Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wake-up call in mission

Engagement 21 - A Wake-up Call to the 21st Century Church in Mission, by Bishop Richard Randerson

Engagement 21 challenges the Church to radically review its mission strategy if it seeks to gain traction in today’s world. A mission-focused theology, a deeper understanding of modern society and more effective skills in ministry are central to the task. Based on a survey of 96 clergy and laity in New Zealand and Australia, Engagement 21 reports a widespread grass-roots desire for change. But it also documents 126 creative ministry projects that are signs of a new mission paradigm. Designed for individual or group reading, the book is priced to facilitate local study and mission planning.

Topics include:
• Statistics of church participation rates 1945-2006
• Results of the mission survey with 16 graphs documenting the extent of theological and ministry training, perceptions of parish ministries, chaplaincies and lay vocation, and attitudes re the need for new models of ministry and less institutional focus
• A three-part Biblical study on mission based on the redemption of all Creation
• 126 innovative ministry projects that span the range from spirituality, worship and theological education to community outreach, social justice and environmental stewardship
• Foreword by Bishop Philip Richardson.
Bishop Tom writes:
I warmly commend Bishop Richard Randerson’s book - “Engagement 21”, which is a newly published research work looking at our mission in the community across the country. A number of projects from this diocese feature but taken as a whole it is a comprehensive review of where we are at and is a resource we will all benefit from.

Available either: or telephone 0800 833 477, or direct from the author: – 064 4 976 6050, or from Epworth Books. [These are all New Zealand telephone numbers.]
Prices vary slightly depending on where you order it from.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Sold My Soul on eBay – viewing faith through an atheist’s eyes

Hemant Mehta became a self-proclaimed atheist at the age of fourteen, after rejecting his family’s belief in Jainism, an ancient Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Focusing on reason, he decided that he could be just as moral as the next man in spite of having no belief in God, or gods.

Nevertheless, Mehta has remained a man who thinks a good deal about religion and spirituality. Still only in his twenties, he continues to think seriously about truth.

In 2006 he hit upon a novel way of testing out religious belief. He offered himself as a prize on eBay: he would visit any church, temple, mosque or other religious building for an hour each week for every $10 he received in his auction. To his surprise he became something of a celebrity, and his auction finally closed at just over $500.

The person who ‘bought’ Mehta, Jim Henderson, was a Christian minister who suggested that rather than go to the same church every Sunday for the next year, he could go as a kind of ‘secret shopper’ to some 15 churches in the surrounding region. He would fill out a report and write about his visits on Henderson’s website.

Henderson wasn’t out to convert Mehta; in fact, he often paid people to visit his own church to see how, from an outsider’s point of view, things could be improved for those curious enough to attend. Mehta went to small, large and mega churches. He was invited to spend one weekend discussing his point of view with another minister in a large evangelical church. And ultimately he wrote this book which is published by a Christian publishing house.

Unlike many of the ‘new atheists’ who write vitriolic diatribes against Christianity, Mehta is fair: critical where necessary, praising frequently. He puzzles over Christians who come to church late seemingly in order to miss the music; he expresses hurt that many Christians have a them/us mentality; he sees many rituals as pointless mostly because those doing them don’t seem to have any heart for them; he finds it strange that there doesn’t seem to be a way of asking questions after the service in order to clarify issues.

He meets more than a few ministers who impress him greatly with their preaching, or in face-to-face encounters.

Throughout he maintains an evenness of tone, carefully avoiding mention of the darker side of atheism (the Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris school, for example); the innumerable atheist blogs that mock Christianity; the secularist and often amoral attitude that prevails in many countries (perhaps not so much in North America). He’s an atheist with good morals, a sense of social justice, and a concern for those worse off than he is. But by promoting reason and science as his guiding lights, he downplays the possibilities of faith.

The section of the book that I found most interesting is where he discusses in some detail his visits to the various churches. His insight in these chapters is clear and sharp. In other parts of the book there’s an occasional naiveté not so much about what he’s seen, but about life in general. It’s a young man’s book; it would be interesting to see how he viewed some things in another decade or two. He blogs at
Published by Waterbrook Press 2007 NZ price $27.99

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


From George Barna's research: One out of every three children born in the United States each year is born to an unmarried woman.

In a report entitled, How Externally Focused Churches Minister to Children, there's a section about Omar Reyes (pictured), Community Development Director at NorthWood Church, Keller, TX ;

Omar believes a majority of children aren’t dancing because they lack an important part of God’s design for families: fathers. “Statistics show that most social ills can be traced back to fatherlessness,” says Omar. According to the National Center for Fathering, when fathers are absent, children suffer. Fatherlessness is linked to poverty, high school dropout rates, crime, adolescent drug use and teenage pregnancy. These problems have become systemic as one generation experiences and then passes on the legacy of fatherlessness.

Armed with that information and through studying the Bible, Omar says he began to understand the problem of fatherlessness as a spiritual need as well as a social problem. He learned part of this lesson while preaching in a Belize prison to young black men. “I was preaching to them about the father God and the love of the father. God just stopped me there in the middle of my talk and helped me realize that they did not understand what I was saying about fathers. They did not connect with the message because they did not understand what a father is.” Instead of continuing to preach, Omar asked the young men how many of them knew their fathers and how many had bad experiences with their fathers? “Ninety-five percent raised their hands to bad experiences,” he says.

Omar began to wonder how God can reveal himself when children aren’t exposed to positive
fathering. “What God showed me is that he wants us (Christians) to express the heart of the father to kids.” How can the church take on that kind of role and responsibility? Omar believes it begins very simply. “How do my own kids know that I am their dad? I feed them; I clothe them; I take care of them. The physical aspect of this is very important. I realized that as we provide for the physical need of children, they understand God as father. That will impact them forever,” he says.

Barna agrees. He writes, “Fostering spiritual transformation demands that we do our best to eliminate some of the emotional and behavioral obstacles to growth. If children are consumed by fears and worries regarding safety and capacity, little growth can occur.”

Pauline Stewart on creative kids

The following is extracted from the latest Love Your Neighbour ezine,
Pauline Stewart, minister at St Heliers Bay Presbyterian Church and Community Centre said this in an interview some months ago: “Most of childhood should be joyful preparation for adulthood, but instead we entertain them to the point where they are almost throwing up. Kids really just want to be a part of making something significant happen. Jesus never entertained anyone.”

By giving children opportunities to serve others and through modeling it ourselves, we ensure that others-focused ministry will not just be a wave that passes, but a sustainable movement. When we fail to do so, in the words of George Barna “each generation feels it is re-inventing Christianity”.

Checking back on the interview mentioned above, it's worth quoting a couple of other things Stewart said.

“Lots of programmes let you be creative, but our aim is to help kids produce something of value. Rather than encourage creativity in a vacuum, Stan and I say 'let your ideas explode; but we will help you turn those ideas into something.'


My philosophy is, the church should empty itself in preparing people for the world. We should be preparing people to be the best politicians and the best leaders of this country. Sometimes we think 'I've got to run these programmes so that I can fill up the church' – but you actually have to run these programmes to fill up the world, and then the church looks after itself. I'm totally committed to that journey. I am constantly looking at children to see what they are good at, and I will say to the parent 'he is good at that, you should encourage him'. “

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Your Church is Too Small

Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, by John H Armstrong.

In Your Church Is Too Small, John Armstrong presents a vision of the unity possible for Christians across social, cultural, racial, and denominational lines. When Jesus' followers seek unity through participation in the kingdom of God and the mission of Christ, they demonstrate God's character to a watching world.

'With attention to his own pilgrimage and growth in ecclesial awareness, John Armstrong explores here the evangelical heart and ecumenical breadth of churchly Christianity. I am encouraged by his explorations and commend this study to all believers who pray and labour for the unity for which our Saviour prayed.' -- Timothy George.

For more detailed reviews, check out the entry for this book.
Published March 2010, Zondervan.

Stepping out of the Shadows

I've realised that lately I've been missing adding books to this blog - they've been going in the monthly ezine (contact me on to opt into this ezine) but not always here. So I'm making amends.

Stepping out of the shadows: Insight into self-stigma and madness, Edited by Dr Debbie Peterson and Sarah Gordon.
Contributors: Dr Debbie Peterson, Mary O'Hagan, Sarah Gordon, Dr Lynne Pere, Anne Helm, Vito Nonumalo, Dr Dean Manley, Ivan Yeo, Sarah O'Connor, Dennis Duerr, Niki Smith, Ruth Jackson and Alex Barnes.

This is a book of articles, essays and personal accounts about the effects of the self-stigma associated with mental illness. It is a moving collection of personal viewpoints and insights interspersed with research findings and linkages on the topic of self-stigma and madness. Of particular note is the Discrimination Intervention Model as presented by Dr Debbie Peterson and Alex Barnes for the first time on a world stage.

Sometimes it is difficult to read - not in being too wordy or academic, but in the way that some of the stories reflect very personal instances of tremendous physical, mental, psychological and spiritual anguish associated with self-stigma and madness. The articles written by Dr Lynne Pere, Vito Nonumalo and Ivan Yeo, offer for the first time material from tangata whaiora/ people with lived experience who are not from the dominant culture in this country. There is also highlighted focus on cultural realities, constructs and perspectives on this kaupapa of the indigenous people of Aotearoa, Pacific/ Samoan and Chinese/ Malaysian people in an in-depth way.

Published by CASE Consulting Ltd 2009. Available direct from Mental Health Organisation NZ (doesn’t appear to be available in general NZ bookshops).

Deep Church

Deep Church: a third way beyond emerging and traditional, by Jim Belcher.

Passionately, articulately and with sometimes winsome self-confidence, Belcher seeks to chart a third way between the often divided factions within the traditional and emerging wings of American evangelicalism. The author, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., asserts that it is possible to forge a new ecumenism and unity based in creedal orthodoxy, while also respecting the particularities of denominations and faith communities.

After defining what impels the emerging church movement, he analyzes the seven protests levelled by the movement against traditional churches within the evangelical movement, from being too caught up in the rationalism of the Enlightenment, to overemphasizing doctrinal purity and an unwillingness to engage modern culture. Following that, he responds to each critique with an alternative solution that blends both reform and tradition to create a new body of Christian gospel–centred believers. A caveat: readers who think that mainline Protestantism has anything to contribute to this dialogue will not find any encouragement.

Focused on the internal struggle within the American Christian evangelical wing, Belcher barely mentions this other flank of Christianity. [This last comment – the review is from Publishers’ Weekly - doesn’t necessarily seem to be borne out by those who provide reviews on the page for this book. ]
Published by IVP Sept 2009

Out of the blue

I can't resist passing on this video that Bosco Peters posted on his site. It's worth reading his pseudo-serious commentary on this 'liturgical form' as well.

What's intriguing about this is that the church seems perfectly 'normal' one minute - blokes in suits and ties and jackets - and then goes into explosion mode the next. What brings on that sudden move of the Spirit? It'd be great to see this in some churches in New Zealand - none of the Pentecostal meetings I've ever been to were quite this hilarious (hilarious in the best sense of the word).

And I love the way the singer carries on singing, with laughter in his voice - and the bloke dives into the baptismal pool.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Congregational Websites

A an increasingly strategic tool for congregational communication. One of my sons, who is 30, calls websites “our new front door,” and he says most people in his generation would never consider visiting a place they haven’t read about online. Money spent on website design and maintenance is well spent.

From Lynne Baab - in an article called Electronic Communication and Congregations in the Presbyterian Candour magazine (unfortunately I can't link to it!) Lynne recently finished writing a book on friendship in the Facebook age.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Working harder, faster

The following paragraphs are from an article by Tony Schwartz, entitled, The Productivity Myth

Americans already put in more hours than workers in any country in the world - and that doesn't include the uncounted shadow work that technology makes possible after the regular workday ends.
Here's the bigger point. Just as you'll eventually go broke if you make constant withdrawals from your bank account without offsetting deposits, you will also ultimately burn yourself out if you spend too much energy too continuously at work without sufficient renewal.
Getting more tasks accomplished — say writing and responding to scores of emails in between other activities — may technically represent higher productivity, but it doesn't necessarily mean adding greater value.
Instead, the ethic of more, bigger, faster ultimately generates value that is narrow, shallow and short-term.
When you're running as fast as you can, what you sacrifice is attention to detail, and time to step back, reflect on the big picture, and truly think strategically and long-term.

A lot of what he says applies to.....ministers (!) Yes, there is a need to be available to your congregation, but if you're tired out, lacking concentration and in general working well under par, you may not be much good to them.

It's interesting to read some of the comments to this article - the work ethic is so strong in the American psyche that a number of the commenters find it difficult to agree with much of what Schwartz says.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Daniel Chung

It takes quite a few paragraphs of the story to find this out, but Daniel Chung, who hands out food every Sunday in Latimer Square, Christchurch, , is a Christian. 13 years ago he came to NZ from South Korea, and has worked as a taxi driver for a good deal of that time, not being able to get work here in his field of chemical engineering.

He doesn't make a lot of money, but still spends between $100 and $300 a week on providing food for homeless people in the area. "It is a struggle financially to keep doing it. If possible, if God permitted me, I would do this to the end of my days. It's an eternal job I will do until I leave this world."

His desire to help people came from his mother, who was a pastor in Pusan, South Korea, where he was born. She dedicated her life to helping people with leprosy, and that had a big impact on him, he said.

After feeding the people, he and his family head off to a church service. Seems to me they may have already 'done' church before they leave.

Facing change

When internal and external alignment is lost, the organization faces a choice: either adapt or take the road to slow death. Usually the organization can be renewed, energized, or made effective only if some leader is willing to take some big risks by stepping outside the well-defined boundaries. When this happens, the organization is lured, pushed, or pulled into unknown territory The resulting journey through the unknown is a terrifying experience, with the possibility of failure or death a reality rather than a metaphor.

From the opening chapter of Deep Change: discovering the leader within, by Robert E Quinn.

Does this sound like a church you know?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bit of a problem.

Just seen on Facebook:

Mark Broadbent: Ok... So here is our problem. We have so many unchurched people currently coming to City Life , that our ratio of MATURE CHRISTIANS to UNCHURCHED is becoming a little hard to handle. Great problem to have. Not easy to solve. Pls pray for our community. Also - If you've been a Christian for any longer than a year, and ur at City Life, please realize that ur now a leader in our community :)

Some denominations may be in 'decline' - Christianity certainly ain't.


In a recent post Seth Godin points to a new online magazine called Fear.Less. It's well written, has half a dozen interesting contributors from a variety of fields, and can be downloaded, or read on your browser, or printed out. All for free.

The magazine promotes itself this way: fear.less is a free online magazine that empowers people through unique stories of overcoming fear. From entrepreneurs, business leaders, artists and scientists to survivors of extreme experiences, these stories demonstrate the hidden potential we have to confront our fears and come out victorious. Fear.less is our answer to an emergency.

Okay, so why am I mentioning it here, since there's no particular Christian connection in it? Well, firstly in each case the contributors discuss overcoming a fear or failure in their life that could easily have debilitated them for the future. Secondly, it's a biblical principle that fear is something to be overcome, or it will be your master.

Thirdly, it's a prime example of what magazines might look like in the future. I don't think that future is here yet; not quite. Paper magazines are still rampant, even though large numbers of them are losing money, and increasingly they have more ads than content. (fear.less has more content than ads.) Depending on the state of the Internet in the next ten/twenty years, this could be the way magazines go. Far more economical to produce, environmentally more friendly (I think!) and accessible to larger numbers of people - or just to a small group that wants to read about those particular issues.

Check it out. You can read it online in your browser, or download it or.... And it's just as classy-looking as anything you'll find on your newsstands.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Quotes to Remember

David Fitch has written a post of quotes - ones he wants to remember. I've just included the quotes here. For his comments on them you'll have to check out the original post.

David Coffey: “They say the difference between a Hollywood actor and a British actor is – the Hollywood actor will ask, “how will this script be modified to suit my strengths/personality? The British actor will ask, how can I do justice to what the author intended in this script?”

Dallas Willard: “Prayer is a power sharing arrangement for a world of recovering sinners. I’m talking to God about what we’re doing together.” … “in regard to Peter’s denial of Jesus, Jesus is working through a larger system of reality with Peter. He could have stopped him right there – instead he goes and prays for Him.”

N T Wright: “When we de-eschatologize the kingdom – we make it purely about a social ethic: Jesus’ message becomes – go out and hug a peasant now.” [Love that one!]

N T Wright again: “There are many Kingdom churches that don’t know what the cross is about and there are many cross churches which don’t know what the Kingdom is about … the Kingdom and the cross go inextricably together. They cannot be separated from each other.”

A comedian whose name Fitch has forgotten: “Every morning you need to get up, go to the mirror and look at yourself and say three times ‘It’s NOT about me, It’s NOT about me, It’s NOT about me.’ You need to repeat this again and again until you get it thoroughly into your soul. Only at that point then do you need to go back to the same mirror and say ‘It’s about me, It’s about me, It’s about me.’”

Fitch himself: “Because our pastors have been so trained to understand the ministry in terms of their own success, we have thousands of them who are either manic-depressive or egomaniacs.”

And himself again: “If you’re not careful (with the attractional ministry approach), you’ll end up looking back after 30 years of ministry realizing the high point of your ministry was that one moment in time when you finally got all 300 people to come to your church and be happy at the same time.”

Facebook growth

Thanks for Bosco Peters for the following information. (Bosco is a great user of the Internet - his Liturgy page recently reached the million-reader mark - which goes to show that it doesn't matter where in the world you live, you can make an impact. Bosco's in Christchurch, and has been Chaplain at Christ's College for as long as I've known him.)

[A fortnight ago] there were 1,248,360 people on Facebook in New Zealand (population about 4,268,900 – ie about 30% of all Kiwis are on Facebook). The proportion is not much different to other first world nations.

Checking a couple of weeks later, there are now 1,375,560 Kiwis on Facebook (32%): 127,200 have joined within the last fortnight! In New Zealand! 10% increase in a fortnight!

You may not think this is as exciting as Bosco does - I'm in agreement with him that it's significant at least - but it does show that Facebook has enormous value for a large number of Kiwis. Yes, many of those who join don't go on to do much with Facebook, but their name and the links they've made to others remains until they finally decide to close down their membership.

Monday, May 03, 2010

God and Suicide

Chris Erdman preached a sermon on the Second Sunday of Lent this year, which focused to a great extent on the suicide of a close friend, Jamie Evans [photo] three days earlier.

The sermon needs to be read in full, but in this post I'd like just to quote three extracts relating to the way in which we continue to regard those who have a mental illness, by which I mean, and Erdman means, not necessarily those who wander the streets talking to themselves, or those who inhabit psychiatric hospitals sometimes for years on end, but those who live amongst us in the community and are suffering daily from the difficulties of (often severe) depression.

First, we must work to remove the stigma of mental illness, a stigma that keeps mental illness secret and hidden and dangerous.
Look, there’s no more shame in mental struggle, mental anguish, and mental illness than there is in high cholesterol or high blood pressure. We readily recognize our need for help in other areas of our lives. For God’s sake, why then do we consign people whose minds are troubled to the secret and lonely life of walking the road of clinical depression alone? We must end this secrecy! We must throw open the windows of our lives to the fact that to one degree or another we are all troubled, some of us more than others. In fact, there are more reasons to be struggling mentally, emotionally, and spiritually today than there are reasons not to. Let’s get that into our heads and learn to live more honestly and compassionately toward others as well as toward ourselves.

Second, self-care is not an option. We all need to learn to practice some kind of vulnerability, some kind of internal awareness of what's going on on the inside of our lives. There are many ways to do this.

Third, those who are in great mental and emotional pain need community.

We must become more educated about the signs of mental illness, and more able to recognize those signs in those around us, as well as in ourselves. Let’s face it; we’re not very aware of what’s going inside the skin of others, let alone ourselves. Our faces are buried in our cell phones; we’re glued to computer and TV screens. Our minds are fixated on the thought parade that never ceases to march through our brains. The noise of this modern world drowns out true awareness. We look but cannot see; we hear but do not listen; we walk the paths of daily life but aren’t very aware of what’s really going on around us.

When you’re aware, truly aware, you slow down. You listen. You see things others, in their busyness and distraction, do not see. You sense what others cannot sense. Awareness is the ability to see beneath the surface, to detect the subtle changes in the emotional climate within you and within those around you. You see it in their eyes. You hear it in the tone of voice. You sense it in their touch.

Awareness is a particularly Christian virtue—a way to be fully here, to be completely in this present moment because you know God holds all things, you know God loves this world, and you know God is at work to bring about the goodness we all seek. Awareness is necessary for community. You cannot build a community when you’re distracted.

Erdman discusses the way in which he believes God looks after those who've committed suicide. For decades the church labelled them as people who'd committed an unforgivable sin. Erdman, (and I suspect, Jesus Christ) doesn't think that's the case.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Leaving Bebo

On his Liturgy blog the other day, Bosco Peter pointed out an article from his local newspaper which described the probable closing down of Bebo. He quoted the following from the article:

The site has lost members to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Kaila Colbin, of Christchurch social media consultant Missing Link, compared Bebo to a party that people wanted to leave.

“You go to a party, everyone’s having a good time, but suddenly the momentum changes and someone says, `Let’s go to the pub’,” Colbin said. “And people start flowing out. And when people flow out, there is no way to recover that energy.

“The more you try, the more desperate you look and the more people want to leave.”

Bosco comments: Now reread the above, and instead of Bebo think “church” – your parish, diocese, whatever. Any echoes?

Check out the rest of what he has to's quite thought-provoking!