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

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