Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Leadership's Golden Canon

Leadership is presenting a list of the ten books of 2008 they've decided are most useful for church leaders. They're not all books specifically relating to leadership as such, but rather titles that would help a leader in two areas: The Leader's Inner World, and The Leader's Outer World.

The titles were compiled from submissions by a diverse group of more than 100 pastors from across the country. Leadership's contributing editors then voted to determine the winners in the two categories.

The list is here. Among the titles I'm pleased to see N T Wright's Surprised by Hope, Andy Crouch's Culture Making, and the third in Eugene Peterson's recent series of books on the Christian life: The Jesus Way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just when you thought the secularists had it made

Long considered an aggressively secular city, London has quietly become one of Britain's most Christian areas, going from the least observant region in Britain in 1979 to the second most observant today. Much of that resurgence in piety is the result of the city's expanding and devout immigrant population. But there is also a growing number of young, highly educated and moneyed Londoners who are turning to the church. Huge numbers (some 4,000) of these attend Holy Trinity Brompton, where Nicky Gumbel still presides over the Alpha course. The average age is 27, and judging by the offerings ($US7 million last year alone) many of these new Christians are well-heeled.

Read more about this surge of faith here.

It would be interesting to know where the stats for 'least observant' to 'second most observant' come from. Unfortunately the article doesn't give us any indication. In 2001, for the first time, the UK Census collected information about religious identity in England, Wales and Scotland. The subject had been included in previous Censuses in Northern Ireland.

Just over three-quarters of the UK population reported having a religion. More than seven out of ten people said that their religion was Christian (72 per cent). After Christianity, Islam was the most common faith with nearly 3 per cent describing their religion as Muslim (1.6 million).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thought-provoking shorts

On the qideas.org site, there's a section called 'shorts'. These are essays that provide a thoughtful perspective on an important topic about faith and culture. You can preview any one of the titles, and if you like something, you can purchase it for your library and print it out. Or come back later and read online.
These shorts include a piece by Kathleen Falsani called: The Thread: when church happens online, and it begins with a Facebook experience in which Falsani learned that a good friend had died.
Tim Keel talks about not limiting the gospel, Andy Crouch about consumerism, Andrew Martin on bridging the gap between Christians and gays, Josh Jackson and Nick Purdy discuss finding the good in popular culture. There are about twenty titles to choose from and they cost US$5 each to buy.

Transitions from work to retirement

Sylvia Dixon has produced a study for NZ Stats that looks at changes in the way people now head into retirement. Whereas in the past there was a tendency for a definite cut-off point from work and a sudden move into retirement, now people tend more and more to transition. This is another aspect of the way in which older people regard their lives differently from their forebears.

Dixon's abstract is as follows:

Survey responses indicate that the majority of working-aged New Zealanders would prefer to make a gradual transition from work to retirement, rather than move abruptly from full-time work to non-employment. This study describes the employment patterns and transitions of people who were aged in their 60s and moved from employment to inactivity during the 1999–2007 period, using longitudinal data from the Linked Employer-Employee Dataset.

Four different types of transition to retirement were defined and the relative frequency of each explored. We find that phased transitions, involving either part-time work or a number of transitions in and out of employment before the final exit, were far more common than discrete transitions from full-time work to non-employment. Men were more likely than women to take a traditional path from work to retirement. Although there were some significant variations in the frequency of different work-to-retirement paths across major industries, phased transitions were more prevalent than traditional transitions in all major industries.

International evidence shows that phased retirements are also common in other countries with similar labour markets. The literature suggests that many older adults retire gradually, but some are constrained in their labour supply choices and are unable to achieve the flexible transitions to retirement they would prefer.

Some new stats from NZ Stats

Some new stats from NZ Stats.

The following highlights are from the National Family and Household Projections 2006-2031. The projections assume medium fertility, medium mortality, and long-term annual net migration of 10,000:

• The number of families is projected to reach 1.44 million by 2031, an increase of 269,000 (23 percent) from an estimated 1.17 million families at 30 June 2006.
Most of the growth in families will be in couple without children families, which will overtake two-parent families to become the most common family type by 2008.
• The number of households is projected to reach 2.09 million by 2031, an increase of 535,000 (34 percent) from an estimated 1.55 million households at 30 June 2006.
One-person households are projected to increase by 71 percent, from 363,000 in 2006 to 619,000 in 2031.
• The average size of households will decrease to 2.4 people by 2031, from 2.6 people in 2006.
• The numbers of families and households will grow faster than the population, which is projected to increase by 22 percent between 2006 and 2031.

The italicised points are particularly interesting: more couples without children than with children: what will happen to all the teachers and schools?
A big increase in one-person households – and loneliness.

Does it seem likely churches' focus may have to shift from ministering to the young to ministering to older people?

The god of the market

Why is it that people who praise downsizing for its salubrious effect on the economy are invariably people in no danger of being downsized themselves? The market is now our supreme power. It is a god that requires human sacrifices to keep it pacified.

Russell Baker: The Market God. First published in the New York Times in March, 1996, but extraordinarily relevant to the current financial climate. The whole op-ed piece is worth reading for its wisdom in regard to the Wall Street mentality.

Looking after the elderly

The Canadian Rural Church Network newsletter reminds us that:
A major thrust for rural churches in the immediate future is to provide adequate pastoral care for Senior Citizens (65 years plus).
Alberta's Cabinet Minister for Seniors and Community Support announced recently that the number of seniors in the Province is expected to increase by approximately 40% in the next 10 years, and to double by 2026. Similar statistics can be repeated in other regions.

Because of the Baby Boom Bulge, longer life-expectancy, and the tendency for seniors to retire from urban areas in search of cheaper costs of living, I expect similar statistics can be noted across the country.
At present, churches seem content to visit the sick, comfort the grieving and lead worship services at seniors' lodges and nursing homes. But there are very few pastoral care committees and fewer clergy and lay people learning how to address the spiritual needs of Seniors.
Gerontologists tell us that there are three stages of 'old' in our society: the young old (65-74 years), the old old (75-84 years) and the oldest old (85+). People in each of these stages face specific issues.
The issues are the same in New Zealand - and not just in rural areas. Churches have focused on youth for so long they've forgotten that older people continue to have spiritual needs, and in fact face a time of great change, what with the illnesses of old age, increasing lack of mobility, loss of faculties, losing longstanding friends to death, and many other important (and often debilitating) aspects of this stage of life.
The most recent CRCN newsletter (no 28) focuses on ministering to older people, and offers ways to think about working in this area.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Moving on

Television watching is on the decline, newspapers are folding (if you'll excuse the pun) around the world, and magazines come and go at the drop of a hat (not helped by the fact that many magazine owners think the reading public merely wants wads of glossy advertising when they buy a magazine).
The culprit (but not the only culprit) is the Internet. News is free and much more widespread; opinion is available from one extreme to the other; television programmes are watchable when you want to see them, and so are movies.
The Christian News website notes:
What does all this mean for the Christian community here in NZ and around the world? Rather than the gloom of failing newspapers, the internet has been a boon for Christian ministries. Finally we can get our content into the marketplace of ideas and compete fairly in cyberspace, something that has not been possible in newspapers or TV previously. Christians now have access to everything from written articles to MP3 seminary lecture courses to full video sermons, lectures, debates, and numerous fascinating other cutting edge materials, and all by the finest scholars in the world. We now have a playing field with the secular world that is more level than anything for a long time.
The times are certainly changing (and not just The Times of London). But is the Internet still basically the toy of wealthier nations? How many third world countries have real access to it?

Apropos of the above, I've just come across the Alltop site again. It was something that popped up sometime ago (I've written about it on one of my blogs at some time in history) but I'd forgotten about it. There are innumerable versions of it, but for those on this blog the interesting ones might be the All the Top Christianity News, or the News for pastors, ministers and church staff (which goes under the basic heading of 'Church').
Alltop provides a work-in-progress type list of blogs, sites and other sundry Internet paraphenalia that are 'hot' at the moment. The aforesaid blogs etc may well drop off in time, depending on their level of interest. While they're on Alltop, they show up as separate sections within the page, and, by running your mouse over the top of a line, you can see what the post is about.
It's totally time-consuming, but informative. Don't do it when you're supposed to be doing something more important.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Innovative Church online

Mark Brown is Chief Executive Officer of the Bible Society in New Zealand and an Anglican Priest. In January 2007 he planted an Anglican Church in the virtual world of Second Life which now offers several services a week and has grown to more than 500 members.
You have to ask: why would people want to attend a church service in a virtual world? Mark's response is: The rallying cry of the Digital Revolution is:
Just for me, wherever I am, however I want it, whenever I want it.
This revolution has come about through the extraordinary growth of the internet. In just a short period of time the internet has grown to around 23.01 billion pages with some 1.3 billion people using it. It's predicted that in 2008 more information will be created on the Web than in all previous years combined. The computer is no longer a specialist tool but is now very much a part of our every day environment.

Jonathan Carson, International President for the research company Nielsen Online, notes, ‘The Internet is no longer a niche technology - it is mass media and an utterly integral part of modern life. Almost no aspect of life remains untouched by online media.'

Internet based applications now play a part in major advances in science, business, environmental care, transport logistics, government and education to name a few.

You can read a (long) post on the topic by Mark here. While this particular post focuses on the Anglican Church, everything that is said is relevant to other denominations as well.

Mark's personal blog is called: brownblog.

Back to the Shack

The Shack, by William P. Young, has been one of the amazing hits of the last year or so, not only in the Christian book scene, but also across the bookselling board.

I've read a number of reviews of the book since it first came out, both positive and negative. I haven't actually read the book itself as yet - although it's sitting looking at me on the shelves above the computer desk. I began it, but found the expository first chapter not quite my cup of tea. It obviously improves as it goes on.

However, I've just come across another review - it was written back in July by Ben Witherington. While understanding that the book is primarily a novel, and not a theological treatise, Ben still takes a fairly rigorous theological look at it. I think this is valuable, as it sorts out some of the issues that arise theologically in the book. Characters in a (Christian) book should be able to say what they like, since they're not the mouthpieces of the author (if the thing is well written), but 'people' in their own right. The problem that Witherington points up is that some of the characters in this particular book are God - if that makes grammatical sense. And being God, they need to speak in tune with our generally recognised understanding of God's revelation. Young's characters don't always do this.

Check out the review, and see what you think about Witherington's comments.


On the spurgeon.org site there's a section with a heap of posters.
Yup, so what?
Well, they take a number of issues in contemporary Christianity, issues that are in many cases divisive, and put an ironic/sardonic/sarcastic/witty spin on them. You have to check out the posters themselves, because the captions on their own, while clever, work best in tandem with the pictures. I've included one below (and hope the producers of these (Emergent-See Po-Motivators) will forgive me. (I'm doing it to advertise them, after all!)

Off the top of my head, I'm not sure how you'd use these posters - or whether you need to get permission to use them if it comes to that - but they're certainly worth checking out as thought-provokers, conversation-starters and the like.

Advent Conspiracy

Regrettably, it's a bit late for this video - for this year. (I've only just discovered it.) And though it makes part of its point by relating to the US, it's certainly something that Kiwis could do with seeing (we being almost as consumerism-minded as the US).

Check it out!

Who needs God when we've got ideas like these?

And since we're on the subject of top ten lists, here's another. This time it's looking at the top ten ways to grow your church without God.
I suspect that anyone reading the list will recognise virtually every item on it as being something they've done or tried at some time. That's the scary part.
The good thing might be that most of us have begun to realise these aren't the ways that God necessarily grows the church: He seems to have other ideas, and fortunately, is far more creative!

Todd Rhoades comments on the list (and adds ten ways to slowly kill your church WITH God while he's at it) which was originally produced by Ray Baumann.

Todd Rhoades (who calls himself a Christ-follower) has an interesting list of ten theological issues that he feels the church will still be facing for at least another decade. Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) heads the list, but I'm not sure that the list is in any particular order. Homosexuality is there, of course; what sort of churches we'll be looking at in the future is there; social justice - and Christian consumerism. It's a good list, though no doubt others could add to it.
The comments make interesting reading. A couple of people think the list is pretty ho-hum, because it covers ground that the church has been looking at for some time, but others make some worthwhile points, including the man who defends Open Theism.


Perseverance is not an issue of talent. It is not an issue of time. It is about finishing. Talent provides hope for accomplishment, but perseverance guarantees it. John Maxwell.

Christmas probably doesn't seem like the time to be talking about perseverance, though perhaps for a number of people, persevering through what is for them a difficult time may be all they can achieve.

Maxwell has a story about Vonetta Flowers, the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. It may make a useful story for a sermon of persevering - if not at Christmas, at least at some other time of the year (!)

Perseverance means succeeding because you are determined to, not destined to.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And another brief post:

The satan, it seems, is a nonhuman being, a type of angel, perhaps in some accounts an ex-angel or fallen angel, and he or it (somehow feminists never campaign that the satan should be referred to as 'she') comes to be opposed to humankind, and then to Israel, and hence, not surprisingly, to Jesus.

From Evil and the Justice of God, chapter 4 (pg 108 of the hardcover edition), by N T Wright.

But wait, there's more!


Best wishes to you for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the summer holidays....

Family First has produced a wonderful piece of PC nonsense, just in time for Christmas (whoops! did I use that word?).

Check out the rest of the message here

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Randy Pausch

"I'm constantly finding myself in situations where people are saying, well, it's never been done that way before, and I say, well, that's fine, and I guess that's an instructive piece of knowledge to share with me, but why are you saying that as if it's some sort of design constraint? You know, you said you wanted to accomplish something. And I suggested, well, why don't you do thus-and-such. And then you said, but it's never been done that way before! But I say that's not relevant to whether or not this is a good solution. Of course if you told me it had been done and it failed, that would be really useful data, all right."

Randy Pausch was an American professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He gave his "The Last Lecture" speech on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon after he learned that his previously known pancreatic cancer was terminal. The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", with a topic such as "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" The talk was later released as a book called The Last Lecture, which became a New York Times best-seller.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Youthwork goes multi-lingual

Youthwork International is a new online youth ministry magazine, with a truly international flavour. (The featured article today is in German, for instance.) It was founded in the UK, but has a consulting editorial team scattered around the globe.
The content is all free and includes ready-to-go youth ministry sessions, articles, teaching resources, book reviews, blogs, news updates from around the world, and a good deal more (including a bunch of you tube videos - most of which I could have done without watching, especially the young black worship leader who can't sing in tune, and doesn't appear to know the words!)
There's a multilingual flavour to the site: at present there are resources in English, Arabic and German. Spanish, Afrikaans and Hindi resources are to follow. So far the site has had hits from people in more than sixty countries. And it's interactive: Youthwork is looking for good youth work material of all kinds. There's a contact page, but it's also possible to write directly to either steve.griffiths@premier.org.uk, or fuzz.kitto@spirited.net.au.

YouthTrain lists Youthwork International as one of its top ten sites of 2008. The others are:

Older Workers

By 2012/13 New Zealand’s labour force is forecast to rise from 2.25 million to 2.38 million – close to a 6 percent increase.
Within this labour force, the number of workers aged 55 or older will have grown by 25% – an additional 100,000 individuals.
However, those aged 25-54 will have increased by only 2.5% or 28,000 individuals.
That means employers will have to shift their focus from young to old in order to maintain a viable workforce, says Mercer in a recently released report entitled Workplace 2012.

The percentage of workers aged 55+ will increase from 18 percent to 21 percent – more than half a million individuals.

The percentage of workers aged 25-54 will decrease from 65 percent to 62 percent.

The participation rate of workers aged 20-44 will decrease

The participation rate of workers aged 55-59 will increase – from 79.6 percent to 82.4percent

The participation rate of workers aged 60-64 will increase – from 67.1 percent to 75 percent.

What will this mean for the way the church looks at mission, workplace chaplaincy, care of older people in employment? Will youth groups take less focus in the church, and 'older' groups take more?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Simple Church

There is [a] kind of simple church that understands complexity. This kind of church realizes that things are not always what they appear. They know that what appears as an “out” to some may also appear as “safe” to others. They realize there’s two ways to spell grey. This kind of simple church critically embraces cultural change in order to communicate the gospel faithfully within complex cultural shifts. This people understand that the difference between “the world” and “the church” is not black and white. They strive to bring Scripture to bear upon the grey of culture and their relationships. As a result, they are constantly theologizing. They realize that theology is not inspired and neither are they. They struggle to take inspired stories, letters, and gospels and learn how to bring them to life in variously delightful and decadent cultures. This process forces them to deal with the complexity of suffering, human flourishing, common grace, and human indifference and come through the other side with a simple, accessible, thoughtful, and reproducible way of following Jesus.

From Two Kinds of Simple Church, by Jonathan Dodson

Child stats in NZ

The Otago Daily Times' editorial this morning uses a number of highly emotive words in its discussion of child injury and death in New Zealand. The writer tells us that two children die every week as a result of accidents, and that we are killing our children in their hundreds.

But a look at the Ministry of Health figures, rather than World Health Organisation or Unicef Report Cards (both of which have are flawed because they don't always compare like to like) show that between 1991 and 2005 the unintentional injury death rate for children under five dropped from 23.1% for males under five to 15.1%. The female figure, on the other hand, grew a couple of points from 12.8% to 14.14%.

In the 5-9 age range, both male and female figures dropped, from 12.8 and 9.5 respectively, to 6.7 and 6.3.

10-14 year-olds showed the same downward trend: males down from 20.4 to 8.7 and females down from 6.3 to 3.3.

Part of the issue of using international comparisons is that reporting is inconsistent. Reports may not relate to the same years or the same basic standards, and many countries take time to catch up with reporting on issues. The current reporting on bullying dates back to the early part of this century, not only in NZ, but also abroad.

In the editorial, Jean Simpson, of the Injury Prevention Research Unit, is reported as saying, 'compared with other wealthy nations our statistics are appalling.' Unfortunately, like so much else in this editorial real stats are not actually given, only an emotive statement.

According to my reading of the Ministry of Transport's graph on Road traffic injury and death rate per 100,000 population aged 0–14 and 15–24 years, 1985–2007, deaths from road accidents for the period have dropped, rather than increased.

The Ministry of Social Development report on Children and Young People: Indicators of Wellbeing in 2008 (Safety) states,

In 2006, New Zealand’s road death rate for youth aged 15–24 years (16.9 per 100,000) was just above the OECD median of 15.8 per 100,000 for that year. New Zealand ranked 18th out of 27 OECD countries, a considerable improvement compared to 2005, when New Zealand ranked 25th with a rate of 22.4 per 100,000. New Zealand’s 2006 rate was similar to that of Canada (16.4 per 100,000 in 2005) and Australia (15.8 per 100,000 in 2006), well above that of the United Kingdom (11.2 per 100,000 in 2006), but well below that of the United States (25.5 per 100,000 in 2005).
[This report can be downloaded from the Ministry of Development]

Stats are a useful tool, but always need to be checked, double-checked and possibly triple-checked. In one episode of TV series, The West Wing, Sam Seaborn commands his staff to find the stats on some obscure area, and to get three different lots of stats, so that he can compare what is being reported. Clarity is always an issue.

Equally, stats tell us nothing of the pain and anguish of those involved with the death of a child. The recent Nia Glassie trial was atypical in showing adults expressing little concern over the death of a toddler; most parents and relatives are deeply shocked in such circumstances.

Thus, while any decrease in deaths from unintentional injury is something to be rejoiced about, there are still many people out there who have lost someone precious to them. And that should always be a concern. Guilt trips from anonymous editors do nothing to help.

How applicable is this to mission?

Seth Godin on Selling Ideas

On his blog today, Godin talks in terms of selling ideas to companies (book companies in particular), but what he has to say is interestingly applicable to the job of enabling mission.

Two points he notes:

1. They have to be in the business of buying ideas. Thus a Trust that has money may be interested in ‘buying’ the idea of a particular kind of mission, and then funding it.

2. They have to trust you. Some businesses that appear to be interested in buying ideas won’t necessarily trust you to be the person to present an idea. Entrepreneurial people who will see the big picture, who can grasp the vision, are more likely to be in tune with you.

Godin notes: A company that likes buying ideas has a process. They make it relatively straightforward and they have no upside in stealing from you. A company that isn't in that business puts up barriers. They troll around trade shows looking for ideas to take (and there's nothing legally or morally wrong with that, imho).


if you have an idea for a company that doesn't know how to buy it, move on. And if you want to be in the business of selling ideas, find an industry that has experience buying those ideas.

Substitute your own mission funder, or your Presbytery, or even your congregation for 'business' and 'company', and see how Godin's points apply. The full blog post is here.

Bonhoeffer & Slagle

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes ... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
German pastor and philosopher (1906-1945) imprisoned and executed for his attempt to overthrow Adolf Hitler.


[God speaks]; And what about your tantrums? I never took them seriously. They certainly never offended Me. As is often the case with My children,, the frustration expressed by your lips had nothing to do with the deeper faith of your heart, expressed by your will. When you told Me you were trusting Me and then willed to walk on with Me, I took you at your word. I admit, you did askyour fair share of hard questions. But consdier My servant Job. Did he not do the same/ my assessment is this: in all your railing and falailing you never sinned, though We both know your patience did wear thin at times. Dangerously thin. But after, all you were being stretched to your very limits, were you not? I think so.

From, From the Father's Heart, by Charles Slagle, pg 47.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Māori youth health and wellbeing improves

But there are still concerns.
Results from a 2007 study on youth in NZ, 2007, show that Māori secondary school students are happier and are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and use marijuana compared to Māori students in 2001.
However, Māori students are more likely to experience socio-economic hardship, be exposed to violence and have higher health needs like being overweight and experiencing emotional health concerns than their Pakeha peers.
Māori students have more health issues but are also more likely to experience difficulty accessing health services when they when they need them.
Nevertheless, Māori students report many strengths and assets. Almost all report being proud to be Māori, and over one-third speak and understand te reo Māori. Most Māori students say they want to stay at school till year 13 (form 7), and almost 90% of Māori students said that their parents care about them very much.

These are significant steps forward. If the coming generation of Māori can lift the status of their people in New Zealand, the next twenty years will hopefully be brighter. For the full media release, click here.

Pastors and their time

I imagine every pastor has been accosted at some point in their career by someone demanding to know how they spend their time. Is the congregation getting 'value for money?' I'll even admit to heckling a young pastor in my church one day many years ago (along with a couple of other equally ignorant members) about what he was doing with his day.

So I was a bit surprised to see Todd Rhoades encouraging people to use Twitter to find out how pastors are using their time. He introduces his brief article in this way: Most church conferences have a time set aside for speaker Q&A, and one of the first questions asked nearly every time is "What does your day look like?" In other words, "How do you schedule your time, and how do you prioritize your tasks?" The answers are always interesting and insightful.

He then goes on to list a bunch of pastors who have offered their Twitter addresses to the concerned public at large. Is it just me who thinks this is crazy? Do pastors really need to account for what they're doing to such a degree?

Rhoades writes: You can find out when their days start, what they're reading, the meetings they're attending, how they balance their family time, and what gets them really pumped (or ticked off).

Good grief. Twitter only allows 140 characters at a time. Is this really going to tell anyone what their pastor is doing, and shouldn't these people be doing something more productive with their lives anyway? As my colleague says, he's a right twitter!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Temporarily 'closed' due to illness

Apologies for the lack of posts on this site over the last week. Mike Crowl has been unwell after a minor hospital procedure.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Changing UK Changing New Zealand

The 'Changing UK' Report, which has just come out this month, looks at five ways in which communities are breaking up. Each of these could be considered in relation to New Zealand, as well.

1) Simple “Geographical Inequalities”, such as population increasing more in someareas, house prices being higher and so on.
2) “Demographic Segregation”, the change from 1971 to 2006 of the population by age between areas becoming more segregated, most quickly from 2001 to 2006. This is where younger people are congregating in areas where there parents/extended families don't live.
3) “Economic Polarisation”, the increase from the situation in 1968 and the 1970s up to the present decade, in rich and poor geographical polarisation in Britain.
4) “Social Fragmentation”, the increase in the degree to which people appear to be socially isolated by area in Britain: data from 1971 up to last measurement in 2001.
5) “Political Disaffection”, the increase in the proportion of the population abstaining in general elections since 1966 and the increased polarisation in this measure most recently (up to 2005 compared with the early 1990s and late 1980s) when abstention rates at general elections are compared between areas over time.

Geography, age, income, loneliness and a lack of interest in where the country is headed. New Zealand needs to consider these issues and work hard to maintain community for the future.

International Volunteer Day

Today, the 5th of December, is International Volunteer Day (as well as National Jandal Day).

The Maxim Institute notes:
New Zealand has been described as a "nation of givers." Yearly New Zealanders give more than $270 million hours of volunteer service to non-profit institutions. At market value this equates to nearly $7 billion (the equivalent of 4.9 percent of New Zealand's GDP).
And tell this story:
Cyndy Hendry is a volunteer at the Auckland Mercy Hospice, which provides in-patient and community care for the terminally ill. Cyndy drives patients to appointments, pushes around the drinks trolley and makes cups of tea. But what is most important is the love and light with which these acts are done; Cyndy says it is about "just being friendly." Volunteering has allowed Cyndy to reach out to her wider community. Talking to her about her experience, Cyndy commented that she was recently humbled by her encounter with a Sikh family of a beautiful and terminally ill Indian woman. Encountering a culture with which she was not familiar, Cyndy described how she "learnt an enormous amount from them." Driving the couple to appointments and being a person who was there for them in a time of vulnerability saw the development of a strong relationship. Although unable to speak English, Cyndy says the dying woman "spoke love with her eyes." Cyndy has been amazed by the dignity of dying patients; she describes it as very moving: "In all honesty, I've received so much more than I've given."

Christ and the Tui ads

Most New Zealanders will know of the Tui ads, those clever billboards that have a short statement followed by the ironical/sarcastic, 'Yeah, right.' 'Yeah, right' is a Kiwi being typically laconic.

In the pre-Christmas period, Tui put up one of their latest signs: Let us take a moment this Christmas to think about Christ. Yeah, right. As you might expect it upset a few people around the country (most of them probably weren't Tui drinkers). But Richard Gray, the minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Invercargill (the billboard appeared across the road from his church), said people need to get a sense of humour.

Perhaps some people were upset because the statement is too close to the truth (as most of the Tui ads are). Many around the country won't be thinking twice about Christ at Christmas. In fact there'll be a few who'd be offended at the idea that they should.

Richard, for instance, has come up with a Tui sign of his own. It reads: Drinking Tui in 4008! Yeah right. JC.
Rather than taking this as an offensive statement, wouldn't it be better for Christians to use it as a starting point to talk about Christ and Christmas?

Wanna own your own slave?

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Cathleen Falsani, points out that it's more than 165 years since slavery was made illegal in the USA.

It's sixty years since the United Nationas declared, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."

Yet in 2008 there are more slaves in the world than were taken during 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, according to the documentary film, Call + Response. This film is a combination of music focusing on slavery, and images of people who are suffering in slavery around the world.

Of the 27 million slaves worldwide, half are children and 80 percent are female.
Some more stats:

• • Slave traders made $32 billion last year.

• • The average cost of a slave is $90.

• • More than one-third of all prostitutes in South and East Asia are children.

• • More than 17,500 people are trafficked as slaves to the U.S. each year.

• • Fifty percent of slaves in the U.S. work in agriculture, manufacturing or domestic work.

For more information go to the Call and Response website. A question worth asking: how many slaves are there in New Zealand?

Pastors and dying churches

Regarding pastors being called to dying churches.

Some of us believe pretty strongly that churches in the inner city and the rural areas also deserve good pastors. We also affirm that many churches in some of the dying denominations deserve to have good pastors. Not every pastor is going to have the privilege of pastoring a thriving church, and not every church is going to thrive no matter who the pastor is! Pastors are primarily called to shepherd the flock. I believe that people at every stage of life deserve to have good pastoral care. Many of us are going to spend most of our pastoral careers in small- to medium-sized churches. Hopefully we can teach the Word of God and nurture the believers who happen to be part of that community.

There are plenty of churches that are going to hold on to some traditional ways of doing things. This doesn't mean that God can't use some of those old ways to nurture and protect His children. There are a number of us pastors who probably secretly, sometimes openly, admit that we yearn for simpler times and methods. We wish that we didn't have to keep up with all the new ways to reach people and grow churches. There are many people who wish that church was still a place of dignity and traditions because that is the way they learned to worship God. So much of our culture is changing so rapidly that many older people in the church wish that the church could be a shelter from all that change and that they could have some of those traditions to hang on to.

I do believe that God may call some of us to minister among people who don't want to change styles and we may be there to help them prepare for their dying. Sometimes, in dying churches, there is also the possibility of a resurrection as people return to a traditional church after being disillusioned with the trends of the contemporary church. My prayer is that we can be the shepherds who truly minister to the people whom God has given us at this time.

from the Pastors' Weekly Briefing newsletter, Dec 5th, 2008

from Dave Brown's blog

In Dave Brown's blog, JC's helper, he writes of throwing the baby out with the bathwater - or not. Is Christianity full of rubbish that needs to be ditched? The answer is pretty much, Yes, but Dave has some other things to add as well. The post begins thus:

I have read Cathleen Falsani's book, "The God Factor" in which she interviews 32 public figures about their spirituality. I recently read a similar one by an Australian journalist. I found them both interesting and exciting. There were so many times when I found myself saying, "Yeah! Great! Amen to that!" and that was often in response to people who would not be seen dead in a church. In both books there was criticism, hurt and sometimes anger expressed toward the Church and/or Christianity. Many had "outgrown" the religion of their youth. I mix with fire fighters, ambulance personnel and other workers who share similar positions. To them, organised religion has had its day at best, or is a destructive, judgemental and limiting force at worse.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The need for women

It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red - it is not even the cause of woman vs. man. Nay, it is woman's strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice. It would be subversive of every human interest that the cry of one half of the human family be stifled.
Woman ... daring to think and move and speak - to undertake to help shape, mold and direct the thought of her age, is merely completing the circle of the world's vision. Hers is every interest that has lacked an interpreter and a defender. Her cause is linked with that of every agony that has been dumb - every wrong that needs a voice....
The world has had to limp along with the wobbling gait and one-sided hesitancy of a man with one eye. Suddenly the bandage is removed from the other eye and the whole body is filled with light. It sees a circle where before it saw a segment. The darkened eye restored, every member rejoices with it.

Anna Julia Cooper
A Voice from the South (1892)

It's interesting to note the date on this, and how long it took for such an idea to be accepted.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

God as Father/Mother

At the one extreme there are those whose unfortunate relationship with fathers and other men makes it impossible to draw close to God imaged as father and male. And alternatively there are others whose unfortunate relationship with mothers and other women makes it impossible to draw close to God imaged as mother and female. Both images are needed so that believers may draw near to God as they are able and given opportunity to recognize and withdraw their projections upon God, letting God be God--a Mystery of Love ultimately beyond all language and comprehension.

Marchienne Vroon Rienstra
Swallow's Nest: A Feminine Reading of the Psalms

Charles Slagle

If the promises I whispered to your heart were, as you have feared, merely the wishful thoughts of your mind, then why the fruit? Do you not see that even today you are in the midst of the fulfilment of My words? Rejoice! All promises are, at this very moment, in process.

Charles Slagle, From the Father's Heart, page 43.

Slagle's book is a little gem. We often use it in the National Mission Office as a starter for our team prayer times. It consists of a series of encouraging letters from God, and though the language and approach is down-to-earth, there are some great insights into the relationship God has with us. Though published in 1989, the book appears to be still in print, and a new edition was announced for this year.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Missional Church

Len Hjalmarson, who runs the Next Reformation blog (and writes for various other places, such as Allelon and Next Wave online magazine) beings his latest post, Missional Church, in this way:

Over the past two years, two convictions have been growing for me. First, that apart from a Trinitarian mooring, our attempt to rebuild a whole gospel and a foundation for mission will go astray. Second, the church is an alternative (kingdom) culture, founded on a new covenant. Frankly, these points have become so critical in my understanding of God’s kingdom purpose as storied in the Old and New Testaments that I can’t imagine a new reformation unless we take them seriously.

I admit that “Trinity” is not an easy theological concept, and also that the particular formulation rising from Chalcedon in 451 needs reinterpretation — but Triune is the nature of God and is reflected in our humanity. A right vision of God roots a right vision of humanity, and apart from that right vision we won’t get mission right either. The heart of God’s mission is in creating a new humanity.