Sunday, 31 January 2010

Football - what can it teach us?

A quick break from 'Just' war. Listening to the Arsenal - Manchester United game it seems obvious that not only have Arsenal let any chance of the FA Cup slip from their grasp but they have also shot down their Premier League Championship hopes as well now. So what can football teach us now I wonder?

Humility? Try being an Arsenal supporter tomorrow, especially if you work with Man U or Chelski fans, I think humility (or a place to hide) will be a necessity.

Honesty? Was the referee as biased as will be claimed (or was it merely incompetence)? What was the truth and will you engage with it?

Hope? Hope in men, even those overpaid, over-inflated ego superstars is flawed and destined to lead to failure. Best put your hope in God - He'll never let you down.

Patience? Been a long time since any silverware was lifted by an Arsenal player (excluding of course the Youth and ladie's teams). How comes people are so patient with their teams when they exhibit so little patience with people - how can we get this virtue to cross into our faith life?

There's more to consider, but this will do for now and I leave you with a question:

What do you gain from your sport and how does it add to (or diminish) your faith life?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

'Just' War and the Bible

When wearing my uniform I often get the question, "How can a Christian be a soldier? The Bible tells us that we should not kill and yet you obviously condone it!" What a great starting point for our discussion because our first step hits a much quoted misconception in that what, as I understand it, the Bible actually says in Exodus chapter six (verse thirteen - commandment six) is - "You shall not commit murder."

Murder is the felonious taking of life. If someone walks down a street and shoots an innocent passer-by they have committed murder; If someone is convicted of a capital crime and is hanged, injected, shot or whatever - they have been killed (although the means are questionable perhaps, this is still the case); if someone engaged in a war and loses their life they are killed whereas those who are not (Civillians and others with 'protected' status under the Geneva conventions) they are murdered. Easy isn't it?

This of course gives us our first statement in that "
Being engaged in a 'Just' and legal war does not automatically, or correctly, confer the status of murderer!" Although of course naughtiness and other excesses such as lack of proportionality, targeting wrong places or people might just render those being naughty as 'war criminals'. This is an important point - morally and Biblically!

Now, can we find the Bible supporting engagement with others in military ways? I guess we might just find a clue when it comes to dealing with 'naughty' people in 1 Samuel, chapter fifteen (verses two and three):

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Looks like God says that acting against aggressors is justified doesn't it? And before someone starts a debate about being a cruel, hateful or wicked God can I point out that the putting everyone and everything, smashing up the happy homes and salting the ground is actually all about peace. It removes the prospect of re-ignited conflict from geographic or bloodlines (What we call a 'feud'). So, our second statement is that this: 
"Those who act against others and take up arms and murder will find themselves acted against and they will use force - real force!"

Defending the weak? Perhaps we could toss in Psalm Eighty-Two (verse three):
"Defend the poor and the fatherless - do justice to the afflicted and needy." Seems to me that we are seeing a principle emerge here. We are to act for those who are unable to act for themselves and as I understand it, this means to take up arm in the ways described in the previous post. So statement the third has to be, "defend the weak, the homeless, the orphaned in whichever ways you can - supporting them financially, providing health care, ensuring they are fed and just to make sure that whatever you do or send isn't dissipated or come to nothing - be prepared to take up arms to set the conditions for relief and aid to be effective. i.e. stop genocide, murder, oppressive regimes and general wickedness."

Pacifism is great - you just need to be prepared to fight for it!

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet Bellum - Therefore, he who desires peace should (first) prepare for war

Friday, 29 January 2010

It's 'Just' War

I am finding myself grabbed and engaged in discussion with people I don't know regarding the Iraq enquiry and as a dog-collar I am expected to pronounce whether or not it, and just about every other, war is 'just'.

I seem to take a different perspective on this whole topic from some but I guess that I see this from the perspective that all war, regardless, is an 'unwanted' sport BUT that war is also, at times, a necessary evil. I also work on the theory that wars can indeed be 'just' and 'good' and can, and should, be supported. Contrary to what some appear to believe, a soldier regards the best battle as one where no shots are fired, no one is killed or wounded and the desired result is achieved. Soldiers do not like war and the truism that 'soldiers fight wars - politicians start them' is just a little too obvious (so why keep telling me this?). As I understand it, Tony Blair is being challenged over is the 'right to engage in war' ('Jus ad Bellum'), did we have it?

Was there a just cause to engage with the forces of Saddam Hussien. This 'just cause' requires more than making amends for what has been done, there has to be a real and present danger to life which requires an 'act of war' to remove this threat. (This is where WMD was a biggie!). Now when the marsh arabs were being eradicated or when the Kurds were being killed by use of chemical warfare, this was a breach of several international (and Biblical laws) - this would have given clear evidence of 'Jus as Bellum'. That said, had there been any intention by those looking to engage to remove a legally elected and constituted government, this would have rendered the action illegal. This raises another concern - was there intent to remove Saddam and his government from power and install a government of their own making before they entered then this war would have been unlawful and to engage thus would be to have committed a criminal act.

Often, at this stage, we look at the potential for a successful outcome and should it look like one is not in the offing, diplomatic means are engaged rather than military and even if victory is assured, there has to be evidence that diplomacy has at least been tried and that there is no other choice open to us. It is up to us to decide, when we've heard the evidence, whether or not the decisions which took us into Iraq were legal or otherwise (of course some will flap their Grauniads and tut whilst others, waving their Daily Fascists, will defend the action to the hilt - neither side letting facts get in the way!).

So there is a great deal that we need to be considering (as citizens of Great Britain) and this is a separate issue from the conduct of the actual engagement, the 'Jus in Bello' (right behaviour in war).

There is also a great deal that we need to be considering as citizens of a heavenly kingdom and we can move onto this shortly, but having looked at the areas before us - what do you think the realities are and how should we be seeing ourselves, our allies and what is the right and proper response?

You decide - it's your right!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Obviously didn't listen to their Mothers!

Last weekend the football team I support, I have no choice it's genetic, managed to lose badly to another team who were quite a way below them in terms of skill and ability. The reason was that the manager of the team chose to play only two of his first team and fill the remainder of the team selection with kids, people returning from injury and a boy scout who was on work experience (well I assume that who the fifteen year old was!). They lost 3-1 and it transpires that good old Arsene had decided that being in the chase for the premiership title and the prospect of the Champions League were sufficient for him to ignore the FA Cup.

Well, the gamble was put to the test and Arsenal were held to a competitive but nevertheless nil-nil draw. Thus it has become obvious that the strategy of 'resting' the majority of the first team so that they could arrive in the Midlands fresh and fit to take all three points was perhaps a little flawed and therefore Arsenal has not only 'dissed' Stoke by playing an under strength side but lost their place in a competition I personally would have liked us still to be in (I like Wembley!). Perhaps there's not a French saying about 'putting all one's eggs in one basket' or maybe Arsene's Mum never used it with him.

Moving on, I notice this morning that the AA are attributing an 18% rise in car insurance to the 'claim culture', that wonderful invention of the Americans with its Ambulance chasing and bumper stickers which proclaim, "Send your child to medical school and support the American Insurance Industry!"

Once again I am reminded of my Mum's wise words regarding the fact that one can't have one's cake and eat it. I am amazed by the number of apparently intelligent people (shoes tied and apparently potty trained - must have some degree of intelligence) who can't see that by telephoning Claims whatever with their 'No win - no fee' or their boast that the injured party gets '100% of the damages' that something has to be missing. After all who pays, or this offer pure altruism on the part of the company?

Commonsense says that someone has to pay for the services of these 'Ambulance Chasers' and it isn't too hard a step to realise that the payee must be an insurance company. Now if insurance companies are paying out then this means that they need to recoup that money and the only way to do that, other than robbing banks (which would make a change from banks robbing us I guess), is to up the cost of Insurance.

There's nothing new in not listening to the wisdom of others, during my life to date I have managed to ignore parental advice, God's wisdom and the accumulated wisdom of experience from peers, teachers and random passers by. So why do we do it? What makes us "Do what is right in our own eyes," despite the fact that the source might just have something valid to say, after all, in God's case cane there be any doubt about this being true? And yet we do.

So here's a little thought for us all as we go about our lives today let's remember this paraphrase of Proverbs 4: 6 - 7:

Do not ignore or forsake wisdom and she (yep, wisdom is a 'she') will protect you; Love her and she will watch over you. Wisdom is 'the' important thing, so go out and get it. regardless of the cost, even if it's all you have, develop understanding."

And the cherry on top of this has to be Proverbs 3:5-6:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding and in everything you do acknowledge (and obey) Him and he will make you paths straight."

I pray for flat and straight roads for us all today.

The iPad

The iPad has landed (want one, want one, want one):

 cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Forty Million Lessons to Learn

Last night someone came to me and said, "Whoo Hoo, £40m! Hope you're not going to ask us to make that up in the offering!"

I didn't have a clue what they were on about but was, very quickly, brought up to speed as it seems, once again, the Church Commissioners have gone out and lost a fair amount of money by getting into a couple of property investments (Again!) in the US. These were investments in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a couple of Manhattan housing estates alongside the East River. It's fair to say that they couldn't have foreseen the property bubble bursting - after all they're into profits and not prophets - but bottom line is that they have blown another £40m.

Having done this, the Church Commissioners have now written off the debt and, "Will be looking 'carefully' into the deal to see what lessons could be learned!" Yippee, hallelujah and 'Praise the Lord'! I can probably be of a little help here in that I was taught that the key was to 'buy low - sell high' and that buying into the deal at the top of the market was possibly an indication that it might be the wrong investment to make. Then again, perhaps they thought that the market was just going to rise for ever and they, like the bankers, were merely doing what they do in the same old way and assuming they'd make money!.

Investments are a real pain. When I worked in the financial sector I was amazed by the people in the investments arm of the firm who took money and by cautious, informed and intelligent investing made a comfortable sum year upon year. In fact, as I recall, there was never a year when they made a loss in their own history - not even when the bubbles that have decimated the CofE finaces at least twice were popping - does this tell us something or perhaps raise concerns that need to be addressed I wonder?

So what's the fallout for this? I've already be taunted (nicely) about this three times today. "Going to have to start charging admission fees," I was told by one. "Going to have to sell some of those riches and the flashy properties," said another. Well, it isn't mine of course for I live in an ordinary (leaking roof and problem-ridden) house in an urban priority area but this isn't noticed. Once again the love of money and the CofE is in the public domain. Now there is a blessing - it's stopped some wittering on endlessly about what people to to each other in terms of sexual antics BUT it has raised in the minds of many the fact that they see us (the CofE) as hypocrites when it comes to money (and fools when it comes to managing it).

I have tried to explain that having property and possessions that bring in interest means that there is money in the pot to support the churches and other 'good works' out there and in response I am asked to explain that if this is the case how comes we are told that unless we pay our parish share the dog-collar's existence cannot be guaranteed. I tell them how we have a common pot and share and live as one family and they ask me how comes fifty years ago (some people have long memories) the central church paid eighty percent of the costs of running the whole shebang leaving the parishes to find the remaining twenty percent. You know what - I don't have an answer to that (not even a facile one - which is unusual for me).

Spread across the Dioceses this loss is a measly £909,090.90 each - at our present rate of parish share we will pay that in just over five hundred and five years. It's going to be hard for some of us to encourage giving and real financial support for the places we find ourselves ministering in the light of this news(thankfully I don't see us having that problem) and I wonder if there will be 'lessons learnt' or will we merely see belts pulled tighter and more veiled threats relating to the sustainability of congregations because of it. Perhaps we need to rationalise those financial, administrative and other types and realise that unless we have congregations out there we won't see people come to Christ and of course, if they don't hear and come, how will they pay?

This is not an issue that should cause us to panic - it just tells us that perhaps we need to be trusting in the Lord a little more and in bankers and the like a little less. Now, how do I answer the text message I've had that's asking me if we're going to hold a jumble sale to help make up the loss?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Life - in all its foolishness

I am rather confused by the story relating to the death of a woman who took her own life, or was 'helped' by her Mum or whatever. Confused because everyone is applauding the decision of a court and the fact that this life has ended. On the same news programme there was a report about a young man who, after an error by the hospital, was left cerebrally palsied. He  communicated by typing with his nose and was studying 'virtual engineering'. Add to this the stories of blokes damaged in rugger accidents who are hailed as heroes because they went of and took their own life and old geezers who entered into suicide pacts with their partners because they we merely 'getting old' and you might see the source of my confusion.

Life is not only no longer sacred it is, apparently, no longer worth anything either. If you can't have 'quality of life' then it seems that it's fair game to end it - after all if you can't contribute to society then you are obviously better off (I didn't say for whom) dead. If you can't play rugger then that's the end of life as we know it and we should all applaud as you go off to some sterile and sanitised killing place and do away with yourself. Funny thing is that the cerebrally palsied man couldn't play rugger, he couldn't do much actually and yet he has in prospect a full and chellenging life ahead of him. What's more important is the fact that he's also looking out for others.

Quality of life? Who is fit to choose who should live and who should die? What makes for a valuable life? What you earn, where you studied, how the world will change because you're in it? To be frank, on these criteria the majority of people I meet could be done away with and no one (except them and those who love them) would feel the impact.

I have to come clean and tell you that I am the father of a son who lived for almost ten years. He was also cerebrally palsied and could do very little, other than smile, and he changed the world of those who met him. Not a long life - no high earner, no good school, no great academic record (although he was a star in his school's Christmas play) and he died when it was time (even though we'd turned off ventilators and played the "Let's let nature take its course" game many times before). He died in his sleep at the time that it was time - no one's decision but God's I guess..

Psalm 139 tells us that 'All the days numbered for us were written in the Lamb's book of life before one of them came to be!" That is that what we get is known and in the book and when we decide to intervene then we take the opportunity to play God.

Trouble is that the felonious taking of life is 'murder' and even though man might remove the felony and applaud the act, I don't think God does! We are appalled at the loss of life in Haiti and yet applaud the taking of comfortable (I don't mean easy - merely western, fat, 'thing rich' comfortable) life because it allows us to play at being God. We're in control and we decide when, and how, we leave this world.

Ironic isn't it that those who will rail at God because of tragedy will applaud those who play at being God with tragic outcomes pre-desired because it interferes with quality of life.

One question - whose?

Success - It's relative!

I received one of those emails, you know the sort. They fill up your 'in box' and ask you to stop whatever you're doing to read  something you can live without (and usually have heard, seen or read before). This morning, whilst labouring over various bits of stuff I got one on success:

At age 4 success is . . . . Not piddling in your pants.

At age 12 success is . . . Having friends.

At age 17 success is . . . Having a driver's licence.

At age 35 success is . . . Having money.

At age 50 success is . . . Having money.

At age 70 success is . .. .Having a drivers licence.

At age 75 success is . . . Having friends.

At age 80 success is . . . Not piddling in your pants.

Seems to me that life is often a 'two visit' affair. A long, long time ago I can still remember (sorry - overactive Don McLean gene kicked in) how, when playing in a folk club for the first time another musician asked me about my music. I was young and enthusiastic and as we talked this really old bloke (he must have been at least forty-five) told me about clubs and audiences and how to work them. He finished the first of our (many) conversations with the sentence. "There are some clubs you visit twice, one on the way up and again on the way back down. It's nice to be back here!"

Since getting the CofE stats a few days back I have been impressed by the way that almost everyone is working hard to find something that speaks of 'success' from them. I have been told that we should see them as encouraging because:
  • We've done well with the children and young people
  • The decrease is less than [insert chosen year]
  • We've become a leaner and more efficient body
  • We can't get much lower - how many more can there actually be that can leave before we stabilise?
The reality is that we don't look like the world and this for me is great. Since the very beginning of our God's dealing with the world, His people have been called to be counter-cultural, why else do you think that we didn't do the piercings, tattoos and homosexuality thing back there in OT Land? The same is true for NT World - counter cultural rules O.K.?

Today is no different. We are called to be a people who live not as 'the world' but as people who are aliens in it and living in ways that are alien to it. It's great that we are outside the world but it's sad that we don't seem to be (generally) bring those in the 'outside' world inside. I use the word 'generally' because I don't think that the statistics show some realities that need to be keep close at hand lest we become doom-ridden and downcast in countenance and spirit. These realities are that the Church is alive and well and doing the stuff. It can be found in the places where the needs are and it can be found building meaningful relationships and taking the Gospel out there to a lost, damaged and hurting world.

Many years ago, in one of my earlier regenerations as an electronics nerd I was called out to a piece of equipment that was killing circuit board components and refusing to do what it was designed to do. I turned up and the techie who'd been leading the faulting team briefed me and at the end told me that there couldn't be a problem because, "Nothing showed up on the oscilloscope!" I looked at the diagrams and realised that the probes of the oscilloscope and the logic analysers were actually connected to the outputs of a board that was further up the chain and, although it was the same type of board as that which kept blowing, was on a completely different circuit and power supply. Five minutes later the 'other' power supply was changed and all was well. We left it a couple of hours so we could make us look good and so we could invent a reason that left our colleague with his dignity and outside of the need to write up a 'report' to those higher ups.

Some of us in Church of England are looking at the measuring equipment and failing to see exactly what is going on with what is before us. In many places there is growth and in many places the reality is that 'the world' is coming into relation ship with God's people and, step by step, with God Himself in that they are coming to faith in Him.

Seems to me that success here is perhaps the ability not to 'wet our pants' and celebrate that fact that we are still in the game - we are still being salt and light - we are still the last resort for many and should be grateful for those that this brings. The statistics just tell us that we're doing 'church' differently and that we need to avoid being hypnotised by numbers, management models, parish share and the like and look at what is before us - and rejoice.

Don't panic people - step back and use some perspective - People not coming in?

Perhaps we need to open our doors and welcome them in - differently.

Perhaps we need to walk out of our open doors and be Church where the people are to be found.

Perhaps we need to realise that 'Church' is made up of living stones and is more than a glorious piece of architecture and the call to be the curator of memories as well as having the 'cure of all souls'. (But being the curator is also important because it creates relationship with community).

So how are we going to move away from the Sunday mentality and see the wider picture - looks like it's time to get out there and pray, observe and do some MAP work!

Monday, 25 January 2010

2007 - 2008 League tables

Just so people can see the League Table in full for the period 2007 - 2008 (ASA - All Age)

10.6% Ripon & Leeds
6.43% Ely
6.2% Derby
2.9% Bradford
2.5% Europe
2.2% Southwark
1.2% Guildford
0.4% Rochester

0%    Bristol
0%    Manchester
0%    St Albans
0%    Truro

-0.2% Oxford
-0.4% York
-0.9% Hereford
-1%   Chester
-1% Lichfield
-1.7% St Edmunsbury & Ipswich
-2% National Average
-1.9% Southwell & Nottingham
-2.1% Bath and Wells
-2.2% Salisbury
-2.4% Liverpool
-2.8% Winchester
-2.8% London
-2.9% Blackburn
-3.1% Worcester
-3.1% Peterborough
-3.3% Lincoln
-3.5% Leicester
-3.7% Norwich
-3.9% Chelmsford
-4.6% Chichester
-4.8% Canterbury
-4.8% Portsmouth
-5.0% Coventry
-5.0% Newcastle
-5.2% Durham
-6.2% Wakefield
-6.5% Sheffield
-7.8% Gloucester
-7.9% Exeter
-8.6% Carlisle
-8.6% Birmingham
-9.5% Sodor & Man

And the diocese with the greatest growth is . . .

The latest statistics relating to Church attendance and service trends have been released by Church House.

Year on year (2007 - 2008) 'All Age' - ASA. Growth was reported in eight dioceses (out of forty-four reporting):

Ripon and Leeds (10.6%)
Derby (9.2%)
Ely (6.4%)
Bradford (2.9%)
Europe (2.5%)
Southwark (2.2%)
Guildford (1.2%), and
Rochester (0.4%)

Four more held their own for the period 2007-2008: Bristol, Manchester, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich and Truro'.

Looking at the trends for the period 2001 - 2008 (Thanks DMK) we have six showing growth, London topping the table with 9.1%. They were closely followed by Southwark 6.4% (so the capital city is showing the way) with Europe (5.8%), Manchester (3.9%). Ely (3.2%) and Hereford (1.9%) completing the gains category. Sadly for 2007-2008 thirty-six post decreasing numbers. Bottom of the pile is Sodor and Man, but as they have such a small sample any changes look worse there and the real losers are Carlise and Birmingham dioceses.

The national attendance (ASA) was -2% (well -1.9% if this makes it look a bit better) down on the previous year (2007).

Occasional Offices (National) 2007 - 2008:

- No change (i.e. static)
Infant (02%), Child (+5%), Adult (+2%)
Thanksgivings - Five percent drop
Infant (-8%), Child (+4%)

 - Three percent drop

- Three percent drop

- Three percent drop

Church Funerals
- One percent drop

CofE Cremations
- Five percent drop

Easter (Communicants)
- Five percent drop

Easter (Attendance) - Four percent drop

Christmans (Communicants)
- Three percent drop
Christmas (Attendance) - Static

The statistics don't include fresh expressions and stuff that is happening outside of the Sunday slot but these are not large enough (at this time) to make any significant change or impact to the story. Salutary reading indeed!

For those of you brave enough to read the full report, it can be found at CofE Stats 2007-8

Management techniques

Returning to the subject of management techniques in 'real' or 'authentic' church we have to go back to the subject of MAPs, where management tools are already in evidence in that we have asked ourselves:
  • Why are we here (the mission)
  • What are we seeking to do (the vision)
  • What do we believe (the values)
  • How will we achieve what we're called to do (planning, strategy, etc.)
These are all valid elements in the process of emerging church, fresh expressions, boring church and anything else you'd like to engage in within a church -based setting. This is using management tools and it's still not only 'spiritual' but it also leads us in to informed prayer and effective and efficient strategies (because here in St Francis' we can't afford to spend money on stuff for no reason!).

Moving back to the days when I was an Industrial Engineer, we used a simple mnemonic SREDDIM to assist us in our daily tasks.

- what area are you looking at - in a church setting could also be people group, time of day, day or venue.

- What happens in this area - in a church setting could be how many people are free, passing by (parents going to or from school to pick up/drop off perhaps), is the result consistent or are there days when there's more people around, less activity in the community, etc.

- Having done your research is there a trend developing? Can you see an obvious need for something, or are there more people at a loose end during certain times on specific days?

- Define the needs that might be remedied by action or change. Could a drop-in with tea and coffee give parents somewhere to stop and chill before picking-upo or after dropping off? Is there an opportunity for this to have a spiritual component such that it becomes 'church' for them and they themselves become the living stones that make it?

- Taking the areas that have been defined as modifiable, in a church-based setting we pray about them and see how we might engage in something (a fresh expression perhaps or something that makes a difference and builds relationships).

- Go make it happen! This is the exciting bit, the razzmatazz and bring in the Pointy-hat moment which ignores all the work behind the scenes and makes it look like it was just something that happened. That 'swan' moment where gliding gracefully no one notices the flapping beneath the waves!

- See what's happening, examine the results and make the changes that bring the whole project into line so it sounds like a sewing machine, never missing a beat. Revisiting, praying constantly (and intelligently) and being aware of changes that come about in the people and the locality that need to be responded to.

Successful church plants, fresh expressions, authentic church all need sound management skills to ensure that they are focussed, efficient (in terms of time and money - after all, which churches have unlimited money to throw at things to make them work?). Management models are a tool to underpin and support the spiritual tasks before us, they should never rule the church but they should support it. Spiritual people who fail to use management tools  are merely foolish virgins in disguise.

There we go - a bit more thinking for you . . . we'll start looking at some questions you can ask others soon.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Authentic Church

I've been trying to piece together where and what 'Authentic' church is and see it as part of this amazingly postmodern buzzword ridden culture to be 'real' in its worship and life. and is part of the 'emerging' church' (EC).

For those of you who are as confused as I am at times,  I think that simply EC is basically:

"A 're-imagining' of church in ways that respond to the culture in which it finds itself."

I have to admit that I love 're-imagining' and also have to say that EC is not the new term that some bill it as as I remember EC being bandied about as a term back in the late eighties. We're trying to make church a reality in places and at times that have not traditionally (Sunday 10:30 & 6:30) been church times. This is of course not just about times but more about places and people and from it we get homogenous groups (birds of a feather pray together), people striving to be twee, cliched and avant garde (I know I'm cruel but some just engage in this because they just 'have to'). It's more than just trying to put 'Bums on Pews' (BOPs) but I still encounter people who try to live the field of dreams cliché of 'If you build it, they will come' because they build it and they obvious don't come! If there is a need (which might be identified by calling or by common sense - although I have done things that looked stupid because we felt the call and defying common sense, it flourished. (Perhaps God knows more than us?).

We 're-imagine' church (that is the living stones') in times and places that meet the needs of those who would be church. Out of this comes 'Fresh Expressions', (FE) which is, I think:

 "Church for a changing culture, established first and foremost for the benefit of those who don't do church in any shape size or form."

FE means that, having realised that Sunday is not a good day for many, other days and other ways of being 'Church' need to exist. This means that for some, our Wednesday 'thing' where we have people perhaps sitting on the floor and playing with their kids as we discuss life, the Bible passage we've read and share bread, wine and soup, is the only chance they might have all week to 'be church'.

Authentic church is merely yet another label, like 'emergent church', which has to exist because people like names for what they do. (Wait until we hit 'messy church') Mind you, I understand that EC is now coming to an end and that we will soon have a new name for it. So while we all sit and wait for this latest and greatest name here's a weird thought to ponder. . . .

Some geezers drop by and meet people who are interested in what they have to say about God and more specifically, God as revealed in His Son - Jesus. They get so interested that they have a bath and put on a new lifestyle and meet and share more about this Jesus stuff. They see weird things happening, like people's lives changing, healings and the like, and before you know it - they're in that place every evening discussing, sharing, praying for each other and seeing more people come. This just keeps on happening and soon they have to expand, or perhaps add more outlets, this is what emerging church is all about. And not only that, it's authentic too - especially as the bloke leading it up is an ex-religious type named Paul or perhaps an ex-fisherman by the name of Simon Peter.

Yep - emerging church, fresh expressions and doing church where the people are at times and places that enable them to come and 'be' church - obviously a postmodern thing ain't it? There is indeed nothing new under the sun and although we like to think we're being authentic, postmodern, freshly expressing, whatever - the reality is that wherever we can assist people to meet together, listen to the stories about Jesus and His mates, discover the love of a Creator (who is concerned and involved with His creation), break bread and be people who were once without a name but now bear the name above all names - that's about as authentic as you get!

Want to see a great example of this? Go find a copy of the book which tells of Arthur Blessitt's church on Sunset Strip (next door to a strip joint) and read of his work with the Hippies and the druggies and see that there and then, back in the 60's what authentic, emerging, relevant, accessible church was like.

Now, how do we do that for our culture in the place God has called us to be? (when you find out, please come and tell me).

Business practices? No thanks we're authentic!

I've been having a discussion about the fact that when it comes to offerings, using larger pink envelopes brings about a greater yield in giving - so should we use them over the small white envelopes we use now? This question moved us onto wider questions about 'authentic' Church versus what I suppose I'll have to call 'unauthentic' churches!

Perhaps the first discussion needs to be about 'Authentic' church, which I guess means that everyone sits on the floor and sings spiritual songs in Greek, the children all having been baptised and admitted to communion (which of course will be called the 'agape' or 'eucharist') and the women will have their heads covered. On second thoughts, I think I'll leave that for another day - already making my head hurt!

I know I'm getting old but it wasn't that long ago that I was engaged in discussions about Church taking 'best practice' from the world. This was a source of heated discussion because surely "Church" was about being 'spiritual' and this was advocating being "Of the World!" Then again, take a look at Acts 6: 1 - 7:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith

Here we have a sound management principle. Those who are 'doing the stuff' need to be freed from administration and other tasks to ensure that the 'core' business continues unabated. Division of labour and the use of 'specialists' is one of the important elements of sound management. Isn't this what we are seeing here? There is a need that has the potential to be unmet and by recruiting people the task is guaranteed to be done and those who would otherwise have been distracted can continue to do their main area of ministry unfettered and without distraction (note - pastoral work is not a distraction. I'm not saying this, but it can be a misuse of skills and present an additional time burden for those who could otherwise delegate.)

So I think that regardless of what you see 'Church' as being or looking like, there is room for good management models and practices. The problem is what happens when management goes mad, as has happened in some churches I've had experience of (I was only a member - honest!). In one, we'd raised a considerable sum (hundreds of thousands) to renovate and place a church plant in an old building. The Treasurer was threatening to close the project and return all the money we'd raised because we were £5,000 short of the target sum. He, "Wasn't prepared to burden those who came after us with a sum that they had to make up at a later date!" As I questioned him as to his reasoning he told me that this was sound accounting practice and was no different to the way he ran the church finances - after all, if he couldn't keep a year's operating surplus in another account outside the main accounts (in case giving just stopped) to ensure that the church could run he wasn't prepared to relent on the project.

This is where management and the 'world' are an encumbrance and a curse. If we are only to function as this man wanted us to, then there is no place for faith, only fiscal prudence, and I don't do that. Then again, neither do I spend and expect god to cover the shortfall either. So the question about the pink envelopes - would you use them if they helped people to give more?

Personally I think that this is more about the Bell AT&T works at Hawthorn (Have a google on Elton Mayo and hawthorn) where Mayo found that whether you changed things for the better or worse, change was a prime mover in people changing how they function (and often for the better!). This is no different for church because it's about people and the way they tick not the organisation or setting. So I guess, I'd probably have a go (but perhaps with green envelopes the first year and pink the year after) but I'd be more certain that sound teaching and not envelope colour was the real reason for change in giving patterns.

Over the next couple of we days will be looking at this question to help stimulate your thinking and as a part of this, why not have a look at 'Into the Future' you'll find it as a pdf download, here:

Mark Stevens has some interesting thoughts to add. read him here:

I hope this goes some way to starting a dialogue and raises some questions of your own (and some answers too). More to come - so get reading . . . 

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Blame Culture and sloping shoulders

I have to admit that I have great problems with the blame culture in which I find myself living. An accident happens and the first response is usually to seek out the person, or persons, who are to blame and then extract revenge. It seems to me that we are no longer concerned with justice and rarely do I see people exhibit mercy. Couple with this to the fact that we no longer appear to regard accountability as a positive character trait and you can see why the nation, nay - the world, is going to hell in a handcart.

This evening I have been affronted by a Police spokesman who 'apologised' for the fact that having made a 999 call a young woman found her life ended by her ex-boyfriend, an act that most likely was able to happen because no on responded to the call. This was then followed by another story relating to an awful attack upon two young boys aged nine and eleven by two other boys who were ten and eleven (in Edlington, Nr. Doncaster).  An awful account of the acts and the parental conditions followed and then a well-fed and suited gentleman sat before the microphone and apologised for what was preventable and yet hadn't been!

I don't understand how institutional failures of the magnitude we are seeing can occur. More than that I am stunned at the frequency of such incidents and the amazingly, apparently, glib manner in which these apologies are issued. Time and time again workload, poor leadership and resources are blamed but it is so very obvious that things are wrong in some familial circumstances and yet nothing is done, or at least not until the horse has surely bolted.

Taking the Doncaster situation, where seven children have died since 2004 (DESPITE BEING ON THE REGISTER) and where it has been disclosed that thirty-one chances to intervene were missed over the past fourteen years with this family. I come across so many cases like this in prospect. I have seen families who have terrorised, bullied, burgled and physically abused neighbours and yet those employed to protect children and communities did nothing about them. In this year where we will soon be approaching the hustings we need to be asking the candidate's the right questions about the way this nation is being run and the moral standards maintained and managed. And, as the boys are sentenced to an 'indefinite' period in detention (with a five year minimum) what of the parents? They, as is the way with cases such as this might be pilloried by some and branded as 'scum' by many but they remain free and their guilt is also ours because we see and yet do no act.

We have been called to act as watchmen - so stand and alert those who sleep as to the approaching danger. Seems like many of us are asleep on our watch doesn't it? We need to pray for the victims and the perpetrators, the families involved and the people who try, through Police, Social Services and other agencies, to make our society a safe place for children and a place where community can be seen to thrive. We need to alert others to situations, preferably before rather than after, and for us to be salt and light to those who live such that their kids grow to be less than one would want.

Justice and mercy, coupled with humility - meet at the Cross before they real in the lives of others - won't you help take them there?


Friday, 22 January 2010

Being Church where we are!

Christian speak is full of profound and challenging thinking. Take the mission statement that forms the title of this piece.

Christian speak can be so deep that we need to take our shoes off for surely we must be on holy ground! Then again it could be so shallow (or even puerile) that we merely need to take the originator off to the funny farm!

Some time back, whilst on a course, we were assailed with the wonderfully challenging sound bite, "God only speaks in dialect!" This had the whole place buzzing and none was exempt from a feeling of challenge, awe and  . . . and I don't know what actually. It was one of those 'WOW!" moments until someone realised that perhaps the Emperor had no clothes. (I'll leave you to work out what it means for you and to see if it has worth).

Recently I strayed into it myself during a sermon with a wonderful statement that we ,"It was important to hope for the people we love but we must never give up loving the people we hope for!" Everyone, "Oooh'ed," and nodded vigourously at my wise words. It was only afterwards I realised what I'd said and even though I know what I meant and what I meant is contained in the words, we tread a very fine line between making challenging, encouraging and factual statements and entering the politician like world of 'sound bite' and posturing. There is a small step between exhorting people and actually placing before them a stumbling block for these clever little words and the catchy catchphrases and epitets are so simple (or simplistic) that in handing them out we might be condemning people to miss the bigger picture - that larger reality about God, Jesus and man, and thereby actually fail in our task and fail those we shepherd and seek to lead.

I was listening to a sermon recently where the catchphrase was, "Whatever the question. The answer is Jesus!" It was great, I was singing along with the chorus, putting the name of Jesus in whenever the prompt came (in my mind, didn't want to frighten those outside my earphones) and enjoying it until the preacher brought the discussion to war and he asked who was at fault. A small child shouted out, Jesus!' The congregation laughed and the sermon continued. But I go to thinking that Jesus was the answer to the world's needs but wasn't the reason for them and we needed to be careful about not just what we ask but how we ask it too.

If Jesus is the answer isn't that enough? Our kids are starting the GCSE mill (School exams for those outside the UK) and they are being taught that the answer is everything. I see little ability to dialogue with the question and the epitome of success is the right answer regardless, it seems, of how it was reached. If Jesus is the answer then there is no need to ask anything else. No need to investigate and seek to understand why or ask questions as what this 'answer' brings.

I think the time has come for us to stop with the clever phrases and the smart one-liners and to ensure that we feed our people good solid Bible verses. That we point to the truth about Jesus and how by God's love and His (Jesus')  obedience we can live by the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit each and every day of our lives.

Jesus is the answer - do you know why?

Jesus is the answer - do you know how?

If not, I and those who carry the calling of Christ upon us have, sadly, failed you - and for my part in this, I apologise.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Mission, Vision and Outcome Statements

I have received a telephone call from someone who was asking what on earth these 'statements' were all about. As we chatted I realised that he (and his PPC) were struggling with the dreaded 'vision' and 'mission statements.

Those short statements that tell people who we are and why we're here (Mission) and where we're aiming to be and what things will be like when we are (Vision).  One church sent me the mission statement which was, "To be Church where we are!" Well at least it was short.

Along with these, I think people should do a third statement. This statement helps you to measure your outcomes as I find many people have no idea how to measure 'success'. A quick for instance. I was involved with a church who had put a church based counselling facility. I asked them how they measured success and was told,"We count successes as those who don't come back!"

A mission statement:
The outreach team exists to engage with the community by means of social, social and practical work. It raises it's own money to support its work and informs, trains and releases church members to be engaged and work within it.

Tells you what it's called, what it does, how it exists and how it relates to the church.

A vision statement:
With the nnnn estate church plant new families will come to faith in a place which is accessible with an informal worship style and an obvious and practical concern for the community. By being involved with the practical we will encourage people to belong and develop deeper spiritual realities by nurture and discipleship teaching.

Again, this tells you exactly what they will have when the project aims are met and clearly tells you what this will 'feel' like. There is a temptation for people to get too deep in theses statements. All I can say is look at the Athanasian Creed and see what trying to pin everything down does to an otherwise simple statement.

An outcome/success criteria statement:

Over the next twelve months the Kid's Club aims to:
  • Have at least two outings (Drayton Manor, Pantomime, etc.)
  • Raise money to provide additional console games
  • Introduce an art/craft teaching workshop (monthly)
  • See an average membership of 20 
Now this sets targets and allows you to see whether they were met, exceeded of missed and that will enable you to celebrate and refine (even if you're successful, you still need to be revisiting and managing the targets).

There's little point in me listing the good, bad and ugly in each of these categories. If you'd like to see them just Google around and you'll find some excellent and frightening examples for yourself.

I hope this has made things a little clearer regarding 'statements'. They're not hard, especially if you know who you are and know what you want to achieve and have an understanding of what you need to do within a set period (for the outcome/success statement). Having things that are measurable or quantifiable  helps you to realistically assess what's going on and if it's not going on, to make changes to bring about some successes.

Blessings people.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Mission Action Plans - The Plan

We've found out what's happening in our patch and we know the needs of the community and have prayed about them, the church and the ways that Church and Needs can come together such that the Church 'Becomes Christ' to those we are called to serve.

We have realised that William Temple was right when he said, "Church is the only organisation that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members." and we have taken on board the wonderful words of St. Francis of Assisi in that, We must go out and preach the Gospel, using words if necessary!" and so we are ready to draw up our plan.

We need to decide on what we are seeking to achieve. This is that horribly off-putting part as we ask that awful question:

"What are our goals?
" What makes it worse is that these goals need to be realistic and achievable by good old fashioned hard work and endeavour. Too often the goals are set on the assumption that God will merely send a new housing estate to the local park and everyone who moves in will be hungry for God, working and full of initiative and enthusiasm. Others set the goals and leave God to bring them about. Warning Will Smith (sorry, used to love 'Lost in Space') "It just ain't going to happen! (well not in my experience it isn't. Having done this we need to ask another question, another tough one:

"How do we achieve these goals?
Another tough question is the usual response here, but of course it isn't. Let's us putting on a Kid's Club as an example of one of the goals. You have decided that there is a need in the community and you want to meet this. So, how do you achieve this?

1. You need to have a venue - common sense isn't it? If you don't have a place to hold the thing you aren't going to have one!

2. You need to establish the age group you are catering for. Under eights have special rules and regulations applying and need Ofsted to be involved and to approve. Over eights are exempt from Ofsted regulations, as long as the sessions are two hours or less. You will still need to get a letter from Ofsted proving you are exempt though (and you should display this).

3. You need to ensure that the right equipment is in place. No point bringing in kids aged eight to fifteen and giving them stuff for younger kids. Little point buying Wiis, PS3 and X-Box consoles for three year olds. What is on offer should challenge, satisfy and attract the target audience.

4. Refreshments need to be considered. what are you offering and what do you do with the allergies (and they will come!)?

5. They will need changing facilities and toilets. Do you have them? If not, can you build them in the venue you have?

6. Who is going to run the provision? Are you paying for sessional workers or do you have people in the church who can offer their services? What will you do when they get tired and leave it to you alone (there are requirements as to the numbers of helpers to kids after all)? Whoever you get, they might need training and will certainly need to be CRB checked. There's insurance - is you premises covered and are you safe from litigation should the unforeseeable happen?

7. How will you manage the provision and how will you decide what the outcomes are? What will make it a success? One kid, twenty, two hundred and fifty? (Be realistic here)

8. How will you attract the kids? What will you be offering that gets them out of the houses and away from TV or is attractive enough for them to leave the park?

9. How will this lead to them discovering God? Direct proselytising is worthless and to merely put something on to 'win souls' is cheap and rarely works. What will the strategy be for those you come into relationship with and wish to lead into something a little deeper? Is there scope, planning or potential for a 'Fresh Expression' (Don't worry, we're going to do this shortly)?

I've given you a very simple (and rather rushed) outline of the Planning stage. We need to go deeper into this but consider the work in the nine steps above and ask yourself how realistic the seven goals you and the PCC have decided on really are.

Revision, Revision, Revision.
Once you've set the plans up they need to be constantly revisited and revised as things, people, opportunities change. To set goals in concrete is to be assured of frustration and potential failure. Keep looking at what you're doing and get everyone (involved or not) to a place where they are informed and praying. Those who fail to pray plan to fail - have a think about that and look at your plans!!

There we are - Mission - Action - Planning. Never claimed it would be simple or easy now, did I? Strange thing is that it is!

But of course there's more to it than just this - having got here the real work starts.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Mission Action Plans - The Action Bit

Now we're cooking! 'Action' is my middle name, just get and 'do' something, anything. This is what Church is all about isn't it, the doing? This is the performance bit of church growth. The bit where we all rush a bout like mad things and make church grow, get people to notice us and pay off the Parish Share.

Actually, a large part of the 'Action' looks very much like 'inaction' to a great many people. When I discuss this element with people I get the feeling that I'm being a bit of a pain because those listening 'want to do something' and I'm advocating something else as they see it! Actually, I advocate doing an awful lot, but its not high profile, it's on minimally visible and it's not exciting. But persevere and the exciting bits do come, and when they do - boy, they're really exciting (I promise you - if not you get a full refund).

Action is:

Finding out what is happening in the place where God has placed you. This means walking around and looking at the needs, the housing, the work patterns (or lack of them), understanding the needs of the community in terms of crime, education, health patterns, age and other demographics and forming a picture of what sort of people you are serving. This involves talking to people and finding out what needs are not being met. It means talking to the local beat officers and the PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) and visiting head teachers and using that relationship you already have (you do have relationships with the local schools don't you?) to find out the community needs from their perspective. Get hold of the IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation) statistics for your area and see how it fares in key areas of education housing, health, crime, employment and the like. (If you're not sure ask me how and I'll help)

Now this is extremely boring and as you do this stuff many people will be found discussing and voicing concern (outside of church this is called 'moaning') about the fact that, "We're not doing anything!" This is the invisible bit and there is a great temptation to put this spinach and broccoli element of the meal that is mission to one side and rush off to Jelly and Custard land. Resist the temptation because if you leave this and move on you will have an undernourished mission plan later.

Talking to people and asking them what they need for their community. You can do social audits, an excellent way of putting your finger in the air and discovering which way the wind is blowing. You might think that you need to start a 'Mums and Tots' group and find out you need a place for the community to come and drink tea and engage in being community instead. So many people I talk to assume that by putting a few toys in the middle of a room and offering a cup of tea that they will fill their church building on a Sunday. Sadly not the case, studies have shown that in terms of bringing them in, this isn't the bestest way open to us. BUT, if there is a need - put one on, engage and develop relationships and even if they don't come to church on a Sunday, you are making relationships and sowing seeds for a different time (and there's always 'Fresh Expressions' - but more about that another day).

Praying! I am amazed how spiritual I can look at times, fortunately no one knows how within my size nine Clark's shoes lurks feet of clay. When I suggest prayer as part of the action plan those listening always nod and agree as if this was of course what they were going to do anyway. After all, five minutes out of the meeting isn't a great burden, is it? The problem is that what I mean to say is PRAY! We need to come to God with the needs of the community and the areas which trouble them and seek God's advice. We need to lay before Him everything we've been finding out about the community and be honest about the congregation as we seek His plans, His spark of inspiration for the way forward. Prayer takes a great deal of time and needs to be done by everyone in the church family. You need awaydays, prayer evening, briefing documents to help people pray intelligently. Biblical passages which keep cropping up need to shared and the people, ALL THE PEOPLE, need to be praying. Praying before you start finding out, praying as you find out, praying before to talk to people, while you talk to people, after you've talked to people and . . . I'm sure you get the idea!

A sad example. I was told by a Vicar that he and his PCC had set their MAP and all was well. The focus of the activity was to be the setting up of a computer repair shop (To protect the church identity I have changed the actual goal). Everyone has computers and to have people who can repair the machines for free (or at cost)  and can go into homes and meet with the people and establish contact and develop a relationship is a brainwave and an inspiration. What an excellent idea - a twenty-first century missional act indeed. Problem was that no one in congregation was computer-literate and no one had any technical skills either!

Not a problem says our worthy Dog-Collar, we'll pray in new members with the skills. Meanwhile, just up the road the post office was closing and the tea shop was being converted to flats. Get the idea? Being spiritual is also being practical!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Mission Action Plans - The Mission Bit

Following on from my discussion of MAPS recently I was asked by someone (who had read the blog) where they started with theirs and, as they had already decided what they wanted their goals to be it was surely just a case of 'filling in the boxes'. Seems to me that many people need to start from scratch but perhaps the name is confusing some of my colleagues because it implies that we do 'Mission' and engage in 'Action' and after we've done that all, we engage in a little 'Planning'. A very 'Church' way of doing things perhaps - do it, think about what we've done and plan to do it different next time?

Mission is surely what we're all about. Mission  is finding out what God is already doing in the community and helping people to recognise God's presence! For years I thought (and was taught) that mission was about taking God to those who didn't know Him. It was some sort of noble spiritual handout for the spiritually bereft around us (or as one of the luvvies in a church I used to be part of called them, 'The Nonnies').

Mission is about open hands, hearts and (the tough bit for some churches) doors. To engage in it we have to perhaps start thinking just a little differently and realise that God is actually doing stuff in the lives of those in the communities which we are called to serve. We need to actually be in the community to see God's hand at work and when we do, we need to point to it and say, "Ooooh, look at what God's doing there!" and then having done that bring people into a place of comfort and ease about God and having a relationship with Him.

Mission is not filling your church building with loads of people for civic or other events. I'm not knocking them, they're excellent things because they do present the opportunity for the 'World' to engage with 'Church' (that is the living stones) but it does not, in itself, yield that great goal - growth. If they come, use the building and go away without having engaged with the 'Church' (the living stones) then  they've merely used a venue. Anyway, mission is not about growth it's about making disciples, leading people into renewal and relationship with God. Mission is the place where, having come into relationship with people and they begin to ask questions, leading you to live out the words of 1 Peter three fifteen kick in:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask you for the reason for the hope that you have in Jesus BUT always respond with gentleness and respect."

I'm just going to shout for a second (so put your sunglasses on!):


I feel better now, thanks. Mission is about being out there and helping people because they're lost. It's about being (as Charles Haddon Spurgeon put it) "As one beggar showing another where bread might be found."

Mission is costly - it takes time and energy, it requires prayer, it demands love. It makes you cry, it makes you angry, it hurts!

Mission is re
al - because you will see lives in turmoil, families imploding, children getting drunk, drugged, pregnant or dead and you will realise how great the task is and how pathetic you are in the role before you.

Mission is revealing
- because in the same situations that make you feel small you will see the might of God and the power of His hand as he loves those far off and is engaged in their lives (not going to church nor being 'saved' doesn't seem to stop God from being involved.

Mission is intrusive
- because if you do it right, people will come and spoil your church. they bring their non-church habits (like asking questions and heckling during the sermon), they bring their non-church language, they bring their non-church problems ("we don't actually 'talk' about that sort of stuff do we?") and God cheers. The 'nice' members will probably just to to a different church - don't worry, that's mission too - just look at it as sending disciples out!

Doing mission does actually build Church. When you do it you need to be honest and send (take) some people to a different fellowship if you know they won't grow in yours. No point finding someone who needs BCP and robed-choirs and trying to keep them in your happy-clappy, chandelier-swinging fellowship. better to take then to a place where their needs are met and they can comfortably be discipled than, by merely being selfish, lose them their chance to become growing followers of Christ.

Mission is more than building our own fellowship and adding numbers - it is also about building our current members to pray intelligently, act from a position of love and to proclaim God's love in their own lives and to recognise it in the lives of others (and rejoice at that).

Blessings abound - let's go be mission shall we?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Called? You are!

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew fishing. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.

A little further down the shore Jesus saw two other brothers, James and his brother, John, the sons of Zededee and they were with their father mending their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat, their father still in it, and followed Him.” 

This is how Matthew chapter four (18 – 21) tells us of the calling of the first disciples. These men heard the call, left their day jobs, their lives, their family and their homes and followed Jesus. Excellent stuff. This is what discipleship is all about – being close to the Master. Now as much as I see this as the ultimate example of commitment to Jesus I have to be honest and say that I have struggled with this whole area.

I assume that as in Matthew this story follows the earliest episodes of Jesus preaching that He was pretty much an ‘unknown’. How would I have responded to a bloke who was getting a bit of a reputation as a preacher and teacher knocking on the door of my workplace and asking me to leave it all to be part of his travelling circus? Moving the focus onto my life twenty-five years ago when I knew who He was and I claimed to be a ‘Christian’ how did I respond when Jesus called me to drop everything and follow Him? I ran away. I found reasons for it, Not to be the right time!”

Jesus did this to me and to the fishermen. He didn’t wait until the ‘faithful’ came to the place where teaching was to be found, He didn’t hang around at the back of Church looking for some likely candidates to become His pupils. This was the way other Rabbis picked up their followers, they  did their stuff and picked the people who appeared to be most enamoured and most taken up with them. They’d select the people who looked like they’d make it so that they could have key people in many places who were looked up to and who in turn looked up to them – a pyramid selling form of theological education. Still happens – even to this very day.

Jesus, as usual, does it differently. He goes to the place where the blokes work and calls them there and then. And this is what he does to this very day. He doesn’t pick the public school types but picks the people that meet what he sees with His spiritual eye. No ‘A stars’ or good grades needed here – just the calling upon your life. I would imagine that the fishermen were actually a little more than the working class plebs that many portray them as. After all, they owned their own boats and they had hired labourers so they must have been doing pretty well. Then again, working in the boat alongside the others I don’t think they were the most refined sorts either; A sort of middle-class perhaps?

So, Jesus stops them in the middle of what they’re doing and calls them – and they come – immediately. Now He wasn’t an unknown but He wasn’t the superstar he was to become – it was early days. But He called them where they were, doing whatever it was that they were doing – and they responded. So what about us?

Last week we discussed what it was to be a disciple, to be someone who followed and was with the master all the time, learning from Him and copying, doing it again and revisiting it until it was right – the apprentice who lives, eats and sleeps in the same place as the Master. Has Jesus called us to ‘Follow Him’ and although we’re Christians we’ve ignored the call. There are people here who God wants to use in ministry areas and yet the call has been too frightening and we’ve given our reasons for doing it later. Some of here have responded and having done so, have been told that we’re just not ready for that role or just aren’t right or the right person.

Jesus is issuing that same call that He gave to the fishermen to many of us today. He doesn’t expect you to be able to do the job right now, but he wants you to follow Him and learn how to be fishers of men. He’s calling some of your to be prophets within our congregation. He’s calling some of you to be intercessors and to be involved in pastoral things, healing, evangelism and even administration (heaven forbid). And the call is individual – the call is personal. It comes to each of us in the voice that we recognise in the place in which we find ourselves.

The problem is of course that this call is not cheap, mind you it comes to us at an incredibly great price, the cost of which was paid by Christ on the cross. We are being asked to give up our Sundays, to forego Eastenders or some of our other favourite television. To speak to people about the hope that we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15), not from a pulpit or standing in the square outside St Editha’s but on a one to one basis. To have the courage to pray for people who need a touch from God knowing that it’s not about us but about Him – all we need to do is to be willing to drop what we know and are safe with and to ‘Follow Him’.

Many years back we used to sing a song about those called to a wedding banquet, it had the chorus:

I cannot come, I cannot come to the banquet, don't trouble me now, I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum, pray, hold me excused, I cannot come!

Are the words of the chorus the same sort of words you’ve used when you’ve realized that there is a calling from God on your life? God is calling you to be a Christian in the place where you work. Perhaps He’s calling you to be a Christian in the middle of your friends and family. After all, what on earth with they think? Actually, Jesus isn’t asking you to give up anything today to respond to His call on your life. He’s asking you, first and foremost to take up your own Cross (Mathew 16: 24 – 27):

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
Would the fishermen have been so quick to ‘follow Him’ had they known where the path led? I don’t know, that’s something we might just have to wait and ask them when we get to meet them. All I can tell you is that they had times which were obviously a great blessing, times which were obviously frightening and times when they must have counted themselves the most blessed of people. This is what you’re called to this morning. Whether you’re educated or barely went to school, working, retired or unemployed for some reason, and there are so many reasons! So often people lean on their ideas rather than the reality.

I’d like to give you a passage from the Proverbs (3: 1 – 18) to help you with your calling:
My child, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man.
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.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
Honour the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
And do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.
Wendy and I watched a programme on television together, one of those rare times when the whole family had managed to pile onto the settee and chill together. There was a man who had a girlfriend and he didn’t want her to take a job and leave him. He wanted her to stay and be with him. But she asked him to leave and be with her in a new place instead. He had to think about leaving his football team, his favourite pubs and places he hung out with his friends, his family and his job. “Go on,” we shouted, “Do it! Make the right choice – go with her.” And he did, he chose relationship over being comfortable in familiar things.

This is what God is calling you to do (and be) today as a disciple of Christ. To drop the things, which make us comfortable and content with who, what and where we are and to ‘Follow Him.’

As we respond, Jesus stands, beckoning, with the words, "In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world and you too are called to be 'overcomers'. This is the key – the kingdom of God has come close to us, something that is a realised reality, especially during this season of Epiphany and calls us through His Son to follow Him and be disciples.

Will you answer this call?

Something to do - Read 1 Peter 1: 13 -23:
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”

So what do we do when we're called?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Want to be famous?

Then this is probably the wrong place to be looking!

But we're about to start a new venture in our church, a Sunday evening session where we feature something a little different in a café setting. Of course being St Francis' church we're going to have to call this Caffé Francesco!

I am struggling so much in my search for musicians and other 'acts' that could do a couple of sets so that we could bring something light and accessible to those inside and (I hope) outside) of the church family. Something gentle and light which brings people into proximity of the church and provides the potential for a epilogue (or not - doesn't need to be 'heavy') at the end.

So my challenge to those who read this blog (and I can see from the stats that people are reading it) is for you to get people who might be able to offer something (and we'll pay as required) to contact me, or you can suggest them as a comment, so that I can get things rolling.

I'm up for open mike evenings, and a bit of stand-up comedy, light music, Ska, prog (are you reading this Bob?), magic, whatever can fit in and be considered acceptable (sorry, much as some might like it - pole dancers aren't yet on the menu :)).

So, over to you - venue is in South-East Staffordshire, but if people are willing to travel, we're willing to give them a go. new, established - the door is open and the opportunity is there for the taking!

Go on, you must know someone! perhaps it's time to get the washboard out of the coal shed and start a skiffle band. Now there's a challenge.

I feel my temperature rising!

Turned on the TV to have a quick look at the news and sport before I get into studying the word for Sunday and was greeted by England's captain being out for a 'duck' (that's without scoring to you non-cricketing types) against the South Africans. "Oh well," thinks I - no change there then (but at least we can't lose the test series as we're one-nil up and this is the last game).

There's a piece on the Tiger Woods saga. Apparently having been ditched by Gillette (so quickly after the 'crashing the car' incident that  you nearly got a nose bleeed)  and knocked 'out of bounds' by Accenture (a company who know how to manage crises for you obviously) he's also been cut off by AT&T and can no longer tell the time with a Tag Heuer watch. He no longer drinking Gatorade (which I thought was a rescue service in the everglades for reptiles) and to add insult to the financial and familiar injury (the financial loss estimated at something like $12bn)  GM, that great financially successful giant has asked for its loan cars to be returned to them. Mind you, there is some integrity to be found it seems as Nike continues to support the fallen hero.

But all this has left me despairing for the secular, money-grabbing, self-promoting world and feeling grateful that at least we can rely upon the Church to be steadfast and solid, especially when things are going wrong. I watch as the news headlines come in and the news moves to things of import and Haiti, with a death toll estimated to reach (and probably exceed) 70,000. The next scene is of American 'Missionaries' who are fleeing the country (after they tell of how terrible conditions are and "Jeeez, we were so scared," stories.

Funny how it took the 'Christians' to get me wound up this morning isn't it?

Then again, we're not supposed to be where it's hard or frightening are we? God spare me from Christian 'missionary' tourists - the road to hell is paved with them (at least it is for me today).