Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BeBe Winans - Abundant Life

This is arguably the greatest gospel song ever written. For me it is such a significant song which means so much to me and reminds me of what grace is all about that I gave Him so much and He turned around and gave me …

For His Name's Sake
da man cd

Monday, March 10, 2008

MSM Training Day 03

So Sunday was yesterday and it was a good day to end the weekend.

In the morning we focussed on evangelism and looked at it in the wider sense of various approaches to reaching people and some underlying concepts of why we do what we do in both serving and saying. Based on the man of peace principle it really develops on the friendship evangelism model popularised by the like of Willow Creek and emphasises sensitivity to missonal opportunities in those relationships and other regular activities that not-yet-Christians can engage in.

A good point raised in the sessions was the relational chemistry certain people can have together and not beat ourselves over the head if we’re not connecting with people and look to link with those with whom we can link. This liberates the church from the professional evangelist model where members see it as the responsibility of one guy to head up all the work.

A point during the session that I strongly agreed with was that the place of the evangelist is actually in the church building and preparing people for ministry and Christian ministry at its heart includes sharing the gospel in words. There were two parts to the evangelism session which led to lunch.

Following the meal we took a lighter approach to wind down the whole session and considered networks and sharing opportunities. This kind of resource will prove to be invaluable to churches as they grow and discover more about the variety and diversity of ways it can express itself within a given community, culture or sub-culture.

We were then heard four testimonies of fresh expressions or projects that could lead to fresh expressions taking place in the area. One was a thriving youth church in a rural context that was blossoming despite opposition. Another was a ministry to senior citizens that met the aims of serving them whilst also sharing the Word called Bible and Bingo. There was another youth project highlighted which was a combination of youth from an Anglican church and a Methodist church so there had been some opposition there among churches as young people were engaging with their outlet but not attending on Sunday to the mother churches. Thankfully that resistance has been turned round completely so that both are fully supportive of the church and plans are in place to further develop it with full time staff. Finally we had a report on a project taking place in a forest where people visit regularly and the project has been to set up a place for people to leave prayer requests and sit and ponder reflectively on spiritual things. It’s a creative initiative that’s got coverage from local media including BBC Midlands Today. There are plans in place for Easter activities and beyond that God only knows how the project will continue.

These were really encouraging stories to hear of the reality of endeavouring to do church and spiritual engagement with the world in imaginative, creative and not that complex a way. It encourages me about what could be done at the YMCA.

The last portion of the day involved breaking of the bread. I do enjoy doing this. The church to which I belong commemorates the Lord’s Supper annually and doesn’t actively promote ‘communion’ at any point throughout the year. Having said that, I haven’t seen anywhere that discourages it, but then I’ve never asked. I always find those occasions where I share the communion with others deeply stirring occasions. We were in groups and where other groups were doing elaborate efforts of the sharing, our table just quietly shared the bread and drank the wine whilst meditating on the significance of the act. Whilst the focus by the facilitator was on preparing for times of lament and understanding the suffering that we have to go through, I was taken to the reality of the completion of redemption. I was contemplating on the victory of the risen Lord and how He had overcome death itself to be able to offer life in all its fullness. This as ever got me fairly emotional with a couple of tears making their way from me eyes. Were I to really express my feelings I’m sure it would quite disturb some of my brothers and sisters from more contemplative sides of Christendom. It was a really beneficial session though and got me thinking about doing something similar at home on a regular basis between family members.

My overall feelings about the weekend are overwhelmingly positive not only were the sessions on the whole informative and insightful for future practice but on a personal note it was a time of healing on certain issues and God’s grace was overwhelming in highlighting where I am in the whole scheme of things and possible connections to expand what’s going on ministry-wise and personally.

Many thanks go to the people with whom I engaged over the weekend like Di Saxton, Catherine Murray, Roger Fairhead, Evan Cockshaw, Mother Mary and especially the URC minister in the Wulstanton area David Halsam. Special thanks are reserved for my friend Gordon Crowther who once more showed that friendship in taking from Stoke to Swanwick and back home. The journeys and conversations I get to share with him are really good in scope, depth and vitality. I love Gordon so much he’s a great guy to know and hearing about his own journey and challenges helps me to keep things in perspective as well as longing for the opportunity to do some more partnership or support work with him. The fun of these kind of friendships though is the time God takes to allow things to blossom, so in the meantime it’s good just to link up and discover more of each other.

I would strongly recommend the Mission Shaped Ministry training strongly to anyone who wants to look at fresh expressions of church in a rapidly changing culture. One of the things that came out of this weekend was just a reassertion that church should see itself as a movement rather than an institution and that way as it’s a dynamic organism it won’t have to be so slow and cumbersome in responding to the issues of modern life and maintain the commitment to the foundations and focus of faith. That’s why I’m excited about the stuff I learn from the course it’s application from a YMCA perspective and even, hopefully, eventually, from a COG perspective.

For His Name’s Sake
da man cd

Saturday, March 08, 2008

MSM Training Day 02

We’ve had the session I’ve looked to most during the weekend on discipleship. It was broken up in three parts, the first aspect looking at the importance of discipleship, the second looking at the vision and values of discipleship and ending with ways and means to apply it in Fresh Expressions. It was a really useful session that underlined just how crucial discipleship is the whole enterprise to the point of stating that everything rises and falls on how effectively we make disciples. What was particularly helpful in the process was application points between the three parts that gave a chance to look at how we could apply what was being learnt to our own situations. In my small group we were focussing on another location and the potential of what could happen there, but as we were talking my mind was focussed on application points for the YMCA mission.

The session after this was on Worship and Sacraments as led by the Bishop of Stafford who did a brilliant job exploring Key Ingredients in Christian Worship from Exodus: Worship on the Journey. This looked at the church as a movement as opposed to an institution with a cursory overview of the example of the people of Israel’s experience in Exodus. Concepts included worship that people can take with them on their journey seeing Exodus as an invitation to move from brutal power to the living God – contrast from fear to compassion. The ingredients themselves were Praise, Lament, Adoration, Intercession and Prayer On A Journey.

The Small Groups session looked at advice for starting small groups, comparing Base Ecclesial Communities and Cell Church. This reaffirmed how for the small group to work it’s got to cover four parts – Up (Worship), Out (Mission), Of (Connection) and In (Community) this particularly looks at the need to cover the mission element of their work. We then had an exercise of cell group in action which was hugely helpful and again giving ideas for the workplace.

The final session of the day was on the cheerful subject of opposition and failure which was alright and gave time for people to pray and on issues, which was hugely helpful to me. Last day tomorrow and it has already been a great weekend for ministry and appreciating other people and their plight.

For His Name’s Sake
da man cd

Friday, March 07, 2008

MSM Training Day 01

So here I am live in the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. It’s after 10pm and I’m just settling down after the first session of the Mission Shaped Ministry weekend. I arrived after 4pm as I was graciously driven to the destination by course leader and good friend Gordon Crowther. The MSM course is something I took on Gordon’s recommendation as something that could help the work I’m up to at the YMCA and perhaps some of the COG stuff as well. So far I’ve found the course highly informative and helpful in applying to the work situation and seeing it as more of a missional opportunity and seeing how the gospel can be presented and likewise how we can create opportunities to start, engage and deepen conversations about Christ.

Anyway you can always ask if you’re interested about the course. I can say that I’m not in agreement with the theological bent of the course – being emergent in nature as the CoE/Methodist impression as seen in the concept of Fresh Expressions. For all that though, it does ask some good questions about previously held pre-conceptions about church in particular and understanding of mission.

So having arrived and settled in the room – which is a comfortable 3-star quality room with en-suite facilities – I joined the rest of the large group for dinner. Usually in these circumstances there’s always an issue with the diet but on this occasion the meal was delightful – two types of veggie curry, rice, vegetables and naan bread, that more than did the job. During the meal I had an opportunity to reconnect with my dear colleague Peter Orton who has a similar post in Burton YMCA. Pete presents such a contrast to me and yet we have some key similarities. He is without a doubt a very unorthodox, unconventional guy who reminds me of John the Baptist in terms of being wacky and stands out from the crowd. What’s endearing about it, though is that this is a genuine heartfelt expression of his misfit nature where as a CoE hombre he’s found some acceptance by a group of Catholic nuns and now does work where he really belongs on the margins where no one belongs. Very passionate, very committed to God and work with others who need to engage. He and I come from different ends of the theological and doctrinal spectrum in so many ways, but this is the beauty of the work God does in my life where in essence we find ourselves working side by side, and I love the brother.

We also shared the table with Bruce and Colleen who would be leading out the first session on Gospel and Culture. Since I’ve started the post of CSD worker issues of Gospel and Culture have come up on a number of occasions in research, especially in delving into the emerging movement and it’s various critiques of traditional church’s approach (or lack of) to the prevailing external culture. One of the challenges of the MSM training over the time has just been the amount of material that is crammed into the space of time. As a result it comes across as getting tidbits of stuff that teases at so much more but not addressed because of time and speeding through concepts, pages and slides in order to get somewhere near finished. This session was no different as we considered definitions for culture and how appreciating this can help in looking for means to connect the gospel to doorways in the culture.

It was fascinating seeing and contrasting differing cultural values and norms. The key to the session was looking at the onion principle which establishes the fact that we first engage with culture at the level of behaviour and artefacts which when peeled reveals meanings which when peeled reveals values which when peeled reveals the worldview of the culture – the heart and spiritual basis on which the culture is founded. It didn’t escape my notice while taking on the teaching that it shares familiar teachings to some sociological findings, which is not a bad thing in itself but does somewhat colour the approach at which we look at the Bible. Almost as if a theory guides how we read the bible rather than biblical analysis informing the theory.

On the whole however I was happy to follow the line of reasoning and apply it to my own work scenario with the help of the group I’m in. To help in the exercise, the course is spread across a certain cross-section of West Midlands, so there’s a posse from the Stoke area with whom I congregate at these sessions. Once we looked at culture we then considered the gospel and although we’d spent considerable time on culture definition of the gospel wasn’t explored too deeply, what was reinforced though was the need to trust the gospel to have the power to save. Little hints in this direction always get me asking questions like ‘saved from what?’

One thing these sessions always instigates is what is fundamental and what isn’t in sharing the gospel in whatever culture – I was even considering at one point that in the Lord’s Supper/Communion maybe even the actual bread and wine isn’t essential in its substance (i.e. if we don’t have unleavened bread we cannot carry on) and how other things can help, yet there would still be an importance of actually exercising this ‘sacrament’. One concept we touched on all too briefly was the concept of imperialism against syncretism against inculturation.

Sometimes I get the impression that rather than having much in the way of a gospel culture that we’re planting in our various contexts as ambassadors we’ve more than bent over backwards to be accommodating to the prevailing culture and seriously dilute the gospel and even manipulate it to almost be partisan in nature – any problem, we’ll solve it cos that’s what the gospel’s all about. Yet the counter-cultural nature of the gospel and by extension the church always stands out as a beacon to world that is passing away as if to suggest we’re not a political party appeasing the big issues of the day – but we’re a community of believers earnestly awaiting a kingdom to come by living by a completely different set of laws with a different Ruler. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the Kingdom here as it is in heaven, I believe in the social responsibility called for in Matt 25 and elsewhere in the gospels and exemplified in the early church.

What I am also seeing in all that is the sense that these believers were awaiting something to be manifested in the fullness of time which will far surpass, exceed and replace the current world we live in. I also don’t have a problem with the church having a bad reputation and not being accepted in a given community, as long as it’s for the right reasons in God’s sight. I don’t see a necessary correlation between faithful gospel witnessing and flocks of people turning up and being ‘saved’. I do believe it’s about a growing community of believers carrying out the mission for which they are called in the best way they can. I loved the session and felt that time was obviously a deterring factor. Tomorrow morning, should God spare all our lives we’re looking first at Discipleship and then Worship and the Sacraments. The first topic is particularly special to me as that’s what I’m all about so I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s addressed. In the meantime that should do it for the first entry on this blog in a LONG time. Let’s hope it’s not just a repeat of last year’s quantity of blog entries.

For His Name’s Sake
da man cd