Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fourth post from Bradley Wright

Bradley Wright's been posting on the subject of why people leave church, and for some reason I managed to miss noting the fourth post in this series.   (Fourth and last, by the looks of it.)

In this one he discusses the relative unimportance of non-Christians' influence in regard to a Christian leaving church.  Very occasionally the influence of a non-Christian will cause a Christian to leave the church and/or faith.   But it's by no means as frequent an occurrence as you might think.  

It's a somewhat different story after the Christian has left the church.   Then there is a stronger tendency for non-Christians to support those who left.  

Which seems reasonable enough.

Don’t Be an Ekklesaphobe

David Fitch in full flight on getting a proper balance between what's wrong with the church...and what's right with it....

It happens on facebook when I give the slightest indication the church is God’s instrument in the world. It happens frequently when I am speaking and assert that God has empowered the church to extend Christ’s presence in the world. It happens when I coach church planters that are missionally oriented and ask them when they gather for worship. It happens when I engage my missional friends on one of the variants of the formula “missiology precedes ecclesiology.” It happens each time I meet someone who has been abused by the traditional church. Each time there is a out-sized reaction against organizing people into practices traditionally associated with being the church (this is especially true of the public worship gathering, or the ordination of clergy).

See the rest of his blog post here

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Vocations and leavers

Two more items in the occasional posts to this blog...

Jason Goroncy alerted me to a post by Michael Jinkins that asks the question; “What sustains you in your vocation?”

Jinkins begins by noting: 
John Calvin believed that it is the vocation itself, the fact of having been called by God which sustains us. That’s a great response, and I’m sure it is true. But, in the day-to-day slog and grind of living our vocations, beyond the assurance that we are where God called us (which is no small thing!), are there other things that sustain us? Prayer, regular Bible study, worship, the practice of Sabbath?  [I'm currently reading, at long last, Eugene Peterson's Working the Angles - it relates strongly to this question.]

The second item is the third post by Bradley Wright and his research team on the question of why people leave church.  In this post he asks, Does Christians’ bad behavior cause people to leave the faith?
This is a very useful series of posts, asking the right questions, attempting to find some answers - and of course, as always, the comments are as interesting as the posts themselves.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Second post on leaving church

Bradley Wright recently uploaded his first post about why people leave church.   The second is available today.  

If the first seemed obvious, in some ways, the second is the same.   The first related to people who had intellectual problems with their faith, and were asking questions that in fact have been asked for ever - and often answered reasonably adequately. 

The second group are those who say because God hasn't answered their prayers therefore He either doesn't exist or isn't what He says he is, or doesn't keep His promises.   Wright has an interesting comment on this:

I am struck by how much these accounts resonate with sociological theories of human relationships, especially those coming from social exchange theory. This theory describes humans as judging the value of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. One variation of social exchange theory, termed equity theory, holds that people are satisfied with their relationships when they get the rewards that they feel are proportional to the costs that they bear. An inequitable is unstable, and it usually occurs because a person thinks they receive too little for how much they give.

These blog posts are worth keeping in mind; they may explain many of the issues that people in your congregation have with God, and/or church. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leaving Church? Why?

Two blog posts about why people are leaving church have turned up this week, and it's worth noting them here as part of an ongoing conversation about the question: Why are people leaving the church (in 'droves' as one of these writer's notes). 

The first blogger is Joshua Graves - he's the preaching and teaching minister for the Otter Creek Church in Nashville, Tennessee.  One of his points is: Church and community are very difficult. Church is a great idea until people get involved. Bonhoeffer consistently warns us in his various writings that we destroy community when we try and create it. Meaning–community, in and of itself, cannot be the goal. Rather, community is the space in which we communally seek to experience the resurrected Jesus. That being said, anyone who’s been a part of a church community knows that relationships will suffer, endure disappointment because this is true in any community...

He has more to say on the topic. but the following paragraph perhaps sums it up: I think the real cause of disillusionment with church is self-disappointment. Pain birthed anger, now solidified in cynicism and apathy (funny how those two always go together). Frustration with “the church” is first about frustration with self. We tend to, in the wisdom of Donald Miller, judge others based on actions while judging ourselves based upon our intent. We are harder on “the church” so we can be “easier” on ourselves. This is why some Christians literally demand more from their church than they do from their own family, their own personal lives (money, time, etc.).

The whole post is called Leaving Church?

The other post is from Bradley Wright, whom I've mentioned on several occasions on this blog.   In a post called, Why do Christians leave the faith? the fundamental importance of apologetics.  Wright begins his post by writing: Several colleagues and I recently finished a study of why Christians leave the faith, and we were surprised at what made a difference as well what didn’t seem to matter. 

The post begins in outlining the sociological aspects of their study (and this post is the first of several that will be appearing) but it soon gets onto looking at some of the reasons people bring forward for why they left the church.   For Wright, many of them hinge on a lack of understanding of apologetics, which of course basically goes back to a lack of understanding of the Bible and God Himself. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


 I keep saying I won't be posting anything more here but there was an article by Mike Breen (with the provocative title: Why the missional movement will fail) that someone alerted me to this morning which I think is essential reading, and certainly very much related to the kind of material that has appeared frequently on this blog.  Here's how the article starts....

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

More here. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Video on the taboo topic of suicide

Though I haven't put anything on here for some time, and won't be doing so regularly, I thought it was worth uploading this video on people who have an ongoing struggle with suicidal thinking.

It comes from The Guardian's website - the mental health section, and concerns a home run by volunteers for people who need space to get away from the 'hurricane' outside...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not back to church?

Though I said I wouldn't be posting regularly on here from now on, I can't resist adding this:

It was brought to my attention by Bosco Peters in Christchurch. His comments are worth reading.

Friday, June 24, 2011

No more posts for the time being

Too all those who are regular readers of this blog.

My apologies, but I'm going to have to stop posting to the this blog, at least for the time being. I'm working on writing a musical, as some of you will know, and while you'd think that would mean once the script was written, and the music mostly written, I'd be starting to relax. Of course, what it actually means is that the job is only beginning. While I have some supportive people also working on aspects of the task, it's beginning to feel like we're only starting to climb the mountain. So regrettably I'm going to have to put some things aside, such as this blog, at least for the present.

Yes, I'd think that with being retired, I'd have more time. Nope, the same time, just differently arranged...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

God is in charge...

Peter Carrell, an Anglican priest resident in Christchurch writes today:

For Christchurch, in the midst of death, destruction, and (increasingly these days) despair, it is good news that God is in charge, Jesus is Lord. A tad difficult to believe, but an important gospel fact nevertheless. The earthquakes are not in charge of us and our future: God in Jesus Christ is boss.

Last night was a challenge to faith in this God, incidentally: a hefty 5.3 at 10.34 pm, just prior to going to bed, and then a whole series through the night, including a 4.4 at 3.28 am which woke us up. A cheeky friend texted me at 11.03 pm asking if I still had an office. I shall check soon. Not to worry if I don't. Neither did the Son of Man who has graciously called me to follow him without pack, blanket or jacket.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Not decline

Yesterday I headed up a post 'Decline'. Today Skye Jethani, on the Out of Ur blog, writes about the Southern Baptists in the States suffering ongoing decline.

He notes how he asked Willard Dallas about the situation some time ago, and was surprised by his answer:

“I am not discouraged,” he replied, “because I believe that Christ is in charge of his church, with all of its warts, and moles, and hairs. He knows what he is doing and he is marching on.”

Jethani goes on to note: ...the truth is some churches are dying [and perhaps even some denominations] and others reached room temperature years ago. But that doesn’t mean the Church is dying.

He goes on to say that his experience at the Lausanne Conference confirms this. The evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, show the global church is more than’s thriving! Some of the growth may be attributed to strategic planning on the part of Western churches and missions agencies in the early 20th century. But what we heard again and again were the unexpected and even miraculous ways in which the church has been planted, germinated, fed, and nurtured.

Empty shells?

I came across this extract from (Anglican Bishop) Kelvin Wright's blog today:

"These empty worship shells scattered around the countryside are the signs of the death of a particular religious infrastructure. ... A particular way of meeting the spiritual needs of our society is disappearing because it no longer meets the needs of our society, ...

The role of the church is to introduce people to the Living God and open them to the transforming power of the presence of God. Gradually we have forgotten to do this. We have forgotten how to do this. We have forgotten, even, that we are supposed to do this. And quite naturally, and quite rightly, the infrastructure we have created precisely to help us to do this crumbles and dies.

The old churches tell me one thing and they tell it to me clearly and loudly: The church must facilitate personal transformation or it must cease to exist. It is time to forget the infrastructure except to the extent that it facilitates the one essential task of the Church. As my Lord tells me, "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added to you as well."

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The church in the UK is not in decline because people no longer believe in God, rather people in the UK no longer believe in God because the church is in decline.

Kim Fabricius writing another bunch of doodlings on the Faith and Theology blog.

(Incidentally, when I worked for the Presbyterians there were several words that got used a good deal and which I began to baulk at being used so readily: paradigm, contextual...and most especially, decline. It's an excuse word, as I think Fabricius may be indicating.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Walk Humbly with the Lord

Viggo Mortensen is probably best-known as an actor and all-round artist. But as a theologian? Too intriguing for words. Yet his name appears as one of the editors (and also one of the contributors) of a newish book called Walk Humbly with the Lord: Church and Mission Engaging Plurality.

However, it turns out that the Viggo the actor isn't Viggo the theologian. The latter is a thelogian at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He's published several books on theology.

The book has other familiar names amongst the contributors, including Stanley Hauerwas, John Drane, Andrew Walls, and Darrell Guder.

The essays cover the 1910 World Missionary Conference (an attempt to sift the history from the myth); Hauerwas on the Church is Mission; community, the fluidity of mission, the church in a multireligious Europe, the Canadian Church in the third millennium, being a Christian minority in a Muslim land, Andrew Walls on missiology as vocation, and much more. You can see a full list of the contents and contributors here.

The book is also available on Google books (in part, at least). Bruce Hamill has written a post about Hauerwas' essay, and there is more about that essay on the Prodigal Kiwis site.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Update from Christchurch

An update from Martin Stewart on some of the ongoing mission work in ChCh, post-earthquake...

It is a real pain all this shaking – I really feel for those poor people out east with any hope they might have had of something being closer to normal being erased this week. While the quakes themselves weren’t as bad insofar as the devastating trampoline effect in February (esp the lives lost) in other ways they are more demoralising, especially with winter upon us. There is widespread anger now – wanting some resolution over what will happen with their land and property, but anger at the sense that there may not be any end to this in the medium term. It is scary, hard on the nerves, massively inconvenient, and hugely disheartening.

I do a bit of chaplaincy at a university hostel (well I try – it is hard to get there these days) – I was talking to some students last night who are quite fed up. They have missed crucial parts of their semester but also they are in exam mode with exams postponed and squeezed into a very tight timeframe but also their ability to concentrate in any extended way is very difficult. Some are seriously contemplating transferring elsewhere for next year. I cannot blame them, but it will have devastating consequences for ChCh and the University of Canterbury who are quite worried about their ability to attract new students for 2012 as it is.

The Presbyterians have had fewer problems in this week’s round of shocks – a disused church to be demolished is now demolished (quite convenient as it had historic places issues), another two congregations that were uncertain about whether their buildings could be repaired are clearer now about having to move on from them, and one minister is probably going to have to move from his damaged house.

My little project of having people from St Stephen’s, St Giles, and St Mark’s delivering $200 supermarket vouchers to the homes of people in the Avonside/Dallington area is chugging along nicely. My target of raising $50,000 is now up to $33,000 thanks to two large donations from a Wellington trust and an Auckland parish, along with quite a few $1000 donations from supportive folk. Once I get the $50,000 I will be approaching several supermarkets on this side of the city to buy the vouchers and invite them to match us dollar for dollar.

St Stephen’s is handling this project for the three parishes – we even have a dedicated account:
contact Martin for details of this account:

Mission Workshops

Mission Workshops
Saturday June 25th, 2011
Leith Valley Presbyterian Church,
267 Mavlern St,
Glenleith, Dunedin

Workshops include: Beyond the big OE, Why mission?
Reaching cross culturally in NZ, The changing face of
mission today, Realities in Southern Sudan
For more infor: contact

A pneumatological approach...

J R Woodward presents a useful review of the book, Beyond the Impasse: toward a pneumotological theology of religions, by Amos Young, on his blog (Dream Awakener)

He writes: “In Beyond the Impasse, in light of our globalized context, Amos Yong presents a pneumatological (Holy Spirit) approach to the theology of religions as the preferable way for Christians to meaningful engage in genuine dialogue with other religions with the ability to discern the Spirit’s presence, activity or absence. He develops his approach by tracing some of the biblical, philosophical and theological approaches to date, recognizing contributions that have been made, as well as identifying present deficiencies.

He then addresses the “potential Achilles heal” of this pneumatological approach – the need to develop a theology of discernment which is adept at discerning both the phenomenological and inner workings of all religions, “in ways that enable the religions to be take seriously on their own terms in order to facilitate the emergence of adequate comparative (and therefore discerning) categories” (pg 185).

The review is a good overview not only of the book, but of the theology of other religions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Caring for the carer

I'm not entirely sure why I found the short piece, The perfect husband I am not, by Tom Becker, resonating with me. Perhaps it's his sheer honesty about how difficult it is to be continually sympathetic to someone who has a chronic illness. His piece is a good reminder that carers need care too...

Here's how it starts.

My wife’s depression pours light on my own sins. I’m stoic, unsympathetic and critical of her in every way. I’m quick to declare fix-its for her occasional panic episodes. Ever since she was diagnosed with anxiety-induced depression 14 years into our marriage, I’ve waged my own war against the demon of selfishness and, in moments of failure, self-worthlessness.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Skye Jethani has written a blog post this week on the way in which we as 'church' regard those in our midst who are disturbances of some sort or other. He's discussing a situation in a church named 'Elevation' in which a boy with cerebral palsy was 'escorted out' (according to the mother) or moved to another part of the auditorium (according to church officials). He was a 'distraction' and the church's goal is "to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests."

As you might imagine, Jethani is disturbed by this attitude. Whatever the best intentions of the church are/were, his view is that church is a place where distraction is one of those things you put up with....because all the people in attendance are part of the family. Certainly it can be difficult for a minister doing his best to preach well to have someone in the congregation making a lot of noise (not that this boy was, apparently). Unwarranted noise can be an interruption to a well-prepared skit/drama/whatever sort of presentation.

But as Jethani notes: when I come freely to worship the Living God and gather with his people whom he describes as the foolish, weak, and despised in the world (1 Cor 1:26-28)--I do not expect a distraction free environment.

Church is not a cinema, a rock shop, a theatre, a performing arts centre. You might perhaps expect a distraction-free environment in any one of those places (although what you might expect and what you get aren't necessarily the same thing). Church is family, and in a family you put up with the noisy, sloppy baby, the irritating toddler, the old person heading towards dementia.

If we lose that, we're heading away from what church is about. Aren't we?

Friday, June 03, 2011

New commandments

Just in case you thought those Old Testament Ten Commandments were a bit too chunky to memorise....try these for size.

Courtesy of Anglican priest, Don Tamihere.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

People with mental health OUR church

It's likely there'll be people with mental disabilities, or mental health problems in your congregation. You may be dealing with them and their situation with compassion and concern. But what if you don't know how to help them, even in the most basic ways? (My own church has a particular ministry towards people with mental health issues, but there's a very small percentage of the congregation who are actually involved with the group who come to church.)

In an article that appeared in the Leadership Journal online,
Through a Glass, Darkly:
Ministry to the mentally ill, Amy Simpson talks about her own experience as a teenager with a mother who was mentally unwell, and how she has learned what things pastors and congregations need to know to help not only those with the mental health problem, but also their families and friends. For instance here's what she has to say about pastors trying to assist:

"Sometimes clergy distance themselves from people with mental illness because they realize the problem can be long term. To become involved with this person may mean a lengthy commitment. Perhaps this person will never be cured. Such a problem is contrary to contemporary Western ideas of being in control of one's life and destiny. People in modern day America expect to find a rational solution to any problem. And yet, in this case, there may be no solution. It is tempting, if an answer is not apparent, to avoid the person for whom one has no answers."

Simpson also looks briefly at the theological issues, and at the problems of overspiritualisation of mental health issues. This is quite a long article, but it's full of good insights, and practical suggestions.

Croucher retreats

Rowland Croucher writes in an email today:

For the first time in twenty years, I'm taking an extended sabbatical. I won't be answering the phone, but will occasionally check emails and Facebook for anything needing urgent attention.

What will I do? First, spend some time in solitude and prayer. I'm booking into a Retreat centre to do that - and will probably return there - or to other solitary places - from time to time.

If I get a green light (from God!), I'm probably going to write a Blog later in this sabbatical, then maybe a book (which will include some of your helpful feedback), on the Top Ten (?) Questions pastors ask: The key six these days relate to Stress/Burnout, Homosexuality, Marriage/Relationship issues, Hermeneutics (The Bible: Fundamentalism vs Jesus Seminar etc.), Islam, Effective Leadership and Conflict Resolution - a sort of updated series of 'Grid' leadership articles, like we produced with the help of World Vision back in the 80s and early 90s.

Note the item that's first on his Top Ten Questions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Folk theology

In discussing the difference between academic and folk theology Richard Beck writes, "....even if we had better theology in churches we'd still be awash in folk theology. Mainly because Christian theology tends leaves too many details unspecified or uninvestigated."

He gives two examples, one relating to sin and one relating to the Devil, and what is believed by many Christians about both these matters. What he's pointing out is that many people in the pew have to have a kind of theology (his 'folk' theology) in order to live in the day to day. This theology isn't provided from the pew (when did you last hear anyone preach about the Devil at all, let alone about what sort of state he exists in, where he might actually be and so on?), and it certainly isn't provided by academics, whose books are often not read because they're just too darned hard for the average brain in the pew - even if the aforesaid brain was inclined to read them. (Anyone without academic training tried to read Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza lately? Even apart from her tendency to give words different meanings to the norm, she's hard going...)

Consequently, the folk have to work out some things for themselves. What can preachers do about this?

The goal is love in the midst of all the brokenness.

Joseph Black (Onesimus Online) writes:

Jesus has restored our relationship with the Holy Trinity, but he hasn’t made us whole, the rhetoric of popular Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism notwithstanding. Assuming and believing that rhetoric for decades, I personally longed to be made whole. I carried scars from my parents’ divorce, was sexually abused, have struggled in my most important relationships, been stricken with chronic depression, was unfairly removed from my last pastorate, and been overwhelmed by the scope and depth of my own character flaws. I know what it means to be in a world turned black and to cry out to God for help. I have cried out again and again for mercy, help, transformation, healing – to be made whole. I have asked, but the answer has been ‘No’.

I found the emphasis in Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism on being made whole increasingly disorienting in the past decade. The rhetoric I was believing, the rhetoric I was singing, the rhetoric I was preaching was not matching the reality I was experiencing and that I was seeing in others. It wasn’t just that I was not experiencing wholeness, nobody else I knew was experiencing wholeness as well. I continue to hear this rhetoric all around me, particularly from the popular preachers and authors. I do not think anybody is being malicious or is intentionally setting out to deceive. But the effect of this one little tiny misstatement is to set Christianity off in a ruinous direction that puts the emphasis on our experience and performance vis a vis the glorious testimony that ‘Jesus made me whole’. Our goal, as I understand the Christian life, is not the experience of wholeness. Instead, our goal is giving and receiving love in the midst of our brokenness and need.

Read the rest of Black's post - it may help you clarify some of your (erroneous) preaching....

The earthquake story you probably won't have heard

The earthquake story you (probably) won't have heard....

The following extract comes from a post that was written on the 16th May on a blog site I was previously unfamiliar with: the kiwifruit blog. It tells of some heroic work done in the first minutes and hours of the second Christchurch earthquake, and what followed after that. The 'sting in the tale', one might say, comes right at the end of the blog post, so make sure you read it all.

Doug Watt is the Sales Manager of OMC Power Equipment on Gasson St in Christchurch – directly down the road from Madras St where the collapsed CTV building was. As soon as the quake struck, Doug grabbed some hardhats and tools and headed for the city, encouraging his workers to do the same. They were among the first people on the scene at the collapsed CTV building. There arrived so early that the police and the fire department hadn’t worked out who was in charge of the site yet. Doug was able to convince them that, since he and his men were builders, they ought to get onto the site and try to rescue as many people as possible (those in Christchurch will know builders were the most useful people in dealing with the ruins). Doug and his workers stayed at the CTV building until 4am the following morning and rescued as many as 8 people from the building.

Lack of imagination....

These are radically different kinds of questions than the ones currently being asked by denominations and congregational leaders. In Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood I argue that we’re controlled and shaped by what I call church questions. No matter what the style or brand - be it traditional, contemporary, emergent, missional etc. - the basic underlying questions are focused on how to improve, change, reorder, redesign, remake the church in one form or another. Discussions are about what types and models of church are needed, they focus on how to, one more time, restructure what already exists, put a commission together to imagine new forms, or change existing books of order and discipline to make the church more open. All these activities, which have some value, are shaped by a single, common imagination. Church is the centre of the conversation, the subject, object and end of all these discussions. It’s this imagination that’s blinding and binding Christian imagination from the ways the Spirit is actually unravelling our existing church world and pushing us across boundaries into unknown spaces where we no longer have the maps or control.

Alan Roxburgh in his article: Rediscovering the Neighbourhood

Update on the 30 days

Back on the 2nd May we mentioned that Alan Roxburgh's Missional Network was running a 30 days of joinging God in your neighbourhood series.

I've just checked back and there are now 20 days listed (obviously a little behind, even given that they're a day and half behind us in time zones), with some fascinating and useful material.

There are several items by Simon Carey Holt, along with a variety of ideas of ways to engage with your neighbourhood, such as going out with the local police at night and hearing what they know about the area, or offering tutoring to immigrants close by, or becoming a regular in a particular coffee bar or other meeting place, and getting to know who else is there frequently.

Some of the ideas may not appeal, some may take up more time than you have available. Nevertheless this is a worthwhile series which is bound to have at least one thing in it that's of value to those looking for ways to become more neighbourhood-focused.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Sociologist, Bradley Wright, has recently published an article on 'de-conversion' - in other words, reasons for why people leave the Christian faith.

This is the abstract. The full article, which appeared in the Journal of Religion and Society, can be found online here.

"This article examines the written narratives from fifty former Christians. In these narratives, drawn from an online community of deconverts, the writers described their experiences with and explanations for leaving the Christian faith. Several themes emerged as to why they left, including: intellectual and theological concerns, a feeling that God had failed them, and various frustrations with Christians. The writers gave little mention to non-Christians as pulling them out of the faith. These narratives emphasized external, rather than internal, attributions for the deconversion. They also identified primarily “push” rather than “pull” factors as the cause of deconversion. While some narratives outlined the costs and benefits of deconversion, others told of seeking moral rightness regardless of the cost."

The reasons boiled down to intellectual and theological concerns, God's failures, interactions with other Christians, and interactions with non-Christians. (Interestingly enough, this last group seems to be the least influential.) Some of this may be already well-known, but it's good to have it available in a relatively succinct form.

Job's wife

We base our entire picture of Job's wife on her one line in the story, and Job's rebuke that follows.

But she says no more than many of the prophets in their bitter moments, and to condemn her because she speaks out of her heart is to forget that she's undergone much of the pain which Job himself experiences. He's by no means alone in his sorrow.

Daniel Darling calls her The Most Misunderstood Woman in the Bible - that may be overdoing it a little, but there's no doubt that she's received more than her fair share of condemnation over the centuries, Augustine labelling her "the devil's accomplice" and Calvin calling her "a diabolical fury." Both men who were at times prone to overstating things...

Darling's article on Job's wife is an example of how to think outside the obvious, and is worth reading for that aspect alone.

Preaching as performance

"The second misconception is that performance [in preaching] is mere playacting. It's easy to assume that theatrics is about manipulating people for mere entertainment, that is, entertainment for entertainment's sake. When this is done with preaching, the delivery is embellished and actually impedes the communication of the message. Bad performances in the pulpit are as obvious as bad acting on the stage or screen. The only time we usually notice actors acting is when their craft is poor. It's the same with preaching. When it's done masterfully, the preacher almost disappears.

Good preaching comes alive and speaks to the heart precisely because it is well presented, with proper gesture, vocal technique, and bodily presence. People in the performing arts call this "stage presence." We might call it liturgical presence, or pulpit presence. All effective communicators realize that they must master numerous techniques in order to impact their audience."

From Preaching is Performance Art, by Clayton Schmit

Faith-based unit may close

Prison Fellowship is seeking support from Christians in an approach to the Minister of Corrections to try and save the faith-based unit at Rimutaka Prison, which is under threat of closure.

Prison Fellowship NZ has operated the national faith-based unit in partnership with the Department of Corrections, since October 2003. It is the only official faith-based unit in Australasian prisons and is widely respected internationally.

The unit's operations were extended first by Operation Jericho, a single mentor-based aftercare programme, then the whole throughcare scheme, the only scheme of its kind in a New Zealand prison. This scheme was extended by PFNZ, at considerable ongoing cost, with a more intensive community-led care scheme, Target Communities, based on an internationally proven model.

See the full story here.

Wright's five act play...

Andrew Perriman discusses Tom Wright's 'five act play analogy for biblical authority' in a recent blog post, and, while he finds it has value, doesn't think it goes quite far enough.

He notes: is a useful analogy. It gets away from the Bible-is-authoritative-because-it-says-so approach, and it brings into the foreground—stage front, if you like—the concrete, intentional, creative response of the biblical community. So far, so good.

My main disagreement with Wright here is that, in his view of things, history more or less grinds to a halt when we get to Paul.

To find out why he thinks so - and his thinking develops Wright rather than dismissing it - read it online here.

Mental Health Webinars

I note that I haven't posted anything here since my birthday on the 13th May - things have been a little hectic, what with performing in the play, Shadowlands, and a variety of other things that needed to be done. This week I'm aiming to do a bit of catching up...(note the use of the word 'aiming'.)

The Mental Health Foundation is launching a new series of live and interactive online broadcasts in May aimed at answering the challenging question: “How Do We Talk About Suicide?”

The first of these took place on the 18th May, but there are further ones to come. They're taking the form of Webinars, online seminars which allow presenters to interact with an audience live over the internet.

Once registered, audience members are sent a link to a website where they can log on and view the presentation at the time of broadcast. Any questions that audience members have can be sent in confidence to the presenter during the broadcast by typing into a chat window provided on screen, and will form part of the interactive discussion.

Future broadcast subjects will include cultural perspectives on suicide prevention, coping with suicide bereavement, and advice for families on supporting a loved one with an ongoing mental health problems. You can read more about the programme here. (At this point future dates aren't yet listed.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Education in the true sense, of course, is an enablement to serve -- both the living human community in its natural household or neighborhood and its precious cultural possessions that the living community inherits or should inherit. To educate is, literally, to ‘bring up,’ to bring young people into a responsible maturity, to help them be good caretakers of what they have been given, to help them to be charitable toward fellow creatures.

Wendell Berry
“Higher Education and Home Defense” from Home Economics

Monday, May 09, 2011

Church: fall in love

Greg Boyd wrote on his blog this week.... have to wonder why millions of people have been tortured and murdered by Christians throughout history for espousing “heretical” views about baptism, communion, the church and a very long list of other doctrines, while not one person (so far as I know) has been officially disciplined — let alone accused of “heresy” — for failing to adequately love (as when they tortured and murdered others in Jesus name, for example). We can have all the right doctrine in the world, but if we fail to love as Christ loved us, we are all “heretics.”

This comes from a post entitled, The 'Heresy' of Failing to Love. (Which incidentally, I originally read as: The 'Heresy' of Falling in Love. Will really have to stop skimming.)

It's an interesting post asking a question as to why we put doctrines and creeds and theology above love, (as in the recent fallout over Rob Bell) when Jesus specifically prayed that we (all of us Jesus-believers) would all love one another.

I did a paper in NZ Church History last year. I knew there'd always been disagreements in the church, including the NZ Church. I'd never realised just how extensive this was, and how sometimes horrendous it was. None of the denominations was free of guilt in this regard.

“By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35) has to be one of the most unanswered prayers in history...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Kiwi-made Preaching

A quick update on the Kiwi-made Preachingforums in October...

The venues in Auckland, Waikanae and Christchurch are confirmed..

A page has been added to the Kiwi-made Forum with more details regarding dates.

Paul Windsor writes: we are now working on signing-up 60 'Questions-Askers' who will provoke us. There is no shortage of people to ask, that is for sure (but we would be glad to consider your suggestions).

Chris Wright is confirmed as the companion for the day, coming out from the UK for the week.

He will open and close each forum with separate 'Exclamations' and then mix and mingle with people through the day.

Two things at this stage:

1. If you are a facebook-user, please 'like' the 'kiwi-made preaching' page and 'share' it with others as we intend to use it to update people regularly.

2. The best outcomes to the forum will be achieved when a preaching team from a local church comes together, divides 'n conquers the total menu on the day and then, on some later occasion, gets together for a debrief. We think this approach could provide a huge boost to the preaching ministry in a local church. Please begin to pray and plan along these lines.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Mission in the Neighbourhood

On the Missional Network website Alan Roxburgh and his team invite you to join them as they introduce some ways in which you can begin some small experiments in joining God in the neighborhood.

Over the next 30 days they will tell stories, suggest actions and share interviews, and they invite you to join the conversation. What are your stories? What are the questions you would like to have answered? Where are you seeing the Spirit change your imagination of what it means to be the church today?

If you feel a little unimaginative in this regard go to another site recommended by Roxburgh called Missional in Suburbia. They're doing a series called The Church Returns to the Neighbourhood (the first post is here) and they're already (as at the 3rd May) up to their fourth post on the topic. The posts connect back to Roxburgh's book, expanding on his ideas.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The experience of pioneers

Jonny Baker reports:

There have been a couple of pieces of research recently into the experience of pioneers and pioneers in training [in mission]

One isn’t yet in the public domain so I’ll come back to it when it does appear. But this piece of research by Beth Keith on behalf of Fresh Expressions is excellent. It was conducted through a series of small group gatherings of pioneers round the country. The information has then been collated into a series of themes raising a number of points and offering some recommendations. You can download the report from here on the Fresh Expressions web site.

Jonny then goes on to give a brief overview of the research - some interesting insights on sustainability, finance, over-optimism, lay workers and more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making the most of Facebook

Wales online reports that Welsh chapels struggling for members are swapping prayer books for Facebook, hoping that younger people will be attracted by the social network site. Twitter is also being used. (I think this reported line might be a tad metaphorical; have the prayer books actually been ditched as yet?)

Some Welsh congregations have launched their own online TV station in a bid to salvage dwindling attendances. Annibynwyr TV is possibly the first internet channel of its kind launched by any denomination in the UK.

In the last three decades the average Welsh chapel congregation has gone from just under a 100 to around 50, and only around 60% of the chapels that existed 30 years ago are still functioning.

The Rev Andrew Lenny
, president of the Union of Welsh Independent churches, says:

“We as a denomination are working towards utilising new media in order to engage with communities who we might not otherwise reach. While our key messages remain the same, we recognise that we have to embrace these new and vast means of reaching out to people.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

The ultimate Yes

Two of the quotes Simon Carey Holt uses in his Easter Sunday sermon, Yes! reproduced in his blog.

‘We are a Bible-believing, fundamental, dispensational, non-ecumenical, non-charismatic, non-Calvinistic, anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-gay, separatist church.’

Jurgen Moltmann says that ‘True spirituality is the rebirth of the full and undivided love of life; the total Yes to life and the unhindered love of everything living.’

I sat through a sermon on Sunday that seemed to me to be more about the Cross, Good Friday and dying to life/self. Could have done with a bit more celebration....!

The $300 house

The mission?
Design a simple dwelling that can be constructed for under $300 which keeps a family safe, allows them to sleep at night, and gives them both a home and a sense of dignity.

The $300 house has been in the pipeline for some time now, and it's getting to a point where some real progress will be made.

Like Habitat for Humanity this is an attempt to make housing affordable for people who would otherwise never live in their own home. Unlike H for H it's aimed at people in poorer countries for whom the H for H house would be a complete dream.

In an article by Christian Sarkar,
you can catch up on the progress of this innovative idea. The $300 house is mission in action, yet comes out of the business world....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More thoughts from Epic Fail

The following paragraphs were written by one of the participants at the Epic Fail Conference. J R Briggs was given permission to include them in his blog, so I'm hoping that the writer of these words is happy to have them disseminated further on the Net.

Anyone who has ever read through the book of Acts has felt a tension between the words on the biblical pages and the state of the current church. There is a glaring hole between them and us. Miracles, revival, and community were the normative. There is a culture of “God-movement” that defines the early followers of Jesus. As a Jesus follower, the thing that strikes me most is the deep connection that existed among this community. A community that is often described as the Acts 2 church.

I want Acts 2 community, in a bad kind of way. I have read many books, listened to many lectures, taught often, and even written about the pursuit of community – yet it remains slippery and seemingly just out of reach. This past weekend I heard a brother make a profound statement that has reminded me of of a great truth. Ready?. Acts 2 is preceded by Acts 1. Selah.

Simple, yet profound. Acts 1 is about the people of God, longing for the presence of God, waiting on the promise of God. They prayed, and God came in power. Power that manifested itself in witness to the Resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a community. Acts 1 is about impregnation – being filled with life. This naturally leads to Acts 2 lifestyles. Why? Life begets life. The Spirit produces a community that is united, not the other way around. The point – If you want to be an Acts 2 church, you must become an Acts 1 church first.

The opening video to the Conference is here:

How we started the conference from Epic Fail Pastors Conference on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Epic Fail a Success

Back in February I mentioned the Epic Fail Conference that was due to take place this monthy. It's now been and gone, and there's a lengthy blog post reporting back on how it went from one of those, J R Briggs, who was involved in the organisation of it.

In a sense, the Epic Fail Conference was a success, which is slightly ironic. Briggs notes: I was absolutely scared to death to try this (Can you imagine the headline: “Epic Fail Pastors Conference cancelled due to low registration”? I wondered if I could ever recover from such irony). A first-time, low-budget conference on failure in a suburb of Philadelphia that is anything but a tourist destination seemed like a large enough risk – but the response took me by surprise. We thought it would be a small, regional event. But people flew in from 15 different states – some not knowing many of the details, but knowing deep down they had to attend. There was a least one participant from Australia.

Later on in the post he says: This buzz was encouraging – and yet, it grieved me deeply. It was evident that there is a void and a desperate need for pastors to talk about failure. (What would inspire someone to fly half way across the globe for this? Why would a pastor drive 1200 miles by himself to talk about failure for three days in a bar?) There should be dozens of these types of conferences for pastors across the country. No, I take that back. There should be dozens of these types of conferences for people across the country.

Rather than continuing to quote Briggs, I recommend that you read the post in full. It's insightful, and looks at issues that this blog has often commented on.

So who's going to be first to provide an Epic Fail Conference in NZ?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

two items

Yes, you're right, there hasn't been a great deal appearing on this blog over the last week or so. However, I have all sorts of reasons/excuses for that, none of which I'm going to present...

Anyway, here are a couple of things worth noting that you may not have caught up with elsewhere.

Scottish Seeds in Antipodean Soil: the development of Presbyterian Worship in Aoteaora New Zealand, by Graham Redding (the most recent past-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Aotearoa NZ). I read an earlier version of this recently...

Graham's paper sets our early colonial worship patterns in the context of the Reformation and Church of Scotland history and then explores worship trends in NZ Presbyterianism to the modern era. This work in progress is the first attempt by any within the Presbyterian Church to explore and map the contours of this fascinating topic at such depth.
Why, he asks, have Presbyterians in this country never had a service book like the Anglicans? Is there anything distinctive about worship in a Presbyterian church? Does it have any underlying convictions? In what ways has it evolved over the years? What are its major antecedents? What have been its main liturgical and theological influences? Which personalities have played a key role in its development?

The current Presbyterian Moderator, Peter Cheyne, notes that there is a wortwhile series on discipleship from George Barna available here in New Zealand. It's called Growing True Disciples of Jesus, and the details of price and where to get it are available on Peter's blog.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


In case you thought that retirement had settled upon me in such a way as to make me a bit like Rip Van Winkle, asleep while the world passes by, let me assure that I've actually been busy enough this week to keep me going most of the time. Okay, occasional rests have been the order of the day, and walks with the dog, but in general I'm still keeping an eye on what's going on.

Hence, links to a couple of blog posts. The ubiquitous David Fitch wrote one, and is featured in the other. Don't let that put you off; to me he speaks some pretty good sense, if we're prepared to listen.

The first is Fitch's own, a post on the kind of leadership needed for the postmodern world. It looks pretty much like the servant leadership Jesus espoused - so that's a good thing (!)

The second comes from another old favourite on this blog, Len Hjalmarson. In this one he quotes Fitch a good deal as he draws up a list of ways to 'instill missional habits.'

This post is as countercultural (at least counter
church-cultural) as the first. Both worth chewing over while you're having your morning cuppa.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Small group stages

Scott Boren, author of Missional Small Groups writes about four different types/stages of small groups.

1. personal improvement
2. lifestyle adjustment
both of these stages can apply to any small group, not just church-oriented ones.
3. relational re-vision
4. missional re-creation.

As you can see, it can take some time for a small group to get to a missional mindset: many small groups never make it, in fact, and remain in either stage 1 or 2.

You can see a detailed summary of Scott's four stages either here or here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Should Stats be Extinct?

I'm always interested in stats, even rough ones, so when I read the following from Peter Carrell, an Anglican who because of his job moves around from church to church congregation regularly, I was intrigued. He noted this about one church he does manage to get to fairly often:

Yesterday, participating in a service at church #1, I was very pleasantly surprised to find yet more new people than when I was there a month ago. I also performed some mental arithmetic: 80% of the large congregation were under the age of 60, with around 50% under the age of 20. By contrast, when I first visited that service several years ago, I would say 80% of the congregation were over the age of 60.

He also makes a comment elsewhere about a'religious' survey that's had some promotion recently:

It seems incredible that researchers could come up with such a conclusion [that religion is set for extinction] when other evidence points in a different direction. For instance the secularization thesis (that Western countries were becoming more and more secular) has found itself undermined by both a rise in enthusiasm among Christians as well as by immigration drawing in active adherents of many faiths.!

A list of does and don'ts from a site called The Owls and the Angels has probably already started doing the rounds of the Internet. However, I've only just caught up with it, and for the benefit of those others who haven't seen it either, I'm alerting you to it.

The first three items on the 20 point list are below, to whet your appetite.

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Researching small groups

Matthew Taylor of RSA (not Returned Services Assn) and social entrepreneur Tessy Britton [pictured at right] are planning on researching small groups.

Now while this has nothing to do specifically with the small groups that are part of many Christian congregations, already their five points and the subsequent comments to the blog post give an idea as to why some small groups flourish and others don't.

Taylor and Britton have set out five areas that are the structure of their research; they're looking for people to write to them to give examples of small groups that have gone right and ones that have gone wrong. It looks already as though there are more examples of their second point - most small groups fail to fulfil their potential and here are the main reasons people give for groups under-performing - than of their first: small groups of volunteers can change the world, and here are some examples

If you've found that small groups in your church have flourished, you might be interested to let Taylor and Britton know why; equally if you've found that small groups have burnt out for various reasons, the research that these two are going to do may be of help in encouraging small groups in the future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


“Busyness, of course, is not peculiar to the pastoral life; it is endemic to our culture.. We need a strategy that takes into account two sets of demands that seem to cancel each other out.. The first set of demands is that we respond with compassionate attentiveness to the demands of the people around us...demands that refuse to stay within the confines of regular hours and always exceed our capacity to meet them..

“The second set of demands is that we respond with reverent prayer to the demand of God for our attention, to listen to him, to take him seriously in the actual circumstances of this calendar day, at this street address, and not bluff our way through by adopting a professionalized role. This is a kind of attentiveness that we know from instruction and experience can be entered into only slowly and deliberately. There is a large, leisurely center to existence where God must be deeply pondered, lovingly believed. It means entering realms of spirit where wonder and adoration have space to develop, where play and delight have time to flourish. Is this possible for pastors who have this other set before them daily?

“It is possible for pastors. Because there is a biblical provision for it.. The name for it is sabbath…”

Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles

Monday, March 21, 2011

14 theses on prayer

Ben Myers, after staying for a weekend at a Catholic monastery, has written 14 theses on's one example that particularly appealed to me:

6. Why do we close our eyes when praying? Prayer is not a turning inwards, not a withdrawal into the silent recesses of the self. Prayer is open-eyed attention. It is waiting all day on the shore for the glimpse of a rare bird. ‘You must wear your eyes out, as others their knees’ (R. S. Thomas).

Church in the Present Tense

Church in the Present Tense: a candid look at what’s emerging - authors: Scot McKnight, Kevin Corcoran, Peter Rollins, Jason Clark.

The book includes a DVD with interviews with the authors, as well as Rowan Williams, Brian McLaren and Jonny Baker.

Jonny Baker has written a lengthy post/review of this scholarly book in which he discusses many of its features and points out some things that are missing (such as women authors and interviewees). The book offers different stances on theology, mission and church, some of which disagree with each other. There are critiques of the church cultures as well as the cultures churches ‘live’ in, of institutionalism and emergence.

By the look of the reviews this is an important book on the current state of ‘church’ in its various forms (though not all of its forms).

At the end of his review, Baker quotes Rowan Williams: Church is what happens when people encounter the risen Jesus Christ; institution is something that comes much later...
Brazos Press 2011.

Hope and resilience

One of the five aspects of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand's mandate is justice. We possibly don't focus on it as much as we might on this blog, so here is an extract from a blog (Never Mind the Bricolage) that itself doesn't usually focus on justice issues either.

In this post, the writer (whose name doesn't appear on the blog that I can find) has recently seen a documentary called Wasteland about the world's largest landfill on the edge of Rio, in Brazil. Whole communities live in and around this landfill, and the film shows how there is both hope and resilience amongst these people. The writer's comments are worth reading in full, but the following paragraph is significant.

Without reaching too far, it might be that there is a shift in consciousness occurring, a growing sense that materialism is not sufficient and that finding some to contribute to the well-being of others is integral to our humanity. If it is not a shift in consciousness, it is a trend for sure. It could be that the economic downturn has had some effect, but think it is beyond that. Another signal that we have experienced a move away from, or are past, post, after or entering some new phase of the modern project--can't be bothered with terming it postmodern, post-secular, hyper-modern, liquid modernity or whatever other characterization has been put forth---things have shifted, we don't live in the same world anymore, new values and ethics are emerging and Muniz [the film's director] embodies some of them in this film. Or perhaps they are old values being incarnated differently--just watch the film and make up your own mind.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Liturgy back online

One of the websites that's been missing as a result of the Christchurch earthquake has been the internationally popular Liturgy site, run by Anglican Bosco Peters. As a result of being offline, a lot of his fans have assumed he'd gone for good and have departed themselves.

After a few spasmodic tweets, sent from an internet cafe, or the like, Bosco and Liturgy are now back online again.


And as perky, informative and occasionally hilarious as ever...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some updates on ChCh

Via a tweet leading to a website where there was a post about another blog, one written by the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, I found out a bit more about what's happening on the Prezzie front in Christchurch. Peter Cheyne has written quite a lengthy post about his visit to Christchurch to see at first hand what the churches are experiencing.

On the Anglican front, I was sent a lengthy email a few days (which will probably already be slightly out of date). This lists what's happening in a number of parishes around the city. I'm not in the position to post this here - and I don't know that it's been posted in this particular format elsewhere either - but if anyone wants a copy by email, I can forward it to you. Just ask in the comments section of this blog. The official Anglican site is here and there's a good deal of information about where the Christchurch Anglican community is at on that site.

The Catholics of Christchurch also have a good deal of information on their site, including the dire state of the Cathedral - a building I know better than the famous Anglican one (which I think I've only ever been in the porch of). A few years ago when my wife and I were in Christchurch, we spent a bit of time in the Catholic building, and it was distressing to see photos of the present state of it after the recent earthquake.

There isn't a central Baptist website for Christchurch - Baptists being rather more independent church-wise, they've each got their own sites.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan and Religion

We tend to have our views about countries in terms of how religious they are...or not.

Japan is no different. Kudos, then, to for picking up on various reports as to the
actual state of belief in Japan. Here's on when the Japanese bring religion into their lives:

Proud of their secular society, most Japanese aren’t religious in the way Americans are: They tend not to identify with a single tradition nor study religious texts. "The average Japanese person doesn’t consciously turn to Buddhism until there’s a funeral,” says Brian Bocking, an expert in Japanese religions at Ireland’s University College Cork. When there is a funeral, though, Japanese religious engagement tends to be pretty intense. “A very large number of Japanese people believe that what they do for their ancestors after death matters, which might not be what we expect from a secular society,” says Bocking. “There’s widespread belief in the presence of ancestors’ spirits.”

And USA today on religious percentages:

Japan is 90% Buddhist or Shinto or a combination of the two, with young urban Japanese more inclined to have drifted from religious attachments.

The same writer, Cathy Lynn Grossman, begins a blog post on Japanese and religion by writing simply: Everyone prays.

Finally, Religion News Service tells us this:

Churches and Christians in northeastern Japan, the most heavily affected area, are still out of contact days after the disaster. Studies estimate that 2 percent of Japanese are Christian, with the vast majority practicing Buddhism and the indigenous Shinto religion.

The various reports go to confirm yet again, that there is no country in the world that can be simply called, 'secular.'

PS. There is a short news report video on this blog page showing some slightly more positive aspects post-disaster.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Workplace trauma after the earthquake

In response to the urgent need, Skylight has developed a practical and unique hand book for employers, managers and team leaders in organisations and businesses impacted by the Christchurch Earthquakes and aftershocks - When trauma and grief come to work.

Employers are not only dealing with their own trauma and grief but are faced with the trauma and loss in the lives of their staff and customers too.

Hard copies are also available 0800 299 100 or email

The booklet/pdf looks at a variety of issues: post traumatic stress, grief, coping with staff reactions, looking after yourself as an employer, support organisations and more.