrase that describes something of this engaged model: "Build at the centre, release at the edges". It certainly seems to me that the chief leadership skill that is necessary in these days is that of 'release' - not command and control but rather an 'authoritative and confident release' of disciples.
I guess St Mary's is emerging and engaged because of this extraordinary thing that we are doing taking a parish church into network I am finding working out which style of leadership to use at particular times is quite difficult and also that being released for many is quite scary because this hasn't been how many people have been led before. We still do elements of attractional church. For instance this Christmas we are holding a contemporary crib service and a candle-lit carol service on Christmas eve but seeking to make these relationally focussed with personal invitation as the key method of advertising. The candle-lit carol service is part of the 9am Holy Communion service - a community in its own right doing something that is OUTward in its approach. Outnumbered MSC have been expressing their main OUT as Messy Church so this Saturday (12th Dec 2009) they are doing Messy Christmas. We will have a family communion service on Christmas Day.
A memorable phrase that Bob and Mary used was "mission from anywhere to anywhere" - that is worth thinking about... we so often define our starting points which then has a controlling influence on the rest of the journey. To be given over to the mission of God is to be a bit more flexible and open - anywhere is fair game as a starting point just as long as the starting point is where the Spirit is at work already.... then it could lead anywhere - what an adventure!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Such a great Quote!

I posted this on my fb status the other day but thought it ought to have a slightly longer shelf-life and more reflection. I think it comes from Brian McClaren.
"It's not about church meeting your needs; it's about joining the mission of God's people to meet the world's needs."
Ours is a risky strategy - it is to take a simple parish church Church of England way of doing things and say 'that's great - but it isn't working for us here... the church is dying slowly... it isn't really making any impact - reorganising probably isn't the answer... lets undertake a RE-ORGANISM. We will choose to exercise faith that as we go so we will see fruitfulness, we'll see people coming to faith and loads of other good stuff happening. We'll seek to put our own needs below the needs of a thirsty, hungry and broken world."
We are still doing a lot of working out - we have to overcome the lack of faith that lurks in us that God can do it not just in our lives but in the world around us... as we go.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

"Fewer Services, More Service"

I'm just finishing a book called 'New Monasticism - what it has to say to today's church' by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. A challenging read, though unashamedly American in context, at one point he talks about wanting to introduce a new slogan to churches "Fewer Services, More Service." He is drawing on Jesus' washing of feet and points out that we often remember that Jesus said that others will know we are Christians by our love but we forget that the context for this showing love was in the washing of feet. It is good to have ministries that are focussed on showing love, it is great to have inspiring worship services, it is good to have rituals of foot-washing but we forget that footwashing was something that had to be done, that was need based because feet in those days became filthy. Footwashing was the daily job of a servant tending to the basic needs of a household and we are told to function like this. How much do we pay attention to the care of each others needs? Do we turn up at a Central Gathering or any service of worship with the attitude of 'how am I going to serve the needs of others today?' Do we even know the basic needs of those we worship with? How far, anyway does a worship service permit the genuine serving of need?

One of the things that MSC allows us to do is to grow in this sense of each others needs, to provide opportunity for needs to be met. MSC provides us with fewer services and more opportunity for service. It takes time to form relationships that can meet needs as needs must be disclosed and will only be disclosed where there is trust and trust has to be earned. But there is something deeply attractive about Christians genuinely serving each other because from the overflow of such love others are served and cared for also. I love the quote that David Day had in his fantastic little book about Jesus called 'Pearl of Great Price' "She built a bridge of friendship to my heart and over that bridge walked Jesus." Wow!

Now of course if you are after a church that is focussed on merely on providing services of worship then our vision and practice is not for you. We are making it quite difficult to be part of this church because our times of gathered worship are not seen as the 'be all and end all' but merely part and parcel of a whole life of being a 'follower and a fisher'. We are serious about discipleship, leadership and that being a Christian is supposed to be an adventure for us all not just a select few who relish change.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Tabernacle People

Are we going to be a tabernacle people willing to give up the comfort of the fixed abode certainty for the uncertainty of pitching a tent wherever the Spirit leads us?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Feast

I am preparing for our celebration weekend - The Feast. Our take on a harvest festival -using the feast of tabernacles and Jesus' interaction with this feast found in John 7.
We are going to look back over the last year of significant development since launching into MSC exploration and development and all the other decisions and events. Lots to give thanks for. We will also be looking forward - expecting to see God move in and through us more. In faith we are expecting a harvest of salvation and committing ourselves to this in our way through MSCs and in our workplaces, families and friendships.
On the last day of the feast of tabernacles a key passage from Isaiah 12 would have been used as water was processed from the Pool of Siloam to the temple "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" - here is the expectation and understanding that the water of God is for more than just for our life - it is salvation water.
Jesus proclaimed loudly at this solemn moment at the pool of Siloam "if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink, whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him". John 7:37-38
We need to keep drinking of Jesus and live with the expectation that a constant flow of living water from within is more than just theoretically possible (if I am good enough etc etc) but actually guaranteed. Drink of Jesus and what comes out of you is salvation water. Fact.

And for the preachers among you.....As I was thinking about this I was reminded of DL Moody's teaching on the Holy Spirit. A good 3 point sermon...
The Spirit Irrigates, Illuminates and Invigorates.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Decisions and Status Going off the Map

Just before the Summer holidays we had a flurry of activity in regard to the discussions about the future of St Mary's. Our church council responded to the proposal made by myself and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds that St Mary's starts the process towards becoming a Bishops Mission Order rather than a normal parish church.
Clearly not that much of SMC church life has been normal and parish-like in recent years - saying goodbye to two ecclesiastical buildings has emphasised a different 'calling' for the church. Since last Autumn we have begun to develop MSC's - communities of disciples in mission - an exciting adventure into a way of being and doing church that is off the usual familiar map. In fact at New Wine this Summer someone who didn't really know what we are doing as a church came up to me to share what she felt God had given her for me - simply the words: 'Off the map'. There is a map that CofE Christians are familiar with - a parish church with a building at the centre and lots of activities that attract others into the life of the church and hopefully relationship with Jesus. There is something of God's call on us as a church to go off that map - not saying that the old map is bad - just that we are called to go off it and that God is in this and for us.
To lay down the status of parish in the CofE is quite a challenge - through the Fresh Expressions initiative there has been some legislation (called a Bishops Mission Order - BMO) made to enable us to 'go off the map' whilst staying accountable, supported and encouraged by the CofE. The BMO has to have defined objectives and there needs to be consultation and the drafting of the Order which is what is happening at the moment. So far there have been Church Council discussions and votes in favour, church consultation meetings and a deanery presentation/meeting. Things are ongoing and developing. There are all sorts of implications.... the renaming of the church, the change of my status from Vicar (Priest-in-charge) to Pioneer Minister, the parish responsibilities moving to other churches, decisions regarding how we lead and manage the church simply yet accountably etc etc.
Do keep praying that we work these things out - that relationships remain trusting and open to the new thing and that the Lord will indeed provide all the provisions we need for going off the map. There aren't many (if any) churches in the CofE making this movement - to be off the map is a vulnerable place to be - so we want protection!
Here are the objectives of the mission order:
  • To enable St Mary’s to function in non-geographical missional network across parish boundaries developing and planting Mission Shaped Communities (MSC’s).
  • To define the place that St Mary’s occupies in relation to inherited and other expressions of church in the Harrogate Deanery as one of mission partnership.
  • To focus St Mary’s fully on its distinctive vision and calling.
  • To ensure that the pastoral care/occasional offices that will be required in
    the Cold Bath Road/Harlow Hill area of Harrogate are taken care of through
    pastoral reorganisation.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Standing with others?

Yesterday we held our first Central Gathering of the season - every 2 weeks we gather together and in between we are developing our MSC's. Jeremy Clough from Harrogate Town Pastors spoke powerfully and movingly of the call to care (do we really care?), the impact of the woundings in our lives, the challenge to learn what devotion to the apostle's teaching, to the fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer really is... and do it.
At the heart of what Jeremy shared was this little insistent voice speaking of unity - being ONE church - ONE with each other - ONE church in Harrogate and beyond. Almost as an aside he mentioned Acts 1:14 "Then Peter stood up with the Eleven" - highlighting that Peter stood up with others - he had support, he was encouraged in what he was doing. To have people standing with us is so important and to be people who stand with others is also absolutely vital. Are you being 'stood with'? Are you 'standing up' with others? At the heart of our vision to release communities of disciples in the mission of Jesus is the idea of standing together - together we can make a difference. We will need to make sure we aren't standing in the way and that our own preferences and problems are not providing a barrier for others. We will need to be supporting the development of leaders who like Peter are called at particular times to stand and draw the attention of the people around them to Jesus and his work.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A book suggestion

I have just read Steven Croft's little book 'Jesus People: What the church should do next'. A really simple yet inspirational read. Full of vision and encouragement.


I was forcibly struck by Mark 6:30-34 the other day. Jesus planned a break with the disciples but the break never happens because of the needs of the crowd. Mark says that Jesus had compassion on them (the crowd) 'because they were like sheep without a shepherd'.
I found myself asking a number of questions...
1) What is it that must drive us? Compassion. "many are the plans in a human heart but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21) Compassion should take precedence even over plans we have, with all integrity, put into place. Preference (what I want) should give way to purpose (what the Lord wants)
2) What is it that will enable us to work out what the Lord wants us to do? What his purpose is? When we see sheep without a shepherd, when our hearts fill with compassion for a person or people who are lost.... that is what should signal our purpose and calling.
3) But surely there are two many areas of compassion to respond to? The compassion that fills the heart of one person may not be that which fills my heart. I will find myself at times following the compassion of another and catching their vision for shepherding in a particular area. At other times I will need to lead others in my area of compassion. My relationship with the Lord, with my companions on the way will help me discern what my response should be.
4) Surely this means that there is a cost to compassion? If compassion costs - are we willing to pay the price?Hanging around theme park rides with young people the other day reminded me again that there is a particular need to have compassion for young people who are so often sheep without a shepherd. My story is very much of people getting alongside me as a teenager, shepherding me, having compassion for me. Children need the same... as the song goes "everyone needs compassion" - are we compassion givers?
I believe that over the Summer the Lord will be sharpening up his calling in us through compassion. Let's pray that the Lord will reveal to us those areas where we see sheep without a shepherd and sense a calling to respond.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Church Model

Here are some slides I have used to try to illustrate our model of church - what we are aiming to do. The Community/Communitas graphics come from Alan Hirsch in his excellent book "The Forgotten Ways" and his thinking on 'Apostolic Genius'. Hope you can read the graphics - I need to make them more web friendly!


The ancient greek word kairos means the right or opportune moment - kairos is special time or an appointed time in the purpose of God. We need to be ready to respond to kairos moments - seeking to learn what the Lord is teaching us, what he is doing and revealing.

Last night I met with members of Harrogate Deanery (the CofE way of organising groups of local churches and their parishes). This was a kairos. I presented the 'What was, what is and what is to come' of St Mary's Harrogate for consultation. The meeting was very good natured and open. Inevitably there are a range of understandings and comprehension of something that is so different from the normal way of doing church. I was really encouraged to hear those that would often be imagined to be a million miles away from the kind of thing we are doing saying a resounding and enthusiastic 'yes' and offering support. I was struck by the oddness of watching others discussing the parts of St Mary's parish that their parish might take over - there is so much security in the CofE in regards to having a distinctive parish - 'my patch' - and having recognised authority over it and here we were in the act of laying it down, giving away security in exchange for an uncertain future, a new way. A kairos moment. I have found myself looking at the sending out of the 12 in Mark 6 again -
"These were his instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic'"
They were sent with so little security - just each other, his teaching & authority, a staff, tunic and sandals. How they must have felt... so vulnerable.

There is so much we could take for the journey we are on - but the work of the Lord in the life of this church seems to be so much more about us taking nothing for the journey.

Are we ready to meet the challenge of this? Or are we going to continually insist on taking stuff with us that will hold us back, slow us down? Part of the stripping away of securities that is happening for us is the continued adjustment to laying down larger gatherings in favour of smaller groupings/communities. We can lean on Sunday services or the way we have always done things and find that we go nowhere fast. No. We are needing to learn what it is to be people who take nothing for the journey except that which we find the Lord telling us to take.

I shared my feelings and reflections regarding all this with a friend in the Order of Mission. She sent me the encouragement of Galatians 3:26-4:7 just what I/we need in these times to be reminded of:

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."
At times like this I/we need to return to an understanding of who we are in Him. I am a Son and Heir - clothed with Christ. I have the full rights of a son of our Father in heaven. Be encouraged!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Last Central Gathering Richard and Jenny Dean shared their vision for the MSC they are leading called The Wanderers. They mentioned that part of their strategy was 'infiltration' - I love the idea of this - it is quite a word to use! It just articulates something of what we should be like as Disciples - people who seek after God's work in the world around us - not necesarily providing things that people come to but going to where they are, where life is and becoming part of it. So they are part of a number of groups and seek to share life with the people it seems they are connecting with.
Jesus' strategy for evangelism was of this type - to enter a place, see whether there is a welcome, where there is peace and the opportunity to stay. See Matthew 10.
All the MSC's in some ways function around this idea - that there are appointments that God has prepared for us, people of peace, doors opened out there in the world around us. So we continue to seek to be a church of communities of disciples in the mission of Jesus with a message not of 'you come to us' but 'we'll come to you'.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Counting the cost to be fit for service

Last Sunday at our twice a month central gathering we were looking at 3 of Jesus' encounters with people:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you
wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have
nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another
man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:57-62
I noted 3 challenges for us as followers:

1) Comfort - the guy who tells Jesus he will follow him and maybe expects congratulation and affirmation only to be probably surprised or even shocked by Jesus telling him that his way of life is one where he gets nowhere to lay his head. It is not a comfortable way.

2) Convenience - this guy seems to have a pretty good reason not to respond immediately to Jesus calling him to follow. Jesus' reply challenges the way in which we seem to find all sorts of plausible excuses not to put following Jesus first in our lives. We fit Jesus into our diaries and calendars forgetting that we wil live better by submitting them first to him.

3) Distraction - "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me..." - how many times do we function by the word 'but'? Too much. It isn't wrong for someone to want to say goodbye - it just isn't great to be distracted - there are always things that could distract us - I am writing this with lots of commotion of our family-life around me and am having to concentrate hard so as not to lose the thread of my thoughts. It is so easy to find an excuse for not following NOW. As Jesus points out, if we were ploughing and kept looking back the furrow we have created will be next to useless for sowing and harvesting. So often we look at other things, we look back and find ourselves moving in the wrong direction. We are therefore not fit for kingdom purposes.

As we continue to develop mission shaped communities we will find that there are times when we have to tackle these kinds of things in ourselves - are we ready to count the cost?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Psalm 84 Pilgrimage

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whoose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7

This Psalm beautifully describes something of our vision.
Finding Strength in the Lord
We seek to be people who find strength in God. The journey for this church has been the stripping away of all the things that usually churches find strength in - we must be wary of seeking strength in anything but God. Strength to strength - as in our weakness we find our strength in him.

Hearts set on Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage - a journey to God, with God, seeking God and experiencing his company. On the move, community on the go.

Bringing life and blessing
The valley of Baca is the place of tears - as we go we expect that the Lord's work in us will be life-giving - springs and God-blessing - pools.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Men's Retreat

Recently a group of us went away overnight. We had a great time talking, worshipping, praying, eating and drinking and learning to shoot arrows together. I was struck (not by an arrow, thankfully) but by a number of other things. First that this grouping was mostly people who have joined the church over the last 12-14 months (fantastic!). Secondly, that we still need to form and develop relationships with each other and this kind of thing organised so well by Carl Good is a really good thing! Thirdly that we must keep the pressure up in our own lives as well as as a whole church to make sure we are clear about our target - that we have something to aim at. As we saw during our archery lesson if you aim at the bullseye you are almost sure to hit somewhere in the target. I see far too many people's lives that are targetless. We need to aim at something, we are designed to function in this way. Somebody once said that "we need a big vision, but a tight focus" - are we focussed enough?
As people with a heart for sharing God's love with those around us we are in what fighter pilots might call 'a target rich environment' - in other words there is no shortage of targets for the receiving of the good news - however we have to make sure we are asking the Lord to help us focus on the right target - the one that is being prepared by the Holy Spirit.
So often we are targetting the wrong things, pointing in the wrong direction or trying to hit too many things at once - the vision needs to be big but the focus needs to be tight. We need revelation from God because without it we don't work within the right restraints and if that happens, like an arrow released without control and thought, something or somebody could get hurt. Proverbs 29:18.

Friday, 8 May 2009

What a great time

The New Wine Leadership conference this week here in Harrogate has been fantastic. Those of you who know me won't be surprised that I have been energised with the networking side of it. The speakers were of really good quality - prophetic voices of practioners in kingdom things in their specific contexts.
Personally I was struck by the challenge to focus on your higher calling as a disciple and child of God rather than being dominated by the leadership calling. I realise that I can get so wrapped up in the leadership task that I lose sight of the call to relationship with the Lord and with others. Somebody once said that they had met a French theologian who had been reflecting on the first question she might be asked on entering heaven. She came to the conclusion that it would probably be "where are the others?" Are there 'others' in my daily life? Or am I/we to wrapped up in other things like 'church' or 'work' or 'family' or 'troubles' or 'leadership' to be even aware of 'others'?
People who are wrapped up in themselves make very small parcels.

We (myself, Penny and the kids plus Mo and Andrew Clarke) had a great time also with St Andrew's Starbeck. We saw the Lord really stirring people up and doing some lovely things in their lives. Jesus is so good.... why would we really want anyone or anything else in our lives?

God is great but sometimes not so great things happen. We are sad that Rachel and Mark Turner will be moving on from St Mary's. What we hope for and anticipate won't always work out so all we can do is to return to Jesus.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Moving from the mountain

I was reading Deuteronomy 1:3-18 this morning and one verse in particular stood out "You have stayed long enough on this mountain" (v6).

Movement is one of the signs of life - our instinct so often is to seek to settle down, to stay in one place - but the Lord kept calling the people on. There was more to come - something to aim for, to move towards... the place of promise. I had the distinct impression that the Lord was nudging me to continue the movement into his purposes for St Mary's. One of the main pictures we have worked with as a church over the last 16 months or so has been that of the pillar of cloud/fire leading the people on.... they stopped when it stopped and moved when it moved - a marvellous picture of revelation and response.... God moves... I move.... God stops.... I stop. In the coming months we will have to finalise a decision to move in the direction of becoming a network church - a network of communities with their unique mission and ways of functioning. This will mean deciding what not to do, and what to do more of. It will mean deciding to move from the 'mountain' of Anglican parish ministry that we presently occupy and for a time has been the right place to be and instead move into the unknown of being an Anglican new church of communities springing up wherever God appoints... a distant dream maybe... but possible under God.

I followed up by reading John 20:1-10 and found myself thinking that v8-9 suggests that full understanding doesn't always accompany belief - the 'other disciple' (John?) we are told "saw and believed" but then it says they didn't fully understand. This will be the case for us. Continually. As we head towards our vision of releasing communities of disciples to live the mission of Jesus we will find that belief isn't always accompanied immediately by understanding. If we always look for understanding first then we will be disappointed... if we trust that understanding will come as we do what we believe then there will be joy and quite an adventure.

So we must see... (which may involve looking into a grave - looking death in the face?), we must believe (assent to/agree with/do what we see) and then we will understand.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Messy Church

This Saturday one of our MSC's begins Messy Church - if you want to know more have a look at our website The idea is that we have a chance to gather a whole load of families together for Glue, Glitter and God once a month as well as gathering around food in someones house and a small group at other times. This MSC is known as Outnumbered - the name taken from the BBC sitcom of family life - "Outnumbered follows the daily chaos of family life and two parents and three young children locked in an unequal contest." So much of family life is chaotic and challenging - Outnumbered MSC reckons that it is a good idea to include God in it!
Things often feel chaotic, or at the very least messy, in our lives. Somebody recently wrote about change, commenting that we are okay with continous change, the kind of change that develops out of what has gone before and can be anticipated and managed, .... but it is discontinuous change that is our main challenge a kind of change that is disruptive and unanticipated, that we feel ill equipped to deal with. This kind of change seems to be what we are so often dealing with in our present circumstances but we believe that God brings order out of chaos, that he redeems and turns things around. We are a people of hope even in the face of change and uncertainty and we see this being worked out in our lives as we remain faithful to him and his promises.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Working on a Dream

I just spent a whole weekend with people from St Peter's Shipley in the Lake District. They have a regular pattern of weekends away - one of the ways they have developed to stay connected in a church that numbers several hundred. They are a great bunch of people and I tried to do some reflection with them on what it means to be a great church not merely just a good one.

It makes me think that there are often so few differences between the christian and the not yet christian, or church and world. There are things that any church leader can do to grow a church that someone without faith could easily do from common sense and see some growth. Ouch - that line of thought hurts and challenges... is it really true?

I think the philospopher Nietzche said "I would be more willing to believe in the redeeming God of the Christians if Christians were more redeemed" - Hmmmm.
I believe the kingdom is not just good - it is great. We are to reach for greatness - greater works and this involves that amazing paradoxical Jesus mixture of humility and will.

The new Bruce Springsteen CD is called 'Working on a Dream' - our dream is the kingdom and the work involves acts of will that take us towards that dream and humility that enable us to travel well towards the dream coming to reality.

I love what we are trying to do here - wilfully choosing to organise ourselves around a vision of communities of disciples. We have such flexibility and opportunity to do this and though, as Springsteen says " seems so far away", we have to keep working on it.

I am aware of people being really interested in hearing what we are attempting to do and have had a real sense of challenge not to overhype at such an early stage of development – just keep working on it, share only the insights we actually have and boast in Jesus of course. Keeping a necessary sense of humility and awareness that we are not the be all and end all – just bunches of disciples trying to do what we are told!
Be encouraged!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

God in public life

I am very aware of a massive difference between what the broadsheet intelligensia say about religion and its role in society and what most ordinary people would say. I must say I am pretty sick of reading papers and hearing new reports that are biased and at times aggresive regarding the faith of many millions of people and the influence that such faith has. I see so many Christians exercising their faith and allowing it to have an influence on lives around them - there is a kind of blindness to this that seems to have infected the people and places of power in this country. An ex-Archbishop I know used to spend a significant amount of time trying to highlight the foolishness of privatising religion and isolating it from any influence on public life. Militant atheists and certain government ministers have exerted pressure to remove religious influence from public life and yet the following article and BBC poll would suggest that ordinary people still roundly reject secularism. Hurrah!

A BBC poll suggests that most people want religion and the values derived from it to play an important role in British public life.
Of 1,045 people questioned by ComRes, 62% were in favour.
Meanwhile, 63% of those questioned agreed that laws should respect and be influenced by the UK's traditional religious values.
The findings contrast with calls from some politicians and secularist groups to exclude faith from the public arena.
Guiding principles
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor warned a few years ago that Christianity was "all but vanquished" as the guiding principle for Britain's moral framework.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor argued that Christian beliefs - such as the sanctity of human life and the rule "do as you would be done by" - should continue to underpin the behaviour of Britons.
Church leaders have warned that recent legislation has elevated goals such as freedom from discrimination for homosexual people, above the freedom of religion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warned that the government was using legislation to control people's morals as well as their behaviour.
Secularists, including an increasingly militant atheist movement, have stepped up their campaign to "free" the public from what they see as the burden of a lingering attachment to religious belief.
There have been advertisements on the sides of buses, and in the last few days, a network of student humanist associations has been inaugurated.

However, the BBC poll indicates that even at a time when baptisms, church weddings and attendance at Sunday services are declining, people are unwilling for secularism to displace religion altogether.
They may be dubious about specific religious beliefs, and unwilling to accept the teaching of religious organisations about how they should lead their lives, but the survey suggests they are not yet ready to cast God out of public life.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Mountains and valleys

I am looking at Mark 9 - Jesus is transfigured - changed so they see the outward reality of his appearance changing to match the inward truth of his nature as the son of God. I have been asking the question - am I seeing/experiencing transfiguration - seeing spiritual realities. Which leads me to another question... am I spending enough time on the mountain in order to do so?
Also I was struck by what someone said about Peter's desire to build monuments to this moment - to capture it in time. They said "But the mission was in the valley, not on the mountain." There is a need to balance time on the mountain with time in the valley though my experience tells me that we have a tendency to avoid the mountain.... why? Perhaps because we have to climb up to it - I seem to prefer to descend than ascend or at least walk on safe level ground. It seems to me that mountains can be a little dangerous.... I'd better not risk the climb.


Digging or doubling?

Last Sunday I spoke on the parable of the talents. Three men, two of whom had a 'doubling' attitude (they doubled what the Master gave them) and one that had a 'digging' attitude (he dug a hole and buried that which the Master gave him).

The 'digger' had an attitude towards the Master that was wrong. He somehow felt that the Master was mean and lacking in mercy whereas the response of the master to the 'doublers' showed something very different.

We need to check out what our attitude to God is. Do we really see him as a generous father who will give good gifts to his children? If we see him like this we are much more likely to

1) live a life based on making positive investments - putting our money where our mouth is. One of the biggest laughs we had on Sunday morning was when Ian Jenkins was reading the Parable of the Talents and got to that bit where the Master tells the 'Digger' that he could have earned some interest on the money in the bank! Some investments will fail - if we are to speculate to accumulate there will be an element of risk taking. But we must still seek to make investments - not to dig a hole and bury what we have.

2) be unafraid to take risks. One of the things that most winds me up is over cautiousness. The church in our country is too often characterised by a paralysing caution and a fear of failure. I want to encourage an environment that sees taking risks, making investments and making ourselves available to God as key parts of our common life.

Our direction as a church is an investment and a risk. We are investing in mission shaped communities, in releasing communities of disciples in the mission of Jesus. This is a risk because if we wanted to play safe we would have stuck with focussing our energies on more traditional forms of being and doing church - which in themselves are not bad - they are just not what we are called to do.

I am so glad that all the indications are that 'doubling' is what we are interested in rather than 'digging'. But we need to regularly check ourselves on this. Am I investing and putting my money, resources, gifts, skills where my mouth is? Am I prepared to take risks or responding out of fear and therefore becoming over cautious?

Fundamentally am I avaliable to the Lord and responsive to him?

Remember this...

Proverbs 3:5
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

A good quote

“The whole church... must become a mobile missionary force, ready for a wilderness life... it is time for us all to be thinking of campaign tents rather than of cathedrals” John McKay (Whitby Conference 1947)

Mission as organizing principle

I found this on Alan Hirsch's blog (Alan is author of a really challenging book: The Forgotten Ways)

Mission as organizing principle
In a remark ascribed to Gordon Cosby, the pioneering leader of that remarkable community, Church of the Savior in Washington. DC, he noted that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.


Called to deep water

"Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch" Luke 5:4
Jesus had been teaching the crowd from a boat in the shallows and he then commands Simon to go fishing after a night spent unable to catch anything. Simon obeys and they catch an abundance of fish which is taken to shore with additional help. Simon breaks down and calls Jesus 'Lord' and is promptly called to follow him, which he does, leaving everything.

Shallows and deep water
Shallows are lovely and safe. We sometimes need time in the shallows but we don't need lots of time there. You can't let down nets in the shallows, fish are unlikely to be there. You can get some good teaching in the shallows but then you do need to put it into practice. In the shallows you can rely on yourself, in deep water you have to rely on Jesus.
It is no wonder that Jesus wanted Simon to do something that was against his 'better' judgement - he was teaching him a lesson of reliance and trust - Simon had already seen that Jesus could heal his mother, now he would see that at the word of Jesus he, himself, could do something just as amazing in the company of Jesus and with help from his friends!
There is a tendency in us to seek control - especially amongst professional middle-class Christians. If we stay in the shallows we can manage things, we can make the most of what there is in the shallows - we play at church rather than live as followers of Jesus. We play safe and rely on our own understanding, skills, talents and experience. Of course we do have the nets and the boats that can be used for a catch but if we aren't following the commands of Jesus then we will end up not going deep enough to let them down in the right place.
Deep water is not very comfortable for us when we have spent so much time in the shallows and yet it is what we are called to and where the teaching and example of Jesus constantly calls us to be. As a church we are putting out into deep water and we have to give up on our better judgements, sacrifice our own control, stop relying on ourselves and keep trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing and if he says do something.... then we do it and we will have a catch of fish.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The impulse to go

"they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.'" Luke 4:42-44
Jesus clearly understood his 'sent-ness'. Rather than give in to the compulsion to people-please, staying where there was success, where the kingdom was clearly coming he heads off to where the kingdom has not yet come but will come as the good news is preached. Too often we feel a sense of compulsion to people-please, to play safe and we end up domesticating the 'wild gospel' which has at it's core an impulse to go elsewhere, to go where the gospel hasn't yet been and where the kingdom is near.
We are developing mission-shaped communities in the belief that the we are not supposed to be a domesticated church but rather one that goes out, goes elsewhere because we believe with all our hearts that the kingdom is near and people want this good news of the kingdom.
I find it interesting that Jesus expressed the impulse to go from the place of prayer... a solitary place. How are we to get the kingdom impulse in our lives? How is it to become the impulse behind our MSC's? Prayer is the place to start.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Tomorrow I am at Harlow Hill Methodist church - one of the 'united services' between Methodists and Anglicans that have been going on for some years. Just part of the variety of things I find myself doing in this extraordinary situation of 'emergence' at SMC.
I am focussing on the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1 and part of what I say will be regarding the calling for our baptism to be 'manifested' or 'shown'. Something that makes a difference. Robert Crampton, the columnist writing in the Saturday Times once said that Christians "have a purpose but not a product" - ouch! Matthew 28 suggests that Jesus thought our product should be disciples baptised and taught to obey him. Jesus clearly set a high value on baptism and expected that as a result of his work and commission there would be a product.

As I have continued reflecting about all this (maybe helped by the depth to which temperatures have been plummeting to this week!) I remembered something someone else taught me...

We aren’t supposed to be thermometers - measuring the temperature, we are supposed to be thermostats - changing the temperature.
Mission-shaped community is thermostatic.
My thermostat for central heating needs to be set to the right level for the right effect. I don't want a temperature that is too hot or too cold.
It also takes time and experience to get the right temperature - our last house was a warm one, our present one is older and draughtier and getting the hang of the heating has been quite a challenge.
Getting the hang of how to live as a community of communities will take time and experience and of course getting the temperature of our communities right will be a challenge.
It is reassuring that Jesus concluded his command to 'Go and make disciple's' with the words "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." We do all this knowing Jesus is with us and therefore however fragile it looks (just picture how few Jesus gave his commission to in the first place) we can 'go' with reassurance.

I am praying that the Lord will bless and prosper those gathering in different places tomorrow as the communities of our community - 3 groupings in people's homes and one in a pub. May they be thermostats and not thermometers.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The right attitudes for anxious times?

Tomorrow morning (Sunday 4th Jan) I will be preaching at St Peter's Shipley in advance of speaking at their Church Weekend in March. John Rainer, the Vicar of St Peter's, will be with St Mary's at our 9am and Central Gathering.
I will be using Luke 2:41-51 which is the account of Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem and being found by his anxious parents engrossed in the question and answer teaching sessions of the Rabbi's at the temple.

Luke 2:49-51 have especially caught my attention; "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them"

I guess I am reflecting on this passage in the context of our re-engagement with an anxious western world during this New Year period. I find myself asking what is the right attitude for anxious times?

The passage raises questions about Jesus - surely he's being a bit perverse?
Initially this may be what Jesus looks like here. I reckon his mum goes into parental anxiety mode (a mixture of fear, worry, guilt produces a telling off for the child who doesn’t really deserve it).
But no – we do see Jesus seemingly working out what his Fathers 'business' (as the KJV puts it) is. Always, but especially in these times we need to be interacting with the scriptures, questioning and working out what is going on, what we need to learn and understand.

The passage presents a picture of a child dealing with tension
‘didn’t you know I had to be’ – indicates a sense of compulsion – expressing a necessity/compulsion to be responsive to his heavenly father whilst also having a need to be responsive to his earthly parents.
Here is a tension – here is a challenge – he is pulled in one way to be with his parents and the other to be with his heavenly Father. How is one to deal with this? It is good to know Jesus coped with tensions. How are we to deal with the tensions of life?
How did Jesus deal with it? He sensed his call to obey the Father but found that part of this involved submitting to his parents.
There will be times this year when submission is necessary at least for a time so that God can work out other things in your life. You may be able to do better than another, you may be cleverer, more skilled, more able in many ways and yet submission to another may be your call.
In fact in Jesus we see that submission was everything – it was exactly what enabled him to achieve his destiny and it may well be that Luke has given us a glimpse of how Jesus became mature enough to follow through his destiny to be our saviour – through many minor submissions and petty obediences.

This passage shows us a lost child who finds his security in the right place
Jesus must have known it was dangerous to attempt to go home alone – he wouldn't be clear how long it will take for parental help to come – so he goes where he will be safe and where he thinks is the obvious place to be.
Jesus’ logic is that surely his parents would know he would be in ‘my father’s house’.
The best translation is ‘house’ denoting ‘place’ – in other word's where the Father is. In the face of ‘lost-ness’ of insecurity and of anxiety Jesus is found in his father’s house.
Jesus, as a 12 year old, articulates something startling and profound – an intimate connection with a heavenly Father who is ‘daddy’.

We are meant to find our way to the Fathers house – the place of intimate connection, of security and of peace. We are meant to find Daddy – to find security in him – whatever the state of our relationship with our real Daddies – there is a true Daddy in whom we can find security, peace, meaning and joy.

When you lose your way... where are you found?
Are you found in your father’s house? Where Daddy is? Seeking his business? Do you even know him as Daddy?
I wonder if 2009 will be a year in which we (the Church) find a sense of calling to return to the Fathers House – rediscover relationship with Daddy.

In an anxious world what might our attitude be?
· Interact with the scriptures
· Be prepared to submit
· Find your way to security in Daddy – come to the Father’s House.