Sunday, November 30, 2008

Innovative Church x 3

One church discovered that meeting in the Y (the YMCA) wasn't going to be just a temporary move, but would become the base for a mission operation amongst all those who visited the Y day in and day out.

Another church found itself scattered into small groups after its church was destroyed by arson. The people formed into 'smaller, organic expressions' of church, led by lay-people with the minister still keeping an overview of the total organism. "Mustard Seed is not so much a program as an attitude," pastor Eileen Hanson clarifies. "It's an effort to put into practice the biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers."

A third church was given twenty-four hours to shift out of its building. On its last Sunday, the minister divided the congregation into six neighbourhood groups, and announced, "Welcome to your new church." Initially the plan was to reconstitute the church at a later date, but this never happened. The six new 'churches' became The Church in six different areas.

You can read more details about these three churches on the pdf file, Missional to the Max.

Colin Greene

“…I firmly believe God is raising up a new generation of prophets and visionaries who are what I call ‘brokers of a new reality’. In other words they really want to know what is going on in our world on all kinds of levels, politically, economically, spiritually and culturally. They want to know what are the contours of the cultural space we presently inhabit and they want to be able to celebrate what is good about that process of rapid globalization, as well as critique what is dangerous and reckless about it. As an Anglican I want the Anglican church in the West to stop re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and accept that the Christendom ship is now sinking very quickly and will soon be gone below the waves of rapid fundamental change and innovation. The Anglican Church requires a new missional imagination and to do that it must re-engage with the biblical narrative in such a way that it can discover new ways of being church among the cultural refugee’s and spiritual seekers of our generation…”

Colin Greene, author of
Metavista: Bible, Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination (Faith in an Emerging Culture Series)

Alan Hirsch calls this book:
Well written, theologically stimulating, meticulously researched, and will no doubt be an authoritative text in its genre. But the best thing about Metavista is that it is simply great missiology in the Newbigin tradition.

Newbigin on the Net

Via a blog leading to another blog leading to a link, I came across the site this morning. Lesslie Newbigin is one of the best-known mission thinkers of the 20th century and we can boast a direct connection to him through one of the people working in this office. (What's that about six degrees of separation?)

Here's the information about the site:

Newbigin.Net is a dynamic searchable database concerned with the writings and life of Bishop J.E. Lesslie Newbigin. It includes both a comprehensive bibliography of his writings and a wide-ranging collection of texts written by him - over two hundred in all. It also contains some significant interactions with his thought.

Newbigin.Net provides researchers with extensive tools for the in-depth study of Newbigin's thought, including such areas as the theology of mission, ecumenism, and "Gospel and Culture".The website contains the full text of many hard-to-find or previously unpublished items.

A DVD titled "Bishop Newbigin in India" is now available. Containing 72 slides, it includes commentary by Lesslie Newbigin describing mission and ministry in the Church of South India. Produced and mastered at World Mission, Church of Scotland, from feature material assembled by Time Life Magazine about 1958. May be ordered by email from: Rev’d Murdoch Mackenzie or by snail mail from: "Torridon", 4 Ferryfield Road, Connel-by-Oban, Argyll PA37 1SR, UK.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Miroslav Volf

One can learn from God the Father no more about what it means to be a human father than one can learn about what it means to be a human mother; inversely, one can learn from God the Mother no more about what it means to be a human mother than on can learn about what it means to be a human father. Whether we use masculine or feminine metaphors for God, God models our common humanity, not our gender specificity.

Miroslav Volf
Exclusion & Embrace

While this makes sense, I'm inclined to disagree with it in some way. Knowing God as Father has definitely affected how I behave as father. I'd be interested to hear what other people think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What if Starbucks ran its business like the church?

This can only be described as scary....because it's too close to the truth.

By the time you get to the end of this, you'll either be screaming (because of the overdose of coffee slogans) or because you wonder where Jesus might have gone on this particular morning...?

Evil and Postmodernity

Postmodernism, in recognising that we are all deeply flawed, avoids any return to a classic doctrine of original sin by claiming that humans have no fixed 'identity' and hence no fixed responsibility. You can't escape evil within postmodernity, but you can't find anybody else to take the blame either.
We should not be surprised that one of the socio-cultural phenomena which characterize postmodernity is that of major disasters for which nobody takes the blame, such as when a horrific train crash is traced to faults in the line which were well-known and not repaired months in advance but for which no single company executive, nor even a board, can be held responsible.
Postmodernity encourages a cynical approach: nothing will get better and ther'es nothing you can do about it. Hardly surprisingly, this has produced a steady rise in the suicide rate, not least among young people who (one might have thought) had so much to look forward to, but who had imbibed postmodernity through every pore. not that this is new. Epictetus, that hard-bitten first-century philosopher, would have understood, even though he would have scoffed at the intellectual posturing underneath it all.

N T Wright, page 33 of Evil and the Justice of God (hardcover edition, IVP 2006).

Curiously, in the last year Dunedin has experienced a similar public example of no one wanting to take the blame. The metal flaps on a goods train container passing under the Railway Station's overbridge hit the bridge and took out the central section of it, nearly killing a person who was on the bridge at the time. Even though, Toll Holdings Ltd admitted its error at the time, for months afterwards no one would take responsibility for paying for the bridge to be restored.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The abuse has to stop

Muriel Newman writes in her weekly NZ Centre for Political Research newsletter:
For years, governments have shied away from getting to the heart of the child abuse crisis because that means tackling the incentives in legislation that is leading to increasingly higher rates of family breakdown - especially amongst Maori families which feature disproportionately in the child abuse statistics. If marriage leads to a safer family environment for children, then the census data on the rates of marriage amongst Maori and non-Maori shows a very worrying trend: in 2001, while 79.5 percent of partnered non-Maori couples were married only 58.8 percent of Maori couples were married. And by 2006 the rates of marriage had fallen to 78.6 percent for non-Maori and 54 percent for Maori.

Unless the incentives in the domestic purposes benefit are changed to stop encouraging single parenting, all the good intentions in the world will not halt the rise in child abuse. And with the problem being an intergenerational one, whereby children raised in fragmented families and abusive homes will tend to repeat that behaviour on their own children, addressing this problem must surely rank at the highest end of the new government’s priority list.

And John Sax adds, in an article called, Redefining Compassion:

Drugs, alcohol and poverty are generally purported to be the breeding ground for child abuse but the statistics also hold another common element. Global social scientists tell us that on average there is a 1400 percent increase in child abuse and a 1600 percent increase in child murder when children are brought up in a relationship other than marriage – live-in boyfriends, stepdads, de facto relationships and so on.
Unfortunately we find ourselves now in a society where social policy - as compassionate and heartfelt as it is - not only discourages the very unions that could provide the safest environment for children, but, by its very nature, encourages a cycle of generational poverty, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On retreat

Mike Crowl will be on retreat until Thursday the 20th, November.

Praying in the Phone Booth

The Pastor's Weekly Briefing e-letter alerted me to Dylan Mortimer's prayer/phone booths in New York.

The two booths could almost be taken for typical phone booths except for a few unusual features:
the side panels depict folded hands;
the word, 'prayer' appears instead of 'telephone;'
there's a flip-down kneeler.

Mortimer, who is a recent graduate of NY’s School of Visual Arts Masters (MFA) program, says, “My goal is to spark dialogue about a topic often avoided, and often treated cynically by the contemporary art world,” says Mortimer. “I employ the visual language of signage and public information systems, using them as a contemporary form of older religious communication systems: stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, church furniture, etc. I balance humor and seriousness, sarcasm and sincerity, in a way that bridges a subject matter that is often presented as heavy or difficult.”

Stats and Stories

As someone who spends a good deal of his working week checking out stats and figures, trying to make sense of what's happening in the world by looking at charts and tables, it was good to have a reminder from the Maxim Institute's newsletter that it's easy to lose track of the real people behind all the numbers. I quote:
We need a medium which will tell us the same truth as research reports, but one which is able to move us, to touch our hearts, and compel us to act. In fact, we need stories. An article in the Journal of Development Studies released earlier this year suggested just that—that the hidden power of the novel is a much undervalued spur to thought and action. Ask most people what they know about life in Afghanistan and they are much more able to summon up images of what they read in The Kite Runner (one of the books referred to in the study) than they are to talk about what they didn't read in Supporting the Development of Children's Groups and Networks in Afghanistan: Reflections on Practice and Possibilities.
The power of a novel differs from that of a report—it comes from its recognition that human beings have stories. Instead of merely words on a page, the story they encompass becomes one we can relate to, one in which we can join. The world is far from simple and there are issues that matter deeply all around us. But amidst the "cacophony of voices" we need to hear the voice of the one—whether it asks for justice or freedom or compassion. And in this lies the power of the writer because it is characters, faces and stories which have the power to connect us individually with the issues of importance, to persuade us that they matter, to bring them in all their force before our shaded eyes.

This is why, in the National Mission Office, we're always looking for stories, about people, about the way mission is being done in a particular church or parish or presbytery, about failures, and successes. About real human beings rather than numbers. We love numbers, and they do tell us things that stories don't, but they're not the be all and end all.

If you have stories to tell, why not drop me a line on my email? You'll find it by clicking on the profile.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Missional Shift or Drift

Leadership Journal conducted a survey in May 2008 asking nearly 700 evangelical pastors how their perceptions of the gospel and mission currently compare with their understanding a decade ago. The results were illuminating, and have been summarised in a report by Helen Lee. What follows here is a brief look at some of the highlights.

Compared to ten years ago, they found
  • Pastors are focusing more on the Gospels than on the Epistles.
  • More pastors believe the gospel is advanced by demonstration and not simply proclamation.
  • More pastors say the goal of evangelism is to grow "the" church rather than to grow "my" church.
  • More pastors believe partnering with other local churches is essential to accomplishing their mission.
Scot McKnight says, "The shifts have actually been going on for maybe 25 or 30 years. There has, though, been a surge in the last ten years. Evangelicals rediscovered the Gospels, and began to reframe their understanding of the gospel in terms of the Kingdom and not just justification."

Five changes are gaining momentum in congregations all across the country:

* Affirming the whole gospel
* Not looking to a megachurch model
* Focusing on making disciples
* Encouraging a missional mindset as a means of spiritual formation
* Establishing partnerships to advance the gospel

Smaller more adaptable churches are being seen as more viable than mega-churches. David Platt said, "We've learned that we don't have to bring people into a building to accomplish our mission." And Dave Gibbons says, "The pastor is now a subcategory of the church. I am now thinking about how to gear everything so that the laity is leading. It's all about how to make our congregation feel as though they are the leaders of the church as opposed to the pastoral staff."

Larry Grays,
pastor of Midtown Bridge Church in Atlanta, whose congregants are mostly urban professionals between 20 and 40 years old, has learned that his people want more opportunities to serve the community around them. As a result, Sunday mornings have become less important as the emphasis shifts to inculcating a mentality that service should be a seven-days-a-week commitment.

Partnerships between churches are increasing, and a humility regarding non-Western churches in growing. Gibbons again: "We tend to be patronizing, thinking that we know more, but often it's the locals who know more, and we need to partner with the government, with educational institutions, or other organizations instead of going alone."

Some cautions are aired: don't move from one extreme to the other, from the seeming severity of the Epistles to the social action of the Gospels, from proclamation to 'demonstration evangelism', from leading your congregation to suddenly expecting them to take the initiative.

The full report is here.

Why not celebrate?

Last month I wrote about an article by Mark Judge on a spontaneous celebration of music at the NEA Heritage Awards. The following letter to Books and Culture magazine affirms the value of such celebration and wonders why the Church doesn't celebrate her own artistic heritage. The letter was written by artist Makoto Fujimura

I was delighted to read the article "A Holy Joy" by Mark Judge about the NEA Heritage Award celebration at the Strathmore Music Center. As a National Council member for the last six years, I have seen these small miracles regularly in the proceedings of the endowment, and the story of the turnaround of the NEA itself is miraculous, made possible by the visionary and faithful leadership of Dana Gioia, a former business executive and a nationally recognized poet.

As Judge noted, the arts can surprise us by giving us a glimpse into the transcendent: This influence into the broader culture is precisely why the church needs to continue to encourage her congregants to preserve, create, and celebrate culture. Instead of merely complaining about or boycotting art, we need to create art that reflects our values and faith, undergirding freedom and commonwealth, the twin engines of democracy. Many times, listening to the grant reports of the NEA's remarkable staff—experts in music, literature, visual arts, media, dance, and education—I have come away with a renewed conviction that the church could very well lead in the conversation on diversity, excellence, and transcendent art. But the reality is that the church seldom celebrates her own heritage, honors her artists, or gives public acknowledgement of her legacy. I hope that this article will encourage all readers to experience the arts in their own local arenas and, most important, recognize and champion the artists in their own congregations. Perhaps we can even go further and celebrate artists outside our faith perspective, to give recognition to the common-grace splendor of our God, who is himself an artist.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A 'sticky' church

Larry Osborne talks about why his church is 'sticky' - that is, it keeps the people it gains.

We work hard to minister to the people we have. We want to serve their spiritual needs incredibly well and do it in a way that their non-Christian friends can easily understand. As a result, they tend to spontaneously invite their friends and co-workers. We've never had to ask or persuade them to do so. They just do it.

We've also learned to slam the back door shut by providing opportunities for people to develop deep and long-term spiritual relationships. Rather than trying to pretend that everyone can care for everyone, we've created lots of relational pods where people are velcroed together by the kind of authentic friendships that can only be found in smaller and more stable settings. And these kinds of relationships have proven to be incredibly sticky.


I’d also regularly take a gut check to make sure that I haven’t fallen into the trap of viewing the people I have as tools to reach the people I want to reach. If we aren’t caring for the ones we already have, why should God send any more our way?

Osborne has more to say about small groups in particular, and also throws in a little plug for his new book, Sticky Church.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Helen Clark and atheism

A few paragraphs from the NZPA Newswire for Friday 7/11/2008

Yesterday Miss [Helen] Clark ’s day started with a session at Newstalk ZB
Among callers was Lesley who was unhappy with the PM ’s claim she lived by Christian values.

"Your agenda and action in public for the past nine years has been to wreck the tenants of
Christianity in our country."
Miss Clark reminded her the more controversial pieces of social legislation were private members
She told Lesley that it was often said the Labour Party in New Zealand owed more to Methodism than to socialism and there had always a very strong brand of Christian socialism in it. She said many Christian principles were good.

"I spent my childhood (going to) Presbyterian Sunday school and of course going to Presbyterian church every Sunday while I was in high school... I do know what I am talking about on this I think there are good and basic principles. I don ’t personally happen to be a religious person but I do recognise those common good values."

In a NZ Herald article the following paragraphs appeared:
She [Helen Clark] made the declaration yesterday in response to a claim by Dr Brash that she was an atheist.
"I am not going to have Dr Brash describe my personal beliefs," she said. "I'm not aware I have ever described myself as an atheist.
"I describe myself as an agnostic."
Later, she told the Herald she was brought up a Presbyterian, went to Sunday school every week at Te Pahu, and at Epsom Girls' Grammar walked "in a crocodile" every Sunday morning to St Luke's Church in Remuera.

It's good to know that Helen does not class herself as an 'atheist', even though many of her detractors would call her that, and have done.


Rowland Croucher, an Australian pastor who writes prolifically on a variety of Church-related topics, and who's the mainstay behind the John Mark Ministries in Oz, has sent me an email in which he links to material on signs of a Healthy Church/Congregation.

The page has only just been created in October 2008, so it's fresh off the block.

Rowland covers a number of areas - justice, spiritual abuse, governance, affirmation of diversity, tolerance of ambiguity, leadership styles and accountability (amongst others) - and each is linked to further material either from the John Mark site or elsewhere.

It may take you a few days to absorb all the material, but it's worth the trip, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


A survey done by the Bible Society of New Zealand in March (results published around June this year) has only just come to my attention. The survey was aimed at research attitudes and behaviour regarding the Bible in New Zealand. The following is a list of some of the major stats from the survey.

Note that some stats apply to New Zealanders as a whole, and some to Christians as a sub-group.

Just under 3,400 people responded.

46% described themselves as Christian. (NZ Stats reports just under half of population describe themselves as Christian, that is, just under 2 million)

74% of people 65 and over described themselves as Christian.

68.4% of Pacific Islanders. (Europeans: 40.6%)

15% of New Zealanders attend church at least once a week.

20% say they go at least once a month.

80% of the population has attended a church service at some time. This includes weddings and funerals.

30% of Christians attend church at least weekly.

56% of Christians say they attend church less than five times a year, or only on special occasions.

Estimated monthly attendance: 760,000 (around 17%)

68% of all New Zealanders own a Bible.

86% of people over 65 own one.

59% of 15-24-year-olds own one.

5% of New Zealanders read the Bible daily.

23% read it at least monthly.

11% of Christians read it daily.

24% read it at least once a week.

25% of respondents say the Bible influences their lives.

18% of 15-24-year olds agree.

41% of 65 and over agree.

47% of Christians say the Bible influences their lives.

39% of Christians say it sometimes influences their lives.

Of those who read it daily, 94.6% said it influenced their lives.

77% of New Zealanders never or rarely discuss the Bible with others.

Only 14% discuss the Bible’s teachings weekly or more frequently.

26% of Christians regularly discuss the teachings of the Bible (at least weekly).

60% of Christians rarely or never discuss the teachings of the Bible with others.

Daniel de Roulet

I have had to come to the hard conclusion in my own life that moments when I feel that God's plot has been lost are sometimes moments when I am trying too hard to hold on to my own conception of it. To work within the plot I have been given, keeping in mind God's good intentions for me and letting my hope for a good life be inspired by his plans, results in a deepening of me and service to others that would not have been possible if I'd had my way. It also breaks me open--and with that, I begin to love other people.... The mercy that fills this world has no bounds; we get back what we thought we had lost, in ways and to degrees we never could have imagined.

Daniel de Roulet

Finding Your Plot in a Plotless World