Friday, 31 March 2017

The baby and the bath water

1 Corinthians 3:10-11
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

As we've been learning and sharing more about the Adaptive Challenges facing the church in Scotland this week, I was struck by one phrase in particular, from Heifitz and Laurie who were writing for Harvard Business Review: They state that tackling an adaptive challenge involves "Distinguishing immutable values from historical practices."  - that seems like a pressing pursuit for the church.
Most organisations under threat seek to redouble efforts to retain what they can, enforcing customs and norms as vital to their raison d'ĂȘtre when often the paraphernalia obscures their very reason for existence.
Responding to an adaptive challenge involves changing hearts and minds. In the church, that will mean weighing up the values that are central to our faith and freeing those from the walls of practice and tradition we have built around them. It means releasing the gospel from the obscurity to which we often consign it. It means sharing that good news freely in every sphere of life, wherever we find ourselves. It means discovering the plans God has for us and walking in those. As well as honouring and equipping others to engage with whatever God lays before them.
At one of the conferences, one minister remarked: "This sounds like getting back to basics." Precisely.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples. Today, we are called, not just to be disciples, being salt and light, sharing faith in all of life, but to make disciples. And to make disciples who make disciples. Sharing immutable values, discarding historical practices, gently or brutally, that no longer serve this core calling and continually discerning the voice of the Spirit of God as she stirs up a chafing with the confines of an organisation are just some of the ways we can respond to the adaptive challenge facing the church today. The foundation has already been laid. It is for us to clear away the debris and build on that foundation as we are enabled and empowered by God. For the sake of God's kingdom.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Creating and creative liminality

In 1990, anarchist and poet Hakim Bey coined the phrase Temporary Autonomous Zone, to describe a place and time where normal rules and roles were suspended, where alternative realities could be imagined without the harshness of judgment or ridicule or what he saw as inevitable betrayal.
In a TAZ, beauty and peace are undisturbed, undefiled, and creativity is given free rein.
A simplistic example might be waking up to find that it had snowed heavily overnight, roads were blocked, schools were closed... People would abandon their plans for the day, they would clear the snow from their neighbours' path, ensure the elderly and infirm had food and warmth - they might even get together, have fun in the snow and drink hot chocolate together... I'm sure you get the picture.
In that state of suspension, that Temporary Autonomous Zone, there is space for creativity, for dreaming, for behaving differently. There are no hierarchies and alternative communities are created.
It struck me that we could use a few TAZs in the church - suspension of rules and roles, space to dream and create, where there are no critics or saboteurs, no systems to consider and maintain. No need to think about what happens when the snow melts and everyone retreats to their customary places, where getting caught up in the mission of God was unhindered by structures and negativity.
And, who knows, maybe some of that would stick even after the TAZ had been dismantled....

Friday, 10 March 2017

Redistribution and Growth - a Conundrum

Matthew 9:36 - 10:1
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!"
The Twelve Harvest Hands
The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.

I'm trying to process conflicting and contradictory concepts at the moment:
Concepts that I think may be key in our moving from an inherited model of church to a Missional model. Concepts that may signal the difference between being engaged in the Mission of God and ensuring the survival of an institution.
Please be clear that what I share is my questioning, not criticism and not solutions.
A phrase I've heard numerous times in the last few weeks is: "we must stop taking minsters out of the parish ministry pool". And yet, a growing phenomenon in the Church of Scotland at present (and one that is being actively encouraged) is the influx of ministers ordained to word and sacrament from other (selective) countries. To increase our pool, we diminish another pool.
We are also engaged in a huge recruitment exercise, largely aimed at under 45s, assessing those who respond using robust but traditional methods and then slotting those who survive that into a programme of training and theological education that is generic.
Stefan Paas suggested at a recent conference that, if a person has been able to endure the prescribed route into parish ministry, which includes the rigour of gaining a theological degree, they are unlikely to have the necessary skills for entrepreneurial or pioneer ministry.
And yet, haven't those called to ministry been prepared to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to get to a place or to gain the recognition required to practice ministry in all its forms? Operating within the confines of an institution should not mean that, when the opportunity presents itself, one shouldn't be released into a Missional calling.
And, if the reshaping God is about today signals anything, it is that renewal will come from the fringes and leadership will grow there too. Structures and compliance tend to squash that growth on the margins. 
It seems that, more than ever, we need to hold things lightly, using structure to equip and empower rather than curtail. And that this freedom should extend to the growth of new leaders as well as being extended to those chafing within the confines of the institution.
So, how do we hold lightly and yet not subscribe to an "anything goes" approach to ministry?
How do we honour our Presbyterian need for good order while responding to the ravages of the Spirit, allowing the Spirit to blow through our structures yet maintaining a culture of care and support for those who are dependant on such structures?
Path of Renewal has, from the outset, sought to be an agent of transitioning inherited to Missional, to embrace the adaptive challenge of changing a culture and mindset, to be a movement and not a programme. 
Perhaps that also calls for a more intentional naming of the questions and tensions that are around, the dichotomies with which we engage in this time of upsetting and reshaping. 
And, for sure, it calls for a continued openness to the Spirit of God, showing us the way through the wilderness for this age in all its complexity and confusion.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Adaptive Leadership

We've just begun the process of recruiting for the next tranche of Path of Renewal congregations. I'm always careful about stressing that Path of Renewal is just one of the 'experiments' happening around the edges of the church at the moment. It is by no means a panacea. But, as Stefan Paas helpfully reminded us in our conferences on Pioneer Ministry and on Church in a Secular Age last week, change will be effected from the margins, not from the centre. And true innovation cannot be controlled or packaged - for then it ceases to be innovative. But if we can support people while they engage with a culture of experimentation, we leave room for the Spirit to enliven and embolden our efforts.
Much of what we are about in Path of Renewal is bringing to life the principles outlined in the Church Without Walls report of 2001.
Among questions I was asked yesterday are - Why 15 years on are we any more likely to act on the Church Without Walls Report? And how will Path of Renewal seek to do that?
One, perhaps obvious, answer to the first question is that the statistics of decline have only continued to get worse. 
Another answer may be that the prayers of the faithful have led to a new breath of the Spirit.
A third strand is that we are recognising that what is facing the church right now is an Adaptive Challenge that calls for Adaptive Leadership.
Heifetz and Linsky have written much about this. When "problems" can no longer be solved with the tools readily at hand, it's time to experiment with new things that allow us to engage with a new culture. This is not about survival but about thriving in a changed and changing environment.
None of us would deny that the church finds itself in a dramatically altered landscape. To thrive in such a terrain means that we have to sift through the things of our past, retain or reclaim what is still useful in our new environment, jettison those things that hold us back, and find new solutions, new methods of engagement with our culture today.
That will call for adaptive leaders - leaders who, fuelled by ancient practices of prayer, scripture and sacraments are willing not to look for a quick fix but to try out new ways of engagement, new ways of being church today, leaders who are able to hold their nerve and not resort to grasping hold of the latest programme or latest trend but who recognise these as temporary fixes that won't build the resilience that being involved in the mission of God demands of us today.
It's fair to say that most of the ministers currently involved in Path of Renewal recognise that the biggest transformation has been in them. Adaptive challenge calls for adaptive leaders.
It's time, not to ditch the DNA of the church but to change it so that it will thrive and be strengthened for today.
#AMovementnotaProgramme

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Honest wrestling

2 Corinthians 4:1-2 (The Message)
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
One of the things I probably love best about Path of Renewal is the, sometimes brutal, honesty of the ministers who are currently grappling with the question of how to be church today, each in their different contexts, each attempting to discern where God is already at work. These are ministers who are not afraid of speaking the truth about how difficult becoming Missional really is. Ministers who are not about to lure others into a false sense of ease. Ministers who are prepared to admit that, every time they think they might just have "got it" something shifts and they have to start again, albeit from a slightly different place with, perhaps, just a little more understanding of what it is we are about. Ministers who understand that seeking to transform the inherited model of church, changing mindsets, begins with our personal transformation.
In spite of all the challenges, however, all of those who have engaged with Path of Renewal are committed to staying the course, journeying on, making the most of the glimpses of God along the way.
Today we shared a little of that in a conference looking at the church in a secular age, at which there was a great mix of practitioners from different denominations, with differing theologies and involving lots of partnerships and agents of change.
One of my favourite moments of today's conference came when one of the Path of Renewal ministers said: "Starting Path of Renewal was like having a very large boot removed from my spiritual throat."
Another minister shared the realisation that it might be more helpful to be slightly inept as a congregational leader - that makes it more natural to enable others and make space for them to discover and exercise their own gifts and calling. (Some would call that skilled ministry)
Today's conference was the second of two conferences with Stefan Paas, a Dutch theologian who shared his research, insights, reflections and practical experience of Pioneering ministry and church planting. It was affirming to hear so many of the struggles we are experiencing in the church in Scotland reflected in the European context and to consider the wrestling we must continue to do together. And it's good to do that with folk who are brutally honest about the complexity and sometimes hostility of the road ahead.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Reefing the sails

Mark 2:27
Then Jesus said to them: "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath..."
When I crewed for sailing friends, I didn't particularly like it when we had to reef the mainsail - that inevitably meant we were in for a bumpy ride! Of course it made things a lot safer but it also made the boat seem heavier, more sluggish, as though it didn't like being curtailed in its movement and freedom. I enjoyed shaking out the sails when we'd come through the worst of a storm and loved the feel of  the yacht restored to full power - as it was made to be.
There is a tendency in the Church of Scotland for folks to constantly operate under reefed conditions, blaming the structure and the constitution for imposing rules that limit freedom in all sorts of ways. Jesus often pointed out to the Pharisees how laws should permit us to be free rather than curtailed - free to love, free to be generous, free to embrace the other in our midst.
The popularity of the recent content of the Chalmers Lectures, focussing on reforming the church and its structures signalled a readiness to embrace change that takes cognisance of the post-Christendom era in which the church operates today and find new ways of working that will enable congregations and individuals to embrace the culture in which we find ourselves, discovering anew God's mission in the midst of that, a mission in which God invites us to participate.
Perhaps, before we change structures we need to rediscover to what it is we are being called . Once we have discerned our place in the Mission of God, we'll be able to put things in place that support and enable that calling. When we've shaken out the sails, allowed the wind of the Spirit to take us where she will, we can then adjust the tiller and follow where she leads, working out what we need to keep us on course as we go.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Making language work


"Putting missional on as a modifier to church missed the point in the book Missional Church because it turned the conversation back to the church. That was a mistake because it became a conversation about saving our story called church. What's happening is a massive unraveling of our church story. There is no putting that story back together. Instead as the modern church continues to die, experiments will develop as people explore the connections of gospel and culture. There they will discern Gods activity in this current culture. And what emerges will be very different." Alan Roxburgh ATCO2015

It's difficult to find descriptors for what we are about in Path of Renewal. Many of the words we are wont to use have become passé or are used in different, sometimes unhelpful ways, leading to confusion and misunderstanding.
Missional is just one of those words...
Pushed to define what we mean when we speak of being Missional perhaps we can do no better than resort to the words of the gospel:
Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Matthew 10:5-8

Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'Matthew 25:40

Doing and telling. Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in word and action. Experimenting, not from the safety of our sanctuaries in words and rituals we've practiced and honed to attract but with tools less familiar and beyond our comfort and expertise. 
Becoming Missional seems like a slow process involving us laying down what we think we know to catch up with the new thing that God is about - Finding connections we might not have envisaged and living with the unpredictability of what the Spirit reveals of God's activity in our neighbourhoods. 

In the end, it is not the descriptors that matter so much as the evidence of our involvement, with God, in pointing to all that brings fullness of life to all of creation, starting with the communities in which we live and work.