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Going Back

So the sabbatical is over. No more for another seven years.

OK, that last sentence is mean, especially for the vast majority of people who don’t receive sabbaticals. What have I gained from this one? Some spiritual encouragement from the week at Cliff College.  A sense from the time at Trinity College, Bristol that I’m not insane to feel out on a limb as a minister with my personality type. And the sheer pleasure of using my long-dormant hobby of photography in Christian fellowship at Lee Abbey. From both Cliff and Trinity has come the desire to explore PhD research, although there are obstacles. Right now would not be a tactful time, ministry-wise. There would also be the small question of the finance.

What do I bring back from it into ministry? Actually, I’m not sure right now. I’m aware that some people in my churches are already talking about the things I shall be bringing back from the sabbatical for them, as if it has been a three-month trip to some extended version of the Christian Resources Exhibition. Sorry, that’s still for me just one day of the four next week.

What will I bring back for my churches? I don’t think it will be (or ever could have been) specific resources and ideas. I hope it brings a revitalised me, even if – quite honestly – I still don’t have the answers to the questions about why I feel so frustrated in ministry a lot of the time. I only have, as I said above, the sense that I am not mad, after all.

But I hope they’ll see something in me. What that is, I don’t know. I had some comments today. Given the assumption that no sooner shall I be back than I shall be off for a fortnight recovering from the upcoming nasal surgery, we did some things with my churches today. One church was holding a fund-raiser for Chelmsford Street Pastors. A couple at another church were celebrating their golden wedding. People made some strange comments. One person thought I had gained a suntan. 

“Must have been all that snow at Cliff College in February,” I joked.

Another thought I looked relaxed. With small children? Rarely possible!

So I’ll see what tomorrow brings. I have a communion service in the morning at St Augustine’s. In the evening, I have café church at Broomfield, where I am going to show some DVD clips from Lee Abbey. One is ‘Words Are Not Enough‘, some mimes to biblical passages by Dave Hopwood, their creative arts director. The other is ‘Lee Abbey Reflections‘, which contains meditations and music that can be used worshipfully.

Oh, well. Once more into the breach …

Sabbatical, Day 25: Ash Wednesday Soup

I’m going to be nice about Iona today. Specifically about one of their confession prayers.

Yes, you read both of those sentences correctly. The confession in chapel this morning was more refreshing – and challenging – to my mind. It was modelled on the verse in Isaiah 55 where God says ‘My ways are not your ways’. It thus consisted of a series of stark contrasts between the ways of God and of humans. So we got a clearer focus on God in the confession as a result, in my opinion.

Wednesday is not a normal lecture day here. After morning chapel, students keep silence until 10 am when they meet in their pastoral groups, then at 11 they all meet together with the Principal for Community Coffee. I’m not sure what happens in the afternoons – I think it must be free for study. I decided I would observe silence with the students before taking another walk into town to buy presents for Debbie and the children.

Trinity was the first place I ever observed any extended silence, on college Quiet Days. At first it frightened me. There is something terrifyingly loud about the way one’s own thoughts invade and clamour for attention. Yet silence, with the accompanying discipline of solitude, is a sign of health and vitality in the life of the Spirit. On one of those Quiet Days, I remember deciding I would read Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s ‘Life Together‘. Figuring it was only ninety or a hundred pages, I was sure I could get through it easily in one day. I couldn’t. Bonhoeffer packed such a punch with every sentence, the book kept stopping me like brakes on a car. What I most remember is him saying that no-one is fit for community life who cannot also embrace solitude. This morning, the silence was not a ringing in my ears but a recharging of my batteries.

Then I went off present-hunting. I found an art shop and bought some little models for the children to paint. I won’t say what I bought Debbie, because she occasionally reads this blog. I just hope she likes my purchase.

Lunch was suitably spartan for Ash Wednesday: soup and bread. But it wasn’t gruel. There was a choice between carrot and coriander soup (which I normally consume by the gallon) and a fish and cream soup. Both were accompanied by two types of bread: one was a tomato bread, the other I’m not sure, but it was good. I got through two bowlfuls of the fish and cream soup. Debbie dislikes both fish and mushrooms, and they are two things I love, so if I’m not at home to eat and I get the chance, I take advantage. This one had vague similiarities with the most wonderful soup I have ever tasted: cullen skink at Sheena’s Backpackers’ Lodge cafe in Mallaig, the fishing port at the northern end of the Road to the Isles in Scotland.

At the end of lunchtime, I had the joy of spending twenty minutes or so catching up with my old tutor John Bimson.

What to do this afternoon? Still feeling very disciplined after the morning silence, I read more of Goldsmith and Wharton’s book ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘, especially the chapters on personality type in the church. I concentrated on those sections specific to my own personality type of INTP. Time and again, I read paragraphs and thought the authors had met me. Yes, I am someone who likes to bring new vision to a church, because I’m more about the future than the present, more big picture than fine detail.

And – apparently, my personality type often gets frustrated with regular local church ministry and ends up in sector ministry. In particular, my type often likes to engage in research. I felt another underlining of the sense I’d had at Cliff College a fortnight ago about doing a PhD. Well, no, more than that: I felt like the research idea came up and mugged me again.

So to the weekly college communion service at 5 pm. Trinity is an evangelical college, but very much what is called an ‘open evangelical‘ college. It is not hardline Calvinist/fundamentalist. Secure in a commitment to biblical authority, it believes there is value to be found in other Christian traditions, too. Today that meant the Lord’s Supper conducted in a more Anglo-Catholic style, complete with incense, processing and the like, and of course an ashing ceremony. I don’t think a real Anglo-Catholic would have recognised it as a complete facsimile, not least because the music was mainly from evangelical and charismatic sources. But it was a genuine attempt to be sympathetic. And I find the imposition of ashes to be a powerful symbolic act. It sends a tremor through me every time. I’m glad we have it in the Methodist Worship Book, too. I haven’t washed mine off yet. The only pity was that just the first half of the words were used with the imposition of the ashes: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, but they forgot to say, ‘Turn from your sin and follow Christ.’

On to dinner and another great conversation with the other former lecturer of mine who is still on the staff here, John Nolland, along with his wife Lisa. John has ‘a brain the size of a planet’ and authored the three volumes on Luke’s Gospel in the Word Biblical Commentary. More recently, he has written a highly acclaimed commentary on Matthew for the New International Greek Text Commentary on the New Testament. We learned from some top-class scholars here, and so do the current students, with staff such as Gordon and David Wenham here, to name but two of many.

During the Peace in the communion service, the Principal, George Kovoor, shared the Peace with me and then continued the conversation. He invited me to book an appointment with him to chat over coffee for half an hour. The only problem is, I shall only be able to offer tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he has space in his diary for then at such short notice. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether it comes off. I hope it will. He is a genial man, and if you click the link I gave to him above you’ll be exhausted just reading about him. I spoke to him on Monday, explained who I was and he told me he was a Methodist minister, too. It’s true. He is Indian, and was ordained in the Church of North India, which is a united denomination. Yesterday, he gave a notice to the community, saying that he was going to play a student at table tennis. He wouldn’t ask for prayer, because last time he played someone and asked for prayer he won, and he didn’t want an unfair advantage this time. Turns out he won anyway.

See you tomorrow.

Sabbatical, Day 24: No Sleep Till Brekkie, More Lectures And The Bristol Tourist Trail

I don’t do well on first nights in new locations. Not on the evidence of this sabbatical, anyway. Having barely slept before 4 am on my first night at Cliff College a fortnight ago, I didn’t sleep before 1:30 here, then woke at 5:30 with a vile headache. (Not that I know what a nice headache would be, you understand.) At 7 am, I decided I needed a large dose of tannin, so I took the pint-sized mug I’d brought from home and made my first tea of the day. The pain slowly subsided over a period of several hours, until it was gone by late afternoon.

Trinity does worship differently from my time. Twenty years ago, nearly everything was Alternative Service Book. Except when Paul Roberts inflicted chanted Book of Common Prayer services, that is. Though the ASB has been replaced in the C of E by Common Worship, the college seems to have themes for particular weeks. This week it’s Iona Community worship, widely popular in many parts of the British church but something that drives me nuts. I have no problem with a liturgy that emphasises social justice and makes no division between work and worship. However, I have found several of their liturgies and some of their songs hectoring and lecturing. Not only that, the confession used this morning was fundamentally inadequate. I like the mutual confession approach of Iona (service leader confesses and congregation pronounces forgiveness, then the process is reversed), so I’m not critical of everything. But this confession started from the point that we had hurt ourselves, then others, then the world. Absolutely no reference to the rupture between humans and God that is central to confession. Remind me never to use it in worship.

There were good things – not least the brief testimony of a student as to what God did in a prolonged experience of a spiritual desert. And the guy who read the Gospel reading did so with great feeling. Those were highlights.

Lectures were more relevant this morning. The operating paradigm (I’m at a theological college – out come the long words!) was still that of the large church, but I felt that more of today’s material was translatable or adaptable. We began with a session on team leadership and issues around teams. We then looked at how to run a meeting, largely taken from the old John Cleese video ‘Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings‘. Finally, a few thoughts about some common mistakes made by leaders.

This afternoon had an optional session. I opted out. It comprised some BBC videos on assertiveness training. While that’s an area I could do with improving in, I needed some air and some exercise to counter the effects of the much improved food. I decided I would try to find some old haunts. Off I went across the Clifton Downs, down two roads whose names may just betray Bristol’s slave trade past – Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road – and on down, eventually to Park Street, where I used to frequent three shops. I knew that SPCK would have been long gone after the business atrocities that have been inflicted on that chain of bookshops. Sadly, Rival Records is no longer around – I remember buying Bruce Cockburn‘s World Of Wonders in there during my first year. And the Evangelical Christian Literature bookshop is now a branch of Wesley Owen, stocking everything from N T Wright to Joel Osteen. Insert words such as ‘sublime’ and ‘ridiculous’ as you see fit. I think I’m right in remembering that ECL had been founded by George Mueller.

Not being home today means I’ve missed Shrove Tuesday with the family, but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday. I’m glad they have. Pancakes and their toppings are one of those simple pleasures where it is a joy to see the fun Rebekah and Mark have. Two small pancakes with toffee ice cream here at lunch time were delicious, but no replacement for being with the children. As to toppings generally, I’m a fan of those English Provender jars – no, not the garlic, ginger or horseradish, rather the raspberry coulis or the Belgian chocolate sauce. The latter has been harder to find in the supermarkets recently, though.Looking at the website tonight, I’ve noticed they now do a Fairtrade chocolate sauce, though.

More seriously, I had to miss a hospital out-patient’s appointment Rebekah had this afternoon. Eighteen months ago she had grommets inserted in her ears after protracted episodes of glue ear and consequent poor hearing. They still haven’t solved the problem. One grommet fell out a few months ago, and today they could see congestion in it. She may have to have more grommets fitted, poor lass. Recently, we’ve let her start answering the telephone, but conversations with her are punctuated with “What did you say?”

Tonight, I’ve just spent the time quietly reading. Next stop a spot of supper then an early night, I hope, to catch up on last night.

Sabbatical, Day 23: Beginning The Course At Trinity College

I left home after the school run and by limiting my one stop on the 180+ mile trip, I got here at 12:45 pm, fifteen minutes before lunch. And on that subject, the food has certainly improved from my time here. (Pause to affect voice of elderly person:) In my day, we used to say that Trinity was the only place where you poured the meat and sliced the custard. We also lived a diet comprised fifty percent of apples, there being a surfeit of apple trees in the grounds. On the evidence of the shepherd’s pie and cherry cheesecake today, those times are gone.

A first year student called Andy has helped me find my way around, some things not being quite where or how they were back in the eighties – no surprise, of course. Given that I get edgy about getting into a new routine in an unfamiliar place, he has been a blessing. Not only that, his ‘college job’ is IT, and he got me logged onto one of the networks here with the appropriate password. He also showed me where to sit in the lecture room to be near a mains socket for the laptop. At Cliff College two weeks ago, there were extension leads trailing everywhere – a health and safety risk but it meant everybody could plug in. The same isn’t true here.

My room is better than at Cliff, though. Again, it’s a twin room, but it’s more spacious. Not only is there room for two single beds without a crush, there is also a travel cot for a baby and a z-bed.

I’ve also briefly met my old tutor, John Bimson, and we hope to catch up with each other more later in the week. John is a fantastic Old Testament scholar with a wicked sense of humour and a passion for social justice.

As for the course, I’ve had a double lecture this afternoon and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed on a couple of fronts. First of all, the element on ministry and personality type is just barely half the course, spanning Thursday and Friday.

Secondly, today’s material has largely been a baptism of management theory. It was justified on the grounds that all truth is God’s truth, and of course I believe that. However, I think we’ve had one reference in the PowerPoint slides to Scripture, and that was the obligatory Proverbs 29:18, a text surely much misused, and for some reason in this context limited to leaders, not ‘the people’, as the verse says. The lecturers also made clear that there are vast differences between a line management situation and a voluntary organisation. Yet the primary assumptions have been about large churches. Hence the person quoted more than anybody has been Bill Hybels, and I shall be watching to see whether what we are really getting is teaching on how to run a megachurch, something that will not be terribly applicable to many of us.

It isn’t surprising when the main lecturer is a former President of Hasbro’s European Division, and worships at a large church in Surrey. The other guy is part-time on the college staff along with being vicar of what was certainly a big church when I was here in the Eighties. I could be doing the lecturers a disservice, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll have more positive reflections to report.

Sabbatical, Day 10

Two miracles in the last twenty-four hours: first of all, I slept well last night. Moving the bed away from the wall helped. I still can’t understand why the college thinks it’s a twin room, though. Not unless Snow White was moonlighting as an architect for friends. Thankfully, I’m alone in the room.

Second miracle: a meal tonight in the refectory that actually came with vegetables. After three consecutive meals accompanied by salad, this was a cause for thanksgiving. Not that the salads were bad at all – they were fresh and edible – but it’s good to have some balance in the diet. Besides, excess salad while snow is still around seems a tad strange.

Lectures have been good today. Two this morning from John Finney, the retired Bishop of Pontefract on the subject of personal and church renewal. Wisdom from an experienced church leader.

Two later from Stephen Skuce, the postgraduate tutor here. Controversial and provocative. He thinks the British church is done for, rather like the North African and Turkish churches of past centuries. We need to learn survival strategies, he says, in the way that the Chinese and Russian churches did under communism. He sees the emerging church movement as a group of lifeboats getting as far away from the sinking Titanic of the mainstream church as fast as possible. However, he thinks there are only twenty emerging church congregations in the UK. He should be in a position of authority on this, as Cliff College is the only place in Europe to offer an MA in Emerging Church studies. He doesn’t rate the idea of the ‘mixed economy’ church advocated by Rowan Williams as part of the Fresh Expressions movement. Fresh Expressions don’t generally count as emerging churches – I think I’m inclined to agree with him on that point.

Tonight he taught for an hour on William J Abraham‘s book ‘The Logic of Renewal‘. As much as anything, though, his purpose was to show the MA students how to research an author and a book. He happened to use a book that is on the theme of the week. It was interesting to see the students being taught these methods.

This evenng, I’ve been indulging my pleasure of offering technical support to someone with her laptop. I managed to get her wirelessly connected when the computer was hiding from doing that. I’ve also been listening to nervous students who’ve had tutorials today where they’ve had to present ideas for their next assignments. I made a suggestion to one woman about a possible book, but the tutor ripped the proposal to shreds.

Tomorrow, two of the students who will soon be celebrating ‘significant’ birthdays will be treating the rest of us on the course to coffee and cakes at the village tea rooms.

Plenty of other students tonight are watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD on a large screen via a digital projector. Me, I’m typing this instead. Sad? Maybe. Now, then, everyone together: “There’s Klingons on the starboard bow …”

Sabbatical, Day 9

They must have designed the beds here for monks. Certainly my bed kept me awake enough last night to observe night prayer at all hours. I reckon I got about three hours max. I’m typing this before an early (by my standards) night.

Three different lectures today. An Old Testament lecture that was very lively and fun, which sang from the same hymn sheet as Chris Wright. A New Testament lecture that rehearsed all the standard evangelical points about the Holy Spirit. (I spent some time looking at pictures of the children on my Facebook profile.) And a lecture on discipleship in postmodern culture that didn’t for once start from the cultural context but from a spiritual theology based on the Fathers, especially Irenaeus.

Good conversation with one of the postgrad tutors, too. We got onto my occasional desires to do a doctorate. He suggested a Doctor of Ministry course would probably not stretch me, since the dissertation would be MA level, and that’s below the MPhil I already have. He was steering me towards a PhD. Just a few problems: a research area, and wrong time ministry-wise and for our children to contemplate it right now. And money. But maybe one day.

Tonight a ‘student sharing time’, praying for one another, followed – by popular request (but from whom?) – bythe return of the ever-popular ‘fun evening’. That proved to mean a quiz night. My team came second out of four. Given that we only had three on the team and the others all had four, we think we won a moral victory! It was a bit of an effort, though, with a headache from last night’s monastic sleep.

Anyway, I’m going to lend my laptop to another student in a minute so she can check her emails, then it’s supper and bed. Night night.

Sabbatical, Day 8

Well, I’m here. Cliff College, that is. I had to miss church this morning to get ahead of the weather. The BBC forecast was right: sleet hit Derbyshire mid-afternoon, and it was snowing by tea-time. I got here around 4:30 pm, before it got bad.

As I thought, our daughter was distressed at n my leaving this morning. Phoning the family after I got here, she was no better. “Daddy, tell the teachers you’re leaving and come back tonight,” she pleaded. Heartstrings were well and truly yanked. I had so looked forward to getting away to study, yet this simple incident told me how much my family means to me.

On the pleasurable side of being here, it’s been good to begin making acquaintance with some of those with whom I shall share this week. Not only is the usual ‘small world of Methodism’ in operation, I have met a blogging friend for the first time. Lorna is here from Finland. I think I may be able to help another student by putting her in touch with a friend of mine.

The literature from Cliff says that wifi is available in most rooms. Unfortunately, my room is not included in ‘most’. Apart from that, the room is basic but fine for five days.

Thankfully, I can get a good wifi signal here in the Stanton Lounge (the presence of a router was a clue), and so I’m typing away while others have retreated to their rooms to prepare for tutorials and the like. There is one other person here as part of a sabbatical, but most are here to work. I’m intending to enjoy the lectures – at least when I’m not overtaken by thoughts of little Rebekah’s pleading voice, poor girl. She loves her Daddy and her Daddy loves her.

Sabbatical, Day 7

Just a quick post tonight as I’m busy packing for the drive to Cliff College tomorrow. The weather forecast for the Peak District tomorrow isn’t as sinister as it sounded a couple of days ago, so it looks like the trip is on after all.

By the way, if you’re in the UK, check out the new Weather Beta service on the BBC site. Much improved. You can set several favourite places, see three-hourly forecasts for them for the next twenty-four hours, and a five-day forecast. Plus you can see a video of the forecast on the relevant BBC regional news programme.

Today has had little overt sabbatical work. I took Mark to the library this morning while Debbie took Rebekah to her ballet lesson. This afternoon I took Rebekah into town while Debbie took Mark to a party.

Coming home, I went to check and pump up my tyres ready for tomorrow. Having trouble with the digital pump I have that plugs into the cigarette lighter, I borrowed Debbie’s foot pump. However, I have some kind of Midas touch, except that rather than everything I touch turning to gold, it tends to break. She has just ordered a new pump off eBay. After that, my pump more or less decided to work – well, enough to get the requisite quantities of air into every tyre.

Tonight I’ve tried to catch up on comments here on the blog, and apologies again if my replies have had to be brief. I’ve also been photographing objects Debbie wants to sell on eBay.

If you have a moment, say the odd prayer for our children. They’re not happy about me going away for five days, and aren’t used to me disappearing like this. And it’s the first of three such trips during the sabbatical. Thanks.

Hopefully the next update will be via wifi or mobile broadband from Cliff tomorrow night.

Sabbatical, Day 5

Having finished my summaries of The Starfish And The Spider yesterday, I spent much of this morning dividing them into natural sections. It turned out that meant eight. I uploaded the first one, and to my surprise got a comment from none other than the Tall Skinny Kiwi himself, Andrew Jones. Many will know Andrew as the doyen of Christian blogging and an engaging, irenic voice in the missional world. He is a scholar and a gent to take the trouble to pass by this obscure backwater blog and leave a comment. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way, but I felt honoured.

By the way, numbers two to eight in the Starfish series will appear over the next week, one a day, scheduled to appear at 9:00 am each day.

There’s not much reading I can do to prepare for my week at Cliff College next week. Over the years, I’ve read several titles on the reading list for the unit and am going along for stimulation and edification. The weather forecast remains a concern, especially with heavy snow still predicted for the Peak District on Sunday, when I am due to travel. Conditions have eased around here now, but major roads in this region and others on the way that I would be using still look ominous. The M1 for a start. Since I’m auditing this course at Cliff courtesy of a kind anonymous bursary, I have it in mind to ask if I can switch to another course if I can’t make next week. Right now it doesn’t look promising, but there speaks one with the spiritual gift of pessimism.

I have, however, been gathering material ready for my trip later in the month to Trinity College, Bristol, where I shall be spending a week with Anglican ordinands and other students looking at personality type and ministry. Down from the shelf has come ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘ (no, not by Alan Partridge) by Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton. The subtitle is, ‘Exploring Personality Type and Temperament’. It’s based on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which is being used on the course. I’m armed with the knowledge that I’m INTP.

I also dug out a birthday present from about three years ago. My sister, who is an Occupational Therapist at a hospice, had been on an Enneagram course with the hospice chaplain. She bought me Richard Rohr‘s book ‘The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective‘. Once I knew I wanted to explore this theme during a sabbatical, it seemed right to put it aside until then.

While hunting for something else, I found the Grove booklet ‘Personality and Renewal‘ by William Kay. I’m flicking through that.

The something else was another Grove booklet I’ve been trying to find ever since we moved here three and a half years ago. Something always goes missing. It’s ‘Personality and the Practice of Ministry‘ by Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins. Based not on Myers Briggs, Enneagram or anything else, Francis and Robbins use Hans Eysenck‘s personality test based on extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. I ended up paying to download the e-book version in PDF format, which seemed less wasteful, in the vain hope my original hard copy might turn up one day.

Meanwhile, I found an online version of Eysenck’s test, and here are my results. They tell you a lot about why I want to explore the relationship between personality type and the practice of ministry, because on the surface I just don’t fit the typical stereotypes and expectations:

Eysenck’s Test Results
Extraversion (27%) low which suggests you are very reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and private.
Neuroticism (77%) high which suggests you are very worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Psychoticism (33%) moderately low which suggests you are, at times, overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense of your own individual development (martyr complex).

Take Eysenck Personality Test (similar to EPQ-R)
personality tests by similarminds.com

One other good thing today. The post is returning to normal here (shame about the refuse collections). That meant the arrival of Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch‘s new book ‘ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church‘. I put it on pre-order with Amazon the moment I knew about it. Today is a good day. Except for the fact that I paid £10.44 and it’s now £8.53.

Sabbatical, Day 4

At last. I’ve just finished typing my summary notes of ‘The Starfish and the Spider‘. They exceed three and a half thousand words, so when I post them to the blog I shall certainly split them up. There are probably about seven sections in what I’ve summarised.

The job got finished, because the children’s school was open again today. Snow still lies thick on much ground around here, including the school playground, which was out of bounds, but a path had been cleared to enable parents to get children to their classrooms this morning. Peace at last!

I made one or two phone calls this morning. I am due to travel on Sunday to Cliff College in the Peak District to spend five days studying there. Every day I enter their postcode into the five-day weather forecast section of the BBC website. Currently, heavy snow is predicted for them on Sunday. It’s too early for them to consider cancelling the course, but clearly it is a possibility.

During the day, I found a particularly interesting blog post on Mark Batterson’s Evotional site. Entitled ‘Chief Storyteller‘, Batterson proposes this as a description of a senior pastor’s rôle. We are called to retell ‘genesis stories’ that show where we have come from and where we are headed. There is an intimate connection between the past and the future, to the point that ‘stories of the past … frame visions of the future.’

I think there is a lot in this. My one query (which I left in a comment on the blog) runs something like this. I see great value in this approach in that the ‘genesis stories’ tell us key things about our spiritual DNA, the purposes for which God called our community into being. I’m not so sure they remain the entire framing reference for all future vision. We need to make allowance for the possibility of paradigm shifts that appear to come out of nowhere and seem to bear little relation to our prior trajectory. Even where genesis stories do give us vision for the future, that vision can change shape drastically. A classic example would be the radical reinterpretation of Old Testament texts in the New Testament. In the light of Christ, OT texts bear a wieght they didn’t originally carry in the minds of their authors.

Let’s end today with this. I received a friend request on Facebook today and I didn’t recognise the name. I sent a polite message to the person, asking her to remind me where I knew her. Back came a reply in which she admitted she didn’t know me, but had seen my name on a mutual friend’s list and she thought I was ‘an awesome man of God’.

Well, the lady is clearly very kind, but Debbie would soon correct her misapprehension of me. I am nervous of these descriptions, not out of low self-esteem, but out of a need to protect myself. I have seen Christian leaders who believe the hype, and I wait for them to fall. I can remember one grisly example back in Kent.

Eleven years ago, I was involved in putting on a one-day conference for members of worship bands. Cutting a long story short, at the end of the evening celebration, two women went from the conference to pray with a man who should have been there but had sustained a fall. As they prayed, he felt the heat of the Holy Spirit and was healed. I emailed this story around a few networks at the time, and back came a reply from someone who ran an email group about revival: “David, you mighty man of God.” I had to sit at the computer and type back immediately, explaining I hadn’t even been one of the people who had prayed for the sick man. I was merely recounting the story. As I said, believing the hype is dangerous. The glory must always go to God. And not just in the times of ‘success’, but the opposite too. ‘Though the fig tree does not blossom … yet will I praise him,’ said Habbakuk.

But for those of you who might enjoy a satirical take on self-important and self-deluded leaders, I can do no better than to recommend the wonderful Brant Hansen’s 417 Rules Of Awesomely Bold Leadership. Have a smile. Or a hernia, if you read too many.

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