Tuesday, May 31, 2011

People with mental health problems...in 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:

...it 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....

...you 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.