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I just don’t get church anymore

September 27, 2017

In my last blog I explained why I love Church – but I have to be honest, it is a love-hate relationship.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been getting to know my neighbours. Lovely people, great company, couldn’t do enough for you – and then I started thinking should I invite them to church – and to be honest, panicked. I thought of the ordinary sunday morning church I could take them to.

The traditional services are too boring, enough to put them off God for ever, the special services – cafe church, and guest services are still too – well Churchy. The trendy charismatic churches, not sure they would cope with songs from the latest worship band, and there is still the talky bit…

I could of course bring them to a social event, a quiz night or concert so they get to come to church and gradually get used to the way it is,

Then I realise how STUPID I am being. Why don’t I just make friends with them and be a Christian. talk to them about God on their terms, offer to pray for them, be a real friend. But… It can’t be that simple can it!

Ultimately it is! The problem I have is not with Church, all the lovely people I know, who happen to be followers of Jesus. The problem is with Church as a place, as an event, as an organisation. But it is so hard to un-think the way I  have thought for most of my life!

We don’t intentionally do it, but we still do it. I have lost count of the number of pastors/church leaders who have shown me around their church – meaning the building. As they do so they talk about the numbers of people who attend and usually have great faith that they will fill the building again (like it was in the old days). But the reality check is that they are unlikely to do so – because most people (98% in the UK) simply would never want to go “to church”.

We have never got it so wrong: The church was created to fill the world, we have tried everything to get the world to fill the church (building)

and even when it happens, as very occasionally it does, and someone walks into the church building on a Sunday morning, what is their experience? it is rarely of encountering God’s rainbow people. Churches – yes, even in the UK – are usually divided down ethnic lines, they are mostly middle class – yes, even in working class cities, and if they have young people at all they are likely to be a young persons church, leaving many church struggling to survive with a few older people.

What amazes me is that we think this is acceptable. How can we think by doing what we have always done we will get a different answer?

Then, the way we do church – on this come and find us model is exhausting. There are some churches that manage to attract crowds – that is wonderful, but those churches are mostly so busy putting together the perfect service to entertain the congregation on a Sunday morning that they fail to be the heads and feet of Jesus outside of the church doors. The other churches, the ones just managing to maintain what they have and hoping and praying that God will send some more people – are too exhausted to do life, let alone do it with their neighbours.

Yes I love church, but I am simply disillusioned with the way we “do church”

why I love the Church

September 26, 2017

I am going to share some of my frustrations with Church over the next few blogs, but before I do, and long before I get criticised for church bashing, I want to set the record straight:

I love the Church. It is a place where I have spent a lot of my time in one way or another. I have been a member of one local church or other for the last 40 plus years, I have led churches and served churches – and let’s be honest, earned my living from churches for most of my adult life. So when I get to blog about some of the things that could be better (in my view), it is completely in the context of loving the Church.

1 The church is Gods plan for the universe.

When God set out to rescue the world he had made, to save it from itself – the wrong decisions we make as humans, and the disasterous consequences of them. What the bible names as “sin”. He came as Jesus firstly to identify with us (he became as human and flesh bound as I am!), then to rescue us by paying the penalty for my wrong doing. By doing this Jesus is not just rescuing individuals – but making a people (somethimes described as a nation – but not the nation state we think of today) – and this people, made up from people rescued from around the world and throughout time, is called the Church! But this is not the end of the rescue plan! The bible tells us that one day creation itself will be rescued, it describes it as waiting “for the sons of god to be revealed”, it also mentions that when KIng Jesus is crowned and the earth put right that the church will be an integral part of Christ filling the universe with himself. In everyday language this means that the church will be at the heart of the new Kingdom of God when the world is re-made.

2 The Church has Gods fingerprints of reconciliation and unity all over it.

The church that Jesus made when he rescued mankind is made up from people “of every tribe and language”. It is an amazing rainbow people who – if they hadn’t been rescued would have absolutely nothing in common with each other. Even if the language wasn’t a barrier there would be loads of different reasons why they (we) wouldn’t get along!

Frankly, we do treating people different well! We love to find some reason to treat others differently, to exclude them, to ridicule them, to persecute them – and this happens over age, gender, race, culture, class, and wealth (or lack of it). But the church is the place where all these differences mean absolutely nothing: Paul writes in the bible that in the church there is “neither Jew nor Gentile (non-Jew), neither male nor female, neither slave nor freeman. The church is a community of Gods rainbow people.

3 The Church is the way Jesus is made real in the world today.

Jesus said to his first followers that they were to be salt and light in the world. Within the church we find ourselves quoting this often – but maybe we don’t get how radical this is. For those first followers it meant that they were to travel to villages (places they may never have been before), and do what Jesus was doing. Specifically this includes announcing that the Kingdom of God was breaking in – and inviting people to enter it, to pray for the sick to be healed, (and they were), and to cast out the demonic spirits that troubled people. This radical way of doing things won them – Jesus – followers, and caused trouble.

The church since has – at it’s best – continued to do just this. People encounter Jesus in the church and find that their lives has changed, they find that they are loved, accepted and cared for, they find freedom from sickness and addictions, they find peace where they were troubled and they also become followers of this Jesus.

The church is the hands and feet of Jesus today – being Jesus in the world, in humanity, in “flesh” just as Jesus was the human form of God in the world of his day.

4 The Church is the place where people grow as followers of Jesus

All this becoming something and someone new and different is not automatic, but is a process that follows a decision. That process can take years as we gradually learn how to live our lives in the way God had intended, and therefore flourish. This process is called “discipleship”, and it is made possible by the church. It is in the church that we learn to rub along with people different from us, to forgive and be forgiven, to find our place and serve – doing our bit for the greater good. It is in the church we find our mentors, our role models, or encourager’s and our friends and fellow travellers.

Church is the place where all this is true, we are part of the future and purpose of the universe, we find our place alongside all the other rainbow people, we make Jesus visible in the places where we live our lives and we gradually become more like Jesus.

AS Bill Hybells (Pastor of Willow Creek church in America) said “Church is the only ball game in town.

no extra tunic. Missional marks #5

June 28, 2017

The final thing in the list of things not to take with us into mission that Jesus gives his followers in Luke 9 is an extra cloak. We have seen how each of the things on the list; staff, bag, bread, money and cloak points us towards our stance or posture in going to people with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

The cloak provides warmth and shelter, and as this is so basic we need to have one, yet Jesus tells us that we don’t need a spare. This points us towards living for justice, or sharing what we have extra to meet the needs of those who simply do not have enough.

At the heart of this value is a profound simplicity, we are to live our lives with gratitude that God gives us enough – and resist the temptation to want anything more that enough. If we are able to limit ourselves to enough we are also freed from worry about looking after our possessions.

So these five values underpin our attitude to mission, we need to have a vulnerable honesty, live generous and hospitable lives, embrace relationships rather than exchange and simplicity.

no money

June 27, 2017

as we work through the list of things that Jesus tells his disciples NOT to take on mission – in Luke 9. We have looked at how Jesus wants us to have a stance that means we are honest and vulnerable, that we learn to give and receive generosity, listening to those we meet, and learning to watch out for what God is already doing around us.

Today we think about why Jesus tells the disciples not to carry a purse, or money. If we stop and think at all we soon realise that money is worthless. We can’t do anything with it other than exchange it for things that are more useful or beautiful. By forbidding us to take money Jesus is pointing us away from one of the most common mistakes that we fall into.

I need to be careful in how I say this because we live in a world where exchange is part of how we think and act, we take it so much for granted that it is difficult to see how we can live differently. But the Kingdom of God that was announced – the good news that we are entrusted with is about gift and not exchange. But our tendency is to treat people as commodities, to count the number of people who turn up to our meetings, who have made a decision to follow Jesus, to count the numbers rather than listen to the stories of individual people.

Or we see church as a commodity, demanding that it entertains us so we can justify giving our time and money to support it.

In listing money as something we must not carry Jesus points us towards real relationships marked by an economy of outrageous gift, rather than the exchange mindset that the world around us squeezes us into.

no bread: Missional Marks #3

June 26, 2017

we are looking at the five things that Jesus tells his disciples NOT to take with them. No staff to defend ourselves and no bag to collect what is needed but rather to accept what is given and put ourselves in the debt of others.

The third item on the list is bread. Perhaps the most basic of the food we eat. There are echoes in this of the amazing daily bread (or manna) that the Israelites were given by God as they left Egypt to travel to the land they were promised. This was literally a daily ration, enough for just today and no more. Over the years that the people depended on this they learned to trust that there would be enough – every day.

There are also echoes of the line from Jesus prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”, or “give us today the bread for the journey”.

What Jesus is pointing to here is our need to tune into what God gives us each day. Each new opportunity, each new moment to accept a gift, to recognise what God is doing already. Providing all we need, and being at work in amazing ways long before we arrive on the scene.

We don’t need to take bread because bread is provided as people give us hospitality. The simple act of sharing a meal with people allows us to get to know people in a deeper way than most other places of meeting. As we give and receive hospitality we discover who people are, and what God is doing in their lives.

Jesus asks to go in friendship and without bread, so that we can join in with what he is doing in the lives of the people that we will meet each day.

 

no bag: missional marks #2

June 25, 2017

yesterday I began looking at the list of things that Jesus asks his disciples to leave behind as they go out and share the good news that the Kingdom of God is on it’s way to change lives and communities.

Jesus asked his disciples to have a stance that is open and honest and while not afraid to speak out is vulnerable and refuses to defend itself.

The second item on the list is a bag! we automatically think of a bag packed and ready to take with everything we will need for a week in the sun, or on the mountains, or where ever! But, Jesus is just talking about a bag, like an empty bag – In these days where wee are charged for shopping bags we may be tempted to make sure we have a bag with us to take things home – and this is what Jesus is pointing us to.

In the three years that Jesus spends with his disciples we know they lived rough from time to time “the son of man has no place to lay his head”, and that they were forced to gather from the fields what they needed – as the poor in Israel were entitled to do. So what we see is Jesus saying don’t bring a bag for foraging, for collecting. Instead we are to accept hospitality, to allow ourselves to be a guest. That sounds great, but it means we need to adapt to whatever we are given, whether great food or short rations.

We need to learn to be a guest, to accept the gifts that are given by those in the community we come to with our good news. We need first to be in someone else’s debt, before we can draw others in by offering them hospitality. As we learn to be where other people are and to understand them, we slowly begin to share experiences and learn a language that we can use to share what we believe.

We also begin to know how to live generous lives without being patronising.

 

how we live our values?

June 24, 2017

the marks of a missional posture.

well the title sounds like something out of an academic essay that I would have written for a FORGE assignment, but the thinking for my blogs over the next five days came from spending some time out thinking about the story where Jesus sends his followers out to go and do the stuff that they had been watching him do. (Luke 9). Jesus does the opposite of what we expect in a way which is still shocking to me as I read it! Instead of the expected, “have you got your toothbrush”, “don’t forget your passport”, “are you sure you’ve not forgotten anything” approach, he turns this on his head. Sure – Jesus gives them the kit list, but it is a list of what to leave behind!

The list is five items long, and this prompted my curiosity. why does Jesus give a list at all – instead of just saying “travel light, ditch everything you don’t need”? As I allowed these five things to peculate in my brain I began to realise that these are five keys to the values and posture that we need to go to our neighbours with the good news of the Kingdom of God. Over the next five days I will explore these five things one by one.

first up on the list is “take no staff”. Of course Jesus is not talking about a company away day but the old fashioned pole or stick that people leaned on. Moses famously used his to do miracles like opening the Red Sea! My first thought was of the staff as being something that supports us – but this is a modern view, back then the staff was used as a weapon. Used well and skilfully it would disarm a group of bandits, and the bible gives us the picture of David defending his sheep against bears with his staff!

So what does it mean to take nothing for defending ourselves? It means we go as people who are vulnerable, who choose not to defend ourselves when provoked or attacked. To intentionally choose to listen first and to listen well. Let me tell you that is way harder to live than to write. As we go through life there are people who are different to us, they may ridicule or attack us – they may think our faith is weird, or simply not understand us or be on our wavelength.

At those points it is easy to be defensive, to stop listening and to try to correct wrong thinking. Or to fit in, and be accepted, by colluding, agreeing just for the sake of not causing problems, Or to just go quiet and try not to be noticed. But what Jesus seems to be saying here is that we should be honest and vulnerable in our conversations. And that demands that we act with all the courage we can muster. To speak truth as we see it, while still respecting the person who has a different view; to be honest about how we feel and what we think without defending ourselves.

Jesus is not afraid to invite us to live honestly as he tells us to leave our defensive staff behind.

 

how do we hold our relational leaders to account?

June 24, 2017

Apostolic oversight groups (created ostensibly to provide ‘accountability’ to others) who don’t create policy documents to govern their own behaviour and enable evaluation by the wider church…may in so doing reveal that they aren’t themselves seeking to be truly accountable. BUT: Policy ( Holy Spirit and relationship) = mutual accountability = godly and objective evaluation = […]

via Do ‘relational’ Apostolic teams really evidence robust accountability? Here’s how they might. — Urban Ecotheology

Why I love my fitbit?

September 2, 2016

My kids have realised that I am moderately overweight and moderately unfit so they kindly bought me a fitbit.  I love it! It tells me how well (or badly) I am doing in my exercise regime, well walking to work actually – as that is the only exercise I do! It rewards me with praise, reminds me when I need to get active, and is totally honest with me.

With all the encouragement I get from my fitbit, I can just walk a little further, or a little quicker, or a liitle more often.

… then I remembered why I started walking to work, and realised that, much as I love my fitbit, I have to remember that there are other important things.

So, for the record, there are four reasons why I work to work and they are here in reverse order –

Four. I am moderately overwieght, and moderately unfit so I need to keep active to be healthy!

Three. It saves a whole heap of money, driving the couple of miles across town not only uses gallons of petrol over time,which costs pennies – but not running a second car in our family saves us hundreds of pounds each year.

Two: Choosing not to drive also helps to keep Dundee as a great city, it may only be a tiny action but it saves congestion in the city, and reduces the greenhouse gases which are so bad for the climate, the earth and all of us who live on it!

One: The absolutely most important reason for walking to work is that it both slows me down, and connects me to where I now live. The journey may take three times longer, but in that time I have time to think and pray (rather than get frustrated at the other drivers), I have time to look and notice what is happening in the community I live in – where people gather to talk, where rubbish gets dumped, I get to notice people who are out and about the same time as me – which is slowly setting me up with opportunities to acknowledge people (like the guys who pick up litter outside the shops each morning, and who pretty much no-one talks to) to talk and listen and so on!

So I love my fitbit, thanks guys! But more than that I love this city that I have been called to live in and have chosen to make my home.

 

welcome home

May 4, 2016

No one can have missed the huge number of migrants who are leaving everything and risking all to enter Europe. There is a campaign currently to pressure our prime minister to allow children to settle in the UK, (presumably because children can’t be terrorists!)

As ever Britain is divided as to whether we should allow them in, many people – fuelled by the rhetoric of Brexit – tell us that the country is already full, that charity should begin at home, and indeed push these arguments to the extent of campaigning against giving any aid overseas.

Others point to a rich history of immigration to the UK, pointing out that we absorbed some 200,000 Jews from Europe prior to WW1, and a further 50,000 refugees during WWII, accepted 21,000 Hungarians in the 50’s. We opened our doors, (against some political pressure) to 28,000 Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, and again (against political pressure – this time by our then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher) 24,000 Vietnamese “Boat people”.

None of these people groups have swamped our cities, put us into economic decline, or caused civil war. On the contrary, these people have settled, integrated, added value to our communities and brought out the very best in us.

We would do well to remember that all of us (except arguably the Welsh) are descended from immigrants, Viking or Norman if not more recent. Our stupid arguments to try and keep foreigners out diminish us.

We need to urgently pressure our government – despite the protestations of the red top press – to accept many thousands  of the desperate people currently living in inhumane conditions in contential Europe.

We need to demonstrate the welcome and hospitality that we rightly claim to be a mark of our Britishness, and roll out the red carpet for these mothers, fathers, and children who want nothing more than to have a chance to start their lives again. If we cannot even show common  humanity then we should feel shame!