Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Tell Me

When I lived in Panama in the early nineties, the normal way to answer the phone was with just one word ‘digame’. After being used to giving either my name or my number, it was something different to learn to use just this word, the same word that everyone else would use as I rang them. As my Spanish left quite a bit to be desired, it also took a while before I realised what was being said – ‘digame’. Literally it means ‘tell me!’ I suppose our equivalent phrases would be somewhere around ‘what’s up?’, ‘what’s happening?’, ‘what’s the news?’ But I grew to like that Panamanian response. For me, it expressed immediate interest, a wanting to know, a readiness to listen. It also meant that the reason for phoning was that you had something to tell. Advent 2010 takes us into the third year of the United Reformed Church’s Vision4Life initiative, the Year of Evangelism. Evangelism can happen in all sorts of ways, but it always involves us telling the story, our story and God’s story – and even those of us who are sometimes scared by evangelism can do that! Christmas is the time when we especially tell the story of the nativity – God coming to earth in human form. It’s one of the best chances in the year to tell the Christian story. Let’s grab it with both hands. I am convinced that lots of people in their own ways, and often without really knowing it, are saying “digame”. Let’s tell them the Good News!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Don't Keep God Indoors

God is great - and we need to remember that. I have been reading Calvin Miller's "The Path of Celtic Prayer" (BRF, 2008). Miller reminds us of the mistake we often try to make of domesticating God. God is beyond that. P. 86 - "... we who serve an entirely indoor God have lost a great part of our faith. We must break through the cold, hard walls of our institutionalized worship and reach for the soft, warm reality of God that is found out of doors. It is impossible to imprison God within the walls of a church and yet claim that Christianity brings light, growth and life." When we try and pin God down, he marvellously breaks out beyond our attempts.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Hitting the Ground Kneeling

Yesterday I was at Chelmsford Cathedral for the installation of the new Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. It was an impressive occasion with lots of different elements to the service. It was particularly good to see him being "drummed" into the cathedral. As it happens, I have been reading one of his books "Hit the Ground Kneeling" (Church House Publishing, 2008). In it he tries to offer a different perspective on leadership, suggesting that we, who follow God, ought to be providing a different kind of leadership from that conventionally found elsewhere. He makes the point that - p. 4 - "creativity is usually cultivated in the soil of contemplation." Leading up to that conclusion he says: "Whatever sort of leadership we exercise, indeed, whether or not we think of ourselves as leaders, time spent in reflective attentiveness, what the Church calls contemplation, makes for healthier and more fruitful living. But I say this against the backdrop of a world of remorseless and implacable busyness. We seem hell bent on filling every waking moment - and most of the sleeping ones as well - with noise and activity. Time for reflection is squeezed out. In fact sleeping moments are harder to come by. We sleep less than we did 40 years ago. We work longer hours. And we are constantly chided and chivvied by the chatter of the TV, the chirping of the mobile phone and the clamour of email. We are tied to the trees but more and more cut off from the wood." I absolutely agree that we need more contemplative leadership. I did hear about a minister who gave up meetings for Lent. My response was that I was going to give up email for Lent - but I didn't have the courage to follow it through.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Niche Church

We tend to think that church should be for everyone - and, of course, it is. Ideally, any given church will have the full range of ages - but many don't. I don't believe that we need to think that we have failed when that is the case. We can't all reach out to everyone all the time. We live in a world of consumer choice and of highly specialised interest groups. I think that the church needs to be there sometimes. Of course, the church, in the broadest sense, is for everyone. But certain congregations may be being called to address particular target groups. None of us can do everything. We ought to be looking for what God is calling us to do. If God wants us to serve in a particular niche, let's do it effectively and willingly. Then, together, we will see the Kingdom being built.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ministry of Stories

An item on today's UK news concerned the formation of a new Ministry of Stories, not a new government department, but an initiative by Nick Hornby and other writers to encourage story-writing amongst children and young people. The centre in East London will offer a range of opportunities to get involved in writing stories. What a good idea! Stories are so much part of life. I think there is a comparison to be drawn with the United Reformed Church's Vision4Life Evangelism Year, due to begin in nine days' time, on Advent Sunday. One of the key emphases of the Vision4Life Evangelism Year is to be encouraging each other to tell our story, and the hope is that helpful resources will be provided to enable that. Of course, we can enjoy the imagination and fantasy of creative writing. But the real stories of real people are normally incredibly fascinating and frequently have new things to say to us. Let's look for good ways of sharing the exciting story of what God has done for us!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Clock

This comes straight from Mission-Shaped Parish (p. 8) - but what a great image. "What goes to make up a clock? Just about anything - sand, water, sunshine, springs, gears, quartz crystals, gold, silver, plastic, steel. Yet underneath all the diversity, every clock has two essential components. One is the bit that knows the time - the mechanism, the bit that makes the clock tick. The other is the bit that tells the time - digital numbers, a sundial arm, a voice, hands on a dial - in short a clock face, the bit that you need to see or hear. Any clock needs both components, a mechanism and a face. Otherwise it will not be right, or it won't be helpful. In local church life also there are two essential components - the bit that knows the good news for its community, and the bit that tells the good news to its community."

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Mission Shaped Values

Mission-Shaped Parish suggests there are five mission-shaped values (p. 6) which we need in order to be effective, but warns against these being left in the abstract. It only works if they are each being exercised in concrete ways. But what are they? These five mission-shaped values are: 1) A missionary church is focussed on God the Trinity. This is essentially to do with worship. 2) A missionary church is incarnational. This is about relating to the cultural context. 3) A missionary church is transformational. This is about transforming communities. 4) A missionary church makes disciples. This is about calling people to action. 5) A missionary church is relational. Welcome and hospitality are key.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Big Pictures, Little Pictures & Bandwagons

Thank God for those who, like Desmond Tutu, have engaged with the evils and challenges of racism. Thank God for those who, like Mother Teresa, have been ready to care for the desperately poor. Thank God for those who, like William Wilberforce, were willing to challenge the very fabric of society and contribute towards essential change.
But, though most of us won’t reach such dizzy heights, that doesn’t mean we are not to bother about such things. All the little bits that we can do build into things that can really make a difference. There is still a long way to go but movements like Jubilee 2000, Make Poverty History and Fair Trade have done a lot of good. And it is not just because someone has had a vision, important though that was. It is because lots and lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon.
Don’t be afraid of jumping on bandwagons. Just make sure you are on the right one.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Friendly Church

I am often struck by the number of churches I encounter that claim to be friendly. We are a welcoming bunch of folk - that's what we have got going for us. Happily there is a lot of truth in the claim, but we also need to recognise those places where it fails to work out. It is also true that too many churches work on an "in crowd" model. We don't make our churches accessible - and here I am not talking about ramps, rails and loops, important though they are. I am talking about the accessibility of our worship, the accessibility of the conversation around coffee after the service, the accessibility of the different activities. How do things work out if you are not "in the know"? We do well to note Robert Warren's words (in "The Healthy Churches' Handbook", p. 41) - "Real welcome is what happens after we have said, 'hello'."

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Going for Growth

I have just finished reading Mission-Shaped Parish and was struck - inevitably - by the need to engage with our community. We need to get round the fact that "evangelism is a reluctant guest on the agenda of many churches." (p. 101) Often, I think, we give it too much hype. We think we can't do it. We forget that evangelism is just encountering people and telling the story - and we can. We need to be looking for where we are doing it - "The question each church needs to ask is: 'Where is our church's spiritual growbag? Where is the place for new life?'" (p. 101)