Monday, 5 September 2016

Living a questionable life

1 Peter 3:15
Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.

As we prepare to embark on a new season in Path of Renewal, our hope will be to persuade congregations at large that they have a crucial part to play in evangelism today.
That will require lots to affirmation and assurance. It will require winning over those who, in the past, have felt inadequate or turned off by the stereotype of the evangelist who stands on the street corner or in the back courts haranguing folk to follow Jesus. It will require the reclaiming of the term "questionable lives" so that those who hold office in our congregations and those who don't will see themselves as evangelists - those who are always prepared to "explain the hope they have in them ... with gentleness and respect." - confidently sharing why church is important to them, why they choose to spend Sundays in worship or week nights involved in church activities, being open about how they spend their time so that folk will want to question why they spend their time engaged in the work of the church.
As well as dismantling stereotypes, we also want to encourage people to recall those who faithfully and gently mentored and nurtured them in faith - those who cared when they didn't show up at Bible Class or Youth Fellowship or some other church activity, those who inspired and influenced them, and those who walked quietly alongside them. There are many stories residing in memories, perhaps not visited for some time. By recalling those, the hope is that otherwise diffident folk will embrace the possibility that, today, they have all that it takes to walk with others, to encourage others into and through faith.
Changing a mindset is no easy task but perhaps a first step is tapping into shared stories and memories, demythologising the task of evangelism, and restoring it to a normative place in our culture today.
Matthew 10:10
You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Making the old new

Winston Churchill said 
"One of the signs of a great society is the diligence with which it passes culture from one generation to the next. This culture is the embodiment of everything the people of that society hold dear: its religious faith, its heroes.....when one generation no longer esteems it's own heritage and fails to pass the torch to its children, it is saying in essence that the very foundational principles and experiences that make the society what it is are no longer valid. This leaves that generation without any sense of definition or direction, making them the fulfillment of Karl Marx's dictum, 'A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.' What is required when this happens and the society has lost its way, is for leaders to arise, who have not forgotten the discarded legacy and who love it with all their hearts. They can then become the voice of that lost generation, wooing an errant generation back to the faith of their fathers, back to the ancient foundations and bedrock values...
(Never Give In, The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, Page 190)

I've been pondering the above quote since I came across the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Paris - and I'm conflicted by its sentiment.
On the one hand, I want to claim its veracity as an encouragement to recover the roots of our Celtic spirituality, to mine the riches of that particular seam of Christian heritage, to return to a faith rooted in the earth and in social justice, particularly in response to the world today.
But, on the other hand, history (and heritage) is always composed and contextualised by one generation to make sense of the past for the next and thus given a perspective that may only be true in the eyes of the narrator.
In our heritage of faith, what is truth and what is relevant for this generation? Surely it is more helpful, not to bequeath a culture but to pass on tools with which to engage fully with the intricacies and peculiarities of life today. Tools that build resilience, that foster hope, that allow discovery of meaning. Those tools don't come neatly packaged but emerge out of careful consideration and discernment alongside those with whom they are fashioned. We don't indiscriminately hand on or plunder our heritage but, rather, sift and weigh what is of use for each generation.
Our task is not to woo a lost generation back to irrelevant practices but to create opportunity to see how those ancient rhythms connect with life today, to create space for contemplation, to create opportunity for action, to build community and accountability.
The heritage of faith is not an entity that one generation bequeaths to another but a feast from which one selects courses that appeal. And lest that suggests a lack of depth, there is the assurance of the prayers of the saints through the ages harnessing and releasing the power of the spirit, enabling wisdom and insight and revealing the presence of God at work in the world.
People of faith are the connectors, discerning God at work, creating sign posts and offering practices that create supportive communities in which individuals can find belonging and, together, create new stories.
Ours is not to woo but, rather, out of respect for our shared heritage of faith, to wade in to the melee, offering our vulnerability and love for our world today, forging new meaning from ancient ways.

Sunday, 24 July 2016


Genesis 18:32
Then Abraham said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.

Luke 11:1
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

From Wikipedia:
Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.

Google's BHAG is: To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Facebook's BHAG is: To make the world more open and connected.

It was audacity that saw Abraham asking God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if even 10 righteous souls could be found (having worked his way down from 50).
It was audacity that led the disciples to ask Jesus: Teach us to pray.
What part does Audacity play in our Missional strategies today?
In our medium - long term goals, is there a place for audacity?
The audacity that causes those who look on with suspicion to question our sanity?
The audacity that is possible because we trust in God who specialises in the impossible?
The audacity that dares the Kingdom of God to break out in the midst of a world where people are subjected to prejudice, violence, injustice and abuse of power, a world that breaks God's heart, 

BHAGs create a sense of unity in teams working together toward a common vision as well as offering a stretch beyond what is, perhaps, considered realistic.
The very audacity, however, motivates those involved to reach that bit further to achieve what others consider beyond reach.
Changing the mindset and culture of the church might well be a BHAG, one that might take more than a generation to achieve but the audacity must begin somewhere. 
In discovering ways to be church in our cultures today, we continue to practice audacity, sharing stories along the way that speak of breakthroughs and of set backs. We hold on for the long term, doing all that we can, always asking boldly for the force of God's Holy Spirit to show us the way, for the breath of God to breathe in us and for the life of God to flow through us, changing hearts, changing minds, starting from where we are.
That's a BHAG for sure!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Bathed in prayer

Matthew 9:37 - 10:1
"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've always been grateful for the Prayer Warriors who have surrounded me with prayer through life - praying for me to explore faith, to find faith, to commit, to discern and then follow a vocation, to have courage, to step up, to remain and to relax in God and to find adventure in following the unpredictable Spirit as she leads in escapades that could never have been planned or anticipated.
Often, when people have been apologetic about not being "actively" involved in ministry, I have offered consolation by assuring them that they might engage in prayer.
And yet, prayer is not a consolation, but the energy in every venture.
Prayer is not an optional extra or an add on but the grounding of faith in action.
Praying for - as well as stepping up to be - harvest hands demands that we are bathed in prayer as surely as we scrub our faces in the morning.
Entering the harvest demands that we pay as much attention to our prayer life as we do to recruiting and energising and building relationships and being "out there doing ministry", and yet it is one of the most difficult routines to cultivate and one of the first we let slip under pressure.
And, while most of us are prepared to admit our weaknesses in some areas of ministry, we rarely admit to how much we struggle with the disciplines of prayer - that seems a step too far in our vulnerability.
In some ways, with the variety of apps available to us (like centering prayer or pray as you go) it should be easier to cultivate a discipline in prayer but the ever increasing demands of ministry lure us away from stillness and contemplation. And we probably scorn those who assert that such contemplation can be found on the morning commute or as we load the dishwasher or as we return from the school run....
As long as we see prayer as "taking time out" we are unlikely to make it a priority in our lives. Would it make a difference if we saw prayer as "putting time in?" It seems that we're more likely to take on something extra than take time away from those activities we see as core in ministry. And while most of us would assert that prayer is core, we still manage to consider it as requiring time that we simply don't have.
Engagement in any ministry and especially ministry on the edge can be isolating and pressured and the very least we can gift to ourselves is doing whatever it takes to find a way to be bathed in prayer - asking others to pray and finding a regular, habitual way to pray ourselves.
How do habits develop? By doing the same thing over and over. Once a habit is established it can be varied and developed but the first step is in forming a habit.
I firmly believe that, often, God acts with us and in spite of us. Our chaotic prayer life will not thwart the Spirit's efforts but grounding and bathing ourselves in prayer may bring us affirmation and consolation, insight and inspiration - that edge that sustains us through the desert, that irrigates and refines hopes and dreams and brings the impetus to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.
May our mundane habit of prayer become a power house in the work of the kingdom wherever we are, fuelling the work of the harvest in ways we would never have imagined - for the glory of God.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The real thing

Acts 2:46-47

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I once worked with a small rural congregation, in a village small enough for everyone to know each other fairly well. One winter, going over the accounts with office bearers, a heated discussion developed over the price of heating oil and, before I could refocus folks' attention back to church finances, receipts were being produced from pockets and all were commiserating with one another about the shocking price of fuel. I smiled benevolently.
Similarly, in a larger congregation, with a bigger number of office bearers, when we were discussing members with whom we no longer had contact because they had apparently moved out of the address we had on the roll, a lengthy story unfolded of the comings and goings of neighbours and the growing incidence of buy to let properties in the area. Anxious to move the business on to accommodate a full agenda, I was impatient and frustrated.
And yet, both of these moments were kairos moments. Both were opportunities to stop and take stock. To learn about what affected and concerned members, what affected and concerned the community we served. Be it the price of fuel or sort term tenancies.
How often do we miss such moments from which we can learn and through which we might better serve?
In a quest to be efficient and to maintain good order - or just to get out of the building at a reasonable hour, we pass up opportunities to learn and grow together. And the bigger our agenda, the more tasks we have to tick off, the more positions we have to fill, the further we move from the core of our calling - to love God and to love one another. The tensions that arise out of trying to function efficiently erode the business of being community together, a community of love, gathered around the living word of God.
Perhaps we can learn to live with being less efficient. Perhaps we can learn to accommodate gaps, discern that they are there for a reason and a season, rather than stress over them. Perhaps we can learn that all the programmes in the world cannot replace relationships. And in learning all this, perhaps we can remember that the God of love calls us to be - to be with God and with one another.
Learning anew how to be church rather than do church.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Heart and Soul 2016

A reflection shared at Heart and Soul 2016
It's been a joy and a privilege to journey with the folks on Path of Renewal exploring what it means to be Involved with God in God's mission today - something that is different in every context and for every community but that has some basic principles, and even some ancient ways.
In our last gathering on Path of Renewal, we were re-imagining discipleship for today, looking again at Jesus example, at how he made disciples and modelled discipleship.
Discipleship is playing a huge part in our journeying together.
We're wresting with the question: How can we be disciples and how can we make disciples today?
Of course there are lessons to be learned from People of the Way all through Scripture as they journeyed on paths Unknown:
The Psalmists - saw themselves as People of the Way - in light and in darkness, in their brightest moments and in their trials.
They saw the presence and the word of God lighting up the way ahead for them at every turn.
In Psalm 23, we read: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me by still waters - Describing an ancient path and an ancient promise.
The Psalmists' route was never an easy one, nor straightforward. 
But they travelled with hope and with vision.
It's that kind of hope and that kind of vision that sustain People of the Way today.
To get to those green pastures and those still waters involves, first of all, negotiating some fairly difficult dry scrub land, places, it seems, with which we're more familiar - sometimes places in which we are tempted to linger because they are so well-known and well-loved.
But God's vision for us is for so much more - green pastures and still waters.
Today, God still leads us to those places of abundance. For that is Gods will for all Gods people.
Our calling is to live into and out of that abundance, to recapture the vision and the promise of God as people of the way for this age.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

People of the Way #GA2016

Some of the congregations involved in Path of Renewal have been reflecting on this year's General Assembly and Heart and Soul theme: People of the Way.
This from Carol Anne Parker, minister at Alloa: Ludgate

How does the Path of Renewal allow you to explore your calling as 'People of the Way'?
It's not just buildings that make us static, it's minds too. We get used to doing things a certain way, and in the end don't think too much about them. And if we're honest perhaps we can admit that most of what we think of as innovation or doing differently is really just playing around with the edges. The Path of Renewal is at the very least about encouraging us to ask questions about all of that. And to ponder the frightening but ultimately freeing question, is there a more faithful way for us to be together as People of the Way? 

What excites you about the Path of Renewal?
You know, I don't want to get to retirement and find all I have to show is a tally of how many funerals I shared in or how many times I preached through the lectionary cycle or whatever. I want to laugh into older age, I want to chuckle at stories of daring, of risks taken, of helping each other up when things went wrong. I want to marvel at how folk who never thought of bringing their light to the church's door found faith for life simply because we were willing to be with them, really be with them, where they were. That's God's work. But the Path of Renewal might just help us along that way. That's what excites me. 

What challenges is the Path of Renewal helping you overcome?
The Path of Renewal is giving us a language to speak about why things are the way they are for mainline denominations in the West. This is by and large a time of decline for the church but that is not to say that people do not feel an itch to explore faith's questions. The fact remains, though, that people are not generally looking to the church to explore those questions. The Path of Renewal is helping us to understand the reasons this might be so. And to find ways to share our faith that resonate with people here and now.