Monday, 15 February 2010

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Einstein)

TV highlight of the week apart from Nurse Jackie was a religious/moral 'question time' which airs on a Sunday morning. Yes I realise most of you reading this are either in church or listening to the Archers omnibus but just think what you might be missing!

To be honest it can be quite depressing. For example this week the programme asked the question 'Why should the Anglican church stay together?' Ummmmm - it soon degenerated into a full scale battle between evangelical fundamentalists and what seemed to be the rest of the world on the issue of same sex realtionships. Even women Bishops had to fight to get a hearing with this group of people. The  actual and vital question about unity within disagreement - which the world desparately needs to see modelled somewhere - was quickly dispsensed with as Reform types summarily consigned vast swathes of the population to hell whilst others, including a gay priest and even Anne Atkins, (not renowned for her liberal tendencies), sought to bring moderation and even Jesus somewhere into the melee. Ah well..... see how these..... etc etc  You'd think on National TV some people might even think first about how others might view them - and how they might view themselves when they get home!

Where am I going with this? Met up with a dear and respected friend during the week. This guy who is a pastor from the Baptist tradition is firmly eveangelical, a committed charismatic, a bit of a Biblical theologian and a great expository preacher. But he reminds me every time we meet that whatever 'label', tradition or ecclesiology we might be committed to - it all has to be within the wide and open spaces of the Love and Kingdom of God come in Jesus. 

He described a gay couple he had got to know and how for him it wasn't about judging them and seeking to change their lifestyle but asking 'what sort of church would we need to be to enable the love of God in Jesus to connect with people where they are - whatever their  lifestyle, sexual orientation, addictive patterns, materialistic and secular worldview'. I like to be with people who really believe and are passionate about the truth that it is God who forgives, transforms lives, heals, judges and restores - if any person is open to that happening.  Churches that leave God to work with whoever he chooses (even me) and in whatever way he chooses are communities that understand and live in Amazing Grace.

Churches - wide, open green spaces that allow people to discover and be surprised by God and embraced by Jesus rather than tarmac covered yards, bounded by high walls and supervised by well meaning but hard faced people blowing whistles and telling people, (in love of course) to stop and form an orderly queue all the time.

Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Show MUST go on.... but why?

What an interesting time since I last blogged. The Wedding Project in Worcester, a great evening's conversation with friends from Worle, a day by the railway tracks around Bristol 
with Chris Perkins taking train photos (anoraks on), finding time trying to explore future roles and some interesting moments with the University.

The General Synod is meeting as I write. A number of key issues being discussed that to be honest are not really resolvable unless you buy into the myth of the Anglican church as being more than a convenient confederation of different minded people seeking to be Good News to those around them.

One thing that did emerge was a continuing commitment to being a mixed economy church. Fairly obvious really because that is where we are. Will solid church be replaced by 'liquid' church? Over time I think the whole shape and structure of being and doing church will change. Transition is happening as people interact in different ways and resources become re-located. Messy Church (in a messy world) describes it all at the moment! We just have to live with it, discover what the Spirit is saying and move on.

Listening to clergy who have been ordained a while, (like wot I have), there is in some a sense of fear, disdain and cynicism. Not just about 'fresh expressions' but often about life in general and of course senior leaders. Add to this the possibility of having to work an extra three years to get a pension, the ever growing pressure to get an increasing parish share collected and to keep the numbers up and I think leadership in the C of E is not in a good place at all.

While I was DDO in Bristol the concept of Pioneer Ministers was developed. It was apparent that many involved in selection and training saw this as more of a bolt on rather than shaping a new and more 'apostolic' form of ordained leadership. What Mike Hill describes as 'person with white van '. Keeping the show on the road seems to be the name of the game - or have I lost the plot?

Just a few ideas:
Cut the number of buildings we 'run' by 50% (I know this will take forever in practice but let's set the context). Buildings too easily become the focal point for all we do. They will still be needed but need to become more like resource and community centres.
Let Pioneer Ministry be franchised out to CMS/Church Army or similar organisations. They have wisdom and vast experience in doing mission in diverse cultural contexts.
Let Pioneer Ministry training be the default shape of ordination training.

You may have more.

Come on C of E - big decisions and mega -choices will have to be made.

Behold I make all things new - do you not perceive it?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Highlights of last week included a couple of hours with Phil Simpson, chairing a busy meeting of the University Council and a wonderful, if not bracing walk with Sheryl along the whole of Brighton seafront – with a shopping diversion into The Laines – of course! Returning to find Jon and Sarah at home was the end of a perfect Sunday.
When I was Vicar of CC Woking Phil and Rachel Simpson and their family moved from Pakistan as Phil was to be based at CMS in its Waterloo Road incarnation. Phil was sharing his thoughts about how our 'network' culture is changing our understanding of the role of leaders. To quote from a review of a book Phil recommends:
'With accelerating velocity, our age's new technologies of social networking are evolving, and evolving us, into new groups doing new things in new ways, and old and new groups alike doing the old things better and more. You don't have to have a Facebook page to know that the times they are a changin'. Hierarchical structures that exist to manage the work of groups are seeing their raisons d'ĂȘtre swiftly eroded by the rising technological tide. Business models are being destroyed, transformed, born at dizzying speeds, and the larger social impact is profound.' (Here comes Everybody Clay Shirky).

Needless to say I am looking forward to reading this highly acclaimed tome.
This led me to reflect (again) on Pete Ward’s ‘Liquid Church’ concept which as I have said before, despite its many critics is seeking to say something both profound and prophetic which is that the communities of the 21st century aren’t formed around front porches, or churches, or any physical structure or social institution. I would modify that a bit and say at the moment ‘not just around’ porches, churches and buildings. What I think Pete is saying and it is thoroughly theological in that it is based upon the model of the Christian Trinity – God is community interacting if not ‘dancing’ (my image is of a line dance rather than individual performance!) and interacting with each of his ‘persons’.

‘The static monolith of the congregation is replaced by a dynamic, inclusive, and fluid dance of intimate communication. In this sense liquid church does not just reflect the life of God. It joins in with that life and it is indwelt by that life: liquid God and liquid church.’

I am no theologian so some will beat me hands down on this one but I do think the image of church as a network of interacting relationships is more ‘Christian’, more Kingdom if you like, than the building oriented and hierarchical structures we have at the moment. A term like ‘The Body of Christ’ is obviously more movement and relational than THE CHURCH. I think this also applies to other organisations as well.

Last time I shared a little list of the qualities needed in leaders (in taking weddings) – maybe that little list is the basic requirement for leaders in this less solid culture full stop. Training as well as being about theology and liturgy need to focus more on developing people, community and team skills.

Questions still remain however which you might like to consider: What is the role of the Christian leader is a more fluid context? Where do church buildings fit in and are those denominations that see them as vital to mission right in spending vast sums they don’t have in maintaining them? Where does the larger gathering fit in?
Unlike many other scholars and preachers Pete sees consumerism (commodification) as the hallmark of this ‘liquid’ culture and encourages church to see this as a friend rather than a foe. Like advertisers who are there to stimulate our desires the church’s (community) role is to stimulate people’s desire for God. What do you think?
More fluid expressions of church are essential in that they take "the present culture seriously and seek to express the fullness of the Christian gospel within that culture.'

To be honest I find this approach more ‘honest’ – after all we are all consumers to a greater or lesser degree and church leaders are more than adept at using consumerism for church purposes on the one hand whilst preaching against it on another! (Discuss)

As some churches continue to embed themselves in a corporate and hierarchical model of leadership and management, business corporations have been known to look to religion for insights into spirituality, relationships, trust, intuition, mystery, community, commitment, cooperation and even love! Maybe in this emerging ‘liquid’ world we need to stick to and build on the values we know and yearn for. Sounds like Jesus in my book........