I had to phone a minister in another church quite a way from here last week. They were off- not surprising: most of us crash and burn in the days after Christmas. There was a message on the ansaphone to the effect that ‘Rev X is away, if you need to speak to a minister phone Rev Y or Rev Z.’ There was no phone number given. With the aid of my trusty Methodist Directory I found the missing numbers & once I made contact, the ministers and their churches put themselves out in an extraordinary way.
However, I only got contact as I knew how to. If I was anyone else who had no awareness of internal church contact details then I would be stuck. There was no intention to be unwelcome: I am just guessing it was an oversight bought on by excessive workload, but perhaps also (and I looked at how many churches each minister had in that area) so much mixing with people in churches that they had ceased to think about how outsiders would perceive them.
Maybe that is a harsh, snap judgement, but it does sometimes strike me that if you are not careful as a full time Christian worker , it is possible to run from meeting to meeting, service to service without forming any meaningful relationships with anyone outside Christian community: the Church can become more embracing than it was ever intended to be. You forget how people who have no contact think and feel (I found the same sometimes being part of a larger church outside my immediate locale: your friendship/socialisation circle becomes likeminded people. You long for people to follow Jesus, but you are in relationship with so few yourself that it is unlikely you would have any role in this ever happening).
And all of that is a shame, for once I got through the barrier, I found people who went further and showed more consideration than most organisations I have ever dealt with.
‘The shipwreck in a stormy sea’ Ivan Aivazovsky
An established blogger has set up another blog where he posts one mission resource a day:http://thinkingaboutmission.wordpress.com/ I liked this one very much. It is from a pair of quotes by Alan Roxburgh; a guy living in Canada who writes and talks on mission.
This made me think as it is so true: I believe we are in a time of change where much that was certain is passing/has passed. I believe that whilst change has always happened, the cultural, social and economic changes we are living through are faster than they have ever been:-
‘There isn’t an executive leader I’ve met recently who doesn’t recognize that practically everything about their jobs and roles has changed. They can describe how things used to work but confess they have few clues about how to lead in this new space. Leaders find themselves in a ‘space between.’ This is a space between the world in which we were formed and this indefinable territory our churches now have to navigate. What is coming into focus for leaders I talk with is that this space between is more than a stopping off place while we wait for the fog to clear; it’s the new normal and will be so for a long time to come’.
I feel this keenly. As a church leader this is hard to cope with- the change and what is sometimes the transference of anger onto church leaders over accepting/refusing to accept this change. There no longer feels to be any map and many of the old solutions don’t apply. In fact the word ‘solution’, implying the ‘next big thing’ that will ‘solve’ it, seems to be redundant. He continues with some Hope….
Critical to leading in this new space is grasping that this is exactly the location where God has always met us. Throughout the Biblical narratives, as well as at critical moments in the church’s history, God has come to engage us in this space between where our capacities to manage, control, predict and strategize no longer work. Space between is God’s space! It is, therefore, the space of hope – not escape. The God of Jesus Christ continually meets and invites us to live in this space between. It is exactly where God’s future unfolds. It’s not a problem to be solved but the place where we learn again, as God’s people, how to thrive.
Just finished helping to run a 3 day holiday club in our village hall. This is how it is for me:-
* The number of volunteers who gave up huge swathes of their own time and the quality of what they did left me feeling amazed and grateful.
* The amount people are prepared to give to short term intense commitments.
* I absolutely love doing things like this: working with children, with people who have no or hardly any church background.
* Networks: I am lucky enough to be in a place and to be in enough ‘third spaces’ within that place to build them and access them. I would get so frustrated in a ‘traditional’ Methodist Church appointment where the majority of time it seems is spent with those who come into a church(I love the mix of people I minister to). I am not knocking this; I know some are called to this.
* Sustaining weekly kids work is proving really hard at the moment: I am wondering if these kind of ‘temporary community’ events may be a way forward- the level of relationship seems to grow deeper.
* ‘Christendom’ is breaking down: we had a break from doing this holiday club for 5 years & I have noticed doing this has become ‘harder’- the gaps between church and community are growing.
* I live in a wealthy area: the number of people who go away most school holidays (summer, Oct half term, Christmas, Feb half term, Easter, May half term) seems to be growing.
*I need a holiday! As a good introvert with extrovert features, I love being around people, but most afternoons have been spent in my study working away from people.
But I am just so grateful to God to have the chance to do this….
Today I will mostly be at a holiday club. Well, the holiday club only runs from 9.30-12.30, but what with setting up and then clearing up/debriefing and preparing the next day and collapsing in a heap, it will take up most of the day.
We restarted it last year after a break of 5 years or so. Last week after weeks of publicity/invites etc we finally made our target number, but it was nip and tuck to get there. I still hope for 1 or 2 extra this morning and the next 3 mornings.
I could dearly do with a lie down at half term! I suppose a lot of the volunteers could as well.But I am looking forward to it: lots of activity, fun and engaging with a group of kids who are largely outside regular church. I don’t know what the long term effects will be: we don’t really have regular Sunday kids work at the moment, but I think one thing to do is just to put stuff out there in a form and style that matches what people are used to. It is based on the story of Paul and uses pirates (don’t ask); mainly because the biennial Amateur Dramatic children’s production was called ‘Pirates of the Currybean’.
If you are the praying kind, prayers please over the next few days and beyond….
(Image from http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2680/4382337224_004b130c24_o.jpg)
I read a really lovely post last week from a Vicar on a deprived estate. I loved how he acknowledged that things can sometimes be hard and ‘growth’, at least in the terms that people want it may not happen. I think some of his comments are applicable to many areas of Britain. Here is a sample- the link for the whole article is at the bottom. And yes….I am reblogging a lot this week.
Small churches in deprived areas can be hard to organise, to develop, to grow. People often have multiple issues in their lives, and also an outlook often unfamiliar with ideas of progression, change, development, responsibility and leadership. So forget detailed programmes of discipleship courses based around growth and professional development.
Sometimes you have to accept that standing still is an achievement. Really? Is it possible to be content with standing still? I didn’t want to hear that when I was at college. But yes, it is, if the ground beneath you is constantly dragging backwards. That is how it feels for so many people. Aspiration? How can you aspire if simply not going under is an achievement.
Growth in depth and numbers is good, but having a go and seeing staying still and sometimes even falling back is not necessarily always bad. This is an article to read, think on, pray through; especially if you have sat through ‘clergy boast fests’ that have given you no room to question or even lament.
Last night I went to another meeting (when September hits, I usually find myself mildly surprised if I am at home in the evening) but I liked it.
I am part of a Management Group for someone who has been placed in a growing residential area and has the task of growing Christian community from scratch. There is the realisation that this work is open ended and at least 10 years may not be enough to see what, if anything, takes root. Also, there seems to be the recognition that this won’t begin with Sunday worship; in fact may not ever lead to Sunday worship.
I just loved the experience of stepping out of my own context and listening to others (avoiding the temptation of assuming the persona of ‘expert’ who is there to minister patronisingly down and tell the person what to do. In Christian love of course) and seeing if their experience can help me see my own situation in a new light.
Another plus: I got a CD in the post yesterday from St Ebay – of which more anon- which had a sticker on that said ‘If you like Godspeed, Mogwai or Sigur Ros, this album has your name on it.’ The long drive there and back therefore had an extra bonus….
So, the reading is Luke 10:38-42: Mary and Martha.
I suppose I could have gone with the line about sitting still at Jesus’ feet… and I kind of have (although sermons I have heard like that often seem to stray into sacred/secular territory….. there is quietness where God is….. and there is the noise of ‘the world’).
What struck me this time (and in 769 separate sermons/1250 times when I have preached- I am on the spectrum…. I have only preached on this passage on 2 or 3 occasions) was the phrase ‘on their way’; Ok, the early Christians were known as ‘The Way’…. but I think this means much more about provisionality and you discover more of God as you are ‘on your way’ with others doing and being the stuff. Very few things are certain; most things are on the way.
It also struck me about how this story, like most Jesus stories, takes place on someone else’s territory. The early followers never had a place of safety, a bully pulpit, a large mega church or even their own chapel where they could meat and talk about how to get outsiders in. They had to act and be in someone else’s environment/play by someone else’s rules.
That’s as much as I am saying, otherwise I’d put the whole sermon on here. If you rush, you might just get a seat….
(Note: it is never ‘my’ church….)
Although from an American perspective, I found this a really good article:-
Fascinating, but so sad. In particular these reasons (my comments in italics):-
The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.
‘We need to see more of our minister’. ‘It is time to look after ourselves’. If they don’t do that; I am not coming’. ‘If they do that, I am not coming’. ‘I don’t care about the playgroup: this is the Choir cupboard.’
The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
‘It is so important that we have an organ; it helps me to worship: you can do too much for the youth.’ ‘We like prayer and praise nights; they nurture us- there is no time to think about the soup run for the homeless.’ ‘It is important that we keep this building closed: last week some kids came in and tipped over the hymn books’. ‘the school can’t use the main church- they leave mud on the carpet.’
The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.
‘I say my prayers: thank you very much’
Of course- I am guilty of none of the above….
I used part of this on Sunday. It is incredible to hear this from someone who is speaking from the top of the Roman Catholic Tradition:-
Here are a few extracts:-
A Church that merely protects its small flock, that gives all or most of its attention to its faithful clientele, he believes, “is a Church that is sick.”
Repeat after me: ‘we need to focus on ourselves for a while’, ‘You can do too much for outsiders’, ‘we need to be fed’….
and this- for ‘priests’ put ‘rectors’, ‘ministers’, ‘vicars’ etc
“We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity.”
Clericalization means focusing fundamentally on the things of the clergy and, more specifically, the sanctuary, rather than on bringing the Gospel to the world.
Clericalism ails the clergy when they become too self-referential rather than missionary. But it afflicts laypeople worse, when they begin to believe that the fundamental service God is asking of them is to become greeters, lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at Church rather than to live and spread the faith in their families, workplaces, schools neighborhoods and beyond.
Amen, amen, amen… now I have a full week- several meetings every night, no time for a day off, so much church work to do and then there is Sunday’s sermon which talks about the importance of offering for church office, then a church council, church lunch and a few visits…..must do all my circuit duties….. D’oh
I don’t particularly like ‘either/or’ typologies as often the real meaning is to be found in the shades of grey between. However, they can be useful in getting me to think. Ignore the jargon (‘missional’ broadly means that mission and others comes first: the church is the only organisation that exists for those who are not yet members, to paraphrase a post war Archbishop of Canterbury).
Being a minister in the former is becoming utterly draining. I was raised in the former: I have lost count of the number of articulate middle class professionals talking about needing to find a ‘good’ church, which broadly meant something that feeds me and meets my needs. I can remember few who said something along the lines of ‘my culture tells me that it is all about me; with more wealth comes more choice and the temptation to self pleasure more. I think following Jesus calls that into question; where can I be where the hungry are fed, my neighbours find hope and mine and my society’s values are questioned?’