Saturday, January 29, 2011


Christianity Today has published its annual Book Awards for books that in their judges' opinions best offer insights into the people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission.

I'm especially pleased to see Bradley Wright's Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You've Been Told: a Sociologist Shatters Myths from the Secular and Christian Media on the list, and not just because the author sent me a copy for free!

As someone who works with [religion-focused] stats a good deal, it's heartening to see an author get to grips with what the stats have actually said rather than what someone thinks they've said, or wants them to say. He's not alone in this, of course, (Ed Setzer seems to do a bit in this regard), but his book is the first to focus on the issue - at least as far as I know.

Interestingly enough, just this week on Facebook, a very regular participant on that site (the pastor of a large youth-focused church in Australia who I will leave unnamed) posted one of his typical updates, and quoted stats - without any source. As he's now deleted the original post and its many comments, I can't quote directly, but he claimed something along the lines that in the States 3500 churches close their doors every year (?) but 4000 other churches are planted each year. He was saying it was a cause for rejoicing that the net profit was 500 new churches.

When I asked for a source for the stats, he ignored me, but when another writer got rather shirty about the issue, a considerable argument (as opposed to a debate) ensued. Helpfully a third writer actually posted a reasonable source for the original stats, although not one that really confirmed anything. Some insults passed by, both from the original poster, who lost his temper at length (and later came back more apologetically) and from one particular other person. As I say, the whole discussion was deleted - perhaps after the original poster realised that some of his remarks sadly didn't do much for his image.

I tell this story just to prove that the world of statistics isn't all bland and boring....

Old age outrage

One of the areas of ministry - or lack of it - that has come increasingly to my attention during my time in National Mission is the way in which many elderly people are regarded as surplus to requirements in the average congregation. This isn't true of all churches - some of whom do very well in regard to older people - but it is true of many churches were the focus is almost entirely on children, youth, young families....

Here's a quote from an essay entitled, Fitness and Outrage, by Sherwin B. Nuland, who is himself now 80 years of age:

“Too many of the elderly do not have the family or the communal attachments necessary to feel valued; too many are widowed or otherwise alone; too many live in surroundings where they are essentially without the companionship necessary to stimulate a mind in danger of deteriorating. Too many are so poor or unable to obtain social services that they cannot remain in their own homes, and are certainly without the wherewithal to live in an upscale retirement community or assisted-living facility. Too many have passed their entire lives without the level of education and general knowledge necessary to take advantage of what is available to their peers raised in circumstances of greater awareness. For the vast majority of such men and women, so often socially and even physically more or less isolated, modern gerontology and its discoveries might as well not exist.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Official closing

Today, the National Mission Office officially closes. John Daniel and I stay on for a period, tidying up lose ends, but in an official sense we're 'not here.' (It's debatable, according to some lights, whether we ever were, but that's another story.)

So for the time being there will continue to be blog posts. The Service of Recognition was held last night for the Team - you could take the word 'recognition' in a number of ways, I suspect: recognition for the work done, recognition that we actually existed and did do some work (in John's case, a heap of work); recognition that the National Mission team will be greatly missed; recognition, belatedly, that perhaps it shouldn't even be departing the scene - but that's a done deal.

More than one person, in presenting their tribute, gave the impression that my main work has been to blog. That's not quite the case, although I believe that the blog has been one important aspect of the last three years in the life of the NMO. I've done quite a few other things while I've been here, from admin work to running errands to making coffees to cleaning up to writing up information I've researched (mainly for John, but also for other people) to doing a heap of reading online (the distillation of much of which has appeared on here or in the ezine).

Peter Cheyne, (the current Moderator for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ) who was leading the Service last night, invited me up to speak, along with John and Heather. When I demurred, not being a person confident to speak on such occasions, he said, with a grin, Well, I guess we'll hear about it on the blog tomorrow.

Which means that there are people who read it. And one good thing about Facebook is that the blog posts published here also get published there....and get a wider readership. Considering that most of what has been presented here has been the wisdom of other people rather than mine, that's only as it should be.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Conflict in the church

David Fitch writes a provocative post on conflict in the's one of the early paragraphs [my italics]:

Time and again over the past twenty five years I have been witness to church conflict in evangelical churches. I have seen time and again the pathetic response of infighting, division and the arbitration of who is right by a singular authority figure. It was only by intensely studying John Howard Yoder in the 90’s that I came to realize the absolute necessity of conflict in the church as the basis for a Christian social body’s presence in Mission. For in this moment of conflict, which always emerges out of either a.) the exposure of sin, or b.) a disagreement over something we’ve never confronted before, the new territory is engaged bringing Christ as Lord, new victories over sin death and evil are won. And a world is now invaded with the gospel in a way that was not possible before the conflict. I believe there is something dynamic going on when Jesus says “there am I in the midst.”(Matt 18:20)

Read on for his explanation as to why he believes what he says....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Goodness of Stuff

Circuitously, (that is, via three interlinking paths) found this video this morning. Doug Wilson, minister at Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho, talks with good humour on the way in which we get just a little bit gnostic at Christmas. Only two and a half minutes long, so it won't take up much of your precious spiritual time....

Christmas and falling into sin from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

While it relates to Christmas specifically, the point Wilson is making is worth considering beyond that particular feast. You might also like to make a note of this from Len Hjalmarson: A couple years back I discovered William Cavanaugh and his lucid thinking. Cavanaugh’s book Being Consumed helps us recover the meaning of the Incarnation = God made flesh.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The values of getting older

Many of us see the second half of life as a process of heading downhill from the 'heights' of our (long) youth - 0-40, roughly.

However, Richard Rohr believes we should look at this differently, and has recently produced a book called, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It's published byJossey-Bass.

The publishers' blurb says: “In Falling Upward , Fr. Richard Rohr seeks to help readers understand the tasks of the two halves of life and to show them that those who have fallen, failed, or "gone down" are the only ones who understand "up." Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite. What looks like falling down can largely be experienced as "falling upward." In fact, it is not a loss but somehow actually a gain, as we have all seen with elders who have come to their fullness.

Some of the chapter headings sound intriguing:

1. The Two Halves of Life.
2. The Hero and Heroine's Journey.
3. The First Half of Life.
4. The Tragic Sense of Life.
5. Stumbling over the Stumbling Stone.
6. Necessary Suffering.
7. Home and Homesickness.
8. Amnesia and the Big Picture.
9. A Second Simplicity.
10. A Bright Sadness.
11. The Shadowlands.
12. New Problems and New Directions.
13. Falling Upward.

To get a short appreciation of Rohr's viewpoint, you can read an article entitled: The Two Halves of Life: how did we get them so mixed up?

[Thanks for
Paul Fromont for alerting us to this book.]


Len Hjalmarson notes six out of seven ways in which growth and expansion in church life can be inhibited. He's taken these from Roland Allen's 1920s book, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, and the causes that hinder it.

1. when the church is dependent on paid leadership;

2. when the spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear of error, and both error and godly zeal are suppressed;

3.when it is believed that the church is to be founded , educated, equipped, and established in the doctrine, ethics and organization before it is to expand;

4. when emerging leaders are restricted from ministering until they are fully trained and so learn the lesson of inactivity and dependency;

5. when conversion is seen as the result of clever argument rather than the power of Christ;

6. when professional clergy control the ministry and discourage the spontaneous zeal of non-professionals. They may protect the new believers from charlatans (Acts 8:9-24) but they also block unconventional leaders like Peter the fisherman.

Allen's views are counter-cultural to the approach still taken by most seminaries and denominations. In other words, this prophetic voice is still not getting through to the majority of church organisations, or, if it's making any impact, it's v....e....r....y slow.

However, in the emerging church scene, this approach is certainly more common.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Podcasts now available

I'm back on deck at the National Mission Office, at least until the end of February. The Office is officially closing at the end of January, but John Daniel and I will be continuing to work for another month, clearing up. The blog may continue on, depending on what I do with the next stage of my life....

Meanwhile, thanks to Anne Thomson for letting us know about the following podcasts:

A number of people were interested in Jim Wallis's visit to Dunedin in September last year, but were unable to attend the event, it being so close to Assembly and all.

You can now watch and listen to him, via the University of Otago's podcasts - after clicking on this link scroll down to "Howard Paterson Memorial Lecture 2010" and to "A Conversation with Jim Wallis".

And then if you want to explore further, last year's Thomas Burns Lectures are also available, given by Prof. John Coffey on the theme ‘Let my people go’: Exodus and Deliverance from Calvin to Obama.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


There is a dread code word that church people, particularly Professional Church People, use for those who are, well, unchurched. For sheer stupidity it ranks with ‘deplane,’ as in ‘in an emergency, you will deplane from the door or window nearest you that is marked as an exit.’ My favourite days are those in which I am a thoroughly ‘deplaned’ person.

The best commentary on the word ‘unchurched’ that I know of came from a grocer in a small town in Iowa, apparently one of the suspect heathen. One day the pastor of the Lutheran church approached him about providing food for a district meeting of church evangelisation committees. These are the people, the pastor explained, who have a special ministry – here he paused, significantly – a special outreach to the ‘unchurched.’ The grocer took the order for cold cuts, sliced cheeses, rolls, cookies, and fruit. When the pastor unveiled the large deli platter in the church basement, he was startled to find that the centrepiece was a cross constructed out of slices of bologna.

From Amazing Grace: a vocabulary of faith, by Kathleen Norris, pg 325