Category Archives: missional
For many years now, one of my favourite quotes has been the late John Wimber‘s statement that ‘faith’ is spelt R-I-S-K. So it was a pleasure this morning while watching the live stream of the HTB Leadership Conference was to hear Archbishop Justin Welby say that ‘The church should be a safe place to do risky things in the service of Christ.’ How appropriate after that, then, to find myself listening to Esther Alexander‘s song ‘The End of the Land’, where she sings,
Is this the end of the land here
Or the beginning of the sea?
(You can listen to the song and download it here.)
Perhaps that’s our dilemma. We are more scared by being at the end of the land than we are by being at the beginning of the sea. What will it take for us to change, and why would we change? Too many churches want to change in order to save their skins. ‘We must reach out in order to keep this church going.’
Heaven help us. Really.
Welby also said this morning, ‘We cannot live for our cause to win, we have to live for his cause to win.’ May it be so.
I’m not the world’s biggest Seth Godin fan, but this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on the Internet for ages. It raises questions about what is broken in our lives – and, given the focus of this blog, the church.
- We have a broken understanding of church leadership that still thinks we are in Christendom, and all we have to do is call people back to their latent faith.
- We have a broken understanding of ministry that thinks one person can be apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher and not have the first name ‘Jesus’.
- We have a broken understanding of mission that thinks people will just come and join our club.
- We have a broken understanding of organisation that thinks we can simply transfer secular management theories to the church and all will be well.
Add your own examples …
In the context of the video above, there are people who let these broken things slide, because it’s not their job. There is a lot of ‘I’m not a fish’ around – things designed by people who would never use them.
In other words, we don’t get it, do we? The call to love God and love neighbour is talked and preached about, but not substantially practised. The call to mission is not heeded, because we spend our time with our own folk.
It’s frightening, isn’t it?
My treasurer at Knaphill is passionate about the importance of house groups. He’s just written a document in support of them in the church, and with his permission I share it with you:
What is a house group?
Probably the easiest way to define it is to regard it as a church that meets in someone’s home. That’s an interesting thought really! “A house group is a church that meets in a home!!”
By ‘church’ we mean, of course, a bunch of people who are committed to following Jesus, committed to each other, and committed to the wider church. The house group should have the same priorities that one expects in a church. These would include mission, evangelism, pastoral care and teaching so that its members can grow in their faith together.
Following Jesus involves
- commitment to building the Kingdom of God; and
- making disciples, bringing people to a more mature faith.
These can only be achieved if the members of house groups are prepared to share their unique God-given personalities and gifts for the benefit of the group in which they find themselves, as their mutual trust grows.
Although the main purpose of the house group is often regarded to be pastoral care, there is also a second purpose, which is discipleship.
All the members of the group need to be growing. They all need to be using their gifts, serving one another, discovering practical ways to express God’s love. Everyone has a real contribution to make. People grow as they make these contributions and as they see God answering prayer.
Everyone also needs to be growing in their understanding, and the house group provides a unique and safe environment in which people can ask questions and explore issues which affect their everyday lives.
Why join a House Group?
People often ask “Why join a House Group?” Is going to church not enough? This is what John Wesley said:
“Look east or west, north or south … is Christian fellowship there? Rather, are not the bulk of parishioners a mere rope of sand? What Christian connection is there between them? What intercourse in spiritual things? What watching over each other’s souls? What bearing of one another’s burdens?”.
If we are honest, we believe many people today echo Wesley’s comment. Interesting expression, isn’t it? Are we not a “rope of sand”? Many different little grains but none joined together?
So what is the answer? What did John Wesley do to rectify the situation? He sought to “introduce fellowship where none existed” by the formation of class meetings. These class meetings, cell groups, house groups – call them what you like – were not to be seen as an alternate for church attendance but rather they were to
“complement the church and its ministry by offering a more intense and personal encounter of faith and grace within a context of mutual support, love and care”.
It is for this reason that we too need to go back to the roots of the early church and establish house groups, where we can re-discover wise principles laid down for true biblical fellowship.
What’s the real purpose?
There are various references in the Bible to how the early church started with small groups and we read how –
- The early church were “one in heart and mind,”
- They shared everything they had,
- They honoured one another above themselves,
- They practised hospitality,
- They always kept on praying for all the saints.
- They held that each member “belongs to all the others.”
- Through every member ministry they encouraged one another and “built each other up.”
- They spurred one another on “toward love and good deeds. They were committed to “go and make disciples”.
These things can’t all happen easily just by attending church services.
In Ephesians 4:12-13, we read “Christ gave those gifts [to be apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers] to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving and to make the body of Christ stronger. This is what we should do in our house groups – desire and endeavour to
“prepare God’s holy people for works of service …… until we are all joined together in the same faith and in the same knowledge of the Son of God and become mature persons , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.
In the small group environment it is much easier to work towards these lofty goals than it is in the larger body of the local church. People grow to trust each other and become more willing to share and it is through this process of trust and sharing that we all grow in our faith.
What happens at the House Group?
Fear of the unknown can be a hindrance, so it is as well to mention what the house group meetings should be like. It’s rather simple really. There should be -
- A time of welcome, friendship, laughter and a cup of tea or coffee together
- a time of worship, listening to music, for example
- a time of Bible study
- a time of prayer, including intercessory prayer.
The format is often referred to as “the 4 W’s”
There need not be a particular set agenda but this is generally what would happen. There may be times when the group will watch a Christian video or listen to a teaching tape. Nobody should be expected to say anything, unless they wish to. Nobody will be expected to pray aloud – it’s a matter of personal choice. Nobody will be “put on the spot” during the Bible Studies. What is said, and the extent of participation, is entirely up to the individual. The evening should be times of true fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere of mutual trust and care.
The wider church has for many years been putting great emphasis on the use of small groups for discipleship, outreach and other purposes. How can we love one another as Jesus loved his disciples unless we create the environments in which close relationships can develop? This is what small groups can achieve.
Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples, because he loved them. He trained and prepared them in a small group context. The kind of relationships Jesus wanted for his followers can’t be built simply on the basis of casual contact, like about once a week over a cup of tea or coffee after church. The early church certainly followed this example, and so produced mature and committed disciples who became effective both in evangelism as well as the other tasks they got from the Lord.
This is what we need to aim for today – to create the right kind of environment in which trust can develop and grow, in which we can love one another, encourage one another, respect one another, watch over and care for one another – just as the Bible instructs us. This can’t happen if we limit our contact to Sunday church services and a brief chat afterwards – even if we do occasionally go out for a meal with others from the church and talk about things. House groups are vital if we sincerely wish to strengthen our church. Just as the early church often met in homes, so too should we. It is interesting that the vast majority of growing churches today have some kind of home cell network in place, through which new people are added, encouraged, strengthened and nurtured. This is what God wants.
Healthy house groups should have as part of their vision the desire to increase in number. This requires two things. The first is the addition of new people to the group. The second is the training and equipping of existing members to lead house groups themselves.
A while ago, I saw a great TED Talk video on ‘The secret structure of great talks’ by Nancy Duarte:
I didn’t need much persuading to buy her book Resonate, about improving your presentations. (It’s not a book of PowerPoint techniques, it explores the principles of good presentations instead.) I recommend it highly to all public speakers.
Now, I have seen an amazing interview with her on The Good Life Project. I wouldn’t normally sit through thirty-eight minutes of video on a computer, but this had me hooked. I had no idea Duarte was a Christian (that confession comes about twenty minutes in). What is so wonderful about this interview is the way her Christian convictions have so permeated the way she leads and runs her business:
* She sees her job as to shepherd her staff. It is her duty to make sure the work is there so her one hundred employees can put food on their tables.
* She has a place both for the outgoing, quirky people who are good to put before clients and also the introverts who will hunker down and get a job done.
* Having been told by a coach that the two verbs applicable to her are ‘conquer’ and ‘liberate’, she uses these, not in what she calls an ‘Attila the Hun’ mode, but in terms of what she wants to do for others – again, specifically including her employees.
* When asked near the end what ‘the good life’ is, she emphatically rejects the notion of ‘bling’ in favour of generosity.
So put the kettle on, make a drink, and watch this inspiring video:
Music and entertainment retailer HMV has called in the administrators. The recession, the failure to adapt sufficiently to the digital revolution and so on, after they spent years raking in cash on over-priced CDs, have made this inevitable. Over four thousand jobs are at risk, thanks to what one analyst in the BBC coverage to which I linked calls a ‘structural failure’. They made little tweaks, giving more prominence to DVDs, computer games and MP3 accessories, but tweaks weren’t enough. A revolution was needed, and it never came. The parallels for the Christian Church are obvious. Many a time have I quoted the Seven Last Words Of A Dying Church: “But we’ve always done it this way.”
But I watch the collapse of HMV with genuine sadness. A part of my youth and young adulthood is disappearing. As a teenager, I used to take the bus up to central London, to their huge store in Oxford Street. I would go there with my best friend during the school holidays. We would go up to the singles counter and think of all sorts of old records to request. In those long-before-the-Internet days, it was one place where I could buy something relatively obscure. So when I was first stunned by hearing the long version of ‘She’s Gone’ by an unheard-of American duo called Daryl Hall and John Oates, it was to HMV Oxford Street that I went to buy the album which contained it, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette‘ (still a great album, BTW). But as supermarkets have invaded the space and only sold high volume titles at big discounts, the joy of rummaging around the back catalogue disappeared from HMV shops. When they were available – such as when I started buying CDs by new country artists such as Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett in the early 1990s – the prices were so high as to need a mortgage. It was a good job I was a single man way back then.
Now, at least part of the Internet supports the ‘long tail’ theory and I can get old titles on Amazon or iTunes. But the rise of digital and the idea that ‘there is no real future for physical retail in the music sector’, as that analyst puts it, leaves me sad. Yes, I do sometimes download, but another part of my youth was as a hi-fi fan, and you can’t tell me that compressed, lossy files match up to what you can hear on a high quality sound system.
I don’t suppose anything more than an Oxford Street rump will survive the attentions of Deloitte, if anything. I will miss you, HMV.
No new sermon this week: I led a communion service this morning, but we had a guest preacher, Patrick Coad from SCAT.
However, let me highlight something else: one of my former members at Knaphill, Ruth Pugh, recently left these shores for some missions work in India with a difference. She is working under the auspices of a bishop in the Church of North India to give music lessons to deprived children. It may not seem the most obvious of missionary causes, but this project will give increased dignity and self-esteem to these children. In the last few days, Ruth wrote to say that she needed three more small violins for younger children, who cannot cope with the full-size instruments. We held a retiring offering after this morning’s service and raised the money for more than two of them. The congregation didn’t know about this before arriving today, so I’m all the more delighted.
You can follow Ruth’s adventures here and sign up for email updates.
If it is true that Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is to be the new ABC, then I wonder whether he will heed the advice that Rowan Williams is offering his successor (as reported in the same article):
Speaking in Auckland yesterday, at what aides said would be his final press conference, he was asked for advice for his successor.
Quoting the theologian Karl Barth, he said that the new Archbishop should preach “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”.
He said that it was vital that whoever is named must be able to make his message relevant to modern life and “like” reading newspapers.
“You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?’
“And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: ‘Where is this going to help me?’
“So I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading newspapers would be a good start.”
Valuable as this is, I just wonder whether ‘newspaper’ ought to be augmented with ‘social media’. The new Archbishop enters a world where communications are faster than ever, and social media reporting and campaigning (whatever the doubts about accuracy) has such a rapid effect upon events, that he will need to be strongly aware of that, too. Perhaps the ABC needs not only a press office but a rapid response social media office.
That said, who am I to advise? And perhaps it would be good to heed the thoughts of Adrian Chatfield on Twitter, who tweeted,
Pray for the new Archbishop elect, Justin Welby, and let's not all start telling him what to do. Just pray, pray, pray.—
Adrian Chatfield (@AdrianChatfield) November 07, 2012
“We mustn’t do x because it would upset all our longstanding faithful worshippers.”
How often do we make decisions like that in the church? Missional thinker Eric Bryant suggests that’s all wrong. He says,
As church leaders, we need to make decisions based on who is not here yet, rather than on who has been here the longest.
He takes the principle from business, although he wants us to avoid the dangers of consumerism. Essentially, the challenge is this: will we make our decisions based on mission or on maintenance?
What do you think? What is your experience?
It’s a small congregation. Forty members, about twenty-five at Sunday worship. Many are elderly, a significant minority struggle with mental health issues. We can’t cover every necessary job in the church.
One such area is playing music for worship. We can’t find someone to sit on the organ stool every week. Some weeks we have to use CDs of hymn tunes. For convenience, we’ve ripped them on a laptop and one of our members creates a playlist when he knows what songs the preacher has chosen.
Sunday was one of those days. It was harvest festival, and I had picked five well-known harvest hymns. This should be easy, I thought.
Usually there is an organist for my services. Kicking off with the definitely well-known ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’ we soon hit a problem. Our singing was an aural car crash by the end of the second verse, and I don’t mean that I’d forgotten to switch off the radio mic during the hymn. (You wouldn’t want to hear me sing. No, really.) However familiar the hymn was, the congregation was not singing at the same tempo as the recorded organist. They couldn’t hear it well enough in order to do so.
I asked for the volume to be turned up, but that wasn’t possible. We had a clarinettist accompanying the MP3. A real live one. She was altering her tempo to match the congregation, and was able to make her volume a little louder than the recording.
But that risked conflict with the laptop operator. We wouldn’t have had an outbreak of fisticuffs in Christian love – the two people in question are too lovable for that – but you could feel the tension rising.
What was the difference? The real live human musician could adjust to the congregation’s rate of progress. An inaminate recording couldn’t. (Yes, I know you can get software and gadgets that can vary the tempo of music and keep the pitch the same, but we don’t have the riches for swish gizmos.) And that’s the skill of musicians who accompany worship. It’s not a performance: it’s an enabling of the congregation. They may believe a hymn should be sung at a certain rate of knots, but if the worshippers are not up to it, they adjust, in order to achieve the goal of sung praise to our Maker and Lord.
Which in my opinion makes for a parable of church life and leadership. How many of us know how something should be done and at what speed, and won’t adjust for those who are coming along more slowly? If they are coming along and not resisting, why are they a problem? Are the best leaders like the live musicians, who instinctively adjust to the pace of the congregation in order to take them forward?
Yes, conversely, there is a time to urge a congregation forward and get them out of a rut – I don’t deny that. But in our fast-paced always-on culture, we sometimes miss the truth of which Eugene Peterson has often reminded his readers, namely that pastoral work is slow work.