The Great Commission revisited

I used this on my twitter feed this week:-

Makes me think: there is a need for planning and aiming: sometimes leading a church feels a bit like nailing jelly to the ceiling, or trying to teach ravens to fly underwater (to paraphrase the late Peter Cook and Dudley Moore). I could plan and set goals better; it doesn’t really fire me and most times there just seems too much to deal with.

But….but….

…as the cartoon shows: taken to it’s nth degree, it is not what it is about is it? Show me the place with precise plans etc and I will show you the place where people can’t bleed or be messy and unpredictable, or where they cannot be who they are without pretence.

…and maybe in worshipping that particular golden calf, it may be a place where God can’t dance freely ….

(picture https://twitter.com/RevDaniel/status/405426132951916544/photo/1)

Friday Music

[youtube]uQBZ8RDszWw[/youtube]

Years ago when I was writing an MA thesis called ‘Looking for Baby Jesus under the trash’ which was about mission theology and U2 (I could have been more specific, but most people’s eyes glaze over at that point), I discovered several musicians who were Christians but had nothing to do with the ‘Christian music scene’.

Regular readers of this blog will know a little of my history; soon after becoming a Christian in the mid 80s, someone introduced me to the ‘Christian music scene’. Even then, still a long way from the Victor Meldrew that I now have become, I thought that most of what I heard was rubbish. That is a harsh judgement, but I generally found derivative music, clichéd lyrics and bad production. It took an effort of will in the mid 80s to drink appalling Fair Trade coffee and like it; it took an even greater effort with ‘Christian Rock’.

Since that date I have been biased against it and from time to time I have tried to combat that prejudice; apart from one or two exceptions my opinion has not shifted. I think it was the producer T Bone Burnett who once said something like if a Christian bricklayer built a wall badly and sprayed ‘Jesus’ on it, it would not make it good. Likewise any music that is marketed as ‘Christian’; it has to be good music with integrity.

One musician I unearthed in my research was Sufjan Stevens and his record label ‘Asthmatic Kitty’; a home for leftfield, quirky and adventurous musicians; many of faith. I have CDs by Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith, The Welcome Wagon & the Danielson Family from that label. I recently got hold of a CD by Half Handed Cloud and it makes me smile so much. On first listen, it sounds scrappy- 25 tracks over 50 minutes, but then the mixture of musicianship, strangeness and instrumentation got me. Plus I like the title:-

‘As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in our Members a Kind of Rebirth’

It is always good to hear someone ploughing a musical furrow because they like it and they want to. It is ‘marmite music’: you either like it or loathe it.

The above video is not an album track, but it gives a flavour of who they are.

A humanist funeral

Itv.jpg (765×649)

In my first appointment I just wouldn’t do it: I was never asked, but I wouldn’t do it.

Then, when I moved here, I went to a massive funeral of a noted local character. It was held in the Parish Church and led by the Vicar. It was a humanist funeral. And I began to think ‘so what is my problem: if God is God, does it matter if I lead a humanist/secular funeral?’

And so I have led a few: no more than a handful and only in the areas where I minister. The thing is; without even trying, you usually end up talking more about faith/God/ultimate meaning on visits about such funerals. I think this is because people are making a conscious choice about what they are doing and why. They are also genuinely interested as to why you are doing this. Paradoxically; and I don’t objectively measure this, I might pray more for the family- at least partly as I follow Jesus and I am aware that those I do this for have made a conscious choice not to. I am eager not to step over their boundaries and honour what they want: it is not ‘my’ funeral, it is theirs.

The thing is, judging by the way people relate afterwards, there is no real awareness- maybe because people know me from other contexts- that what I have done is any different. The conversations are the same, although perhaps deeper. And I am just so glad to be of use and help make the ceremony meaningful, true and ‘real’. Sometimes why people ask for humanist funerals is because their experience of church/funerals in the past has been that it has not been real or honest. I also have one atheist friend who is lined up to speak at my funeral, whenever that might be.

And yes, God is bigger.

Ok, another blog

asset-management-tool.jpg (600×600)

A little more cutting and pasting…

I have always struggled with management theory. I studied it in the late 80s and early 90s as part of a professional qualification although I do remember for the only time in my life falling asleep in a lecture. It was not that there was anything wrong with it; it always seemed so dull, dry and lacking in human warmth. I have had some good managers in my time in the ‘secular world’ (I hate that phrase, but I use it for shorthand), but I have had some appalling ones: at worst the ends always justified the means, regardless of human cost.

Don’t get me started on Christian Management books: mainly American, they have always seemed to me to pick a management theory, garnish it with a few texts and with a heavy dusting of prosperity theology. Ok that is a sweeping generalisation, but this is my blog.

I have started following a management blog, however. Actually, more accurately it is a thinking blog.http://sethgodin.typepad.com I followed it as I know I need to read all sorts and be open to new insights. Plus the writer seemed more interested in human beings than a product.

I really like this post and I am thinking about it in a church context:-http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/11/the-three-toxic-stooges-of-the-project-apocalypse.html

He talks about 3 stages of a process for a new idea/action and why things can go wrong. This is an extract- read the rest.

OVERPROMISING: During the magical early stages of the project, we envision not just perfect execution, but limitless features. At this stage, every project needs a truth teller (not a no-sayer, because they are easy to find and worthless, but a truth teller, someone who has been through it before and knows the difficulties that lie ahead).

UNDERSHARING: As the project gets built, our instinct is to hide. Hide our roadblocks, our mistakes, our worries. As we hide, we keep the rest of the team in the dark. As the darkness settles in, it’s easier than ever to keep hiding, because to unhide now is double the trouble.

LACK OF POLISH: The charette-driven, when’s-the-deadline mindset might be a good way to force yourself through the resistance, but it has a huge cost–you will be judged. The market will not judge you by how much work you did, we will judge you by how it works and looks and feels. And that comes from polish, and polish cannot be rushed.

And I love the quote- I may emblazon it somewhere:-

“Everything takes more time than you thought, everything costs more money than you thought, and almost everything turns out not quite as cool as you expected.”

Finances

helpinghandfinance3.jpg (1024×686)

I read a really helpful post at http://www.themissionalnetwork.com/index.php/resources/articles/92-leadership/276-reflections-on-denominational-structure about church finances.

Even reading that last sentence gives me a headache. I have a confession: I just don’t get off on admin. I know some people do and streams of figures and procedures light them up. I am so grateful for people like that.

Except this post was not really about finance but attitudes behind it. I have cut and pasted a large chunk of it as I found it so helpful: not because it gave answers, but a direction and what I like to call ‘hopeful risk’. I have been sending out emails the last few days trying to convene some meetings over the next couple of months to look at how this group of churches ( we call it a ‘circuit’ in Methodism) finances itself and dreams some possible futures. I do not find this easy: sometimes financial discussions can degenerate into ‘there is no money, everybody is getting old and why we spent 37p in the church structure in the last 17 years I do not know’- the hope literally leeches away.

So I am really grateful to those locally who are able to marry up a good financial brain and hopeful faith. And I am really grateful to thinkers like this:-

‘The pie model assumes there are only so many dollars available from the limited sources of congregational pledges (denominational levies), investments and special pledges. Budgets, therefore, have to be based on what is in the pie for the coming year. The job of accountants and judicatory business meetings are to determine how best to divide up a dwindling pie into the requisite pieces to cover programs and personnel.

As the meeting unfolded, it was clear these underlying assumptions had no capacity to take these people into a future that would be faithful to their theological convictions or engage the radically changed realities in which they were struggling. Euro-tribal denominations are way past restructuring or adjusting. They face the challenge of fundamentally re-founding themselves. What caught my spirit was an awareness that at national, mid and local levels there is little sense of why these long established models are no longer viable or what can be done about it. 

But amazing opportunity lies before us.  Yes, these are disorienting times for judicatories. But there are alternative ways to address our malaise.  Just as the Spirit of God was creating new imagination and new forms of life in difficult places (desert and exile), that same Spirit is inviting us to discover new ways of thriving. These are creative times of hope – the narratives of loss, scarcity and decline are not our only options’.    

 

(HT: I got the original link from http://thinkingaboutmission.wordpress.com)

Thinking…once more…

thinking-web-pic.jpg (500×500)

Someone phoned me last week. A few years back he had written an article for a theological journal about the work that different people were involved in across the country; I was one of them. It was work that was described as ‘pioneering’. I am very uncomfortable with labels, particularly that label: it gives the impression of different classes of minister & there aren’t- we are all pretty much of a muchness. As Bruce Cockburn in ‘Lovers in a dangerous time’ sings:-

‘Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight’

…and we all try to do that.

I don’t know where the guy got my name from or why he thought that I might be useful; I have never considered what I do as ‘different’. I guess I might be in more situations where I am mixing with people outside of church congregations, but that is only because the church and the Methodist Circuit make it possible; anyone could do it Anyway, his chat with me was really helpful: where were things compared with a few years ago? I realised that a lot of my understandings had continued to shift and move: my continual jibes about Christian worship songs being written in the holy key of G are but the surface of a general feeling: better administration/organisation or even sing ‘Hallelujah’ louder may be some help, but they will never be salvation.

That is a rather long introduction to a blog post I happened upon last week from a guy in Australia whom I have often cited: now a part time pastor on top of being a full time garden designer/maintainer (I think I got that right: I don’t understand Australian), he gives some insights into planting churches/starting new things and being in your late 40s (which I can identify with). Full post at http://www.backyardmissionary.com/so-you-wanna-plant-a-church/

Its hard… not rocket science, but it was harder than we had ever thought. People get interested in spiritual issues when they are desperate, but as soon as life gets better or faith gets hard then its time to move on or let it go. Outside of those crisis moments, faith issues are rarely discussed in suburbia and its hard to engage in those subjects naturally with people for whom it is a whole foreign language.

In a mission team no one ‘buys in’ quite like you do… Even those who say they are with you, aren’t as deeply committed as you are. That’s just how it is so deal with it. No one will ‘run your business like you will’. Its a bit like that. I was disappointed that people didn’t seem to bleed mission like I thought I did, but I think it will always be that way.

I have found the normal distribution curve a really useful paradigm for explaining what goes on in church and discipleship. Some people soar and give and inspire. Some people suck. They drain you, lie and create problems. Most people are in the middle. Some bring energy and some don’t. But no one – no one – will own a project you are leading quite like you will. If that is going to be a disappointment to you then deal with it now.

People are busy… and the people in your team will be busy. Busy people doing mission amongst other busy people… That’s hardly a recipe for a strong community. Unless we address the question of busyness amongst ourselves then I think church planting is a waste of time. Seriously – all it amounts to is creating another Sunday church service, and like we need one of them… Yanchep now only has one church service on Sundays and it is a particular flavour, but do we need another flavour?… I’m not convinced that beginning a new church service equates in any way to planting a church. But for busy people this might be the only thing they can do. And I find myself reeling back at the thought of this being the central focus of a mission effort.

There is value in the familiar… not to contradict myself… but I see value in a regular Sunday gig. In our time with Upstream we noticed that the absence of a typical Sunday gig prevented us from having some good people join us. For some folks the leap from songs and sermon to house and food was just too huge. Part of the move back to QBC was a recognition that we had not been able to convince people to join us in our homes and that if we were going to build a mission team, then perhaps we needed to meet the Christians where they were at and lead them on that journey. So I imagine if we started again we would do something that resembled a Sunday gig in some form, but it would be a doorway in rather the focus of energy.

Need is endless… That said, in the absence of a Sunday gig to put your energy into what does a community do together? in Butler we did a number of backyard blitzes and the like. What was disturbing was the number of people we helped out were already part of churches, but their church hadn’t offered to help… I got pretty annoyed at that. And it seemed that everywhere you looked there were people in some level of need. And then I struggle with providing several thousand dollars to give someone a pretty backyard when others around the world die from lack of food. I am a little stuck with this one. I think there is a call on the church to bless and serve the community it in, but I am not sure quite how to do that in a way that is helpful to both the community and the church.

Friendship evangelism is a tricky business… because sooner or later you find yourself asking ‘is it friendship – or is it evangelism?’ Because if its friendship then there are only so many friends you can have in your life before you are maxed out. If its friendship evangelism then what does that mean if your friend clearly isn’t interested?… Are they still your friend? Or do you now seek new friends to evangelise? Ten years on I have a small handful of really good friends and none of them are non-Christians. I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’m not so convinced now. I’d like to have some more people in my life who do not share my faith, but I can’t force that and right now it just isn’t going there.

The experts don’t live in your suburb and lead your team… All the great ideas and books you read seem to make mission and church sound remarkably easy and just a case of getting a few key factors in place. I have read many many books on this subject and I know the theory very well, but while some of it is useful, its a bit like when I completed my teaching degree and had to actually go teach kids. All the educational theory makes sense in the classroom, but once you’re doing it you have to adapt and work with a bunch of kids who didn’t read those text books…

We need more missionaries in the west… Not just church attenders, but people who look and see the need and ask ‘God – what can I do?’ Right now my own sense of mission takes me into the workplace and that has been a good journey. Its hardly evangelism central when fixing sprinklers, but its like anything – the headspace you bring to the task affects how you do it and how you relate to people.

From Thomas Merton

I have a book on my shelves which is an anthology of Thomas Merton. Like a lot of my books, it remains ‘dipped in to’ as opposed to savoured and read slowly. I read this, this week (exact source unknown) that feel appropriate for today:-

Give me the strength that waits upon you in silence and peace.

Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.

Possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love.

Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.

Fun

My children follow YouTube channels or at least know where to look. Mostly I can’t understand what they are watching (Minecraft screen captures and films of blokes reading out Y’uogih (?) cards….). I suppose I reached that stage with my parents: your world is growing and expanding and your peer group is becoming more important in defining who you are. Nonetheless, I find it bittersweet: the excitement of seeing them build their own world coupled with intimations of my own mortality.

Our worlds coalesced yesterday: my youngest showed me these two videos. He described them as ‘funny’ and chuckled. I, on the other hand haven’t laughed so much in a long while. This is close to genius:-

[youtube]qnydFmqHuVo[/youtube]

 

[youtube]Ip2qchPjk-I[/youtube]

Two things:-

(1) If you can’t enter into surreal, you are probably not breathing.

(2)I wish I was nearly 10 again….

Friday Music

[youtube]jJj0z0u_9qQ[/youtube]

I have lived my musical life out of sequence. It is only in the last couple of years or so that I have started to discover The Velvet Underground. This would be my belated tribute to the great Lou Reed (I have had ‘Transformer’ for years though).

Ignore some of the cheesy pictures: this is a great song. Often from outside faith you get better songs about faith.

When it all goes awol:4

Last Sunday I used the following hymn: it is beautiful. I find it really helpful when everything is up in the air.

If you go to where the trolls hang out (aka ‘Guardian Religion and Belief’) that statement would be read as something like- ‘he has no intelligence and doesn’t use his brain, instead ceding control to an imaginary deity’. You have to read this in nonconformist context- God gave us a brain, we use it, God also called us into communities- we work for justice/healing/hope and try and build community. Yes, and we talk about what it is to follow Jesus. But we also recognise that we are limited and finite, so we sing stuff like this together and Hope for guidance and a way through the storm….

…and this is almost impossible to understand without a rich steeping in the Christian story. And even Polly Toynbee, who self describes as an atheist, was in the Guardian a few days back lamenting that Biblical/Christian literacy is declining.

1:Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land. 
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand. 
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more;
feed me till I want no more.

2. Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through. 
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.

3. When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side. 
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.