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

No comments: