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.

Short sleeps = poor concentration

Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You'd probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner. But basically you'd be fine.

Now let's say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week. Not so good. After several days, you'd be almost completely unable to function. That's why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

So begins a short article by Tony Schwartz on the fact that we need more sleep each night than most of us allow ourselves. High achievers, in particular, always want to make the most of that extra late-night hour. Others just don't want 'to go to bed so early.' But Schwartz says that the result of having too little sleep is that we work at a considerably reduced capacity. Better sleep means better focus and concentration in a shorter time.

I'm pointing to this article out of concern for the health and wellness (are they the same thing?) of ministers, many of whom have broken sleep and interrupted sleep; it's part of the nature of the job. But few of them make up that sleep. And that only leads to worse sleep patterns.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I'm posting this in appeared on the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog (he's in NZ just now) on March 11th and is a 'conversation' between him and a colleague in Japan. It gives some idea of where things are at for those on the ground.

He writes: My friend Mika Goto was stuck in Tokyo tonight after the earthquake and I asked her some questions for the blog. I am posting it unedited.

TSK: Did you feel the earthquake in Tokyo? What is happening there now?

MIKA: I and co-workers, felt the earthquake in the central Tokyo.
It was the biggest earthquake in my life, intensity 5 in Tokyo area.
After emergency escape, we are told to go home or to go safe place,
but trains were stopped, there were traffic jam,
so that, there were lots of people walking to go home, or to find warm and safe place.

some of co-workers, who live near central Tokyo, they walked home.
some of us, who live away from the central, we stay at office for tonight.
hotels and restaurants were full, lots of people are staying in some building to keep themselves warm.
from around 11pm, trains started moving in Tokyo area.

phone line has been too busy, we lost contact with each other.
I kept calling to my parents, so that I could reach them to find that they are safe.
(my father is also staying in his office in the central Tokyo.)

tokyo, is ok, i gues, but the area close to the origin of the earthquake,
people there are facing difficult situation, with collaption of building, landslide, seawave.

one of my co-worker, her family is in Miyagi, near earthquake center,
inside of their house is messed up, but the family is safe and their hous is ok.

I heard, the parents of a guy in our church, live in Sendai, which is also near earthquake center, he hasnt reach them yet.

TSK: Have the churches begun to respond in Japan? What do you think they will do?

I dont know if they have begun, without any info,... but I hope, the churches aound the epicentral area will help, such as offering them place to stay, food, blanket, caring of those who lost their family...

TSK: People around the world are praying for Japan right now. And we expect that churches and organizations everywhere will want to help in any way we can. Which organization is the best one to donate money to help Japan?

I don't have any church org in mind now. I will ask some of church friends for this...

TSK: How can we pray for your country?

it will be great if you pray for Japan, asking Jesus what to pray.
I pray that no more death will be caused by this earthquake,
and that God will use good of this for the future benefit of this country and the people in this country... (coz this gave us opportunity for us to think what is really important in our lives.)

no photo for now......and,,, i m going to sleep... hope i can go home tomorrow morning.

thanks for your prayers, mika goto

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Samaritans and Facebook; Self-harm and You Tube

From a report released on Sky News:

The Samaritans and Facebook are teaming up to allow users to get help for friends they think might be having serious problems. Facebook has 30 million users in the UK and anyone concerned about people struggling to cope or with possible suicidal thoughts will be able to get help through the Help Centre.

The feature enables users to report specific content, like status updates or wall posts. For instance, typing the word "worried" into the help centre search engine will bring up a list of places to find advice as well as the option to report suicidal content. Once a report about suicidal content has been processed, the distressed person will be sent a message with information on how they can contact the Samaritans if they need help.

Samaritans chief executive Catherine Johnstone said: "We want to remind people that if a friend says that life isn't worth living, they should always be taken seriously. "Facebook is a part of daily life for so many of us and we must make sure that people online have support when they need it."

And connected to this, a brief report has been published called: The Scope of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury on YouTube. Early in the report they state:

The top 100 videos analyzed were viewed over 2 million times, and most (80%) were accessible to a general audience. Viewers rated the videos positively (M _ 4.61; SD: 0.61 out of 5.0) and selected videos as a favourite over 12 000 times. The videos’ tones were largely factual or educational (53%) or melancholic (51%). Explicit imagery of self-injury was common. Specifically, 90% of non-character videos had non-suicidal self-injury photographs, whereas 28% of character videos had in-action non-suicidal self-injury. For both, cutting was the most common method. Many videos (58%) do not warn about this content. [My italics]

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day....was yesterday

Yesterday (8th March) was International Women's Day - and was a special occasion in that women around the world were celebrating 100 years of Women's Day.

While we're a bit late in posting about it, (though for many people it's still the 8th March, anyway) that doesn't mean that many of the options available to both men and women in terms of celebrating the day have been left behind. Jenny Baker offered the following bunch of suggestions - many of which you could do at any time of the year...
  • Contact a woman who has inspired or encouraged you and tell her how much you appreciate her
  • Join the Big Inequality Debate at
  • Follow Ruth Wells' example and take action against the objectification of women, or get involved with Object
  • Get in touch with a younger woman who has leadership potential, or who inspires you and offer your support and encouragement.
  • Use videos and information from The Girl Effect to raise awareness in your youth group - or among your friends - about the injustice faced by many girls around the world.
  • Find out more about women around the world on Christian Aid's website.
  • Get involved with Restored, Tearfund's new initiative to challenge the church on violence against women.
  • Give the money you could have spent on a treat for yourself to help women in poverty around the world - why not give it here, here or here?
  • Join Womankind's twitter campaign and tweet your #wish4women

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Toxic Pastors

Author, Joe Hellerman is presently at work on a book about the use of power and authority in Christian leadership. The provisional title is When Pastors Were Servants: Recapturing Paul’s Cruciform Vision for Authentic Christian Leadership.

He writes:
The motivation to take on the project came from numbers of students at Talbot, and colleagues in pastoral ministry, who have found themselves on the receiving end of abusive, hurtful leaders. The book will contain, among other things, a series of narratives (well disguised, of course) detailing the various experiences that these men and women have had at the hands of narcissistic, dysfunctional leaders in their churches.

Here is perhaps the most counterintuitive reality I have encountered in the whole process of researching the topic: all but one of the dozen or so abusive local church leaders described in the book are still in their churches, fully in control of the church’s vision, ministry, and staffing.

At a deeper level, people respond to powerful, charismatic leadership out of a profound longing for a god-like figure in their lives. In religious contexts this person can be a gifted, celebrity pastor who simultaneously serves as both God’s representative and spiritual father to a willing, compliant congregation. Jesus was apparently well aware of this dynamic: ‘Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven’ (Matt 23:9).

I think this promises to be a book worth reading, paradoxically in the light of the need ministers in New Zealand and elsewhere have for avoiding burnout and stress-related sicknesses.


Kim Fabricius writes, in a sermon 'published' on Ben Myers blog, on the subject of homelessness....not quite the discussion homelessness you might expect, as the following couple of paragraphs indicate [my italics in the first paragraph]

There has been a lot of talk over the past decade or so about the church at the end of Christendom being a church in exile, often rather glib talk, in my view, because it has neglected to acknowledge the Old Testament significance of exile, and the traumatic experience of exile, namely, God’s judgement on Israel, God’s punishment of Israel by their dispersal to Babylon. Without this recognition, it is easy for Christians to slip into a victim mentality, in which we blame church decline on secularism or atheism. Without this recognition, we rather too quickly start “re-imagining the future” (as the process of renewal was called in the URC in Wales) without confessing and repenting the sins of our past – sins mainly of taking too much for granted, sins of apathy and lethargy, the sins of civic religion.

And then there are the three dangers of living in exile. The first is nostalgia, pining for the good old days and trying to re-inscribe them in the reality of today. But – remember King Canute – you can’t command the tides of time to withdraw. The second danger is withdrawal, disengaging from the big bad world of today altogether and circling the wagons. This is the sectarian option and it is not only cowardly and faithless, it is also a recipe for further decline and ultimate disappearance. And then there is the third danger, assimilation, whereby we think we can save the church by aping the ways of the world, as if all we’ve got to do is to market and manage the church more strategically and effectively to be “successful”. But then the customer, not the gospel, becomes sovereign, and though the church gain the whole world, it loses its soul.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Lent is round the corner

Of course, no one has problems thinking of things to give up for Lent, or things to do that are out of their comfort zone and that make a difference to someone else. Or do they?

Anyway, if you're feeling short on ideas, here's Dave Gibbons offering what he (rather oddly) calls A Hardcore Top Ten for Lent 2011.

Some obvious things on the list, like giving up chocolate or watching TV or taking a retreat from social media, but also some slightly off the wall suggestions - giving up sex, stopping wearing make-up, turning your car into a car-pool, not locking your doors against the outside world.

Check out his list and his reasons. One of these might just be the thing for you!

Who are your Neighbours?

Amidst the tragedy of the earthquake in Christchurch last week, it has been heartening to see the generosity, kindness and creativity expressed by neighbours to their neighbours, from getting water for an elderly neighbour to cooking for the whole street. At such times we realise the worth of the people living near us.

Can you name your neighbours?

This year on Saturday 26 and 27 March all over the country, an opportunity exists for all New Zealanders to participate in Neighbours Day Aotearoa. Why not encourage your congregation to consider how they might connect with their neighbours in a meaningful way.

Ideas can be small or large, ranging from baking for a neighbour to simply introducing
yourself to a neighbour you've never really spoken to, from organising a street barbeque to afternoon tea to mowing your neighbour's grass front.

For more information, check out the Neighbours Day website. There are heaps of ideas there.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The rumblings continue

The other day I posted a brief note about Rob Bell's video in which he seems to espouse 'universalism' as a reasonable theology. What he actually does in the video is ask questions - always a good way to start a discussion. And boy, has it started a discussion. On the basis of the video alone (well, not quite alone, on the basis of the video and the blurb on the back of the as yet unpublished book) all manner of people have started discussing the rights and wrongs of what he's said, and whether he's a heretic and is leading people astray and why does Rob Bell get to influence so many people and is he really going to say this in his book (which none of us have read yet) ...and so on.

Richard Beck has been writing about it - he's now on the second of a bunch of posts that will appear on the topic. The first is here.

Tim Keller hasn't written recently about it, but has tweeted back to an earlier article he wrote on the subject - and the way in which traditionalists and postmoderns see Hell differently.

And then there are the Reformed people, who've really gone to town on the whole issue. They're exceedingly up in arms.

What's great about all this is that people are talking theology, that is, they're talking about God, who He (okay 'She' for some of you) is. And they may be arguing like billyo, but at least the subject is out there in the blogosphere for all to see....and that can only be good.