Sunday, December 4, 2005

Middle Eastern Mission

Thought I should let you know that I'm likely to be out of action for a little while. Jay and I are heading over to the Middle East in a couple of hours to spend two months thinking and doing mission in that part of the world.

For the first few weeks some people from our old church will be joining us in a type of exposure tour running through Interserve. After that we'll be on our own seeing the sites, catching up with missionaries and looking for opportunities to talk to the locals about God.

I'll have internet access from time to time and if I'm inspired I'll write, but if not then it might be even quieter than usual around here until Feb.

Just in case you don't hear from me then have a great Christmas/NY/Holidays.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Joining the Northern Ministry Team

I'm down on the Peninsula this evening for a Ministry Team Retreat for Northern. It's a strange feeling to be away on this kind of retreat with people that I mostly don't know. Strange because the issues being faced are similar to some that I've come across before in other ministry positions and strange because there is a whole different relational dynamic at work in this staff team to the one I have only just finished up in. A good strange though, I really like reflecting on situations and trying to work through what is happening in the context of a team and this is a whole new group of people and situations to do that in. So I'm here for tomorrow as well and then heading back to Melbourne for an anniversary dinner date with the lovely Jay. It certainly is an exciting stage of life and ministry at the moment!

Monday, November 28, 2005

In need of a new boldness

I've been feeling the need for a new level of boldness lately. My 'ministry' work up until this point has sometimes been challenging but never really risky. The worst thing that could have happened to me was losing face over a crappy sermon or a poor leadership decision. But with this church plant taking shape I am increasingly aware of the risks we have taken. I'd like to say I'm comfortable with the risks and I guess at one level I am, but in another way I sense that I'm going to need a fresh level of boldness to really be able to make this happen. In part this boldness will be a new level of reliance on God, but also I think I'm going to have to develop a willingness to put myself out there a little more, to try things that I am not good at and then try them again if it doesn't work. I've got that feeling that I will learn a whole bunch of new things about God, life and myself in the next little while if I keep taking steps of faith and trusting in Him.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Learnings from the garden 2

When we moved in to our house the garden hadn't been weeded since the day we bought it 2 months earlier so the weeds were starting to go a little crazy. So Jay and I got out amongst it and started ripping up weeds everywhere we found them. Once this was done we gave the garden a good water using some liquid fertiliser as well. After this we mulched, we used some mulch from a friend's house who had a tree fall down and had it chipped to be used on the garden. This whole process was really not that fun, to be honest weeding really sucks the rest wasn't too bad, but it caused me to reflect on the discipline of preparing the soil in my own life. For my garden to grow well I needed to put the time into preparing the soil. I needed to weed, water, fertilise and mulch if I wanted things to grow well over the coming months. I couldn't see the benefits while I was doing this work, I just had to trust that they would come as time went on. It seems to me that much of life is like this, particularly spiritual life. We need to spend time preparing our own soil, we need to take up disciplines that will enable us to grow well as time goes on.

For me personally this has always been something I've struggled to make happen, it feels like a lesson God has shown me in theory and now practically through the garden. I just need the boldness and discipline to really put it into practice myself.

A new beginning

Well tonight was the first time our new team met to get to know one another a little better and begin planning for the launch of our church plant in early 2006. I'm very pleased to say it was great. A really encouraging time of learning how we each came to the point of joining this team, we heard some people's frustrations, past hurts and disappointments as well as their dreams, hopes and excitement about the possibilities ahead.

There were many positive and inspiring things, but the level of maturity on issues of success and failure was something I found particularly encouraging. There are no easy answers on the subject of measuring success or failure in churches. I've seen a few methods and usually they pick up on some important issues but miss others or even when they appear comprehensive you still get the sense that something is missing. Well tonight we didn't talk directly about measuring success but we did talk about the elements of our plant that were important. And that even though our plans for the community garden may or may not work, what is important is the way we relate to one another in the process. These relationships will be the witness to those we interact with, not how well the community garden project goes. It is through these relationships that people might get a glimpse of God (and hopefully a whole lot more than a glimpse!). I hope and will pray that our relationships with God and with one another might bring light and the fullness of life that God desires for the people of Preston.

Some other notables were people's desire for a church and expression of their faith that was everyday, not removed from normal life and a strong passion for connecting with the marginalised in this area. I think we all feel a sense that Jesus worked at the margins and we see the need to follow that path. Also, as with many house church expressions, there is an excitement around the potential for strong community due to our size and proximity to one another. So it was a great beginning and personally I felt a sense of God's presence and blessing which is very affirming.

This means that we have a church plant beginning in 2006 that is local to the area of Preston, desiring to be mission-shaped, focusing on a community garden as the means by which it will seek to connect with the community and also formally a part of Northern Community Church of Christ.

I don't think I've mentioned this last bit until now as it has only recently been confirmed, but we have been working with the guys at Northern to develop a connection and our plant will be one of the congregations of this church. This is a very positive step as we seek to engage the community of this area because Northern already has great connections with the community and a very strong mission focus. In terms of details, I will be an unpaid staff person and my wife (Jay) will become a member of the internship program known as the Kaleo Team. Jay and I met with the leadership team of Northern recently and were very encouraged by them, the fit with Northern is a close one, another instance of God's hand at work.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Learnings from the garden 1

I've mentioned that I am working with a bunch of people with a view to planting a mission shaped church in Preston and that I hope a clear focus of that plant will be a community garden project through which we will connect with our local community. Well things have been happening there and I will post an update on that soon, but I want to share with you some learnings from the garden I've been experiencing in a series of posts.

I haven't been much of a gardener in the past ... well actually I haven't been a gardener at all. But I've always been interested in the things we can learn about God from his creation and I feel like He's been teaching me a few lessons from my new experience as a gardener. (FYI - I consider myself in training for the community garden project so I'm starting with my garden at home. I've been weeding, mulching, watering, pruning, mowing, raking, preparing the soil, sowing seeds, replanting seedlings, fertilising and more. There is so much to learn!) This new pastime of gardening allows for much day dreaming and introspection, but it also provides time for healthy reflection and the genesis of new insights I have not yet uncovered.

a bit of disclaimer - there might not be anything earth shattering for you in these learnings, so don't get too excited, however there is a depth beyond the concept as a truth learnt as an idea is never as powerful as a truth discovered through action

My first gardening task on arriving at the new place was to prune the roses, apparently I was a bit late, but better late than never it seems as they are now in a glorious full bloom. I'm not sure if you've ever pruned roses before but it's quite a serious task. You don't just snip off the edges of the branches that look a little crappy, you really hack into the thing. To be honest I wasn't quite sure about the advice I was getting from various quarters, but after some reading on the web (the only truly reliable source of information!?), I was convinced that a good hacking was what was required. So hack I did, and they went from slightly leafy bushes to pretty tiny stumps. Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but I probably reduced their size by about a third at least. It's really quite a traumatic experience and caused me to reflect Jesus words on the vine and the branches ...

John 15
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The process of pruning my roses gave me some insight into what it means for the Father to be the one who prunes. There is a mixture of positive and negative feelings. Negative because you are cutting parts off, but positive because you know it is necessary and will bring growth. God doesn't have a sadistic or vindictive personality, he prunes us so that we will bring more fruit. He does this even though the process might be painful for both us and him I believe. I love the depth of God's character, doing things that might be unpleasant or even painful to himself for our good.

Monday, October 17, 2005

What is the gospel?

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has just finished another fantastic series called 'What is the gospel?'. In my experience this is a question that not many Christians ask themselves, but one that is foundational to who we are as the people of God.

If you're bold enough I'd like to suggest you head over and check out this series. (The easiest way to get to each of the posts is by this link.) But be prepared to have some things you might consider basics a little shaken up and helpfully put back together.

Also I think this is a crucial question for anyone seeking to have a missional focus in their lives, because your understanding of the gospel will shape the content of that missional focus.

Happy reading and let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Please, no more doing church for 'them'

For a few years I've thought that Seeker Sensitive Services are useless. I don't think I've ever been to one that I really liked or would be happy to take a not-yet-christian friend to. Even the idea that the church can put on a service/show that would engage effectively engage my friends seems ridiculous. And so I've thought that the place of the Sunday service is really for Christians to gather and encourage one another through remembrance of who God is and what he has done. Given those feelings I was very pleased to see a recent post from Ryan Bolger at TheBolgBlog titled 'Please, no more doing church for 'them'. He manages to gracefully articulate some of my feelings for me. I've included my fav bits below, but go and read the whole post here.
Relevant churches are rarely even closely relevant. Most Christians don't even like them. They might be better than Mom and Dad's morning service, but they usually are quite irrelevant to the outsider. The church person cannot 'guess' what the seeker wants, undoubtedly getting it wrong. 

A focus on the church service as connecting point perpetuates the idea that following Jesus is about going to church. The community's life takes the form of American congregational religion rather than the fluid practices of the gospel, and this emphasis presents quite a barrier to the 'seeker' outside, as they need to be converted to the values of American religious congregationalism before they can come to faith. Thus, virtually all of those who are attracted to the relevant service were raised in church or are currently going to another church -- they are not the never-churched. In contrast, a missional congregation connects with those outside the faith by, well, connecting with those outside of the community in their world. Connecting happens not in a 'come to us' CHURCH service, but through 'go and dwell' church SERVICE, i.e.
Mission happens in the 'world', in the world formerly known as secular, on their 'turf' -- not ours. As servants, the Christian connects with the seeker through service in their world.

Love your neighbours

Over at Signposts Phil has posted this great quote which I feel fantastically critiques much of the way Christians approach their faith today.
Jesus took the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and pushed the definition of who is our neighbor, out, out, and still further out, until it reached to the ends of the earth and included all of humanity—all of God’s children.

Because Jesus’ teachings are so challenging and radical, it is much more comfortable to focus on a quiet, private, personal relationship with him than it is to follow his teachings that call for a public prophetic witness.

Alvin Alexsi Currier
I can't say I've ever heard of Alvin Alexsi Currier before, but I'd be interested to read more of his work if he continues to speak this powerfully. How often do we 'find' ourselves distracted by things that don't really matter so that we don't have to take a hard truth seriously?

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Love purely because love is right

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed is doing a series of posts called Doctrinal Statements and the Emerging Movement. In it he is reviewing Emergent Village's response and it's certainly worth a read. One thing particularly struck me was the following quote.
There is rhetoric here that seeks to rectify the “in” vs. “out” mentality of lots of evangelicalism, where “mission” is seen as evangelising others to become “in” people instead of “out” people. Emergent Village sees the process as a missional relationship of love: Christians are to love other not just because they are Christians out on a mission to get the “out” folk into the “in” folk, but because love is of the essence of God. I see an attempt to rectify “love purely for the sake of evangelism” instead of “love purely because love is right.” In other words, if God’s trinitarian essence is love rather than “getting love back” from the other persons of the Trinity, then the Christian is to love because love is the essence of what Christians are and are to do and be.
I love this, it cuts straight through any argument or debate about friendship evangelism which has bugged me for a long time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Monday, October 3, 2005

Aren't we all Cross Cultural Missionaries?

I've spent the weekend at a Short Term Mission Training Program run by Missions Interlink. Jay (my wife) and I are taking a team to Egypt in December with Interserve. The course was certainly insightful and great training for Short Term Missionaries, but key for me was the thinking about cross cultural mission.

I'm more and more convinced that all Christians (not just overseas missionaries) need to take the principles of cross cultural mission seriously. In fact I would say that we all need to view ourselves as cross cultural missionaries. Our culture is so diverse that any time we speak to people we are (consciously or not) faced with cross cultural issues. Christians need to be particularly aware of the Christian culture (which I affectionately refer to as ChurchLand) that they are a part of if they want to engage others with the Jesus. The cross cultural issues are often more subtle that the ones faced if you go to spread the gospel in tribal Africa, but they are still real and have a big impact on our effectiveness.

I often wonder if the Church here will ever take this seriously?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nutting out a 'partnership'

I have to say that I think most 'partnerships' I've seen between churches and other organisations are fairly shallow. It seems that mostly they just tend to be financial transactions with little to no relational component. So the process of working out what it will look like for our church plant to be in partnership with the church that we are currently working at has been interesting.

I had a good meeting on Tuesday with the other senior staff from my church, explaining what it was I was intending on doing and asking them to think about what a partnership might look like. There were some good questions raised and some thoughtful insight which pointed out that partnerships take time to grow, it might be that we begin with some sort of financial arrangement and the intention for healthy regular relationship and see where that takes us.

The meeting on Tuesday was followed by some time with the Senior Pastor on Wednesday chatting through these things. He is very supportive of our intentions and in many ways has offered an open hand. Some of the practical ways we spoke about our church supporting the plant is in payment for training that my wife and I will do, an initial gift or seed money for a mission project like the community garden I've mentioned previously, providing for a monthly session with the counselling centre that runs out of the church for me (to help keep me sane) and providing an opportunity to come back and share with the staff and key volunteers about what is happening with the plant throughout the year.

I'm really happy with these options as they recognise that a financial component to the partnership makes sense and is real, but they also open the door for ongoing relational partnership. I'm really keen for our church to learn about church planting, to learn to relate well to plants that come from it so that it can plant healthy churches in the future, so I think this list is a start in the right direction.

I'd be interested to hear other ideas of partnership or practical suggestions I could explore.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Finding the Sunday Service unhelpful.

So I've been finding Sunday church kind of unhelpful for a while now and it's really been bugging me. I haven't been able to work out why exactly. It just hasn't felt right, I used to enjoy it and I still find a good sermon helpful. But the stand up sit down style of meeting with God seems to be missing something now.

Finally as I was sitting in church on Sunday night I realised why. Since I've become passionate about planting a church I've started to focus on what would be helpful for the context I'm planting in. Almost everything seems to get viewed through that lens, it has taken over. I'm even trying to develop my own spiritual life along those lines. How would the people I'm seeking to reach connect with God? Could I also connect with God that way? Could that be the norm for me? Maybe that would help me to become more authentic and effective with these people I am seeking to reach ...

So it's not that church on Sunday has suddenly become crap or that I've been somehow enlightened and can see the true way now. All of that is an ignorance and arrogance that loses sight of the context. It's just that God has been drawing me towards something new, something different. It feels like I'm being prepared for that. If I want to make the most of Sunday church while I'm still going then I should consciously think about the lens I'm using to interpret it. In a sense I could take off the mission focussed lens and view it for what it is ... but maybe that would be counter productive ... maybe I should just live with the tension for the next few months, trying hard not to get bitter or twisted and thank God for the new perspective.

These thoughts are just developing, I'm interested to hear other perspectives and experiences.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A garden church?

I haven't posted for a bit and that's a sign that I've been thinking a lot but not coming up with any quick answers. I've spent a while praying and thinking about what it might mean for this mission-shaped church plant we are planning to take seriously the concept of incarnational mission. In some ways it'd be easy just to set up a house church style plant, try out some cool worship stuff each week and work to build community, but to be honest if I wanted to do that then I'd just stay at an established church and run a cool small group. The reason I want to plant a new church is because I see amazing possibilities for mission. Mission that takes its context seriously, mission that listens and responds to what God is already doing in the culture it finds itself in, mission that is connected to people's understanding of church and what it means to be the people of God. I think God is already working in this fine suburb of Preston where I now live, our task is to find out where and see how we can get involved.

It is that question of where and how that I have been pondering and I feel like God has been prodding me towards an answer. Before we bought this great house we are in now I was not at all keen on gardening, in fact I wanted to buy a place that had no garden so that I wouldn't have to worry about the maintenance. It seems that in the process of buying I forgot about that and we ended up buying a place with a nice small garden in the front. The strange thing is that ever since we moved in I've spent about a day a week working out the front. I've been weeding, watering, mowing, mulching and even planning to take out some plants and put in some indigenous ones. It appears as if I've developed a passion for gardening totally out of the blue, very strange. All of this does feed into the question of how we might effectively connect with people in Preston because it seems that the garden might be the perfect place for it. When I met my first neighbour here he didn't introduce me to his wife or take me into his house he took me out the back of his place to show me his garden. We spent ages out there while he talked me through all the different trees, bushes, vegetables and flowers he had planted, the style of the garden, the quality of the soil, it went on and on. Only after we'd exhausted the possibilities for garden talk did he realise that I hadn't met his wife so he rushed me inside for a chat ... but it was the garden that was so key to us connecting. The next neighbour we met was similar, he was working in his front yard and my wife was mowing the lawn, he got all excited because there was someone else out working on their garden and we spent the next hour or so chatting about his garden and all the work he had done and planned to do in the future. The garden is a real place of connection here in Preston.

I think the garden has a bunch of other things going for it as well. The bible is full of garden/plant/creation imagery and story, gardening can be a highly relational activity as you work and enjoy it together, being in the garden connects you with God's creation and points us to the Creator, gardening crosses the socio-economic divide (you don't have to be poor or rich to have a garden), the garden is not age specific and the list goes on. It seems that the more I think about it the more it makes sense. So I'm interested in exploring some shared projects we could get involved in with the community such as a community garden or maybe even some kind of gardening service in the community further down the track. I think building relationships with people in the community around something as rich as the garden would be an excellent way for the people of God to effectively reach out to the people of Preston with God's love and truth. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Encouraging and insightful words for cross-cultural missionaries

I've just reread a great post over at TheBolgBlog called Advice for Modern Leaders, "Let Go". For those of us interested in cross-culturally reaching a world very much untouched (in positive ways) by the church, it is a wonderfully affirming message. Often I have found myself as an 'outsider' in cultural contexts I have been trying to reach, but more recently I have been placed in situations where I am an 'insider', these words are a real encouragement.

Bevans and Schroeder also have encouragements for insiders to the culture. "The main spiritual task is to speak out -- to have confidence in themselves and in their own understandings of their cultural and/or social context, and to risk ways of encounter between gospel and context. Only very slowly should they heed criticism of their culture and let go of their intuitions and instincts." Insiders must feel free to create within that culture, to speak out from within. As insiders, they can push hard on the sides, offering prophetic embrace and critique as those who are truly part of that community. Outsiders may offer support to insiders in this creative task. Where this kind of rare support happens, amazing ministries within postmodern culture are planted.
The rest of the post is also great, and will put the above quote in its context, go read it.

Jesus on being missional

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has been doing a fantastic series called Jesus on being missional using Matthew 9:35 - 11:1 as his biblical basis.

I highly recommend following it as he has some excellent biblical and practical insight.

Some of the pearls I've read so far ...

- All missional work is shaped by the missional work of Jesus himself.
- A missional orientation will only be genuinely missional to the degree that it is prompted by compassion.
- The power of the missional work is from God.
- Missional work is done in dependence on God and for God’s glory and in the context of God’s good people.
- Missional Kingdom activity is a personal thing: it finds people to trust.
- Missional work involves a balancing act of innocence and shrewdness.
- Genuine Jesus missional work is prompted through and through by the Spirit.

While these quotes seem quite straight forward in some ways, the extra content and process Scot uses to extract them from the life and words of Jesus is helpful and inspiring. Go read!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The seed of the gospel

I read this awesome quote tonight over at Steve Addison’s blog » World Changers. Before I mention the quote I want to recommend Steve's blog. I've found it very helpful, wise and insightful. If you are reading mine and haven't read his then you've got them in the wrong order. :-D

“The gospel is like a seed, and you have to sow it. …Now, when missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flower pot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the Gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.”

D.T. Niles of Sri Lanka

This is fantastic, exactly what I think mission-shaped churches need to be considering. Let's be bold enought to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the Gospel and do the hard work of working out how to sow it in our own cultural soil. It's very obvious that the soil has change a lot since it was originally planted in this area. I wonder what our own version of Christianity that grows now will look like?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

In, up, of and out

Another snippet from emergingchurch.intro on the idea of 'In, up, of and out' as core dimensions of the church.

- An "up" dimension towards God. As the community reaches up to God in sacramental, word-based or other forms of worship, God comes "down" to transform individuals' lives and make them more like him in character.

- An "in" dimension, as the community fosters high quality relationships between its members. The community seeks to become inclusive, like the Trinity, with room for everyone.

- An "out" dimension. The community goes out to the world to care for it and redeem it. Evangelism is one aspect of holistic mission. Just as the Spirit constantly moves out to the world and in towards the Godhead, so does the church.

- An "of" dimension, as each community identifies with the whole church - "We are part of the church flowing through history, lapping round the world today and rushing forward to eternity." Might this also be an "around" dimension, as Christian communities look around to make links with their wider family?

I find this framework very helpful. Simple, clear, easy to hold up against ideas. It also seems balanced and well-rounded, plus it includes a recognition of the connection to the broader church which is something I feel quite lacking in the emerging church. Any comments?

A U-Church for an I-World

A U-Church for an I-World is the title in the chapter of a book I'm reading at the moment called emergingchurch.intro. It's talking about how consumer culture has infected the church, that many people become reliant on getting what they want or feel they need to grow spiritually from church, particularly the Sunday service. Now in part there is nothing wrong with the church providing what people need for their spiritual growth, but as this book says 'The trouble is that it has often bred an over-dependency.' People don't take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, it's not a part of their everyday existence, it's just something that happens when they experience worship or a sermon or the sacraments. We 'grow up with a faith disconnect: belief is not part of' our everyday lives. We go on Sunday or to small group and get a fill up. Our spiritual health is not our own responsibility, we see it as the church's and when things go wrong ... we blame the church. Something is definitely wrong here.

I guess this is some of what I am keen to challenge when planting a mission-shaped church. I think the church has a key role in encouraging and increasing people's spiritual health. We need to help people grow in their relationship with and understanding of God, but we shouldn't take that responsibility away from them. We need to empower people by equipping them to grow, resourcing them to grow and giving them opportunities to take it beyond theory into the reality of their lives. I guess this is another reason why I think the church today needs to take the practice of mission more seriously. If we aren't modelling a walk with God that puts into practice what we believe then 1) it becomes mostly theoretical 2) it so easily becomes a consumer add on to their lives. I want to plant a church that draws people away from thinking that being a Christian is only about their personal relationship with God and what value it can add to their lives and guides them down a path where they start to see God's agenda and helps them to think about what they can do to further that.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Established and Emerging Tension Points

Tall Skinny Kiwi posted this on the tension points between the established and the emerging church. While it seems like a reasonable analysis to me, I can't help but think much of the path to resolving these issues is clearer communication. So much tension and threat results from lack of communication and a sense of us and them which doesn't need to be the case. I wonder what the forum for this communication might be?

Responses to comments

A wise friend Ross sought to change my questions a bit which I've found helpful. He asked ...

What would you want an 'established' church to offer? Even more generically what would you want from any other group of christians? I think what you could get from another group is a function of what you want to do.

I think I'm looking for some real sense of partnership between established and emerging churches. So I'm not looking for anything particularly, but more trying to search out what each could offer the other.

Ross also asked What is there about a church which qualifies it to be called 'established'? Is it inherited patterns which are deeply ingrained? Is it physical resources? Is it a certain size? Is it to be defined by what it lacks - missional dna for example?

My use of this term is in reference to churches that have an established approach to doing/being/running church. I see established churches as places that operate using existing or more traditional approaches while emerging churches are seeking to develop new approaches as a result of changes in the culture/s they are seeking to reach. As I noted elsewhere, the most helpful term I have come across is mission-shaped church. I've been using this term in my thinking for our plant next year.

Mark Berry asked where I was from ... I'm in Melbourne, Australia.

Digger asked if I went to the Forge Conference ... but unfortunately I had a bunch of personal commitments that weekend that stopped me from getting to any of it. A damn shame as I'm sure I would have learnt heaps.

All work and no blogging makes Tim a quiet boy

Haven't posted in ages as I've been flat out working on both my job at the established church I'm in and some plans for planting a mission-shaped church next year. I have holidays from my normal job now and I'm taking a semester off uni to prepare for next year, so hopefully there will be lots more posting to come.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

What can the established church contribute to the emerging church?

I've been working on starting a mission shaped church next year. In the process of planning I've been chatting with people at the church I work at about the role that a more established church could play. I think there are some obvious possibilities like prayer support, financial support and possibly even people support in the beginning. But are there others? If the established church is less missional in its approach to church than the emerging church (which I see as very mission focussed when it is healthy), then what kind of things can the established church bring to a partnership with an emerging church?

I want to point out that this is certainly not an us and them type of discussion. I'm just trying to think through the practicalities of established/emerging partnerships.

This question obviously also raises its opposite. What can an emerging church bring to a partnership with the established church? Prayer support, a better understanding of how to connect with the world around us, encouraging stories of God's transforming love at work through His people changing lives as well as eternal destinies?

I'm keen to hear other ideas, particularly from anyone who is trying to work in a partnership between the emerging and established church.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Discipleship vs Mission

A comment from my wife caused me to begin reflecting about discipleship and mission this evening. Basically she was kicking around ideas about how the tension between discipleship and mission in the life of a mission-shaped community worked.

As I reflected I've recalled something that has really pissed me off in mainstream Christianity. People seem to believe that discipleship and mission are somehow able to be separated. Maybe it's because of the formulaic approach we sometimes have to evangelism/becoming a christian, but people seem to think that if someone becomes a believer then they should focus on growing as a Christian for a while before they think about doing mission. This seems crazy to me.

It is often after a powerful encounter with God that people have the most energy for mission. They have engaged with the almighty, powerful God and they want to share that with others. They have connected with the ultimate source of love and cannot keep it for themselves. So what does the established church so often do with them? Take them right away from the world and put them through a discipleship process which seems to manage to beat the enthusiasm right out of them so they are just like the rest of us. Apathetic and self focussed!

Surely there has to be a better way. Yes it is dangerous to put new followers of Christ out amongst 'the great unwashed', but God is powerful enough to see his will happen through these fresh people of his. They might be a little green when it comes to the Christian living, they might not have their key doctrinal issues worked through, they might not have been through an evangelism course, but if they have a passion to share God with the world then we should be empowering and encouraging it!

I've learnt more about God as I've sought to engage with his work of mission than I have in any church program I've ever participated in. I think the perfect place for the discipling of new followers of Christ is out in the world as they seek to make sense of this new found relationship with God that they have.

NOTE: I recognise that there are many issues that I haven't covered here. Areas such as overcoming sin that is infuriated by the temptation of a worldly environment, appropriate training and equipping, and many other issues certainly need to be seriously considered. But they are not reason enough to selfishly withdraw from the world we are called love, serve and witness to.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Empowering Leadership

The church I work at uses a tool called NCD (Natural Church Development) to help us measure the health of our church. Measuring health in churches is a hard thing to do and if you are a big church this tool seems quite useful. One of the eight quality characteristics that NCD measures is 'Empowering Leadership'. This got me thinking because so often leaders act in ways that aren't empowering. So often we make top down decisions that don't include the church (the people) at all.

With NCD I believe that Empowering Leadership is a key to church health. If we have controlling people making the decisions themselves because that is safer then people are never going to take initiative and start living for God themselves. We might call it empowering leadership, but what we are actually doing is teaching people to sit and wait until we make the right call that they can then follow.

Even when leaders are making those decisions which are hard and seem to need to be top-down they should go about them in a way that is consultative and empowering.

How do we connect with so many subcultures?

In my thinking about planting something new I've been wondering about how we can connect with the endless number of subcultures that appear to exist. There really does seem to be an endless set of subgroups within our community that you could incarnate into and share the gospel with, but you can't do them all at once ... can you?

When I was at Steve Taylor's book launch the other week I had the thought

'Could the answer to connecting with all these subcultures be found in the process of multiplying?'

If we develop a community of God's people that connects well with a particular subculture and then that community grows, would it then be possible to plant from it into other subcultures?

There appears to be a serious amount of work in thinking through cultural boundaries and issues, so I'm not suggesting that this is a quick fix solution. I imagine it would take a hell of a lot of time, but maybe that's what we need to do. Take a lot of time with people rather than always searching for a quick fix ...

Unworkable Structures

I was chatting with a colleague the other day about how we put people in totally unworkable situations.

We verbally encourage them to get out into the world and live out the gospel. We challenge them to serve others, particularly the poor and marginalised, and we challenge them to reach out to their friends and family with the gospel. These things are great, I believe the church needs to work on serving and reaching corporately as well as individually.

But my problem is that right after we encourage them to go and do these things we remove their ability to do it by demanding too much of their time, energy, relationships and focus. The result is that either people become church junkies and spend all their time and energy in churchland or people become marginalised by the christian community because they spend their time out in the world witnessing to the truth and not participating in churchland ...

For years now I've wondered why we haven't seen people serving and reaching like we would hope, maybe a big part of it is that we build unworkable structures around them.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

grid blog :: pentecost 2005

If a key distinctive of the emerging church is its focus on mission then the celebration of a day such as Pentecost is a particularly important one.

For a long time I didn't understand the role of the Holy Spirit, I was quite confused about him (yes he's a him!). I was either swept up in self focussed super spiritual hype or I found myself quenching the Spirit by not allowing him any space in my life.

It wasn't until relatively recently that I learned about the key role that the Spirit plays in God's missionary work. The story below is a critical one because it really does set the tone for the book of Acts and what mission looks like in the New Testament church. Read and enjoy.

Acts 2
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"

13Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17" 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

22"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25David said about him:
" 'I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
27because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.'

29"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet." '

36"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The Fellowship of the Believers
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Thoughts resulting from 'the out of bounds Church?' Book Launch

I went to the book launch tonight for Steve Taylor's new book 'the out of bounds Church?'. It was an interesting night which provoked a few thoughts I'll blog about. I noted my thoughts on my Treo so will just paste them appropriately.

A random thought hit me early on in Steve's talk.

'Some of the bigger established churches have been thinking these issues through, it's just that they are responding to them in a more traditional/institutional way.'

Recently the senior staff at my church were talking about what the defining marks of the church were, we also discussing incarnational mission and the problems associated with the attractional model in the current cultural context. The outcomes we arrived at as a result of this discussion were very much down the traditional/institutional path, but we did discuss the issues.

Some of the established church is thinking about the kinds of issues the emerging church is engaging with, it's more that (for whatever reasons) they are coming to different answers.

Not sure if anyone else does, but I find that a helpful thing to realise.

That said I think most of the established church isn't engaging with these issues and that is a sad thing. Maybe a role the emerging church could helpfully play would be to raise these questions for those in the established church who aren't engaging with them and to do it in a way that doesn't get their back up ...

Monday, April 25, 2005

What's the difference?

I had a great conversation with my senior pastor the other day regarding the difference between missional church planting (as I'm learning about it) and the model of the established church that we currently run.

In my thinking the key difference would be where the emphasis lies in the structure. I would envisage that a missional church plant would be best suited by an emphasis on a cell structure with an occasional larger gathering to celebrate together who God is and what he is doing amongst the cells. Whereas our current more established approach clearly has a focus on the large gathering, much of the time and effort goes into a Sunday service compared with the cells.

A missional church plant would be well served by a cell structure because it would allow a flexibility to respond to mission opportunities in a way that a focus on the large gathering cannot.

The cell approach gives a simpler more focused approach. Instead of having multiple communities that you are connecting with on a regular basis, there is just the one group of believers who you commit to and do church with. This gives the church more time and energy for some of the mission type things that generally fall off the radar when a church spends most of its time and focus on the large gathering.

A cell approach would also allow flexibility in responding to mission opportunites as it grows. If the church is not founded so much on structure or style but on values, then as a cell grows and reaches a point where it is ready to plant another cell, the new cell can reshaped itself around the mission opportunities it is responding to and hold on to the values of the wider church. This enables the church to grow and stay connected to the mission God is calling it to.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why all the criticism?

I believe that much of the criticism seen today between the established and the emerging church is as a result of insecurity and anxiety about what is going on in their own camp.

From the established perspective, new things are threatening ... 'what if they do better than we did?', 'what if they really are the new thing and we are the old thing that's on its way out?'. From inside the established church it is easy to see these questions at play, causing division and threat where perhaps there doesn't need to be.

From the emerging perspective, the old things are what we have come from ... 'if that is what we used to do, but now we are following this path, then that must wrong, otherwise our new path is wrong.' It's a rebellion against what was, compiled with a negativity that's generally quite unhelpful. It also seems that many who take an emerging path do so because they have been scarred by the established church previously in some way, this regularly results in unhelpful criticism that flows from personal hurt and pain rather than thoughtful consideration and concern.

I'd like to see less criticism. It is a 'new day' and we do need to see new models, a more missional approach and some fresh expressions of church, but that doesn't mean the old is bad, or useless, or obselete. I believe, that the established church is absolutely necessary in the process of encouraging people who are already 'churched' in some fashion to recognise God's call on their lives and to share their faith with others. One of the great things I learnt from Mission Shaped Church was that we need to see new fresh expressions of church working alongside and in partnership with the established church.

I'd highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book and reading it. Here's the blurb on it:

Society in Britain has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, especially in terms of our understanding of community and how we relate to one another. One of the responses of the Church has been to plant new churches and create 'fresh expressions' of church; churches that relate to our changing context. This detailed, practical and well-researched book:

* gives an overview of recent developments in church planting
* describes varied and exciting 'fresh expressions' of church
* offers practical help and advice
* looks candidly at where lessons can be learned
* proposes a framework and methodology for good, effective church planting
* includes recommendations to make possible the visions of a vibrant future Church

Each chapter has a set of questions and challenges to help local parish churches engage with the issues.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It MUST be missional

I've just been reading a post over at Signposts that scares the life out of me. Phil's comment is that it appears as though the emerging church is about a missional apporoach, but much of it isn't, or at least doesn't appear to be.

The only reason I would want to step out of the established church is because I think we have to pioneer new ways of being church in an attempt to reach some for Christ. I feel we need to be inspired by Paul who said 'I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.' (1 Corinthians 9:22b-23).

The church is fantastic at being distracted by issues that aren't the main game. Let's not be distracted by just another way of doing church that distracts us from what is really important . . .

Emerging thoughts . . .

I've been a part of the established church for pretty much my whole life. For much of the time I've just wandered along without ever even thinking about it. At other times I've thrown myself into different models or ideas. But I can't remember ever having taken the time to step back and try to work out how the church fits into God's greater plan. So I was quite surprised at what I found when I took the time to think about what God's agenda is and how the church functions to acheive that agenda.

I think I've always just seen church as an end in itself. That the reason we try to do church well is so that it is good and the reason we seek to have good programs or structures is so that the programs are successful and healthy and the structures functional. On my better days I recognised that it was all done to bring God glory, but I never really thought about how it was meant to bring him glory.

As a result of seeing church as a goal or an endpoint for Christianity I developed quite an unhealthy understanding of mission. I really saw mission as an add on, an extra bit of Christianity for those who were 'super saints'. Only recently have I managed to come to an understanding of God, church and mission that integrates them and gives them what seems to be their proper place.

I now realise that God has a missionary agenda; the church is the result of that mission, but it is also the vehicle that he is using to acheive it. Therefore church is not an end in itself, it is not the goal or the result of our lives as God's people. It is a tool, a dynamic expression of God's people working out his will and agenda.

So now I find myself in a place where I see that God's missionary agenda is being fulfilled. He is, has been and will continue to draw people to himself and ultimately recreate the heavens and the earth. The church has a particular role to play within God's plan. It equips, encourages and enables followers of Christ to proclaim the truth about God in word and deed to the world. It is not disconnected from the world around it, but seeks to engage it with the truth.

Many of these thoughts are not particularly sorted, they are emerging from things I'm reading and what God's Spirit is teaching me. These ideas are pushing me in directions I hadn't imagined before and encouraging me to take steps I couldn't see previously. It's exciting and scary, a journey of faith I have not yet encountered.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

At an established church

I've been working at a large established church for 3 and a bit years and it's a great place. There is a strong passion for God, a strong sense of his work and will for us. It has a great history of people who are committed to God and his purposes. A strong commitment to the bible and its truth for our lives. Many people have developed relationships with God as a result of the ministry of this church and many have grown to new depths and maturing in an existing relationship. And this is not a work that is finished, it continues each day as many of God's people faithfully serve him through that place.

So let me start this blog by saying that the big established church is in no way a bad place. It is a spiritual home to many who passionately follow Christ with their hearts and lives. God lives and breathes within it working out his purposes and bringing about his will through it.