Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holidays & Closures

The National Mission Office is closed for the Christmas Holidays, and Mike Crowl is off for a month. There may be some occasional posts here, but for the most part, he'll be forgetting about work and concentrating on some other things.

Please note that the National Mission Office will close for good on the 1st Feb. However, two of the staff will still be winding down the office in the month of February. It's probable that this blog will continue on an irregular basis after the closure of the office, if time allows. The National Mission ezine will also likely continue.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Losing sight of the view

"Over time, the experts have done for church what postcards and PBS specials have done for the Grand Canyon: they've made it difficult for us to appreciate our own experience apart from theirs. We have lost the ability to see and experience and appreciate ministry for ourselves. All we can see is the disparity between what our churches are and what they are 'supposed' to be."

from "An Unspoiled View" by Brandon O'Brien in the Autumn 2010 issue of Leadership Journal.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gifts that cost....nothing


Yesterday I posted a link to Kim Fabricius' sermon on Christmas. Today I'm offering something far less Christmassy, not at all religious, but still well worth reading - and possibly worth incorporating into your Christmas programme somewhere. (Yes, I know it's getting late in the day for this.)

One of the Harvard Business Review's regular writers is Peter Bregman. I've mentioned him before; he often writes somewhat self-deprecating pieces that have basic good sense and a bit of wisdom. He might tie these pieces into the business world, but they could easily be adapted for many other areas. As can his recent piece called, The Real Point of Gift-Giving.

He writes - after having explained that he's recently celebrated his 43rd birthday - as I emerge from this birthday, I can't imagine feeling any more appreciated, respected, and loved. Because on this particular not-a-big-deal birthday, in addition to those two presents, I received some other gifts — gifts that cost nothing, and that I have come to realize are, actually, a very big deal.

And he goes on to explain why. Check out his reasons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Nappy Christmas

Running short of an idea for your Christmas sermon? Check out Kim Fabricius' example on the Faith and Theology site. You might not want to copy it intact (though you might) but there are plenty of good lines, and plenty of good thoughts in it to give you something to grab hold of. Here's how it finishes:

Christmas: God’s PowerlessPoint presentation, God’s dressing down, God’s self-demonstration that he has no sense of occasion, that God is God in a messy birth (and, later, in a messier death). And there, I think, is the true wonder of Christmas: the miraculous not in some supernatural phenomenon but in the striking ordinariness of the neonatal (and the finally fatal). And there also is the real hope of Christmas: things are not as they seem; and, more, things are not as they have to be, they can be altogether otherwise. Is a new world possible? Absolutely, because a new world came. And because a new world came, a new world is coming.

I particularly liked the line: a God whose idea of a grand entry is a Nappy Christmas, which apparently he pinched from Godfrey Rust.

Missional vs Attractional?


Mike Breen is a writer I came across earlier in the year, and I've just been alerted to a blog post he wrote recently in which he discusses the (mostly positive) reactions of J R Rozko to the book Breen wrote with Alex Absalom [in discussing this review he writes: His review of Alex and I’s book - one of those awful things that slip into blogs because of the speed with which most of them are written - I hope!]

The book is Launching Missional Communities, and in it Breen and Absalom discuss whether attractional and missional need to be at odds with each other. Breen comments in the blog:
There is something inherently attractive about a group of people coming together to worship their Father and King once they’ve been actively engaged in the mission field. In other words, the gathered church, coming in from being scattered, is unbelievably attractive. Why? Because it is the power of the reconciled community.

One of the big discussions in the circles I inhabit seems to have been that attractional is on the way out and missional is definitely in. Breen and Absalom seem to indicate that the two aren't necessarily incompatible. Check out the rest of what he has to say here, and read an excerpt from the book itself here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Revelation

The Revelation took place on a Sunday, the evening of February 28, 1983. The sky was bright and clear that Sabbath night – almost supernaturally clear, as one TV weatherman remarked the following day, with scarcely a cloud in sight anywhere across the vast unbounded skies of the fifty states of America....

So begins Benjamin Myers 'short story', 'The Witness' a recent post on his blog, Faith and Theology.

This is superb and deserves wide reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bit of a rant


Statistics NZ released figures this week showing that the rate of solo parent homes is projected to increase from 31% to 36% over the next 20 years. The media ignored it, and the politicians said nothing...

Here are the details: The number of one-parent families is projected to increase from 219,000 in 2006 to 267,000 in 2031. At the same time, the number of two-parent families is projected to decrease from 480,000 to 467,000.

Okay, there are solo parents who fit in that category through the death of their partner, which will reduces the shock factor of these figures somewhat. There are solo parents who fit in the category through no fault of their own, and who do a remarkable job in the circumstances. And of course there are solo fathers.

The concern are those solo parents who are in that place by choice, especially women who have a range of partners over a succession of years and no stable male figure in the household. Whatever the politically correct brigade may think, having a stable father-figure in a family unit is more than valuable, it's vital.

The statistics relating to boys in particular, (but also to girls), who grow up without a father in the home, don't make good reading: crime, mental health issues, emotional difficulties in relationships and more can frequently be traced back to the lack of a father.

And lest it be said that I'm just talking stats here, my own experience is one of growing up without a father. My parents separated when I was three for reasons I only partly know about - and that was the last time I saw my father. Over the period of my childhood and teenage years, I heard from him only once or twice, and that was almost by accident. In fact, I never knew I had a living father until I was in my early teens.

I lived with my mother, her parents and two uncles. My grandfather, who was a wonderful father figure, died suddenly when I was 8 or 9 (and died in hospital after collapsing at home - I never saw him again after the ambulance took him away and I don't think I was even taken to the funeral). The uncles were too intent on making their own way in the world, and were not much cop for me in the father-figure department.

The missing father eventually left a hole in my emotional life that took years to heal. (One of the most healing aspects was coming to know God as Father.) In my twenties I obsessed about not having got to know my biological father (he died when I was about 18). This left me not only with longstanding regrets on my side that I hadn't tried to contact him, but an underlying anger that he hadn't kept in touch with me - and a sense of betrayal.

My situation was actually one in which it was possible to survive the lack of a father. Many boys are not in a situation that has the positives I was given.

How do we change this here in NZ and elsewhere? We have to keep bringing the issue before the public, have to ignore those who say that fathers don't matter, and, while agreeing that there are abusive fathers and that they certainly do damage, have to keep on saying that good, plain, honest down-to-earth fathers are an absolute necessity for children growing up.

Photo from Flickr.com

Fresh take on the Christmas story

Just before Christmas arrives, check out this great little video of the Christmas story from St Paul’s Anglican Church, in Auckland, New Zealand.



Thanks to Bosco Peter's Liturgy site for making us aware of this.

Organising a retreat/advance


Seth Godin's most recent blog post is provocative enough for me to consider putting it on all the blogs I write. This one for starters....

How to organize a retreat:


He prefers to call it an 'advance' because 'retreat' is too negative. [I won't tell him that I've been saying this for years....] He goes on to say:

There's a tremendous opportunity to create events where people connect. Unfortunately, it's also easy to turn these events into school-like conferences, not the emotional connections that are desired.
You can create an advance with a team that knows one another from work, or even more profoundly, with a bunch of independent thinkers who come together to energize, inspire and connect.

And this is where he really starts to jump in with innovative ideas, none of which I'm going to copy here: instead, go to the blog post and read it thoroughly, particularly if you're planning any kind of advance, whether it's for your leadership team, or your entire church. You'll find something amongst his mix of ideas that'll provoke you to be different.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Domestic violence

Thanks to Jason Goroncy for letting us know about the following:

The heads of churches in South Australia have produced a guide – a ‘field manual’ of basic information – to assist clergy and pastoral workers to respond to domestic violence.

The guide's title is Domestic Violence Handbook for clergy and pastoral workers. It's published by the Joint Churches Domestic Violence Prevention Programme.

The introduction begins: One of the most difficult things for a survivor of violence to do is to find the courage to tell someone they are being abused. If you have been chosen as the one to disclose to, there is a reason that this trust has been placed in you, so trust yourself that you are the most appropriate person for the survivor at this time!

And goes on: We encourage you to seek further training to enhance the skills you already have to deal with pastoral situations where violence is an issue. There are suggestions for further reading listed in the booklet. While domestic violence occurs across all types of relationships, the majority is male to female violence, so for simplicity of wording this booklet uses “she”/ “the women” to refer to the survivor of violence, and “he”/ “the man” to refer to the perpetrator. However, the principles apply regardless of gender, so are relevant to intimate relationships where violence is female to male, male to male, or female to female.

It's available as a download.

Maybe leadership isn't biblical but business-focused..


Following on, as it were, from the last post relating to a leadership conference, David Fitch has this to say in his latest blog post:

There’s been much ranting and raving on the inadequacies of leadership in the church. ....I must admit I recoil whenever I hear people say “Leadership is Biblical.” For a lot of reasons, I find it erroneous to say “leadership is Biblical.” When I say “leadership” I am talking about the way the term has become adopted into the vernacular of evangelical leadership conferences and books.... Last night at our “leadership meeting” (wink wink) I went off on a rant on this very topic (I have since had to repent of said rant – to me repentance is the best way of leading I know).

I posted something on Facebook and a lot of brothers and sisters set me straight. So, after learning much on Facebook (see it’s good for something), I feel like I need to put out there why I think leadership in this mode “is not Biblical,” why we might need to find a new word when we are talking about what leaders do in a church, why if we are ever going to truly “lead” a gathering community into the Kingdom it simply requires a skill quite a bit different than what many in the church have come to describe as “leadership.”

David follows this introduction up with five points....not saying that he's come to a full conclusion on the topic, but at least giving some substantial food for thought...

PS - 20.12.10 (that's the 20th Dec, for you USers): Len Hjalmarson writes more on the leadership concept.

Clevedon Leadership Conference


Thursday 27th Jan to Friday 28th Jan 2011

Join other leaders at Clevedon Presbyterian and get inspired to lead your congregation into an exciting future. Bring your spouse or one or two of your leadership team or come on your own and enjoy the hospitality of sunny South Auckland.

This conference will help you discover how you can take yourself and your leadership and congregation to a new level of ministry to your community.
As we prepare to move our congregation to a new property, we would like to share with you the possibilities your congregation has for the future.

Mark Chapman - Minister
This Year's Speakers Include: The Clevedon Family Ministries Team

The team will teach you how to engage with the non-church community as a Mission Church.

Hear how to cope with stress and why more and more ministers are burning out.
Plus much more...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Different take on leadership?

Bill Kinnon has recently blogged about leadership - obliquely. Early in the post he talks about a video he and his wife Imbi [I think I have that right] are involved in making. In an interview with Chris Wright, Kinnon notes:

One of the questions Imbi asked him was what he thought leadership training needed to look like in the 21st Century. His response hit us both between the eyes.

"I wouldn't start out with training leaders, I'd start out with making disciples."

From that interesting response, Kinnon goes on to quote Scot McKnight, whose pastor is Bill Hybels, a virtual CEO of one of the largest evangelical churches in the States: Willow Creek.

McKnight says:
..I want to put my idea on the line and see where it leads us. We have one leader, and his name is Jesus. I want to bang this home with a quotation from Jesus from Matthew 23, where he seems to be staring at the glow of leadership in the eyes of his disciples, and he does nothing short of deconstructing the glow:

But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Instead of seeing myself as a leader, I see myself as a follower. Instead of plotting how to lead, I plot how to follow Jesus with others. Instead of seeing myself at the helm of some boat—and mine is small compared to many others—I see myself in the boat, with Jesus at the helm.

Changes in marriage

One of the blogs I now read regularly is GetReligion, where several different writers analyze the (mostly American) news reports, looking at how the journalists deal with aspects of faith and religion. Some journalists do very well; many don't have much idea about the faith aspects of their stories and either ignore them, or slide past them, or make a hash of them.

In one of the most recent posts, Mollie [Hemingway, I think] discusses a recent spate of articles on the lack of marriage in middle America and the stability (mostly) of marriage in educated America. (You need to read the piece to understand these classifications.)

She ends her post this way:

There are so many more interesting angles to explore. What does this data mean for houses of worship? How are local congregations dealing with the institutional decline of marriage? How can congregations most help their communities as families struggle around them? What other stories are the mainstream media missing while they devote so many pages and stories to encouraging changes in marriage laws to include same-sex partners?

The first few questions in that paragraph caused me to prick up my (blogging) ears: these are the questions that New Zealand churches should (or must already) be asking too - the increase in the number of children born in de facto marriages here is substantial, and no doubt there are families in some churches in this situation. Twenty/thirty years ago it would have been possible to encourage the parents to get married relatively easily. Now things are considerably more difficult. Should ministers encourage parents to get married? Do the parents see a need to get married?

No doubt there are clergy already dealing with these issues. What are your approaches?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Common Monasticism

Jonny Baker writes in his blog about receiving a copy of a 'brand new fat hardback' called 'Common Prayer - a liturgy for ordinary radicals'. He notes that it has nothing to do with the well-known Book of Common Prayer from 1662 - except of course, that the intention is similar behind the two books.

This book has come out of the new monasticism movement in the USA, and its authors include Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro.

Baker writes: "it's delightful - laying out liturgies and readings for communities or families (or an individual, though it's clearly a book for communal prayer) in the morning, midday and evening along with some songs and occasional prayers and reflections." He points out that the book is laid out in such a way as to give those to whom this daily liturgy approach is very new some explanation as to why the church has certain feast days and periods of time (Lent, Advent) in its year.

It also introduces the reader(s) to saints from across the two millennia, as well as presenting Psalms in everyday (but reasonably formal) language. You can check out three consecutive pages online here in order to get a taste of the Book's flavour.

Monday, December 06, 2010

And another view of Church

The following is a quote from a blog which quotes another blog. The writer is David Fitch, and this is part of a post

It is stunning to me how many many people I encounter in a month who cannot even acquire even a modicum of mind space cleared of societal clutter to meet God. We live in a society where God is being organized out of our life experience (and this is most certainly true of our young people). If we don’t have the means to discipline our lives from societal noise, real living with God, listening and responding to his voice is lost from our horizon. God becomes an item to believe, an obligation to take care alongside the many others. And then, and I am dead serious here, other demons take over our lives. Our loneliness/our emptiness becomes filled by multivarious forms of fake pornographic substitutes. Demons take over. I see it everywhere.

In the midst of this, sometimes the best place (the only place) I can point people to is the gathering on Sunday morning. Go to the gathering. Not to get pumped up and inspired. Not to take some notes on the three things you can do to improve your Christian life. NO! Go to the gathering to shut down from all the noise..

Stringfellow on Church

Jason Goroncy on the blog, Per Crucem ad Lucem, has been posting quite a bit of material from, or relating to, the theologian, William Stringfellow. In fact he may have posted the following, but I've just come across it on another site altogether. It's a view of church that might help how we view our own particular small piece of the Church Universal...

The Church exists for the sake of the world into which God enters and in which He acts and for which He expends His own life. One who is a participant in the Church, one who is incorporated into this Body, one who is baptised into this company has not only the personal freedom to expend his own life without guile or calculation or fear of death – or any more minor prudence – but also, characteristically, he is indifferent to whether or not the churches maintain an amiable reputation in society, or whether or not the churches have much wealth and a sound investment program, or whether or not the churches, or the ecclesiastical authorities, have much political influence. On the contrary, the Christian is suspicious of respectability and moderation and success and popularity. And this is so because the genius of the Christian life, both for a person and for the company of Christians, is the freedom constantly to be engaged in giving up its own life in order to give the world new life. All the questions of status and power and reputation, and all defensive, conservative and self-serving questions about preserving the institutional existence of the churches are matters of some indifference except insofar as they impede the ministry of the Body of Christ, entice men into false religion and a wrong understanding of what the Christian society is, and lure them into misleading notions of what the Christian life is all about.

William Stringfellow
, A Public and Private Faith

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Rose Uchem and missiology


A recent interview on the Sophia Network begins this way:

My name is Rose Uchem and I am from Nigeria.

I am a missionary and a senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where I teach post-graduate and undergraduate courses in Christian Religious Education as well as Comparative and International Education. Before I got my present position in the university, I was involved in the training of missionaries; first with my order (Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary) for seven years and later with a male order, training seminarians (future priests) applying gender-sensitive perspectives at the Spiritan International School of Theology, Attakwu-Enugu for eight years.

I also set up an NGO called IFENDU which addresses issues of women’s human identity and seeks to create the necessary awareness on women‘s assigned subordinate status and to change this to that of equal partnership with men. It has special consultative status with the UN, and in the capacity of executive director of IFENDU, I create awareness on gender, culture and religion through workshops, seminars, conferences at national and international levels

I am currently in Oxford as a ‘Missiologist in Residence’ for a period of three months at the invitation of the Church Mission Society. While in Oxford I will give lectures and seminars with a focus on cross-cutting gender issues in mission both to CMS staff and to other centres for theological programmes.

Read the rest of this intriguing interview on the Sophia website


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

C S Lewis Bible

I'm not sure what part of our self-imposed 'mandate' this particular blog post comes under - maybe 'just plain interesting' - or in this case, 'just plain interesting??'

Harper Collins, who've had a firm publishing grip on the C S Lewis book titles for some time have produced....wait for it....the C S Lewis Bible. It's a combination of the NRSV translation and suitable commentaries extracted from Lewis' writings.

My initial reaction is that C S Lewis might be turning over in his grave, but that might be limiting my view of Lewis. He was surprisingly liberal-minded in some areas.

The first link I picked up on this had comments that claimed it was an April Fool's joke - it must have first been promoted around that date. Nope, it's listed on Amazon.co.uk. and also on Harper Collins own site. You can even see some sample pages.

Maybe it's what I want for Christmas after all....maybe not!

PS I should mention that one of my bete noires in my later days in OC Books was the increasing number of Bible ring-ins....Bibles for Promise Keepers, Bibles for Women Exercisers, Bibles for Teens who could barely read, Bibles for children with cartoon-like drawings that insulted the eye....and so on.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More on curating worship

About a month ago I quoted from Jonny Baker's book, Curating Worship. Looks like this idea is on a roll, as now New Zealander, Mark Pierson, has put out a book with a similar title.

At this point I can't tell you much about it, but Mark has provided some info himself: I have recently had published a book that may be of interest to you, or to those you know who put church worship events together on either a regular basis or in occasional missional and public-space contexts.

Its a very Kiwi perspective on developing a new vocabulary and language for talking about public worship and ways of strengthening our worship whatever the style might be.

The product description on Amazon is a little skimpy, but there is one review on there: Mark Pierson doesn't just talk about what it is to curate worship. This well written and thorough book blends theory, theology, practical advice, ideas, examples and challenges in a very humble and vulnerably honest way.

It is a very personal book, written by a very wise and intuitive man of God. He shares thoughtful stories illuminating the process of creating significant, transformative worship experiences. He asks critical questions. He leaves room for exploration, imagination and reflection.

Mark has written this book the same way he would curate a worship event that allows the participant to encounter and draw into a deeper relationship with God. This book is Christocentric. It is inspiring, encouraging and will have a profound effect on your ministry.

Every church leader, pastor, worship leader/curator, and church member that aspires to participate in an authentic community of Christ should read this book. [The reviewer is Red Livingstone.]

So what is Fresh Expressions?


Fresh Expressions as a concept has been around for a while now, (and came out of the Mission Shaped Church thinking in the UK) but in the last few months it has made an impact amongst Anglicans - and some Presbyterians and others - in New Zealand, particularly in the light of the visit of Graham Cray. I don't think it's the first time Fresh Expressions has appeared on the radar here, but I haven't got anything to hand to back that idea up, and there are elements of Fresh Expressions that are similar to Messy Church, another British import, which has been functioning in NZ for quite some time in various forms.

Anyway for those who are still catching up on what Fresh Expressions is, and who would like to read a bit of good thinking about it, check out Mark Johnston's recent blog post on the subject: What is Fresh Expressions and what might we learn from it?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Male & Female He made them

The World Council of Churches in partnership with the World Communion of Reformed Churches has just produced a book - it can downloaded as a pdf- called Created in God's Image: from hegemony to partnership.

The subtitle is: A Church Manual on Men as Partners: Promoting Positive Masculinities. It's edited by Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth and Philip Vinod Peacock, and a wide range of writers from around the world have contributed to it. The book has a number of suggestions as to how it might/should be used at the beginning and is laid out in short sections suitable for housegroup study or for other small groups to work on.

Here's the introduction:

In the creation account of the very first chapter in the Bible, the emphasis laid on God creating humanity as male and female in God’s Image is very significant. However, throughout history,cultural and other social factors have led even believers to think and act in ways inconsistent with this basic truth of both male and female being created in the Image of God. In so doing, such people have yielded to values that seem to glorify gender injustice. Men in many cultures have adopted hegemonic attitudes and ways of life and have oppressed women, and far too often they justify such behaviour either by reference to Bible passages or church doctrines.

A rereading of the word of God, acknowledging that human beings (male and female) are
created in the Image of God, demands that we act differently. Such an acknowledgement is inconsistent with any way of life which makes a man a kind of demigod” over women. If men have been culturally and socially conditioned to having a hegemonic self- understanding, our coming to faith in Christ calls us to begin putting off this “burden” and to begin to learn ways in which God calls men and women to partnership, in living in community as well as in engagement in God’s mission.

This is what this book is about. The book is a result of men and women of God reading the word of God and daring to ask critical questions about how we can be more faithful to God in how women and men relate. The book has been developed with sensitivity to invite men into dialogue and critical examination of what it means to be a man in today’s society. It is neither confrontational nor prescriptive, but takes into consideration that gender analysis needs to be contextual and must be done with gender justice perspectives. While some men who see their identity in the “macho” cultural construct may find the contents of this book challenging, many faithful Christians who are ready to be faithful to the Word of God will find this book resourceful and will see it as a valuable instrument that will strengthen their faith as they commit to the vision of partnership reflected in God’s intention for women and men.

The sign in the picture comes from the psdgraphics site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Youth Groups Good/Bad?


David Fitch writes in a recent blog post:

I was quoted in the recent book Hipster Christianity as saying these words “Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives.” Putting aside the issues I have with the book itself, I admit I was quoted accurately by the book’s author Brett McCracken. I often use the pedagogical tactic that starts out by saying something provocative and then, after I’ve gotten myself into some trouble, and acquired some people’s attention, I try to explain myself. It’s a bad rhetorical habit. Nonetheless, it works. This time it seems to have attracted some attention so let me take advantage of it and explain what I meant.

Fitch goes on to point out three particular issues he has with youth groups (not with working with youth):

1. Youth Groups foster peer orientation
2. Youth Groups undercut holistic community (he's written 'wholistic' but I think he means what I've spelled.)
3. Youth Groups too often try to attract youth, playing to their worst interests.

Fitch is always provocative, as he says, but he usually has a good reason to be so. Check this post out and see what your thoughts are.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Resources for Youth workers


There's a post on the Sophia Network (written, I think, by Jonny Baker - nope, by Jenny Baker [see the comment below]) which begins: Had a fantastic weekend at Youthwork the Conference where the theme was surrender. It was great to have lots of time to linger and talk to people over the weekend, after sessions and in coffee breaks. And wonderful to see so many gifted women contributing to the programme - Danielle Strickland, Rachel Gardner, Vicky Beeching, Abby Guinness, Helen Millward among others.

Hmm, that's interesting, you say....NOT! But wait, there's more. In the rest of the post 'Jonny' provides various resources for youth on such issues as:


Eating Disorders
Rites of passage for boys (based on the life of Jesus) and some contact names regarding ministering to boys.
Toxic relationships between boys and girls
Body image.


All of these have an underlying mission focus, and are worth following up on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Out of place?

Many churches focus on family, family, family. Which means that couples (married couples, of course) are the prime base for everything that goes on.

Which leaves the singles out. Single men barely exist in churches - they're regarded as a bit strange, and possibly to be avoided. Marry them off quickly if you can.

As for single women. Hmmm. How do they fit in? Awkward phrases like 'left on the shelf' still linger in the 21st century air. Well, at least they're good for teaching Sunday School: safe, (safer than the men - they're positively dangerous in Sunday School, and even if they're safe they have a tendency to make the kids hyper).

You may disagree and say all this is generalization. Of course it is, but there's a hint of truth in it. And what started me thinking about it, in part, was an article in The Guardian: Another Year, same old witch-hunt. Another Year is the name of the latest Mike Leigh movie, which features a married couple and a single woman, and the article reviews the movie in part.

But what is more interesting about the article is its focus on single women, in which it states that half of women under 35 live alone. Now, this is an English stat, and I'm not sure that I'd take it as gospel (considering its source); nevertheless it indicates that there is an issue, and things may be similar here in New Zealand.

To quote: One survey found that half of its sample [of married couples] never had single women as visitors, and 19% knew no single women at all. Casual disregard for this social group goes unremarked. Our prime minister insists that marriage must be prioritised and rewarded. The last government repeatedly identified "hard-working families" as its abiding concern. In a world centred on cosily coupled units, leftover women labour under an enduring disadvantage. When they're not ignored completely, they're expected to provide tireless but unrecompensed support for people who matter more than them, as babysitters, carers or shoulders to cry on.

Note that the Government regards married couples as their prime focus too.

So what's the point of this post? Single women in our churches: how do they find a 'place' - they find a place? Or is there such an emphasis in every respect on couples that single people feel out of place?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

African context


William Black, who is an American lecturer teaching at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology , writes as part of a recent blog post, quoting Joseph Healey [pictured at right], a Maryknoll priest, narrative theologian and expert in African proverbs:

[African] contextual theologizing does not go over well with many in North America in particular (Europeans, he said, seem to do a better job of comprehending the theological scene in Africa). ‘They just don’t get it,’ he said. Many seem to equate their theology with the truth. Contextualization for them means simply translating their right theology into the language of the unreached, or the theologically uneducated. We seem to think if we can transfer our understanding of salvation, and our understanding of discipleship, and our understanding of missions, and our understanding of church into this new context, then we have brought the gospel to these people.

and

We think our inherited systems are the best, even the only theology. But in doing so we miss the point. Theology is not about engaging with ideas and who can build the best scaffolding (assuming that theology even at its best is not the reality). Theology is what God the Son did – it’s incarnational. Theology is God becoming accessible. For those human societies that do systems, then theological systems will undoubtedly work really well for them, so long as it is remembered that the system itself is not God (otherwise it becomes an idol). But for the vast majority of the world’s societies, where system and Enlightenment structures and organization are not valued and irrelevant, theology must take a different form. The goal of theology, of course, remains the same – to facilitate our knowing God the Holy Trinity and loving him with all our heart and loving our neighbor. But how the Spirit calls that reality out of us may be very different from context to context.

Anyway, given the condition of Western Christianity, one wonders why anyone would want to export their issues to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t seem to be a thought that troubles anybody, except of course the rest of the world.

Re Mission

Paul Fromont muses on the Prodigal Kiwi blog:

If the church according to St. Paul is the "new creation"; if Lesslie Newbigin has emphatically said, “the Church is the hermeneutic of the Gospel ” and as Andrew [Perriman] writes, “The church is the medium of its message”, what is the actual on-the-ground message that the church in the West largely conveys? Or, perhaps more to the point, what are the messages (pl) the church (and churches) conveys, and to what degree are these both hermeneutically and credibly aligned to the gospel and yet also critiqued and challenged by God’s “good news” embodied and enacted in Jesus of Nazareth, by means of the filling of the Spirit…? And, for that matter, is it actually possible for the church to get out of the way of the unfolding drama of God’s purposes for all of creation?

And while we're mentioning Andrew Perriman, here's some notes about his 2007 book (which I've only just caught up on - it came out in the interim between my leaving OC Books and arriving at National Mission)

Re:Mission: Biblical Mission for a Post-Biblical Church was published by Paternoster in their ‘Faith in an Emerging Culture’ series. The book builds on the argument of The Coming of the Son of Man but broadens the scope of its historical-realist narrative to embrace an understanding of ‘mission’ that arises out of the summons to Abraham to be the progenitor of a creational microcosm, a world-within-a-world, an authentic humanity.

The green-tinged picture of an escalator on the cover alludes to Jesus’ suggestive remark to Nathanael about the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. To Perriman’s mind it is an image that captures marvellously the intersection of the Bible’s two defining narratives: one about the vocation of a people to recover the original blessing as God’s new creation amid the nations and cultures of the world; the other about the rescue of that people through the suffering and vindication of the Son of man and the community that associates itself with him during a period of eschatological crisis. It is out of that clash of stories that we must fashion a sense of identity and purpose for the post-Christendom era.

Mission List

Andrew Jones (Tall Skinny Kiwi) writes in a recent blog post:

The challenge of missions and how we are responding has radically changed. There is a greater need for storying the gospel, utilizing the new media, recognizing the next generation is doing things differently, understanding world religions, appreciating the holistic nature of the task at hand and providing some holistic metrics for measuring our progress that go beyond bums on a pew or churches in a network.

One of the biggest changes we have experienced is the need for a more streamlined way of doing mission overseas with less wastage - that means a focus on social enterprise, micro-business and a sacrificial lifestyle that is more sustainable and more incarnational among the people.

As you'll note from the second paragraph, he appears to be talking about 'overseas' mission. However the first paragraph in particular is very pertinent to local mission as much as overseas. Here are the various points again, in list form:

Storying the Gospel
Utilizing new media
Recognizing the next generation is doing things differently
Understanding world religions
Appreciating the holistic nature of the task
Providing holistic measures for measuring progress beyond bums on seats

That should be enough of a task to get on with for today....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interpreting Scripture


Skye Jethani has provided a list called the Ten Commandments of Scripture Interpretation.

I realise, of course, that in putting this list on a blog aimed primarily at Presbyterians, who are wise in the Word and don't need warnings about the way they interpret Scripture, that I'm preaching to the converted, as it were.

So, for all those people who read this blog who aren't Presbyterians, (those loose-theology Baptists, and wildly-wacky Pentecostals, and tradition-focused Catholics, as well as all the others - I speak with tongue in cheek, in case you didn't notice), I'm putting this list on here for your information.

You may not agree entirely with Jethani's list (one commentator rightly points out that there may be a contradiction between commandments two and four), but I think it has some good reminders for anyone who has to stand up and preach.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twixtmas

In New Zealand, the period between Christmas and New Year is usually a time to catch your breath after a long year, and begin to look forward to the holidays you're just beginning. (I generalise, of course, but this is the norm for many people.)

Andy Wood has a different take on this period, which he's calling Twixtmas. He sees as a time in which it's possible to do some good, reach out to others, make a bit of a difference in the world.

Check out his 'five days to change the world' page to see what he's on about.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More on fundraising


A couple of days ago I mentioned fundraising in this blog , and this morning I've come across a blog post from a site called the Non-Profit Fundraising Blog, in which there's a very down to earth post by Amy Karjala which emphasises the importance of doing things properly and well when you're applying for funding.

Amy calls her post: Grant writing - no magic required, and points out five areas in which applicants will do better, if they're prepared to listen to what she says.

The first is: Follow the Rules. And the last of the five is also, Follow the Rules. As she says, she can't emphasize this enough. Trying to get around the rules just doesn't work - the people who check your application will toss out the ones that don't fit the criteria long before they get to the decision-makers.

She also notes that you need to persuade the readers of your application that the 'Why' of what you're doing is important, not just the 'How'. "I’ve reviewed hundreds of proposals and the best ones have been the ones who present their organizations the way funders see them – as one implement in a toolkit of approaches to addressing a broader cause."

Don't go for grant money if it really doesn't fit what you're doing. The money may become more of a burden than a blessing. And her fourth point is that it's good to remember that the people who read your application are human too - they're not robots; they can be communicated with and your cause can be discussed with them.

There are other good posts on this site, from a variety of writers. Worth checking out if you're planning on applying for money.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

An ex-bookseller dares to speak...

As a Baptist who works with a bunch of people who adhere in their own Presbyterian way to the Reformed tradition (indeed, the catchphrase of the last Moderator was 'Reformed and Reforming') I sometimes have to help them see beyond their Reformed borders. (As, no doubt, they try to help me see beyond my Catholic/Pentecostal/Baptist borders.)

Which is why I'm linking to a piece David Fitch has done on the Out of Ur blog in which he asks, Is the New Calvinism really New Fundamentalism? He makes a good case as having some serious concerns that it may be, and indeed even in New Zealand I've heard the occasional piping Presbyterian voice talking about the 'essence of Presbyterianism' with the kind of (dare I say it) smug tone indicating that Presbyterians (Reformed) have pretty much got it right and most others have got it wrong. Whatever 'it' actually is.

Shoot me down as a hybrid Catholic/Pentecostal/Baptist-ex-Christian bookseller who's been exposed to far to many different Christian viewpoints. That's fine. At least David Fitch appears to making sense.....

Conferences and fundraising

I've been at the Practical/Pastoral Theology Conference here in Dunedin for most of the last couple of days; hence the lack of posts on this blog. Plus, last Friday I was out of the office for yet another reason for most of the day. It all cuts into my blogging time!

There'll be another Conference here in Dunedin in November of 2011; that may not please North Islanders...but hey! we have to have some events in this part of the world. And anyway, the weather has been absolutely glorious over the last few days, and lunchtimes, and tea breaks were spent basking in the sunshine while discussing erudite matters (and in my case, not so erudite).

All that by way of introduction to another conference that's taking place in the next couple of weeks, in four North Island towns/cities. (And also in response to the Working Well survey in which the majority of those replying said they wanted future conferences to be held in Auckland. Doesn't Auckland get enough stuff already?)

Brett Knowles in Napier suggested that the Ask Without Fear conference might be worth a look. It's about fundraising, and ways to do, and is being run by Marc A. Pitman, the author of a book with the same name as the conference. (You can read or skim the book online, if you're of a mind, at Google.)

Churches are always in need of more cash than they seem to have, and often, to their surprise, there are people out there just waiting to be asked to donate (not necessarily your church members, who probably already give readily) but people who you may not think of in connection with your church. I've seen this happen, to the tune of NZ$500,000, just in the last couple of years. It is possible.

Here's a link to the group that's running the conferences in NZ. Exult: practical resources for community groups.

Faith from different angles

Just for a bit of a laugh check out Steve Martin's 'Atheists don't have no songs' video. (Incidentally, his movie, Leap of Faith, from 1992, still stands as a surprisingly good 'discussion' about faith, real and fake.)

On another tack, I received an email from Rowland Croucher yesterday in which he explains how an introvert (like him) uses Facebook. If you're not already a Facebook user, you won't be able to access his page - and you may not want to - but he provides some examples of ways in which he's started discussions recently, all of which have got people thinking about faith, and the spiritual dimension of life. It's another positive way of using what some people think of as useless Internet flotsam and jetsam. Here's the list:

* What does one say to a sad-looking lady, who obviously has some mental health issues, who stops you in a shopping mall and asks: 'Excuse me, can I ask you a question? Is there anything wrong with my face?' (She was 'wall-eyed', and she would not have won a 'beauty contest', but... ')??? Two key responses: 'Why not ask why's she's asking?' And: 'Were you looking at her to prompt the question?' (Answer: no: the pedestrian traffic was fairly heavy!).

* If you were to put a brief 'Statement of Faith' together, what would it look like? Here's one I wrote about 20-30 years ago. Should I update it? (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/topics/missions_evangelism?p=8057). Most people picked up on the women/men in leadership section!

* When/what was the last verifiable miracle you witnessed? Then a link to an article about 'Weird Christians' here - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/25441.htm . One response: 'I prayed over a couple in our Church in 1998 who just been told by doctors that they could not have children because of the man having a non-existent sperm count. She fell pregnant within two months and they have three children now. He went for a sperm count check after the first child was born and it still registered zero.'

* Addiction: “Just 'cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town.” “You do anything long enough to escape the habit of living until the escape becomes the habit.” “Why is it drug addicts and computer aficionados are both called users?” One response: 'I have a theory that someone who is addicted to self harm is doing it so they can feel. There is a real sense that they are emotionally numbed to the internal pain, there is a need for an external pain source to allow them to feel...'

* (WWJW - What Would Jesus Wear?) - A man has been kicked out of a church in the US - for dressing like Jesus. Neil Thompson dresses up like Jesus and goes to a new church every week. But when he got to St Paul's Church in St Louis, Missouri, police were called and he was asked to leave. Response: 'Obviously Jesus wasn't up on security plans when in the garden of Gethsemane. He was such easy prey to the mob and rejected the offer of a sword. We are so paranoid. Jesus deliver us from our preoccupation with our own safety rather than loving the outside even if he does prove to be our enemy and a threat to our lives. "He who tries to save his life will lose it".'

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Keeping the Sabbath


Vineyard USA puts out a magazine on church planting called Cutting Edge that I haven't come across before - it's available online. In volume 14 no 3 (which is undated but by the looks of some of the content came out some time before October this year) the focus is on being bi-vocational, that is, having a job that keeps the food on the table at the same time as you're trying to establish a church.

This may not be something many NZ pastors experience (but I could well be wrong) but the articles on this topic are very interesting. However there's another focus in these articles, particularly the first two, and that's the point that in order to survive two jobs you actually need to keep taking Sabbath rests.
Peter Scazzaro (author of The Emotionally Healthy Church) discusses emotional health and bi-vocationalism, and has important things to say about giving priority to cultivating your relationship with Jesus, placing your wife and family before the church, and keeping your own emotional health healthy by having times of rest and change. He warns people that to practice bi-vocationalism any other way is cultivating peril. He also has some interesting things to say about the idolatry of 'success' that can arise in church planting.

There's also an interview with Marva Dawn, who's been a great promoter of Sabbath rest for many years. She says: Pastors often say to me, “I can’t keep the Sabbath; I’m much too busy.” And I respond, “Then you’ll really want to keep the Sabbath, because you’re much too busy.” Sabbath is a great cure for busyness. To take that day enables us to reorient all of our time. Furthermore, in practicing Sabbath, we rethink how we spend our time so that we use it the best and most wisely.

She notes how when she was doing her PhD she was expected to read 350 books in seven months, and discovered that it was still healthier to take a Sabbath than try and work through every day of the week in order to keep up.

There are three or four other interviews on church planting from various aspects, all of them equally worth reading.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Today video on children

There's a fun and snappy 4 minute video on a site called max7.org which can be used as a tool to inspire leaders, churches and ministries with the story of what God is doing across the world, specifically in relation to children. I can't download the video to this blog (at least as far as I can figure out) so you'll need to go to the site to watch it or download it yourself.

You could use it as part of a training presentation, in your church or at a missions conference. Though it's simply done, it's designed to think about the big picture of children in the Bible and across the world, without shying away from the challenges that children are facing.

Max7 resources have been freely donated for people's use so the video can be used widely (as long as it's not sold).


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Decreasing....

I prefer normally not to reprint entire blog posts from elsewhere, as that seems to be leaning towards copyright invasion. However this post by Bill Kinnon is so short that in this case I'll make an exception:

Why Aren't Big Name Christian Leaders Decreasing?

John the Baptizer, said this about Jesus in light of John's own "ministry",

He must become greater; I must become less. [John 3:30 NIV]

What would it be like if the cycle of ministry was for those who rise in prominence to disappear into the worshiping body as Jesus is exalted? Decreasing while Jesus increases.

Rather than building ever increasing platforms capable of supporting their egos ministries.

I'm just asking.

Monday, November 01, 2010

On the Cost and Grace of Parish ministry - Jason Goroncy


As of today, Jason Goroncy from Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership has just posted the 14th episode in an ongoing series called, On the Cost and Grace of Parish Ministry.

I've been keeping up with these since they began, but wasn't sure how many were to come, so haven't notified the readers of this blog until now. This is a superb series of articles on all manner of things related to the series title: today's focuses on suffering, and in spite of its length (it ran out to 14 pages as a word document, including the pictures) is worth sitting down and reading carefully.

At the bottom of the latest post are links to all the other posts. Take an hour or so out of your time and read these.

British versus American faith


Stanley Hauerwas wrote in The Guardian:

I am not convinced that the US is more religious than Britain. Even if more people go to church in America, I think the US is a much more secular country than Britain. In Britain, when someone says they do not believe in God, they stop going to church. In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation.

and....

Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing, Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.

See the full article here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bullying and Religion

The GetReligion site is one I've only recently hooked up with; they analyse news reports that have a religious content, and see whether the reporters are really doing their job when it comes to the religious aspect. Their goal is to improve the state of religious reporting, whether it be from secular or religious sources.

Recently there was an article about bullying in schools (American schools, but I suspect some of the issues may be relevant to New Zealand). The analysis is interesting not only in its attempt to get at the facts, but also in terms of just how vast a problem bullying now is, along with it being one of the reasons why a number of students commit suicide.

We've looked at bullying and suicides on a number of occasions in this blog because they impinge on the areas of concern we have as bloggists. The blog post Bobby Ross Jr on the GetReligion site has posted is entitled 'Bullying Gays in God's Name', so it extends the concerns still wider.

At the end of the piece, Ross echoes a question another reporter asks: How do parents and schools protect vulnerable kids without turning schools into a battleground for the culture wars? It's a question we need to keep asking here in New Zealand.