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Sabbatical, Day 48: Gambling, G20 And Our Children

Our belovèd government promises concern for problem gamblers and all affected by their habits. Which is why they are doubling the minimum stake in fruit machines to £1 and the jackpot to £70. So that will help.

If you are as offended by this foul act as I am, there is an online petition here and you can also visit Fruitless.

Thanks to today’s monthly e-news email from the Methodist Church for this, which also plugs the Put People First march for Saturday week. 

…………

Having kept Mark at home today due to his mystery rash (which has again disappeared), fine weather meant some time outside. He played with some chalk near on our drive and near the front door for most of the morning. He rather got ahead of himself:

 

Come to Mark's house it's Easter today

Come to Mark's house it's Easter today

Below this first picture, however, you will be able to see that he is aware that Easter is not just for us. It is for everyone. No ‘This is my truth, tell me yours’ approach here!

 

 

 

It's Easter in the world

It's Easter in the world

 

However, as the next picture shows, I eventually convinced him he was being proleptic and would have to ditch his realised eschatology for a ‘not yet’ approach to the kingdom of God:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 weeks until Easter

3 weeks until Easter

The poor little lad will have to wait like the rest of us. He’s looking forward to chocolate and to the annual Easter party Debbie organises for him, Rebekah and a few of their friends. She started this our first Spring here as a way of trying to help our two make friends in the area. It has worked well. We now have the pleasures of egg rolling competitions on the drive, Easter bonnet-making (no, the boys never gravitate to that) and sundry other fun activities. The invitations have been going out in the last couple of days, not just to established little friends but to some other children whom we’d like encourage our pair to befriend.

We’ve also had further reason to take pride in Rebekah today, when she was moved up again to another level in the school reading scheme. She is delighted, too, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it and put down other children who haven’t reached her standard.

It was such a contrast this morning when I went to give my weekly twenty minutes of reading help in another class. I think they like me, because inevitably they get very few offers of help from men, although they’ll miss me next week when I’m at Lee Abbey. Each week I am given a different group of children. The groups are streamed, so from one Friday to the next I can get a vast contrast in ability. Today, I had three lads who were struggling. One in particular still can’t make the connection between the phonetic sounds of letters and the word he is trying to read. He should have known this a year or two ago, poor lad. The other two boys kept jumping in when this one didn’t know, which did nothing for his confidence.

So it was important this morning to have a simple rôle as an encourager. That was a privilege, just to try and boost the boy a little bit. I wondered how much encouragement he received. Certainly he gets it from the staff, who provide extra help, but clearly he suffers at the hands of other children, in the classic way in which youngsters are so cruel to each other. Some carry the scars for years. Occasionally, we ministers pick up on it decades later.

The Starfish And The Spider, Part 8: There Are New Rules To The Game

Here is the final part of the series. You will see a number of recurring themes here, in what virtually amounts to the book’s own summary of itself.

1. Diseconomies of Scale – small outfits with minimal overheads can bring revolutions. How the church needs to hear that, in place of megachurches, buildings, stipends and so on. I seem to be doing myself out of a job!

2. The Network Effect – adding one more person to the network costs little but adds value to them and the existing network. Assumes greater sharing by new network members – this won’t work if we treat people as pew fodder.

3. The Power of Chaos – standardisation squelches creativity. In a starfish, anyone can have a go. Churches think of newcomers as those who can be fitted into the currently vacant jobs. We don’t start with people and see what they can do and then shape church around that.

4. Knowledge at the Edge – not just from on high but the margins too. (Typically postmodern!) Body of Christ metaphor. God works from the fringes, too.

5. Everyone Wants to Contribute – people join a starfish for this reason. This requires reconceiving received models of church if we are to operate as starfish. Many wouldn’t join us for this reason.

6. Beware the Hydra Response – attacking a starfish organisation conventionally generates a many-headed response. Again, I think of persecution in the early church. As they were attacked in one town, they fled to another and more churches began.

7. Catalysts Rule – they inspire people to action rather than running the show, and they know when to let go. However, if one becomes a CEO, the starfish is in jeopardy. This is a radically different vision for leadership. How easy it is to default to CEO.

8. The Values Are the Organisation – ideology is the fuel of the starfish. In the church we have too easily defaulted to ‘institution’ as the definition of organisation, whether it’s seeing episcopacy as the esse of the church (as in Anglo-Catholic theology), or in seeing recruitment of new members as a matter of maintaining the institution rather than sharing the Gospel.

9. Measure, Monitor and Manage – measurement still happens despite ambiguity, but in different ways. It looks at the activity of the circles, how distributed the network is, the health of a circle, continued participation of members, etc. They are more dynamic measurements than static numbers and harder to quantify. Puts a new light on the October Count for Methodists. How would we go about assessing the spiritual health of our groups? How would we handle the inevitable subjectivity? It would also require sensitive handling when the assessment is negative.

10. Flatten or Be Flattened – the power of decentralisation is causing more companies to flatten or at least become hybrids. Decentralisation looks chaotic, even like entropy, but it is powerful. This sounds like an argument of the ‘You must move with the times’ variety. The real question is whether decentralisation is consistent with Scripture. In many ways it is. We have to be wary of where particular applications contradict Christian theology, whether it is eBay‘s ‘people are basically good’ creed (which they couldn’t completely live with, hence the hybrid with PayPal) or the use of the theory in support of violence (al Qaeda, Animal Liberation Front). 

The Starfish And The Spider, Part 7: The Hybrid Organisation

Part seven below – a bit shorter today.

Not everything about centralisation is bad. It is sometimes possible to hybridise spider and starfish philosophies in an organisation. There are two main types of hybrid:

1. A Centralised Company that Decentralises the Customer Experience – eBay is built on mutual trust between buyers and sellers – ‘people are basically good’ – but  PayPal operates on ‘no trust’. Amazon is centralised, but user reviews are read avidly. Some Christians are understandably nervous about the eBay creed that ‘people are basically good’, and rightly so, but a church will not function without trust. It also needs accountability.

2. A Centralised Company that Decentralises Internal Parts of the Business – e.g., make each section of the company independent and accountable on a profit-and-loss basis or use ‘appreciative inquiry’ to pair people from different parts of the company who share their ideas non-hierarchically. Methodist churches are not independent in this way, except for the schedules. Non-hierarchical sharing is probably something many would like, though, but may generally be resisted by some ministers.

The decentralised sweet spot is the point along the centralised-decentralised continuum that yields the best competitive position. It may change over time. This is a problem of agility for the church, an especially tricky issue for older churches.

The Starfish And The Spider, Part 3: How Do You Tell A Starfish From A Spider?

OK, here’s part three of my summary. As before, my comments are in red.

1. Is there a person in charge? Yes = spider and classic traditional church approach. There is more to come later in the book about ‘catalysts’ and ‘champions’ in starfish organisations. Later I shall offer some thoughts as to how consonant such people are with biblical faith.

2. Are there headquarters? Yes = spider and classic traditional church approach. Definitely consistent with Old Testament faith, less so with New Testament, notwithstanding the rôle of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

3. If you thump it on the head, will it die? Yes = spider and although this would be true of centralised churches, especially where there is also a high dependency upon the leaders (including the local ones), you might argue this wouldn’t have happened in the apostolic churches, and hasn’t happened in persecuted churches in recent decades. Not that too romantic a picture should be painted, even of more decentralised churches, given Paul’s statement in Galatians that before his conversion ‘I was destroying the churches’ (softened to ‘I was trying to destroy‘ in some versions). But Jesus saw the church as indestructible.

4. Is there a clear division of rôles? Yes = spider. Does that make churches which practise clear delineations on talents, offices and spiritual gifts spider churches? However, the priesthood of all believers is most definitely starfish on this basis. It depends whether we are stressing equality or diversity.

5. If you take out a unit, is the organisation harmed? Yes = spider. How does this relate to Paul saying, if one part of the body suffers, all suffer? We feel the pain, but are we harmed? ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,’ said Tertullian – was he expounding a starfish church?

6. Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed? Concentrated = spider, distributed = starfish. Most churches concentrate it in specialists like me. However, there is sometimes a co-dependent conspiracy on this one. Not only do we ‘specialists’ like to be the ‘experts’, congregations sometimes like us to be also, even when we passionately want to distribute knowledge.

7. Is the organisation flexible or rigid? Flexible = starfish, rigid = spider. Most of the church is the latter. This expresses a lot of the tensions commonly felt at ‘grassroots’ in the church, in contrast to the hierarchies. I’ve come across it in ecumenical churches where there is huge frustration that failure to agree by ‘the top brass’ (revealing description) hinders local work. It’s the same with Fresh Expressions.

8. Can you count the employees or participants? Yes=spider. Methodism is particularly obsessed by this, with the ‘October Count’, now renamed ‘Statistics for Mission‘. You can’t help wondering about that newer name: it is a form of branding to give it a respectable label, given the dislike of many ministers for the process? Counting numbers of people has positive and negative examples in Scripture: King David holds a census out of pride and a curse falls on the people, but on the other hand the Acts of the Apostles seems very interested in numerical growth. Note comments about ‘measurement’ happening in a different way in the final post of this series.

9. Are working groups funded by the organisation, or are they self-funding? Former = spider, latter = starfish. I find churches to be a mixture of both. Most stuff is self-funded at a local level, making us a bit more starfish-like, except that with anything major we have to jump through various hoops set up by the hierarchy. Particularly large projects will include applications for grant funding, and that increases the spider content. One interesting factor in Methodism is the issue of trustees. The local Church Council members are but the ‘managing trustees‘ of the property for wider Methodism who technically own the building, yet the primary responsibility for maintenance rests with them.

10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries? Former = starfish, latter = spider. This is a difficult one in church life. Formally, we tend to be spiders, with different committees reporting to the Church Council, with churches reporting to the Circuit, and so on. However, when we get down to a small scale, especially with church decline, we can be more direct in our communication, because we have become more informal and closer in proximity to each other.

Hymns

Fat Prophet points to a preliminary list of hymns and songs for the new Methodist hymn book, due to be approved by the Conference next year. You can click to read PDF files of the initial 702 titles, either in thematic or alphabetical order.

Some important features:

1. It’s a ‘baseline collection’, presumably because the moment a new hymn or song book is published, it’s already a fossil. With the rate of composition today, combined with digital distribution, we also need some kind of rolling update to be maintained. I don’t read the Methodist Recorder any more, so this point may have been covered there, but it seems we need that kind of an update, at least if some of our traditional people are to have confidence in newer material.

2. It’s true to its promise of being theologically diverse. From the near-Calvinism of Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty to Sydney Carter (a Quaker), Brian Wren (liberal URC) and at least two hymns addressing God as ‘mother’. As such it may do well for middle of the road congregations, but I imagine the evangelicals, charismatics and liberals will all retain their own varying preferred supplements. There was never a chance of anything commanding the respect of all Methodism, though. It is a mark of our diversity/division/fracture (take your pick).

3. It’s good that a hard-working group has opened up this preliminary list for consultation. They will have put blood, sweat and tears into this; now they open themselves up for all sorts of comments, some of which may not be particularly Christian in tone. Thanks to them for being open and vulnerable.

4. One area is difficult to evaluate, though, and that is the large number of unpublished texts suggested for inclusion. I don’t know the work of Marjorie Dobson or Gareth Hill in hymnody (although I know about Tubestation), and very little of Andrew Pratt. Others will know them better. It’s hard to know how to deal with this, unless the group were to have special copyright clearance to quote the words or link to them on other websites. The awkwardness is that these hymns will therefore be subject to less scrutiny than published ones.

Just some initial late night thoughts: what do you think? Some of you will have closer knowledge of the project than someone like me, who lives on the fringes of Methodism. I’d love to hear your opinions.

PhD

 

Centenary logo small

CODEC, St John’s College, University of Durham, PhD Research Project: Communicating the Gospel in a Digital Age or Biblical Literacy in a Digital Age

£11,000 bursary per annum (plus academic fees paid)

CODEC has been awarded funding from The Methodist Church of Great Britain to establish a research project exploring either the impact of the digital age on the communication of the Gospel or the use of the Bible in the Church and in an increasingly digital society.

We are seeking a student with outstanding potential to pursue research in the above areas based at St John’s College at the University of Durham and within the newly established CODEC research centre in collaboration with the Director of Research, Revd Dr Peter Phillips.

St John’s offers a wealth of research collaboration opportunities including the Wesley Studies Centre, Cranmer Hall and the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. The research supervisory panel will bring together support from each of these centres, while the PhD will be undertaken through the normal University of Durham graduate processes.

While pursuing this research you will be expected to work together with other researchers, academic members of staff and ordinands at the various associated centres. You are expected to have a good Masters degree or at least a high 2.1 BA (Hons) (or equivalent) in Theology or a related subject. Candidates with a high 2.1 in Media or Computing Studies or related subjects as well as a postgraduate qualification in Theology will also be considered. Ideally you will have an active interest and/or experience in more than one of the following areas: communication, media, postmodernism, biblical literacy, missiology/evangelism. You should have good computer skills. Good written- and verbal-communication skills are essential as are the ability to work as part of a developing research community, be self-motivated and pro-active.

The successful candidate will be expected to complete the PhD programme including the publication of relevant research papers and academic articles, as well as contributions to academic conferences and the dissemination of the conclusions reached during the research.

Candidates will provide a formal research proposal as part of the application process. Interviews will involve the presentation of this research proposal to a panel.

For an informal discussion or an application form and further particulars please contact Dr Peter Phillips, Centre for Biblical Literacy, Tel: 0191 334 3896, Mobile: 0787 633 7157 email: p.m.phillips@durham.ac.uk.

Closing date: 14 November 2008

Banning the Make Poverty History TV Ad

OFCOM, the regulatory quango, has banned the Make Poverty History TV ad, with celebrities clicking their fingers every three seconds to mark the death of another child. You can read their decision here.

Various sponsoring bodies of MPH are furious. (And you’ll have noticed from the banner on this blog that I support the campaign.) Ekklesia has condemned the decision as effectively partisan: why is it OK to ban MPH from TV commercials on political grounds but not those companies whose products cause the very problems MPH is campaigning against? Anthea Cox of the Methodist Church points out that decisions on poverty are necessarily political and involvement in the campaign by Christians has been a direct consequence of their faith.

All of which means the MPH ads are banned on the old grounds of religion and politics. You’re not supposed to talk about them in public if you’re British. Or so the theory goes.

OFCOM argues that MPH’s goals are ‘wholly or mainly political’ and maybe they are, but as Anthea Cox replies above, how can you avoid that? Furthermore, they say the commercial was directed towards influencing government policy and that’s against the relevant codes. Right. So it’s OK for a multinational to shell out money to send people to talk directly to Downing Street but you mustn’t do it on air.

OFCOM may or may not be applying the rules accurately but doesn’t the whole sorry affair stink of hypocrisy? In particular it’s the hypocrisy that keeps the rich wealthy and the poor destitute – the very things MPH opposes. Who wrote those rules, then? I wonder.

Fresh Expressions: Emerging Church And The Historic Denominations

Going off at a tangent from a post by Pete Phillips, Fresh Expressions is a joint initiative of the Church of England and the Methodist Church to support ‘new ways of being church’. In a strangely modernist way they have identified twelve categories of new expressions of church!

But the thing is this: the historic denominations are increasingly interested in new forms of church. Is it for creative reasons? Is it desperate? Is it the Holy Spirit? What seems to be being swept under the carpet is the huge potential for clashes of values.

For example, won’t we have to start facing some sacred cows such as entrenched doctrines of ordination? Don’t existing ones play the power card in a way that postmoderns and Jesus-followers should be highly suspicious of? You don’t need to go the whole ontological way that the Anglicans do, just take the Methodist view that although ordination confers no separate priesthood, nevertheless it is ‘representative’ (which is pretty close to specialised priesthood) and it confers presidency at the sacraments on the grounds of ‘good order’. That may have been a pragmatic way of restricting presidency to the presbyters in years gone by without officially conceding a sacerdotal approach, but how does it read now? Let’s play reader-response in the 21st century with it. Who can keep good order? Normally only presbyters? What does that say about everybody else?

(Of course Methodism now allows ‘extended communion’ where authorised people can take communion into homes. It started out as something for the sick, but the Big Bad Rule Book can be interpreted to allow this for home groups. Nevertheless it’s only seen as delegated from the presiding minister at a Sunday service, and the people still need to be authorised.)

How far we have come from a Last Supper modelled on the Jewish Passover that was celebrated in the family. And how far we have come from a Saviour who took a towel and a bowl of water.

Although you can’t say the emerging church is all of one mind on every issue (it’s a ‘conversation’, it likes to think) nevertheless it’s pretty clear that it embraces an understandable postmodern suspicion of the link between truth and power, and it is deeply attracted to the radical picture of Jesus in the Gospels.

So this post is really to ask whether the emerging churches and the historic denominations can fully embrace each other. Either there will be compromise of principles on one side or the other (you can bet that those who still perceive themselves as powerful will expect the others to conform to them). Or there will be persistent conflict: the romance will break up. Or the new wine will break the old wineskins.

Someone please tell me I’ve got it wrong, and why. But my spiritual gift of pessimism comes into play on this issue.