Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eyes wide shut?

Jordon Cooper has recently written a blog post entitled, Losing My Religion. It becomes plain from what he says that it isn't Christianity that he's losing so much as the form, the endless theological debating and a bunch of other things. The blog post is more of a thinking-out of his position than anything, and a huge concern that churches are often more like a Kiwanis service club than a community belonging to Christ - and therefore belonging to their neighbours. Here's the final paragraph, which comes after he's told us more than once just how many prostitutes, druggies, pimps, gangs and traffickers there are in his neighbourhood....

Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s. As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems. It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind. The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does. Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it. I’ll let you figure it out.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keeping stats safe

I've mentioned Bradley Wright on this blog before. He's an American sociologist who has done some writing on making sure stats are interpreted more accurately - he writes about this in his book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You've Been Told.

He's recently been interviewed by Ted Olsen in Christianity Today. A couple of quotes from the article:

...we have to make sense of statistics for ourselves, applying our own experience. If I went to a group of Christians and made some sort of outlandish theological or political statement, they would question it. But if I put it in numbers, people would tend to accept it without discernment.


Rather than picking which statistics we agree with, we should be a little more agnostic about all of them. You don't have to believe them. Christians are called to accept and love people unconditionally. That doesn't apply to statistics. We should be cranky and judgmental.

There's another article on the subject on the CT site, by Ed Setzer. This one comes from earlier this year, and is entitled Curing Christians' Stats Abuse. He deals nicely with some typical 'myths':

"Christianity will die out in this generation unless we do something now."

"Only 4 percent of this generation is Christian."

"Ninety-four percent of teenagers drop out of church, never to return again."

Ministers and extra-marital affairs

One of the issues pastors/ministers/priests seem to face - perhaps even more than other men (and I focus on men purposely here) - is that of the extra-marital affair. The consequences for ministry and family can be devastating, as you'd expect.

I came back to the Lord via the Pentecostal scene. In my naivete I thought these Pentecostal ministers were pure in heart and deed, and admired them for their integrity. And then one fell out of the ministry due to an affair, and then another and then another - and another! All within a few short years. Two of these guys were leaders in very large New Zealand Pentecostal churches.

Chad Estes has written two posts recently on the subject. In one he reviews a book by David Trotter called Lost + Found: Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair, and offers some comments about how it can be difficult to maintain friendship with someone who's fallen in this way, but that it's necessary nevertheless. In the other post, Why Pastors Have Affairs, he offers six reasons why men in these positions of responsibility have perhaps greater 'reasons' to have affairs than other men. 'Reasons' in the sense that they can find reasons for the affairs better than some of us.


What is the single ingredient in the life of leaders that has the most potential to renew their work and enrich their character?


So says Len Hjalmarson. He adds that solitude is the ingredient most missing from the lives of active leaders, and a practice that would sustain most leaders in their life journey.

"Lately I’ve been thinking about the transforming power of solitude. I have had a great deal of experience with solitude over the last five years, and it has been wonderful, and at times challenging. But overall, solitude is a powerful means to spiritual growth and toward learning."

He intends writing more deeply on the subject over the next weeks, and is inviting people to offer their own thoughts on the topic. A conversation worth joining in on.

Photo from northbaywander's collection on

Jonny Baker course

Jonny Baker is a well-known blogger, and photographer (his pictures appear in But he's far more than that. He's a leader/pioneer in mission training in the UK, and has just developed a new approach to training pioneer/mission leaders.

He and his team are using a foundation degree through Oxford Brookes University as the framework. You can read the latest newsletter-cum-prospectus online. This outlines the work required for the three-year course.

As Jonny notes, 'it's a pilot year so we'll be learning loads but it is still the real deal for those people who have signed up with us.' (Jonny doesn't like to use capital letters or much in the way of punctuation more than full stops in his blog posts, but don't let that put you off.)

He adds, 'if you are a pioneer mission leader, involved in a mission project or church planting, and yes even if you are selected as an ordained pioneer do get in contact if you're interested for next year.' The course is in modules, and you can do individual ones if you wish.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New David Runcorn title

The Road to Growth Less Travelled: Spiritual Paths in a Missionary Church, by David Runcorn.

This is one of a wide-ranging series of booklets (all 27 pg long) from Grove Books. Part of what Runcorn is saying is that we need to be careful to challenge rather than mirror our culture, and that our very ‘irrelevance’ to the society at large may be one of our strengths.

He also explores why so many people are drifting away from churches, while still ostensibly remaining Christian. At one point he quotes Douglas John Hall: ‘the church of Christendom, so often growing in the wake of national, expansionist interests, missed [the sense of loss in the Christian life].’ ‘Christendom tried to be great, large, magnificent. It thought itself the object of God’s expansive grace. It forgot the meaning of its election to worldly responsibility. Today we are constrained by the Spirit to rediscover the possibilities of littleness.’

Paul Fromont has written four brief posts on the Prodigal Kiwi blog discussing some of the book’s points, starting here.

A mission question

What is God saying? How will I respond? These two questions - or one combined question, depending on your point of view - are the basis of a reasonably long post by David Fitch. It isn't a post that answers the questions as such, but it's a post that gives the reader a chance to reflect on whether these two questions are the most important mission questions we can ask....or not.

Fitch begins by looking at the way in which all churches come to a somewhat stagnating point - and even those who come to faith during that time and join the church don't quite come alive, but drift off.

Fitch says we need to keep asking ourselves what our purpose is - or rather, perhaps, what our purpose is
within God's purpose. And he's not looking at this from an individual approach, but from a community (church community, that is) approach.

This is a thought-provoking article that deserves careful reading.

Not dead - well, not yet

Richard Floyd wrote a short post on 'when blogs die' recently. This is an equally short post (in fact, considerably shorter) to let you know that this blog has not died, and doesn't intend to in the near future. I've been on leave for a week, keeping warm inside while the snow, hail, sleet, and winds buffetted the house outside. And that is my perfectly good reason for not having posted here for about a week.

We'll be back with a vengeance in the next day or so.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get thyself a spiritual director!

Len Hjalmarson writes: If you are in paid ministry, or if you are overseeing a group of people and have oversight of their souls (you may be a CEO but your heart is pastoral), find a spiritual director. For your sake, for the sake of your family, for the good of the kingdom – do it.

He goes on to quote Henri Nouwen, (writing in Reaching Out):

“At least part of the reason for this lack .. is that we ourselves do not appeal to our fellow human beings in such a way as to invite them to become our spiritual leaders. If there were no students constantly asking for good teachers, there would be no good teachers. The same is true for spiritual guides. There are many men and women with great spiritual sensitivity whose talents remain dormant because we do not make an appeal to them. Many would, in fact, become wise and holy for our sake if we would invite them to assist us in our search for the prayer of our heart.

“A spiritual director does not need to be more intelligent or more experienced than we are. If is important that he or she accepts our invitation to lead us closer to God and enters with us into the scriptures and into the silence where God speaks to both of us… Often we will discover that those who we ask for help will indeed receive the gift to help us and grow with us toward prayer.” (p 98)

Mission in strange places

Just in case you ever thought that evangelism online was an impossible thing, or that the Internet was a waste of time in terms of bringing Jesus to people who've never heard of him, check this blog post out. It comes from a site called Reflections of a Broken Man, and I was alerted to it via another blog post - and the writer of that post came across it by checking out the blog roll on a friend's blog. Thus the Internet leads us down strange and intriguing pathways.

But the strange and intriguing thing about what happened to the writer of ROABM and the girl he introduced to Jesus, is that the 'conversation' took place in the middle of a World of Warcraft game.....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The next big issue?

I don't have any stats for child trafficking in New Zealand - though it appears that this country is doing reasonably well in keeping tabs on the problem, which is a phenomenal global evil. I suspect it will become the big issue of the next decade; certainly the fight to overcome this evil is already well and truly begun.

In the meantime, here are a very few stats from the US:
300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk every year for commercial sexual exploitation. -U.S. Department of Justice

*600,000 – 800,000 people are bought and sold across international borders each year; 50% are children, most are female. The majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade. – U.S. Department of State, 2004, Trafficking in Persons Report, Washington, D.C.

*An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. – U.S Department of Justice
Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons

*An estimated 2.5 million children, the majority of them girls, are sexually exploited in the multibillion dollar commercial sex industry – UNICEF

*Investigators and researchers estimate the average predator in the U.S. can make more than $200,000 a year off one young girl. – NBC Report by Teri Williams

If you want a good overview of the way in which women are exploited throughout the world, read, Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide - it's written by husband and wife, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Self-restraint in the community

Usually I put quotes in the Daily Writer blog, but the following one seemed particularly relevant here in light of this incident reported in the Otago Daily Times today.

A community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness. If it hopes to continue long as a community, it will wish to--and will have to--encourage respect for all its members, human and natural. Such a community has the power--not invariably but as a rule--to enforce decency without litigation. It has the power, that is, to influence behavior.

Wendell Berry
Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Belonging to a community

Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block.

“Modern society is plagued by fragmentation. The various sectors of our communities–businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, government–do not work together. They exist in their own worlds. As do so many individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. This disconnection and detachment makes it hard if not impossible to envision a common future and work towards it together. We know what healthy communities look like–there are many success stories out there, and they’ve been described in detail. What Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation: How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? He explores a way of thinking about our places that creates an opening for authentic communities to exist and details what each of us can do to make that happen.” [From the book’s blurb.]

The list of contents may prove interesting (certainly more interesting than the cover design!):

Intro: The Fragmented Community and its Transformation...

Part One The Fabric of Community
1 Insights into Transformation
2 Shifting the Context for Community
3 The Stuck Community
4 The Restorative Community
5 Taking Back our Projections
6 What it Means to be a Citizen
7 The Transforming Community

part 2 The Alchemy of Belonging
8 Leadership is Convening
9 The Small Group is the Unity of Transformation
10 Questions More Transforming than Answers
11 Invitation
12 The Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment and Gifts Conversations
13 Bringing Hospitality into the World
14 Designing Physical Space that Supports Community
15 The End of Unnecessary Suffering

Peter Block is a proponent of servant leadership, a concept initiated by Robert Greenleaf.
Block has a newer book out, The Abundant Community.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Outward, not inward?

If I sometimes seem to quote the same few people in this blog, it's because they keep on saying good stuff. So my apologies for yet again quoting David Fitch.

It is common in church planting for N. American churches to rush in a.) naming a main leader and b.) starting a public service (what has often been called the launch). For instance: the Acts 29 Network – a training network for planting churches – puts an unusual importance on a.) choosing a strong male leader to plant the church, and b.) the launch of a service where “the gospel” is preached clearly, contextually and authoritatively.

The impression here is that the preaching itself, led by a strong male leader, is sufficient to draw the lost into the gospel.

Although there is much to be thankful for in what God is doing with Acts 29, for me, this is an approach heavily dependent on the cultural conditions of Christendom. The preaching requires people already habitualized to go to church and hear a sermon. It requires people who understand the language. It organizes the church structure toward the centre – where the single strong leader is – instead of outward where lost people are.

It will work where there are wandering peoples who have a Christian past and/or have discontent with existing forms of church (i.e. Roman Catholic or traditional evangelical) who are easily drawn to something new and impressive. This is not, however, a Missional strategy because in many ways it sets the new community up to be a centralized attractional community. Its dynamic works against invading the rhythms of a context, living the gospel in ways that invade the secular spaces of the world that is living oblivious to God and His work in Christ for the world. If we would be missionaries, we need to think differently about congregational formation. [My italicizations]

David has more to say.....see here.

Just checking out the Acts 29 site, it's a bit disconcerting to see that there's a considerable emphasis on men as leaders on this site. One of the tweets in the right hand column of the home page says this: God uses MEN to plant lasting churches [their emphasis]. However, when you go to the actual video, the title - and emphasis - is slightly different: God needs men to plant churches.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

On work

A couple of items Simon Carey Holt quotes in his essay: My Father's Hands. This is a revised version of a piece he originally published in 2000.

Until now, lay people have not had much help in seeing any part of the work as a spiritual experience. If lay people cannot find any spiritual meaning tot heir work, they are condemned to living a certain dual life; not connecting what they do on a Sunday with what they do the rest of the week. They [ministers] need to rediscover that the very actions of life are spiritual, and enable lay people to touch God in the world, not away from it. - William Diehl.

When people had tribes to go home to, or villages where they could share the seasonal festival, or even neighbourhoods with some personal intimacy, the spirit of community was a part of the natural order of life. But as we approach the 21st Century, our business cultures have become our tribes, our villages and our neighbourhoods...if there is no experience of spirit in our corporations, then there may not be much spirit in the civilization at large. - Jim Channon

During the course of the essay, Holt offers a two-part theology of work, and then follows this up with ten short discussions on spirituality and work.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

David Fitch and posts on LGBTQ

David Fitch begins his most recent post (2nd Sept) in this way.

During the last six months, [my] blog posts on the LGBTQ, other sexual issues and mission have been by and large well received. I have had many good conversations off blog and on blog. I started out the whole series of posts by saying, “Is it possible to “be Missional” among the gay/lesbian communities without a clear affirmative stance towards GLBT relations?… Many would flat out say “no.”” I said “I find myself at odds with many of the underlying assumptions that drive these conclusions.” I had seen several instances where Ed Stetzer and others were accused of being “non-missional” because they did not affirm gay/lesbian relations. I had also seen several instances where the lone engagement by the Neo-Reformed on these issues was to preach against something and believe that was sufficient to engage the issue in terms of mission. I was content with neither approaches. To me, what I called the post Emergent consensus approach to these questions as well as the traditional evangelical approach – and its offshoot – the New-Reformed were both inadequate.

It's the introduction to a lengthy post in which he debates with Craig Carter of Tyndale University College in Toronto on the subject. Carter recently wrote a post critiquing/criticising Fitch's views on the issue, and it's in response to this that Fitch has provided his latest piece. To catch up on all the posts Fitch has written on this topic would take some time, but this post pulls together quite a bit of his thinking on the topic, albeit in a rather concise form.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


“It has been said too often that we are now in a post-Christian world. A better phrasing would be a post-churched world. Ironically, that may be what Christ really had in mind when he enunciated what has come to be called The Great Commission. Jesus said “go and make disciples of all nations,” not “go find a good location to start churches.” The difference is not all that subtle. As disciple-making disciples we need to be gearing our theological studies toward becoming makeover artists in redesigning our Father’s house, not plodding toward one day becoming junior partners in the management of his firm.”

Carl Raschke, “From Church to ‘Rhizone‘: Reconfiguring Theological Education for the Postmodern Era”

The full article can be found via the link - along with the explanation for why he coins the word, 'Rhizone'. Check out the discussion in the comments too (thought the last two appear to be very obscure advertising pieces....)

A coercive church

Tim Keel is currently Senior Fellow of Congregational Studies at Laidlaw College in NZ.  In a recent post on his blog, he discusses some thoughts by Lesslie Newbigin on plausibility structures.  However, the part of his post that appealed to me most (and to Paul Fromont who pointed me to it) is this:

Perhaps one of the reason so many are baffled by Newbigin's emphasis on ecclesiology (the church) is because too often the Church has either dwelled comfortably and accommodatingly in the reigning plausibility structure of the broader society, or it has sought to impose some or all of the contours of its own plausibility structure on others, absent the spirit that animates the gospel itself.
"Part of the reason for the rejection of dogma [or a Christian plausibility structure] is that it has for so long been entangled with coercion, with political power, and so with the denial of freedom - freedom of thought and conscience. When coercion of any kind is used in the interests of the Christian message, the message itself is corrupted. The truth is that it is the dogma [the content of belief] rightly understood, namely the free gift of God's grace in Jesus Christ, which alone can establish and sustain freedom of thought and of conscience. We must affirm the gospel as truth, universal truth, truth for all peoples and for all times, the truth which creates the possibility of freedom; but we negate the gospel if we deny the freedom in which alone it can be truly believed." (From The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pg 10)  [The comments in square brackets and the italics are Keel's.]