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.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Transforming the world

Isaiah 43:18-19
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

How can we embrace, today, the notion that God wants to do a new thing in the world? We, who sense God's calling to go in a new direction, to venture on paths whose terrain is unfamiliar and which lead to God knows where?
How can we who are often trained or have become ingrained in "doing the church thing", learn new ways, wrestle with new questions, explore different connections and keep on listening to God and to those around us, the communities in which we are called, along with our neighbour, to be church?
How can we risk letting go of what we know and step out empty handed along a way we have nor determined, mapped out or set?
We, who are trained and equipped to preach, to teach, to answer questions, to be the keepers of the faith, how can we journey with the stranger and, together, grapple with what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?
We, who know how to set (and to protect or fence) the table are called to throw caution to the winds and sit at table with those who haven't learned table etiquette.
Walking in that unfamiliar landscape requires humility, demands listening to and learning from others, it involves letting go of things long cherished and of holding lightly the new things that we learn in the knowledge that the God of every journey is working a transformation in us for the sake of the world.
And to do all this, not from a place of scarcity or fear of decline and loss but from a conviction of the sufficiency - even abundance - of God's grace!
The good news is that the Spirit of God is already ahead of us, transforming the world, transforming our communities, ready to surprise us in our transformation.
This new thing is not for those who prefer good order, clean lines and clear definitions.
To get caught up in the new thing that God is doing is like opening a sparkly Christmas card, covered in glitter - you can be sure that, long after, you'll be finding glitter in places you never expected - and certainly in places you didn't want it to be.
God is doing a new thing - reshaping and recreating the body of Christ in the world. Dare we dive in and be a part of that?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Failure as learning

“We can fail, but we can’t suck.”
Tod Bolsinger: Canoeing the Mountains

This is one of my favourite quotes from Canoeing The Mountains.
In a church culture which is encouraging and investing in experiments on the fringes, it's an important premise to hold. 
Unfortunately institutions, not least that of the Church, tend to be risk averse. 
History reveals that often organisations, in times of change, enter a self preservation mode, becoming inward looking, redrawng boundaries, revising policies and structures, hoping that tweaking and redefining what is familiar will ensure survival. 
But it is those organisations that can look outward, adapt to culture, be informed and learn from those on the fringes or outside the organisation that are more likely to weather the storm. 
An institution that is prepared to listen to and engage with a changing culture rather than defaulting to what is known and safe (and no longer works) is more likely to find a way through a constantly changing environment.
Asking different questions also helps.
It is the listening and engaging that enables experimentation to be better thought out and implemented  - and less likely to suck! 
Experiments thought through, even when their outcomes are not immediately clear, produce more learning - whether or not they work.
So, in this time of change for the church as an institution, a healthy culture of experimentation will enable learning even from failure.
In order to "not suck" creating a platform for telling the stories of experimentation and disseminating learning as we go will be important markers along the way.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Chaotic beginnings

Acts 6:1
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

Gird your loins...
Wake up and smell the coffee..
Suck it up...
... and other euphemisms come to mind to describe how we might respond to the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.

"When you stand before people and tell them that in order to accomplish a mission, they have to change, adapt, give up something for the greater good, work with those they don’t like or compromise on something they care about, they get mad . They get really mad. Mostly, they get mad at you , and this is exactly the sign that transformation is beginning to happen.(Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains)

I'm reading Canoeing the Mountains alongside re-reading Ed Friedman's Failure of Nerve - which is providing a very helpful focus for the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.
Listening deeply to both God and our communities, asking the right kind of questions, hearing the stories, both ancient and modern and, through those practices, discerning God's invitation to join in mission takes us into unfamiliar territory. It takes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to confront hard choices. And, in particular, although we might have known support when we were "saying the right things", encouraging folk to consider their focus and purpose alongside God, it's a whole other matter when it's time to move from talking mission to living mission. Often, our role in that part of the process, aside from exemplifying change is to provide a non-anxious presence when accompanying others through change - confronting the outward and the inward effects of transition - and to do this effectively while processing our own inner journey because mission is not a solo pursuit but a journey we make alongside others. It's also about holding our nerve when it seems that folk no longer like us, something that none of us find easy. It is indeed cold comfort to know that this signals the beginning of the transformation of which we dream.