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Sabbatical, Day 79: Exile Or Revival; Ministry Patterns

After dipping into it over a couple of weeks, I’ve finally completed Patrick Whitworth‘s book ‘Prepare For Exile‘. When it first arrived in the post and I looked at the contents pages, I was disappointed. Ninety pages of history and only fifty of contemporary application: I wanted more of the latter. Further, when I read the final three chapters that concentrate on how we should prepare for exile in the western Church, I thought I was reading little I hadn’t encountered elsewhere or already concluded for myself. Many of the usual authorities are quoted: David Bosch, Walter Brueggemann, Michael Frost, and so on. 

Yet I think this is a significant book. Why?

Firstly, because the history matters. What Whitworth shows in those first ninety pages is just how fundamental the category of exile is to vibrant faith. Not only does he establish it as a much more critical theme of Scripture than we generally acknowledge, he shows from centuries of church history how it is often people and movements who have been forced into a posture of exile that have brought renewal to the church and society.

Secondly, because Whitworth writes as an Anglican. My guess is that being the Established Church has made it harder for the Church of England to come to terms with the thought that the Christian Church is going into exile in this country. For someone like him to write persuasively about a stance of exile is important.

Thirdly, because Whitworth seems to be writing as a charismatic, where one might expect him instead to write a book called ‘Prepare For Revival‘. However, revival gets scant mention in the book. I think its first mention comes only on page 134, where it is admitted as a possibility but Whitworth expects something different:

But if the historical process identified in the central section of the book still has some way to run (although arguably it could be overturned by an extraordinary Christian revival), which I believe it has, the process of secularization may well continue apace.

I don’t want to make it sound like the desire for revival is unworthy. At its best, it is a longing for a society suffused with the Gospel. However, in some charismatic circles, it has degenerated into something else. It is the cavalry coming over the hill to rescue the poor beleaguered church. Worse, it is the fantasy we indulge to prevent us thinking about painful reality.

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Next in my reading project for the rest of the sabbatical is to look at some of the stuff on ministry. Not the ministry and personality type stuff yet, for two reasons: firstly, the survey for ministers doesn’t finish until the 30th, and secondly, Waterstone’s still haven’t got my copy of Leslie Francis‘ ‘Faith and Psychology‘ that I need to accompany my thinking. It’s still out of stock at the publisher’s.

At this point, I want to look at whether traditional doctrines of ministry are fit for purpose in a world where, in Whitworth’s expression, we have to prepare for exile. That is, a world where the church needs to be missional. A diverse culture that calls for varied Fresh Expressions as well as some continuing forms of traditional church. That is, the ‘mixed economy’ church of which Rowan Williams has spoken.

In this world, emerging church and missional church thinkers have criticised our inherited understandings of ministry. They say that ordination to a ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care might make sense if we lived in a true Christendom where all were believers and the task of the church were to call people back to a faith from which they were lapsed, but it is not our situation. So writers like Frost and Hirsch in ‘The Shaping Of Things To Come‘ call for churches (not necessarily individuals, note) to express the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4: apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic as well as pastoral and teaching.

I want to examine the strength of this critique. If it is valid (my gut feeling is that in some form it probably is), then what does it mean for those of us in the historic churches? To do this, I see the need to look at three key areas.

Firstly, New Testament understandings of ministry and leadership as a foundation. However, that is not necessarily simple. Is there one pattern of New Testament leadership? Many think not. You can pick the ‘fivefold pattern’ out of Ephesians, and you can pick ‘bishops and deacons’ from Philippians. Which (if any) do you choose, and why?

Secondly, I need to look at the tradition. In my case, that means Methodism, with its official stance and varying views – some of it difficult to pin down, because our approach is rather pragmatic.

Thirdly, it means looking again at the missional literature and practice. Neil Cole‘s ‘Organic Church‘ and (when it arrives from Amazon) ‘Organic Leadership‘ come highly recommended, and I’ll be tackling them on top of my already wide reading in the emerging and missional area.

Obviously, this is going to occupy me beyond the sabbatical, and I’m going to want to read other things that interest me too! In the long term, this could well be the core of the PhD dream.

Starting out with a book from the first of these phases means that today I’ve begun to tackle ‘Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church‘ by Ritva H Williams. It’s not simply an aggregation of texts: she says in the Introduction she is going to argue that the early church took some of the social conventions about leadership and subverted them for their own purposes. If that is the case, then we might have an interesting foundation for creative approaches to Christian leadership and ministry in our culture. It could make the case for Methodist pragmatism being extended beyond what we say we have ‘received’, which is sometimes treated in a rather fixed way, despite our pragmatism.

All this talk about ministry could be so introspective, and that would fit my nature as an introvert (but then we’re back to the Myers Briggs stuff again!). However, I want to offer something to the church, not simply clarify my own thinking. If all I do is sort out my own thoughts, I’m still left with tensions and frustrations with the institution.

 

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Sabbatical, Day 74: Father And Son

Today, Rebekah headed off for a two-day sleepover with her old childminder, ‘Aunt’ Pat. She will be spoiled rotten have some belated birthday treats, including her first ever ice skating trip and her first visit to the cinema. Debbie took her down to Kent today, leaving Mark and me to have ‘boys’ time’ together. I never want Mark to feel he has a distant father – I’ve seen the damage that causes – so this was a great opportunity.

Our time was constrained by having to wait in for a Tesco delivery, but after that arrived and I had put it all away (no help from Monkey Boy, who was too busy reading and writing), we decided upon an early lunch and a trip to town. 

One snag: Debbie had driven off with both the children’s car seats in her car, leaving me unable to drive Mark safely and legally into town. However, we made a virtue of that. I researched bus times, and we walked to the nearest stop to catch one into the bus station. 

(In passing, Chelmsford’s bus station was infamous when it was first opened two years ago. Someone had the splendid idea of locating it almost opposite the train station. Someone else made the mistake of designing it so that buses couldn’t turn properly. A blame game between the Borough Council and the County Council proceeded. Fortunately, it’s fine now.) 

In readiness for our trip to town, I had printed off a map of the town centre from Streetmap. Mark wanted to indulge his current favourite pastime: spotting CCTV cameras. My task as his humble assistant was to mark every single one he saw on the map. He also likes to spot burglar alarms and satellite dishes, but thankfully he didn’t look for them as well today. As it was, every few seconds, he would point, jump and squeak in a frequency more congenial to canine ears, “CCTV!”

The height of the obsession was when we passed a jeweller’s in the High Street. Mark recognises the yellow sign warning burglars that cameras are fitted at a premises. He saw the sticker on the door of the jeweller’s, and dragged me in to find the cameras. I don’t know what the staff thought: was a four-year-old casing their joint? Or was he a stooge for the strange man with him? 

Eventually, after a roundabout ride, visits to both branches of Waterstone’s and a bag of doughnuts, he tired and wanted to head home for some milk. 

So what do we make of his behaviour, and how can I use it as a sermon illustration? Is he: 

(1) showing early signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? If so, does this reflect the things we obsess on in churches?

(2) majoring on minors? Again, think about the subject of church disputes.

(3) providing a prophetic critique of a troubling phenomenon in our society that shows how little we trust each other?

Oh, by the way. I’m not serious.

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More personal news briefly: first of all, two of the key books I wanted for researching views of ordained ministry finally came today from Amazon. Will Willimon‘s ‘Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry‘ and Ritva Williams’ ‘Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church‘.

Secondly, my life on Twitter has exploded since last night. It all started when Maggi Dawn began following my feed. (Heaven knows why she wants to, let alone how she’d come across me, but I’m grateful.) I started looking at who followed her and whom she followed, adding quite a few as I went. All sorts of other followers then started appearing. I’m keeping an eye to make sure they’re not the Twitter version of stalkers. Hopefully not. A number of the people I’ve found provide genuinely useful information. For example, Religious Intelligence has all sorts of interesting news story about religious issues from around the world.

And with that I’ll bid you goodnight as I check the last few tweets that have come in before logging off for the night.

Sabbatical, Day 33: Books, Music. And Decisions. Oh No!

What was I going to do with the Amazon vouchers and money given me for my birthday? I soon had some ideas. It doesn’t take me long, the problem is shortening the long list.

There are some books I still need to purchase for sabbatical reading. Not only do I have to pare down this list for financial reasons, I have to recognise the limits of what I shall actually get through during the remaining two months. Some have been recommended or are obvious picks, but if anyone has any thoughts on these books or others in the same field, please leave a comment.

Ministry and Leadership, Ancient and Modern 
Ritva H Williams, Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church

Steven Croft (editor), Mission-Shaped Questions

William H Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

Neil Cole, Organic Church and Organic Leadership

Ministry, Spirituality and Personality Type
Leslie J Francis, Faith and Psychology

Julia McGuinness, Growing Spiritually with the Myers-Briggs® Model

(Both of these were among the books recommended to me last week by Jerry Gilpin.)

Faith and Technology  
Quentin J Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age

Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture and Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith 

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And if boks feature large in my ideal spending, so too do CDs. Yes, I’m old enough still to want CDs, not simply MP3s. Actually, it’s the old hi-fii snob in me. I’m waiting for the day when the children are old enough for me to risk replacing the loudspeakers they damaged a few years ago. MP3s are great for convenience and flexibility, but the fidelity of sound is poor.

I’m eyeing up replacing some of the Little Feat vinyl I used to have, regretting the fact that the 4 CD compilation Hotcakes And Outtakes was less than £20 on Amazon recently, but when I went back to buy it, back it went to £43.

There are some new or imminent releases that catch my eye, too. I’m a fan of the UK-based American singer Jeb Loy Nichols, who combines country, funk and reggae amongst other influences. He has a new release called Parish Bar and Andy Gill in The Independent said it was his best release ever.

Or there are the ever-wonderful Buddy and Julie Miller, whose new recording Written In Chalk comes out on Monday. Julie Miller had the distinction of somehow continuing to write painfully honest songs in the CCM world, touching on child abuse and all sorts of things. Buddy is an extraordinary guitarist, singer and songwriter, famous for playing with Emmylou Harris and others. I was recently playing his 2004 release Universal United House Of Prayer to bits. 

Also out on Monday is Quiet Please … The New Best Of Nick Lowe, a songwriter I have admired for years, but I’ve never bought anything of his. Might this be the time?

I only know I can’t buy everything I want! I’ve been totting up prices on Amazon, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, HMV, Play and PlayTrade. Then, in the case of books, I’ve conducted a further comparison at Bookbrain. Once I’ve totted up the cheapest prices, I then have to make the hard decisions. But being a ‘P‘ type in Myers Briggs, I like to keep my options open as long as possible!

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Tomorrow holds the CT scan on my sinuses, following the investigation I reported on 19th January. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow, although I won’t know the results and likely treatment (surgery?) until an appointment on the 30th.