Thursday, May 28, 2009

Goodbye Radio, Hullo Internet

It was once thought that radio was the most economical of the large-scale broadcasting opportunities for evangelism. Now it looks like the Internet is taking over in this area too.

Many churches around the world are filing podcasts on their websites, and thus making the churches' sermons and other material available to those who might have listened to the radio in the past. And it's being done at almost no cost, which means that even small ministries can play a part in reaching listening audiences.

Only a couple of years ago, podcasts were virtually unknown to those outside the elite areas of the Internet world; now they're being downloaded enthusiastically by all sorts of Internet users. And since they can be transferred onto MP3 players, they're as accessible as radio was. (Remember when people used to carry 'trannies' on their shoulders in order to listen to music? Trannies were monoliths compared to the technology now available.)

Only a few months ago a question was asked in our church: what did people think was the most used part of the church website? It came as a surprise to most of us that the downloading of sermons was the top feature - and not by church members, but by people in various parts of the world.

Incidentally, Radio NZ has a screed of podcasts available. Check them out. And here's the link to the DCBC podcast page.

The symbol at the top of the page is that used by Apple to represent podcasting.


For the next couple of months, the relatively new New Zealand site, Like Minds, Like Mine is focusing on the topic of unfairness in relation to people who've been discriminated against because of their mental illness. The video below, which features Samoan-born Rev. Imoa Setefano is the one that is currently showing, and hopefully will continue to be available by the You Tube link.

There are several other profiles on the site, and the site is worth visiting for its other features too.

We're still learning....

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Having a Worldview

Last week, in his speech at the National Archives, President Obama spoke of the “so-called enhanced interrogation techniques” that

... undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. ... In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts ...

And, on closing the prison at Guantanamo:

Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world. ...
[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

Almost simultaneously, in another part of Washington, Vice President Cheney, began and ended his speech with 9-11 as the justification for everything that followed: “9-11 made necessary a shift of policy, aimed at a clear strategic threat ...” He defended the “enhanced interrogation” by arguing that:

The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, and the right thing to do. ... to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.

And Cheney’s view of values was that:

... no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them. ... For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings.

We can thank God the Cheney/Bush years (as someone put it) are over. Let's pray that the Obama years bring more commonsense, good will, and real health to the nation of America.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Postmodern Parish

Discerning the shape of the emerging church will be an inexact process, especially for those of us who still have one foot firmly planted back in the old modernist and Christendom paradigm and are only beginning to understand the impact of the new postmodern and post-Christian context for ministry. Because that process will often be confusing, we need the Holy Spirit to lead us through it. If we could rely only on our own bumbling efforts at discerning the shape of the emerging church, we would be in trouble. As a friend once described the way a new pastor is called to lead a congregation, "It's so crazy, you have to believe the Holy Spirit is in charge; or you'd go nuts!" In a similar way, we would be tempted to despair in our attmepts to discover the emerging church, were we not confident that the Spirit is at work in and through us.

The Postmodern Parish - Jim Kitchens - pg 41. Alban Institute, 2003

So you still don't think NZeders use the Net?

In a media blurb sent out about a week ago, Nielsen Research gave an overview of some recent research into how New Zealanders are using the Net.
Over the last four weeks,
1. "(48%) of us have created, updated or looked at an online profile on a social networking site; and nearly (30%) have contributed to a message board, online forum or wrote/commented on a blog.”

2. "...two out of every five have uploaded pictures (41%), uploaded music (12%), uploaded videos (10%) or posted a review of a product or service online (9%)."
3. "...almost half of the Internet population have downloaded, streamed or watched a video clip online (45%); or downloaded, streamed, or listened to music (37%)."
4. "...people using online directories (47%), reading newspapers or publications online (79%) - and a staggering (81%) using search engines..."
5. 81.3% have used internet banking.

If, as ministers, we're still not considering that the Internet has a part to play in the future of our churches, I suspect we're deluding ourselves.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

And it's no different here

Figures from a survey of 300 Canadian pastors came out in the February 2009 edition of Presbyterian Record, as a sidebar to an article entitled: Breaking the Silence - the mental health of our clergy. The issue of wellness, or the lack of it, amongst clergy has tended to be covered up for decades, because clergy are expected to be so 'holy,' 'capable,' 'fit and healthy' that they never need be sick or off-duty. The situation in New Zealand is little different. There are times when it seems as though ministers have little to do all day except write the weekly sermon and visit a few elderly ladies in the parish. But the truth of the matter is, of course, that most ministers are frantically busy, overloaded to such an extent that they don't have nearly enough time for their families, nearly enough time to relax, or virtually any time to just sit and listen to what the Lord is saying to them.
There are many reasons for this, including:
Ministers working a minimum of 50 hours a week, and often more than that;
Not having the days off to which they're entitled;
Feeling as though they have to be perfect when they're often under huge stress to perform;
Feeling empty, going through the motions, in terms of prayer, worship, Bible reading, spiritual life in general;
Lacking someone who can counsel or mentor or come alongside them;
Suffering depression or burn-out or panic attacks and having to live with it.

The Canadian situation only confirms what is known in New Zealand. This is what the National Mission Office has been working on for several years: finding ways to help ministers avoid breakdowns and depression.

The full report can be found at the Caring for Clergy site - click on Current Research and then on 'Clergy Well-Being - Seeking Wholeness with Integrity'.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Calvin in Dunedin

This year celebrates the 500th Anniversary of John Calvin's birth. Round the world there are people putting on conferences, lectures, celebrations of all sorts to mark the memory of this historic figure in Christian - and world - history.
To some Christians, Calvin's name doesn't evoke good vibes, and certainly there are aspects of Calvin's life and theology that we would no longer find acceptable. However, there is much that's great and good about the man, and it's this side of him we celebrate.
Knox Centre for Ministry and Learning, in conjunction with the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the University of Otago, is presenting a two-day conference offering international and local perspectives on Calvin, with particular reference to his historical and theological influences here in New Zealand, and particularly in Otago.
The keynote speakers will be Prof Randall Zachman and Prof Elsie McKee (pictured at right).
Other speakers are: Alison Clarke, Ivor Davidson, Peter Matheson, Angela McCarthy, Murray Rae and John Stenhouse.
The dates for the Conference are: 24-25 August, 2009. There will also be a son et lumiere presentation at First Church in Dunedin City.
Register - and find out more information here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chaplain to the porn industry

Just over a year ago I wrote about the Number One Christian Porn site, and Craig Gross, who has website called [Gross] has become something of a chaplain to the porn industry, writes the Leadership Journal. He has traveled with porn star Ron Jeremy to debate the dangers of pornography on college campuses, in public forums, and on news programs like ABC's Nightline. More recently, he's been taking teams of volunteers to adult entertainment tradeshows around the world.
In 2008, Craig, his wife, and the small team that runs XXXchurch moved their families from Michigan to Las Vegas to launch a ministry they call The Strip Church. Their focus is to reach the people who come to the town for conferences, and help them avoid the innumerable temptations that await anyone who goes to Vegas. (The other churches in Vegas tend to focus on the people living on the outskirts of the town.)
Gross says, "Our plan is to reach people on the Strip at trade shows with the gospel, give them the support they need to avoid making bad decisions while they're in Vegas, and then hopefully connect them with a church back in their home town."
"One pastor said, 'I like the plan, but what about the other fifty-one weeks out of the year?' I told him, a few days in this town can screw up your life and your marriage forever. Vegas wants us to believe that what happens here stays here, but it never does. We may only have contact with people one week a year, but it is a really important week."
Gross and his team go into porn shows, strip shows - anywhere where there's a need for the Gospel, and for Christ. And find there are spiritually hungry people everywhere. And Gross talks about it at churches across the country: 'Yes, but there are still a lot of pastors who are uncomfortable with the subject. Every time I speak at a church, like clockwork, a woman comes up to me crying and says, "Pornography is why I lost my marriage." If I'm a pastor and I know this is happening in my church, why wouldn't I address it? People want to hear about the things they are dealing with. Not to knock sermons about the end times, but porn is killing people in our churches. We've got to talk about it.'
He notes that in one study it was estimated 48% of pastors have struggled with porn. On the XXXchurch site there are over a 100 confessions from pastors who have admitted to problems with it.
He says that while porn is something churches will talk about more, there are still many other addictions that aren't so 'popular' in church circles: food disorders, and cutting. All these things need to be dealt with from the pulpit, because there are people in every congregation who are struggling with these and similar addictions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Church is right outside your window

In an article in The Acorn, Toya Richards Hill writes about a Presbyterian church in Oklahoma that was bemoaning the skateboarders who'd taken over their church grounds. The minister, Karen Rodgers, along with the rest of the church, also bemoaned the fact that there were no youth in the congregation. Rodgers challenged her congregation to start praying for the skateboarders. Up until then the congregation had preferred to put up 'No Skateboarding' signs. She reached out to the youths and invited them in for a bite to eat. There were no takers at first, but gradually the skateboarders came - they were from broken homes, dysfunctional families, and the like - and eventually they started showing up at the youth group as well.
The church still doesn't have a large youth group - an average of 21 turn up - but now there are both skateboarders and non-skateboarders in the mix, including 11 who've been baptised by Rodgers.
And the women in the congregation got money together to help build a skateboard park.

It's a scary world

When you read things like this:
During the debate about the entry of the global seed organization Cargill into India in 1992, a Cargill executive stated, "We bring Indian farmers smart technologies, which prevent bees from usurping the pollen." During the United Nations Biosafety Negotiations, Monsanto circulated literature that claimed that "weeds steal sunshine." A worldview that defines pollination as "theft by bees" and claims that diverse plants "steal" sunshine is one aimed at stealing nature's harvest, by replacing open, pollinated varieties with hybrids and sterile seeds, and destroying biodiverse flora with herbicides.

Vandana Shiva
"Worldview of Abundance"
in Food & Faith

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Men's Group

After my brief comments the other day about What Men Want I need to mention a feature-length movie about men, their needs, their feelings, their emotions (and the inability to express them). Men’s Group takes six men and pulls their lives together through a series of meetings. It’s raw, the language is blunt and down-to-earth (they are Australians, after all) and it’s made a huge impact wherever it’s been shown. Boris Sokratov, of the Out of the Blue depression awareness campaign, wrote: Men’s Group explores dark territory: anger, remorse, fear and regret. In ‘man speak,’ Men’s Group is a story about men talking about stuff: touchy feely emotionally hard stuff. Regrettably many of those who might benefit the most by seeing the movie are unlikely to go near it. On the other hand the more of us who do go the better. Definitely worth a look.
You can see a trailer of the movie here, and the website is here (though it’s a bit thin on information about the film itself). The film has been showing on a limited release around the main centres of New Zealand in May. Hopefully it will soon be available on DVD for all those who aren't in the main centres.

The skeleton and the muscle

Len, on the Next Reformation site notes that Mike Breen essentially says we have two broad groups in the church, with two orientations.

* the traditional and pragmatic prefer the bounded set .. definition, boundaries, clear ways to identify who is in and who is out
* the “emergent” prefer the centered set.. direction, focus, purpose and an emphasis on process over location

Mike raises the body metaphor to compare these two groups and describe why they need each other. The pragmatic are like the skeleton, the emergent are like the muscle.

You can get a skeleton to stand up, but you can’t get it to move.
You can get muscle to move, but it wont’ stand up.

“We need to ask the Spirit of God to bring a great rattling so the bones will stand up, and then to breathe upon those bones so they will live so we will have a mighty army.”

Mike Breen is one of the founders of The Order of Mission - TOM - in Sheffield. To quote (at some length) from their website, this is what they're about:

TOM is a pioneering movement born out of a desire to fully give ourselves to making disciples of Jesus in this fast changing world. We stand in the tradition of the missionary communities of the past who lived as radical, pioneering pilgrims called to influence, serve and shape society and the church in their time: the Celtic monks and nuns who first re-evangelised these nations, the Methodists and the Salvation Army who called a people back to God in their days, the Protestant missionary societies who re-discovered global mission in the nineteenth century.

The Order of Mission is a dispersed community of pioneers, people called to lead and influence within whatever context and culture they live and work: cities and rural areas, developed and developing countries, business, education, arts, health and social care, public and private sector, family and church. We are a people who have committed ourselves to the vows of simplicity, purity and accountability. We take ‘Lifeshapes’ as our rule or pattern of life and seek to journey together, encouraging and challenging each other, as we follow God’s call on our lives.

Click on the link above to find out more about them.

In your face video about suicide

Life: a Message of Hope for a Generation in Despair.

This British-made video (from Wales) is about ten minutes long, and consists of an introduction in which a guy with a shaved head goes full on at the camera telling us that the suicide is one aspect of the approach of the 'thief who comes to destroy', and that Jesus came to 'give us life'. Following this are three young people, all of whom have tried to commit suicide as well as self-harming on several occasions. Their testimonies have an edgy and scary reality, and they don't hold back on what's happened to them. In each case, Jesus has literally been their salvation. The video ends with the first guy inviting people to think about what they've seen and get in touch with them at

It was made in response to a recent spate of youth suicides in South Wales, and stars Ignite's Mark Beacher, Dai Hankey, Richard Stanton and Jess Wilson.

Check it out: it's a great and sobering resource for young people, and may well save lives.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Men Want

According to a survey of 400 readers of the UK magazine for Christian men, Sorted, men who regularly go to church prefer "proper macho songs," and feel uncomfortable with hugging and with sitting in circles discussing their feelings. The majority of men, the survey said, go to church to be intellectually and spiritually challenged. They want strong, motivating messages, and more discussion on family issues and money, two of the most popular topics.

Only a small number - around 8% - said church was too feminine. But at least half don't like dancing in church and even more said embroidery and flowers turn them off. However, around 60% said they enjoyed singing, and were more motivated by proclamation-type hymns than sentimental songs.

Church discussion groups did very little for many men, and a number suggested that the pub would be a much better place for interaction.

So there you go: if you're wondering what's putting men off church, this might be worth checking out!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When they will not come

David Fitch always seems to have some good things to say - whether you agree with them or not. In a recent post he discusses When They Will Not Come, and the whole matter of the attractional/non-attractional church. He also looks at whether you should chase people who visit a couple of times and don't return. Should visitors necessarily feel 'instantly' at home? It's not likely, he says, given that they're coming into a formed community that has history, relationships and a host of other connections. Are welcome teams really an ideal way to greet newcomers/visitors? He talks about the value of the Sunday morning gathering, and the way in which people who come to church eventually have to decide whether they'll make a commitment there. And he talks about hospitality.

It's not a long post, but it's worth a read.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Killing the pastor

Do we only want pastors and teachers? What about evangelists, apostles, prophets? Or are people with these gifts too scary to have in the average church? Won't the evangelists be forever telling us to get out and evangelise? Won't the apostles be demanding we start up a new church every five minutes? Won't the prophets come to church dressed in weird garb and shouting loudly?
Len, on the New Reformation blog, has written:
Alan Roxburgh and others argue that the sola pastora (single pastor) model of church has not only sapped the missional impulse from the church, it has cast many pastors into relative isolation. Roxburgh claims that this model, with its focus on one dominant, usually shepherd-type leader, is “killing pastors,” leading to “terrible discouragement and loneliness, and creating a deep sense of personal failure.”
He goes on to discuss this issue, but I want just to mention that wellness in ministers these days is one of the great plagues of society, far worse than swine-flu, far worse than any pandemic we've supposedly known in recent decades. We have to change. Churches have to take responsibility for leadership, not just leave it all to one over-burdened man.


The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance. Genesis I is a song of praise for God's generosity. It tells how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, "It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good." It declares that God blesses -- that is, endows with vitality -- the plants and the animals and the fish and the birds and humankind. And it pictures the creator as saying, "Be fruitful and multiply." In an orgy of fruitfulness, everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God's creator spirit. And as you know, the creation ends in Sabbath. God is so overrun with fruitfulness that God says, "I've got to take a break from all this. I've got to get out of the office."

Walter Brueggemann
"The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity"
on Religion Online

(I heard Brueggemann speak when he came to Knox Church in Dunedin, a number of years ago. I expected him to be as theological in his preaching as he was in his writing; in fact, he preached a simple but profound message which reached all those who attended.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Being tangible

The Tangible Kingdom is a new(ish) resource from a site called !! The Tangible Kingdom. There's a book which has received quite a few kudos, and you can see a 'remix' version of it here.
I personally didn't find that particularly helpful maybe because I didn't look at it carefully enough, but there's also a video:

The video is slow and quiet, and takes a minute or so to begin to make its point, but it does make its point - by using one neat symbol.

Virtual Church again

Tall Skinny Kiwi blogs on the 5th May about a quote by Yuang Han Kim, who wrote in the book, The Identity of Reformed Theology and Its Ecumenicity in the Twenty-First Century: Reformed Theololgy as Transformational Cultural Theology, Reformed Theology: Identity and Ecumenicity, (it's edited by Wallace M. Alston and Michael Welker, who plainly aren't terribly good with catchy titles).
Kim writes: “Cyber-worship and churches have begun replacing traditional Christian worship and churches. This increasing phenomenon will result in a certain wearing away of the historical institutional churches and worship.”
The problems of the cyber-church are as follows.
First, the cyber-church can never be a spiritual church. It risks the danger that in the electronically mediated virtual world the experience of the holy will become visual and secularized. It also faces the danger that the Word of God pervading the depth of the soul will be changed into the on-screen messages of the electronically reduced multimedia.
Second, the cyber-church is not a real church. It is merely a virtual church, existing only in the electronic network of the Internet.
Third, the cyber-church lacks face-to-face encounter and personal fellowship. Dialogue with a partner on-screen is not the same as dialogue with someone whom one knows personally."
The post brings a lot of comment, and some/many of these are well worth reading. Check them out for a good discussion on virtual church.

Marriage and more

The latest statistics on marriage, civil unions and divorce in New Zealand show a declining rate of divorce, and an increasing number of marriages over the past decade.
And while the marriage rate has retained its demand and relevance, the demand for civil unions has been negligible.
Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ, notes: “The civil unions legislation has proved to be a complete white elephant, despite the claims by the previous government that it would supposedly strengthen human rights and support the choices of apparently 300,000 people who were not married but lived in stable relationships.”
According to Statistics NZ data released today, there have been only 1,646 civil unions registered between April 2005 and March 2009 . These comprised 1,330 same-sex unions (594 male and 736 female) (80%), 312 opposite-sex unions and just four transfers from marriage.

So what are the actual stats for the marriages and divorces - have we reason to celebrate? Here's what NZ Stats says:
  • DIVORCES; The Family Court granted 9,700 divorces in 2008, slightly below the annual average of 10,000 for the last decade. About one-third of New Zealanders who married in 1983 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years).
  • MARRIAGES: There were 21,900 marriages registered in 2008, compared with 21,500 in 2007. The increase was due to more first marriages, up from 14,400 to 14,800. The number of remarriages remained at 7,100, the same as in 2007.
  • MARRIAGE RATE: The general marriage rate (marriages per 1,000 unmarried adults) was 13.7 in 2008, down from 15.6 in 1998. The latest rate is less than one-third of the peak level of 45.5 per 1,000 recorded in 1971.
  • CIVIL UNIONS: There were 327 civil unions in 2008: 256 same-sex unions (111 male and 145 female) and 71 opposite-sex unions. Up to 31 December 2008, eight civil unions had been dissolved.

Mission/Innovative/Monastic/You Name It

A busy week on the National Mission front, with work started on enabling Supervision to become more of a reality for ministers and laypeople around the country. ('Supervision' as in the process where a person goes, about once a month, to discuss their work and life with someone trained to listen and enable them to keep moving forward.)
That's my excuse for not having posted much on this blog this week - it hasn't been for want of trying (!)
Anyway, just 'discovered' Urban Vision. No doubt they'll be happy to learn that they've been discovered after some 13 years (they 'began' in 1996). As they state on their website:
Urban Vision is a group of households and ministries in Wellington, Porirua and the Kapiti Coast who focus on building life-giving relationships with those on the margins of mainstream society, and doing justice in the midst of urban poverty. We’ve come to realise we’re a local expression of a global revolution of hope and transformation, worked out in the neighbourhoods of need we’ve relocated to.
You might consider it a church without walls, but in fact its members belong to a number of different churches and denominations. In the last couple of years however, Urban Vision has taken on a new form:
In 2007, we took the imaginative step of becoming a contemporary Order, following Jesus on the margins. In making this step, we’ve recognised Jesus is doing new things right now in Aotearoa/New Zealand (contemporary), and that we have some things in common with some of the monastic and missionary movements of old, specifically a spiritual rhythm to life (order). We have been students of history and experience: we wanted a durable structure, enabling the continuing vitality of our pioneering, prophetic and Jesus-centred threads.
There's more on their site, as you'd expect, and they're even debating how people outside Wellington can connect with their form of contemporary Order. And they're advertising some opportunities for those who are in Wellington.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

Lacking some resources in the area of religion and science? The Faraday Institute provides resources par excellence!
Just to list the most obvious:
1. Short lectures, articles and commentaries relevant to current issues in science and religion. These are posted under Current Issues and vary from time to time. As of the time of writing, there’s a piece by Nick Spencer on Darwin’s Religious Beliefs, but earlier pieces are available in links.
2. The Faraday Papers: these provide the general reader with accessible and readable introductions to the relationship between science and religion, written by a broad range of authors who are expert in the field.
3. Faraday Lectures: lists up and coming lectures, but also has an archive of earlier ones.
4. The Multimedia page. This archives dozens of papers, talks, discussions, lectures, many of them available as MP3s, or streaming video. Most can be downloaded as videos, and a good number are available as htmls or pdfs. They cover a wide variety of topics from bioethics to cosmology, and others that link religion and science in different ways.
5. A number of news items are archived.
6. Half a dozen research projects are listed and described.
7. Archives of seminars, including news about up and coming ones.
8. The shop sells CDs, DVDs, books and papers.
9. As if you hadn’t had enough, there’s a page of links to other sites of interest.
There now, that should keep you busy on your morning off!