Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God Loves Us!

All of us need to have our identity grounded in being deeply loved by our divine Lover. Sentimentalism, emotionalism, rationality and analysis all sabotage the development of such a relationship. Talking about such a relationship is easy. Actually coming to develop a love relationship with the invisible God is far from simple.

David G. Benner
Surrender to Love

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Real Relationships

The Maxim Institute reports:
The British based Relationships Foundation has released a new pamphlet, estimating "the financial cost of failure" in families and relationships. Taking into account measures such as "lone parent benefits," costs in "health and social care" and "housing," as well as related social services, When Relationships Go Wrong: Counting the cost of family failure puts the cost of "relationship breakdown" at a massive £37 billion. Warning against a "focus solely on economic concerns at the expense of relationships," the Foundation calls for a policy, and a culture, which prioritises relationships, and "greater wellbeing."

The massive figure, based on more detailed calculations in the pamphlet, is food for thought enough. But it is the companion pamphlet, When Relationships Go Right: Enabling thriving lives, which contains a fruitful metaphor when it comes to the debate on family. It draws a parallel between "the wellbeing agenda" and the green movement, hoping that, just as politicians and wider culture have come to prioritise the environment, so also will government and society come to prioritise relationships and "wellbeing." The pamphlet offers a number of examples of what this might look like, from the greater use of "health visitors" and "district nurses," to proposals that encourage healthy work-life balance through things such as cutting travel time.

Read the rest of Maxim's comments here; When Relationships Go Right is the second half of the pdf file link above.

Trueblood on ministry of the laity

Simon Holt notes, in a recent post:
[Elton] Trueblood was especially critical of the diminishment of the ‘ministry of the laity’ to (i) giving support to the structures and programmes of the institution, and (ii) helping the pastor with the chores around the church buildings. Trueblood argued that "the only kind of lay ministry worth encouraging is that which makes a radical difference to the entire Christian enterprise." In other words, lay ministry is not some second rate auxiliary to the real thing. It is the real thing—men and women engaged at the very forefront of everyday life as ministers of liberation and redemption: "If Christianity is to be understood not as a retreat from life in the world but as an effort to transfigure life itself, if follows that the Church needs the service of men and women at the point where they are most exposed to the problems of our political and economic order." And that’s not in church on Sunday…”

Holt (who writes on the blog, Simply Simon) says more before and after this extract.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Webinar & Book

After reading an article on the number of words being introduced to the English language on a daily basis - one about every hour and a half, (culminating in some million words in the language by the end of April this year) - I've just been introduced today to the word, Webinar, which is apparently a seminar conducted on the Web. You pay your sub, and you're then allowed access to the real-time audio-visual. In the case I have in mind, it will be conducted from Dunedin by Lynne Baab, a North American Presbyterian minister living here in the city. The webinar is being hosted by the Alban Institute, and the blurb states:

Words, photos, graphics, and links work together on websites to communicate the values and priorities of the congregation creating the website.

Most leaders of congregations are experts in using words for sermons and newsletters but have less
experience with the ways in which photos, graphics, and links can express a congregation's values and priorities. In addition, websites require some different strategies in the way words are used.

In this webinar, we'll look at the ways words, photos, graphics and links can be used effectively on websites to meet the needs of congregation members as well as reach out to potential visitors.

The webinar starts on
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:00 p.m. Eastern (American) time. Amusingly, if you click on the link called Registration Information, you'll find a note saying:
Unless otherwise indicated, our events start on the first day with lunch served at 12:00 noon and close on the last day with lunch served and departure immediately after lunch.

I'm guessing lunch won't be on the agenda for this webinar, although it doesn't actually say so (LOL!)

And one other thing. Lynne published a book in 2008 which relates to her webinar. (I keep repeating the word so you'll remember it!) The book is called, Reaching Out in a Networked World: expresssing your congregation's heart and soul. I've just received a copy today and am looking forward to reading it.

The rocks cry out

There is a pervasive sense that things are not right in the world, and the gentle suggestion that maybe they don't have to stay this way.... But most Christian artists and preachers have remained strangely distant from human suffering, offering the world eternal assurance over prophetic imagination. Perhaps it should not surprise us that Jesus says that if the Christians remain silent, then the rocks will cry out ... or the rock stars, I guess.

Shane Claiborne
The Irresistible Revolution

Interesting statement, but is it entirely true?

More on Virtual Community - and Top Blogs

At the risk of pointing you too often towards the Out of Ur site (though it is regarded now as one of the top Christian blogs), I just want to follow up on the last post in which Shane Hipps talked about virtual communities not being 'real' communities.
Scot McKnight has written a brief but sensible response to this - and, as always, the comments that follow the post are well worth a look.

In regard to the 'top' blogs, Matt and Madeleine Flanagan have given a very up-to-date list of the top New Zealand Christian blogs. The Flanagans give the reasons behind the rankings, based on the stats from two other sites: Half Done and Tumeke, neither of which are familiar to me. In fact, only three of those listed below are ones I've heard of previously. Plainly I'm not moving in the right blog circles!

1. NZ Conservative
2. Something Should Go Here, Maybe Later
3. The Briefing Room
4. MandM
5. Kiwi Polemicist
6. Say Hello to my Little Friend
7. Put up Thy Sword
8. Samuel Dennis
9. Contra Celsum
10. Star Studded Super Step

It would be interesting to spend an afternoon checking out these blogs to see what they've got to say. And for those with absolutely nothing else to do, check out Kent Schaffer's 60 Top Christian Blogs from around the world.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shane Hipps

The video clip below is part of an interview Out of Ur did recently with Shane Hipps. I don't know much about Hipps except that he's the author of a book due to be released this year called, Flickering Pixels - how technology shapes your faith, and that somewhere along the line he realized he was spending his life working diligently to perpetuate consumer culture and promote values that ran counter to his most deeply held beliefs.
In this brief clip (about 4 minutes) he points out two things.
1: that you can't really have 'virtual' community. The virtual negates what community is about. He lists four points relating to community:
a. communities have shared history
b. they have a sense of permanence, which gives history
c. they have proximity: people get together with each other
d. they have a shared imagination of the future.
For Hipps, only the last of these four has a possibility in virtual terms: it gains future fast, but loses the other three in the process.

2: the second life site is, for Hipps, a disembodiment of the Gospel - as were radio and tele-evangelism before it.

I suspect you won't entirely agree with Hipps, and four minutes isn't long for him to make his case, but he's worth considering, all the same.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Community and Common Purpose

Having spent a number of months over the last few years being involved (as an actor) in various amateur plays, notably the Narnia productions for Dunedin City Baptist, and many years before that as the pianist for various concert groups, I was interested to read the following in Michael Frost's book, Exiles - living missionally in a post-christian culture.

Many people undergo something of a communitas experience in their daily lives. Sporting teams, theatre companies, orchestras, bands, dance troupes – these kinds of societies all know something, perhaps just a whiff, of the concept of communitas. When a group of musicians or dancers are performing, every member must play his or her part well, not just individually, but in concert with the others. The sense of interdependence can be very exciting. Jazz musicians speak of the almost spiritual nirvana they sense when all members of the band are playing in perfect harmony. Any member of a sports team can recall something of the profound sense of intimacy felt with teammates when individual contributions to the game create a force greater than the sum of their parts.

When an amateur theatre group begins rehearsals, it can be just a rag-tag assembly of would-be thespians. But on the stage, galvanized by the urgency of the impending opening night, they are transformed into something else. With the script as their guide, they are forced together by the ‘ordeal’ of knowing that soon they will be giving public performances.

One young amateur actor once told me that he felt a greater sense of belonging and acceptance in this theatre company than in his church. I suppose he thought that it had to do with the quality of the people in the theatre as compared with those in the church. But the fact remains that churches are full of marvellous, kind, caring people, every bit as accepting as theatre people. The fundamental difference is that churches are working on community, while an amateur theatre group is a kind of communitas.

Pg 116 Hendrickson paperback edition, 2007

I'm not sure that I agree with Frost's conclusion about how the young actor felt: the quality of people in a theatre company may be just as diverse as anywhere else. In fact there will be some that you don't feel any great kinship with. But in the doing of the play together, even the most diverse people are pulled together into something greater than themselves.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jamie Oliver as John Wesley

While I was on retreat last year, one of the other men attending mentioned Jamie Oliver on TV teaching young mothers how to give their children decent meals. My friend said he felt Oliver was like a young John Wesley feeding the young Christians.

It's an interesting concept to see Oliver as a Godly figure in the New Creation mode – reviving life in people, renewing the creation. Certainly he's set himself some major tasks in terms of trying to change the way people think about food in Britain (and presumably wherever else the programme is shown). He's come a long way from the days of his early cooking series.

Compare him to Gordon Ramsay. It's hard to get away from the impression that Ramsay, even when he's helping other restauranteurs to repair the havoc they've created in their businesses, still seems to be all about himself. He's constantly competitive; even when he’s helping people get their restaurants up and running the attitude seems to be: if you don’t do it my way you’ll fail. It's not surprising he gets quite a lot of resistance even when he's right!

Or when he invites someone in to cook their favourite meal. It seems that he's only doing it so he can show how much better his version will be.

Incidentally, the link to an article above takes you to the Socialist Worker online. It's quite perceptive about Oliver's role in changing thinking.

Ageing population

As a follow-up to my post on Monday about the elderly in our communities and congregations, I note the following projected stats:
We are in a time of rapid population ageing. In New Zealand, by 2030, for the group aged 65 to 74, numbers will double from 276,000 in 2006, to 559,000. By 2030, it is estimated that the numbers of those over 85 will almost treble, from 58,000 today to 150,0001 Treasury (2006) has also calculated that the ratio of the young to the old is transposing, and after 2020 we will have more people over age 64 than under age 15.
As I said the other day, this is no time to be ignoring children and young people. It is, however, a time to be thinking about how we are going to minister to increasing numbers of people who are over 60?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Emerging - or submerged?

One of the reasons I believe the simple, organic/house/emerging church movement is continually gaining ground and in some countries, blossoming beyond expectations, is because it is sustainable and reproducible, just as the early church was. The ministry does not get put on hold when the money runs out or loans are inaccessible. Ministry does not have to wait for a building or a paid professional to come and run the show. This recession will speak to us, if we have ears to hear, and will highlight an alternative to the church system that has flourished under Western capitalism. It will spotlight simple and sustainable church planting as it worked in the beginning of the church, as it has advanced the church through the centuries, and as it is being played out today both overseas and under the radar in Western countries.

Tall Skinny Kiwi has an interesting post on the recession, on debt and on the way Christians might be best to use money.


In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi wrote about the safety net provided by a robust network of social connections.

"Experience will not save you in hard times, nor will hard work or talent. If you need a job, money, advice, help, hope, or a means to make a sale, there's only one surefire, fail-safe place to find them - within your extended circle of friends and associates."

The same might well be said of the church. It wasn't because he thought the phrase had a good ring to it that Paul said, 'Forsake not the gathering of the saints'. He knew the value of being 'networked' within the church family, the body of Christ.

Justin Pinkerman writes about keeping up with your network in a Leadership Wired article online.
He's talking about the business network, seeing it as a kind of safety net in these difficult economic times. But the church is the same, and more so - in all times. The congregation may annoy the hell out of us (which might not be a bad thing!) but it's also a place where our particular bit of the body grows best.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Embracing the Elderly

A brief piece in the latest NZ Management says ‘Employers Should Embrace the Ageing Workforce.’ It must be an idea that's found its time, because putting this phrase in Google brings up a number of references to it around the country, including this one.

Wouldn’t it be good to see a similar heading in SPANZ or some church magazine saying: ‘Churches Should Embrace their Ageing Parishioners?’ My gut feeling is that 'Ageing Parishioners' are left to fend for themselves spiritually and emotionally, and that the big focus in most churches is on children and, even more so, young people.

Of course we should be concerned for these two groups; they're the future. But older people are not the past - they're still the present, and they bring with them, in many cases, great stores of treasures, most of it neglected by your average church.

Many churches barely acknowledge the older people, or else they leave other older people to look after them, as though only the elderly can care for the elderly. As someone in late middle-age (not quite retired, in other words), I am just as concerned as ever about the state of my faith, about how to think theologically about all the issues that beset our modern world, about how to face the fact that death creeps closer with every day, that health isn't as stable as it used to be, and a number of other matters.

I don't feel old inside. Inside I still have a sense of being about thirty (though with a bit more experience under my belt), and it's only the fact that the body doesn't agree that makes me aware of being older. My suspicion is that people much older than me don't feel old inside either. But we can be made to feel old by being put to one side or ignored or treated as though we have no past, no history.

Boomers are an increasingly large percentage of the population. And, it seems to me, an untapped resource - and mission field.

St Kilda

People tell me that it’s not always easy to be part of a church these days. We’re busy and overworked, and (some) churches feel more like hard work than we’d like them to. When I quote from Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? or Alan Jamieson’s A Churchless Faith I look around the room and see nodding heads and looks of recognition.

So - why do we bother?

The lines above come from the website of the St Kilda Baptist Church. Rev Carolyn Francis goes on to say why the people at St Kilda do bother, and her statement stands as an excellent way of thinking about the value of being with other churchgoers. The site also talks about a couple of houses St Kilda runs, one for four young (otherwise) homeless people, and one for a nearly twenty people with psychiatric problems. It's interesting that a church that talks about whether to go to church or not is also well involved with mission work.

Using Movie Clips

It's a big thing in some churches these days to use movie clips to add a different dimension to the service or the sermon. But one issue that churches have to deal with is that of royalties, and, on top of that, whether the church actually has permission to show the clip in the first place.

YouthTRAIN lists about a dozen sites that have movie clips for use. It provides a brief description of the kind of site - whether it provides a synopsis of the movie, whether there are study guides available, whether you have to pay a fee or a subscription, whether the clips are new or old and so on. Some of the sites have free material, and one or two are more about giving an overview of movies than providing material.

All in all, this is a useful list. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to check it out!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Town and country

Being a townie in almost every respect (I love the country - for a couple of days) I find it hard to understand how people work as pastors in the rural sector. And plainly a lot of other people do, as a post from the blog site, Out of Ur, indicates.
The piece is written by Collin Hansen, and notes that Time magazine has recently checked out the state of rural churches, and their lack of pastors: stating the obvious, in fact. Hansen takes a good look at the difficulties involved: the fact that most pastors are trained in urban settings, that they earn more in urban settings, that the rural churches often can't afford even the minimum salary to pay a pastor. And then there's the fact that in a rural setting your parish may extend over an area vastly larger than any urban one, meaning a lot of driving, long days, and...getting lost regularly, at least in the early days.
But rural people need Christ as much as urban people.
This post is well worth checking out, and, as is usually the case, the comments that follow are equally worth noting, including the young pastor who claims that rural people are stuck in their ways and don't want to change.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Avoiding the Worship Wars

In a Leadership Journal interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty, Keith says the following:

The contemporary generation talks a lot about songs having to sound contemporary for the unchurched to listen to. In my experience of having non-Christian friends attend Christian events or church, they're much more warmed when everyone is singing passionately and confidently, rather than somewhere somebody's trying to do something half as well as it might be done on MTV, or where everybody in the congregation is standing around and staring. Nine times out of ten, they're actually quite embarrassed by that.

If I've got non-Christian friends coming to church, I'd far rather give them four verses of comparatively heavy theology with some theological words which explains the gospel, than give them twenty repeated words that could be said about your pet horse or your girlfriend.

"Passionately and confidently"- how sweet the sound of such words! This isn't the only bit of 'wisdom' Keith and Kathy speak during the course of this interview.

One of Keith's best known songs is In Christ Alone, a prime example of how to write a 'modern' hymn.

John Updike

In a November, 2004 article on John Updike published online in the Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly magazine there is the following comment on Updike's Christianity:

While much of his earlier work contains traces of Updike's furious immersion in Christian theology, he said he looked more to the congregation of his hometown Massachusetts church as the rock of his faith today.

"When I haven't been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there," he said. "It's not just the words, the sacraments. It's the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity."

And in a quote from one of his books (one of the Rabbit tetralogy)

"When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ," he tells a disconcerted Eccles. "Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil's work."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Suicides and Attendance at Church

The following paragraph comes from the Washington Times.
Psychiatric researchers at the University of Manitoba have established a link, they say, "between a person´s attendance at a religious worship service" and the desire to commit suicide.

No, this doesn't quite mean what it appears to say. Here's the next paragraph:
"The main finding of this study is that religious worship attendance is associated with a decreased risk of suicide attempts," said Daniel Rasic, who led the research. The findings were based on health surveys of 37,000 Canadians which included information about their spirituality - and specifically - their church attendance.
The article goes on to say that it's the people who actually attend church, rather than those who just consider themselves 'spiritual' who find themselves less inclined towards suicide. The study doesn't come to any conclusions as to why potentail suicides should be less suicidal as a result of attending church, but it's a good point to note, all the same.