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. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Acts 10:25-29
On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

We imagine the apostle Peter, who learned hard lessons as a disciple of Jesus, would have a handle on living the gospel faithfully in the culture in which he was rooted. But then he meets Cornelius and his foundations are shaken. Each converts the other to a new way of being in the world, in the kingdom work of joining God in mission.

Meeting last week to review the journey that is Path of Renewal, we spoke of the unraveling and dismantling that has confronted and challenged us as we seek ways of faithfully being disciples in our culture today.
The work of discerning where and how God invites us to join in mission for this age involves relinquishing our hold on things we thought we had learned and the laying down of skills we thought we had mastered to make room for new possibilities that God sets before us. Being involved in God's mission renders us novices instead of the seasoned professionals we previously considered ourselves. We find ourselves questioning all that we thought we knew.*
It's hard work - and it's tempting to return to the status quo, where we feel slightly better equipped and where we perhaps better fulfil the expectations of others. Life would be so much easier if we could stick with what we think we know. (Perhaps!)
But, having glimpsed that preferred and promised future that God lays before us and beckons us to pursue, we cannot turn back, no matter how awkward the terrain or how slow the journey.
We are compelled by the God of mission to keep on seeking out the Cornelius's who challenge us to broaden our horizons, to change our mindsets, to embrace a new commitment to discipleship and to keep on following God whose mission we are about.
And so the hard work of listening to God, of forging and deepening relationships, of letting go, of laying down our professionalism, of encouraging and empowering others and of continually re-aligning our notion of mission to that of God become the things that we take up every day - the tools and the work of the Kingdom. The great unraveling!

*Ministers involved in Path of Renewal Pilot have from 2 to 30 years experience!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Discerning the task

Mark 1:35-39
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Discerning the focus of the ministry to which each of us is uniquely called is not an easy task.
There are so many distractions and seductions that lie in wait diverting us from that one thing that is ours to do.
And rarely do we have the opportunity to step aside and take time to enquire of God: What is it you would have me do?
Our lives are lived fast paced in the melee of juggling so many demands and calls and opportunities - in being busy.
To say no to anything that seems like it might extend the love and grace of God to others is a risk we are unwilling to take. We hate to disappoint. We live in fear of that one time we held back being the time we might be involved in kingdom work with God.
Discernment is crucial.
So, too, is creating the space to dabble.
Creating space, the foundations of which are listening, love, grace and forgiveness, that allows trial - and error, that encourages stepping out and embraces return, that fosters growth even when pulling back, and that provides a safety net for risks undertaken.
Finding that one thing requires resisting seduction but, rather, taking time to listen, finding courage to try and embracing both hope that we are in tune with the heartbeat of God and forgiveness when we miss the mark, along with resilience to learn and to try again.
...for that is what I came out to do.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Escape to Egypt

Matthew 2:13-14

The Escape to Egypt
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

The season of Epiphany is not just about gifts and stars and wise travellers but also about fear and flight and a whole caravan of slaughter. Those wise visitors left chaos in their wake. They stirred up the fears of a nation, precipitated the slaughter of innocents and the Son of God was forced to seek the relative safety of Egypt.
Egypt as safe space or as a refuge is a recurrent theme in Scripture. When the people of God became disillusioned in the wilderness, they longed for the familiarity of Egypt, conveniently forgetting the oppressive regime they had endured while slaves in that land.
In the business of transition, which is a slow and often painful process, there will always be the temptation to "return to Egypt" whatever or wherever Egypt may be for us. 
In the midst of disorientation and confusion we will be tempted to settle for what we know, however unhealthy or ineffective we know that to be.
The work of renewal demands that we hold tight through the chaos in the knowledge that, though arduous, the God-inspired journey is worth making however uncomfortable it becomes.
And identifying the "Egypts" in whose safety we are tempted to seek refuge will help us recognise when we are settling for less than the promised land that can only be reached by faithful travelling alongside God.
Our prayer is that, on the journey, God gives us glimpses of affirmation - Epiphanies along the way.

(Coddiwompling: travelling purposely toward an as-yet unknown destination.)

Monday, 21 November 2016

Transformational leadership

John 4:39-42
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
We are transformed so,that the world may be transformed.

Traditional churches will only become missionary churches as those in authority (and even those without formal authority) develop capacity to lead their congregations through a long, truly transformational process that starts with the transformation of the leaders and requires a thoroughgoing change in leadership functioning. Tod Bolsinger: Canoeing the Mountains

While we're taking care to map what we can of our individual and collective journeys on Path of Renewal, we've been reluctant to be too specific about goals and objectives. Because much of the work is the work of discernment - listening deeply for where God is in our lives and in the lives of our communities while listening, too, for God's invitation to mission.
Carving out the time and developing the skills necessary for that discernment is transformational work. It transforms us and, in time, transforms the communities we serve.
As we model our compassion and engagement with those around us on the example of Jesus, we recognise the nudge to get to the heart of the matter, to ask the difficult questions, and to grapple with things that take us out of our comfort zone.
We recognise the need to challenge inherited models of behaviour and interaction, to unlearn what we think we know, to clear out the clutter to make way for what God is revealing to us. And, only once we ourselves have begun that process of transformation can we expect others to join us.
Our teaching is not in what we say but in what we do, in what we model for others to follow. Jesus did not call anyone to go where he himself was not prepared to journey. But neither did he ask his followers to have it all worked out before they began. He required only a commitment to surrender all that we think we know to get started on the journey of transformation.
We've been mapping out some of the transitions we hope to see - but the first transition begins with us transforming the way we model leadership in a post-Christian era, laying down the tools we have to hand and proceeding empty handed along a path that the Spirit only reveals in that place of listening, that scary place where we are disarmed and recreated, equipped and transformed for leadership in such a time as this.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Keeping up with the Spirit

Conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder.
Ed Friedman - A failure of nerve

It's much easier to tweak programmes, to step up on strategy and to put more effort into delivering on expectations than to step aside, take time out and imagine a new future.
It's easier to work harder at what we know than to embrace what is uncertain and requires learning new skills and, crucially, a different mindset.
On Path of Renewal, we're confronting that with varying degrees of boldness because we recognise an opportunity to redefine church in a post-Christendom era, we have discerned something of God's spirit ahead of us and, quite frankly, we have seen that our current practice and structures are not sufficient for the age we now inhabit. So why would tinkering with those practices or rearranging those structures when the premise on which they were built (a Christendom era) no longer prevails?
What, though, of those for whom the old ways do still seem to be working? What of those wedded to a system, with the resources to keep things running for some time to come, who see no need to do things any other way and, for whom, initiating any radical changes would result in loss, whose immediate context does not mirror the rapidly changing culture with which others are grappling?
Our mission is not to change how others "do church" but to faithfully listen to the Spirit's leading where we are. To listen to and follow God into the places we are called to serve and be served and to continue listening for the voice of God on the fringes and in the heart of the communities we inhabit.
And, in doing that, to share our stories, to gather evidence of God at work and the divine invitation to get involved, to persist in the face of obstacles spurred on by God's affirmation of our calling to be faithful. To learn lessons that may be shared but, first of all, to be obedient to and shaped by God at work in our lives and in our context.

John 14:25-27
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.