Meal

37953_481431182068_6629277_nThis is a picture I took a couple of years back just after I left The Salvation Army. Coming face to face with the unfamiliar practice of sharing bread and wine in the context of worship, I wanted to ‘artistically’ unpack my own theology of these Christian symbols. This is the best place for them, I think. On the street, inviting all to come and share in the mystery and nourishment that following Jesus brings.

Its taken me a bit of a journey to ‘get into’ it.  The main reason being is that there are a couple of things that don’t sit well in my mind:

1.   Firstly, in public worship, the sharing of bread and wine is separated from a wider community meal.   This robs some of the ‘every dayness’ of using these symbols to remember Jesus.
2.  Secondly, the portion sizes are all wrong in my humble opinion!  The little tiny cups and tiny morsels of brown bread feels silly.  I’d rather take time over slightly more and allow the textures and tastes to speak a bit longer.
3.  Thirdly, the sharing of these things can be so very sombre and to me, remembering isn’t always sombre…it is joyful and can be happy to.   The ‘jolliest’ communion I remember was at Holy Trinity Brompton where there seemed to be a life about what was happening.
4.  Fourthly, I have questions about ‘presidency.’  There is debate in some circles about who can lead the whole thing.  I count it a privilege to do so, indeed, and its different in each church tradition, but my basic theory is that its Jesus meal and Jesus’ invitation to explore and remember him in this way.  But that might just be me…

I’m not overly fussed with religiosity, pomp and ceremony, it leaves me cold, but what never leaves me is my desire to follow in the ways of Jesus, seeking to live a life which exemplifies all that he stands for and all that he wants his followers to accomplish in the world.  More than that, I want to flesh out his life where I am.

I see this meal not as an empty ritual to be discarded, but a missional meal for the journey. A reminder to carry around the story of the people of God, to allow it to shape our walk, and to remind us to be nourishment and refreshment to those we meet as we serve in the name of the Suffering Servant.

In many settings, the beauty and creativity of this symbolic sharing needs to be explored and re-evaluated that its treasure might inspire a new generation as it has all the way since Abraham and Melchizadek started the whole thing!

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Missional Leadership

Here is the thing:  if future church looks like it might be dependent on more fluid, scattered and missional expressions of the body, even although it has ‘gathered’ aspects, what does that do to leadership?

It won’t surprise you that as a ‘professional Christian’ this is something which often occupies my mind.  It can often, also, prevent me from pursuing more radical expressions of the body of Christ, because lots of the time it would seem that it would be working me out of a job.  Its an occupational hazard.  And, there in, I believe, lies a big part of the challenge for the church in these days.  I’ve gone through the agonising journey of appraising our current forms of leadership in the light of our missional challenge.  Whilst a church like Trinity can sustain, at the moment, current patterns of leadership there are many churches that just can’t…right now, not even tomorrow.  I take my hat off to colleagues leading 3, 4, 6, ‘inherited’ churches, its amazing what they do, but I also have to say that I’m not sure its the best way forward.

Yet the crunch is this:  if we aren’t investing in disciple-making on the ground, the problem of Christian leadership is always going to be there.  If we are not working in such a way as local people are equipped to minister, then the church really hits a bottleneck dependent on ministers and professional leaders.

One of my key focuses at Trinity is the multiplication of disciples, and disciples who feel equipped to lead.  Whether thats small groups, or even in the larger setting of gathered church, it has to be the key.  The more difficult we try and make that, the bigger our challenge.  Training is important, but you don’t need a degree or course of study to bring a message to God’s people.  I believe that we need to see a shift in leadership.  Predominantly, church leaders are pastor-teachers at the moment.  And that is fine if you run on a Christendom picture where all people need are pastoring and teaching.  But we are missing out great swathes of the gifts that Jesus gave to the church if that is our only focus.  What of the apostolic, evangelistic and prophetic functions in ministry?  How can you have a whole body without them?  There will, quite simply, not be a church to lead if all we are trying to do is pastor and teach them.  Thats not to minimise the importance of pastoring and teaching.  I’m just saying that we need to be more wholistic.

Enough of the technical jargon….when it all hits the fan, what is it that will be needed?  

1.  Ministry focussed highly on equipping, envisioning and releasing others.
2.  A realisation that a pastor-teacher only model of ministry is a new invention and that other biblical roles are crucially needed.
3.  Building teams of other people to lead in these 5 areas (apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching) to better serve the church/churches in question, thus facilitating the crucial functions of the church.
4.  Create scenarios that will work and continue without you…work yourself out of a job…give ministry away.

This is what I try to do, I see it as one of the only sensible options with the future in mind.  It is, at least, what I’m aiming at.  Not so easy when people are working in different paradigms (or on different planets!)  It helps knowing which kind of ministry is your ‘base’ ministry too.  This can save you heartache and frustration and be very releasing.  But, if you’re leading a church and not a ‘base’ pastor, then you might have a battle.  Worth the fight, though.  Worth the fight.

The Future of the Church

I once talked my way out of working for a denomination because of my particular belief about the way mission/church needed to survive the challenges of the 21st Century.  I am a firm believer, passionate advocate, of church in its simplest forms.  Since then I’ve concluded that it needn’t be either or, but can be both/and.  What do I mean by that?

Well, I believe that the key basics for ‘church’ are like the three sides points of a triangle.

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UP – the inward journey with God, loving God with heart, soul, mind strength.
IN – the commitment to community, ‘loving one another, our neighbour as ourselves’
OUT – making disciples of all nations, beginning where we are.

These encapsulate the great commission and the great commandment of Jesus, simple as that.  This is what he asks of us.  All of us are called to have these three areas of focus.   These are the kind of communities which are simple to start with 2, 3, 5, 10, 30, 350 people (although the bigger you get the more challenging it becomes to sustain the ‘face to face’ focus – relational discipleship).

Making sense so far?

The reason I believe this is the way forward is for several reasons:

a.  we’ve become dependent on ‘professional Christian staff’ to such an extent that its no longer doable.  There is a rapid decrease in accredited ‘ministers’ and people training for ministry.  Now, thats not a bad thing.  Ministry was organised very differently in the early church.  It was much more organic.  There were still ‘roles’ for folks, but the work wasn’t dependent on professional clergy….that came much later.  So, we are finding, by default, the need to revert to pre-Christendom arrangements.

b.  we’ve become dependent on buildings and they are extremely costly and can….can, not always….limit our mission.  They say that we shape our buildings and then they shape us.  This is true.  So much energy can be tied up on keeping the house but God, I sense, is actually saying ‘what about my house?’  But is the church building not God’s house?  No.  Quite simply, no.  God is building a spiritual house made of living stones, people.  That is the spiritual house he is concerned for.  So, we are finding, by default, the need to revert to pre-Christendom arrangements.

c.  because we’ve become dependent on a. and b. we are constrained by having to maintain a whopping budget.  An honest survey of New Testament teaching shows that there was never a building to be kept.  The finance was to support itinerant Christian workers responsible for encouraging churches over large areas as well as ensuring that Christians locally and extra locally were resourced.  Churches are being priced out of the game.  They have lost the internal life that often means that if churches face losing their buildings, they see no future.

Honestly, there are many cases where the church is dying and there needs to be new missional emphasis to build organic, simply churches that can grow exponentially through making disciples.  However, there are also churches who, although have an expression of ‘inherited’ institutional forms of church also have enough strength, gravitas, energy and ability to reinvent themselves to have the best of both worlds.

I give you Trinity as an example…the church I currently lead.  It is a large church by British standards….350 membership, with around 150 or so adherents (people who come but aren’t members) plus a wide impact through a 7 day a week community centre and cafe.  It can do a good Jesus show on a Sunday morning and pack in some crowds with that ‘gathered’ expression.  However, it is also beginning, with encouragement, to explore scattered forms of community.  LifeGroups have been in place for a while but we are also exploring other patterns such as Missional Communities…in both of these, the characteristics of IN, UP and OUT are encouraged.  And, it is here where the real life of discipleship, devotion and mission can really begin to take shape and lead the church outward in new directions.

So, my journey has been interesting.  God by his grace has brought me to a place where I can see the full extent of his vision…of a church gathered AND scattered, a Both/And scenario.  However, if the gathered church model, the big church expression is going to survive, it must increasingly find ways to remain small and uncluttered at the same time, enabling and training disciples to start their own small churches, simply churches, organic churches.

As for my calling in this setting, inspite of my slight dislocation that I mentioned in the last blog, I am here to paid the dream of gathered and scattered.  This, I believe, will equip the Trinity community to be ready for the season to come.  My work will, increasingly I hope, become a blend of enabling effective gathered church as well as pioneering scattered models.

Everyone should follow Jesus.  It is our task to enable this for the communities that God has sent us to.  Exciting!

Orderless

Lapel-SAll in all, I remain somewhat of a lost soul.  By that I mean I still feel keenly the sense of being unattached to any particular ‘order’ of folks in my post Army days.  You may not think that is important, but having spent a significant amounts of my life in an Order of Salvationists in The Salvation Army, its difficult to readjust to life ‘on your own’.  Now, if you asked any Salvationist, they probably wouldn’t recognise the term ‘Order of Salvationists’ but as I’ve often commented, The Salvation Army works best when seen not as ‘church’, but as a neo-monastic order, complete with a rule of life, commitment to the poor, evangelisation of the world and to a life of holiness and discipleship…and hey, even a habit!  All were united through ‘the Articles of War’ or ‘The Soldier’s Covenant’, and some of them were Officers, sharing an officer’s covenant.  Basically, my life was defined and shaped by belonging to those Orders of Salvationists and when not distracted by the cumbersome ecclesiastical nightmare that The Salvation Army has become, it was helpful to my spiritual formation and life of mission.  Its because of all this I still have a weird attachment and yearning for my ‘habit’ and my ‘flag’.  Weird, I know.

There are many things that make the return to those days either undesirable, infeasible or difficult at this time, even if I wanted to.  I didn’t say all that to open the conversation yet again about my return.  That’s fairly settled in my mind…or rather has been settled for us. But it doesn’t change my sense of dislocation.

I do have a personal rule that I’ve shared before here.  One which takes something of my previous rules in combination and which simplifies and redefines them for my current settings.  It is a lonely path by one’s-self, however.   I’ve looked at various other ‘Orders’, each with varying hoops, consequences and outcomes and haven’t felt 100% led to move forward with them.

There isn’t really a conclusion to this blog…I haven’t come up with a big plan, yet, my life is full of irony, really.  I spend my life these days asking the folks at Trinity ‘What is God calling you to do?  And how can we help you do it?’ and yet I’m not quite able to process the question fully for myself.  I empathise with Joseph, Jacobs son…the one given dreams over many years, dreams which he pretty much had to mull over for many years before they came into play.  Suffice to say, that still leaves me out in the cold with no firm framework and no clear sign as to whether God will ‘come through’ on these or whether they will remain unrealised dreams.  I don’t, at this moment, see how the shift will come, how it will begin to make sense or how it will play out, but I’m in for the long haul and will wait on God’s timing.

One Life

Life has a way of getting in the way of life. The day to day things that present themselves as pressing issues, urgent and crucial. Then, you take a step back from them and realise that they are usurpers. Now, I realise that people with INFP personalities are often bored rigid with technicalities and the mundaneness of what some people get excited about, but even placing that aside, we lose track of life.

I’ve had a few conversations of late when I’ve felt the only thing I could encourage people to do was throw caution to the wind, to pursue the dream, go for it because we do only live once. This is in sharp focus as I find myself in a ‘funeral season’ in my day to day work. There is so much of life that we miss when wrapped up in our own cares and woes.

From a discipleship perspective, this dynamic is so crucial. We will never see a Kingdom come if we don’t believe that the Kingdom can amount to more than what we’ve become accustomed to. You see, if we’ve stepped from darkness into light, if we are signs of the new creation awaiting the coming in fullness of Kingdom AND King, our lives ought to be different. The Cross and the Resurrection change everything.

Yet, many followers of Jesus miss that dynamic and I often wonder how to show it, how it might be revealed, glimpsed and captured. I ask myself ‘how did it happen to me?’ I spend many years carrying burdens of things that weren’t mine to carry, its easy to become downhearted and downtrodden. I asked God for the courage to step out of that and show me a different way. God granted my plea.

In lots of ways, my world has vastly opened up. I see the reflection of God in many things: babies, families, busy cafes, human kindnesses and love, the simple gifts of bread and wine, simple music, a good book, a comfy sofa, giving, receiving, being still. I’m learning to stop and look. This enables me to help others stop and look too.

Yet, its not only in these ‘personal’ aspects that I find life opening up. A ‘full life’ perspective allows us to become more aware of the other person. We can be so quick to judge and pigeonhole people that we fail to stop and explore their wonderful potential, either for that moment or for life.

We only live on life here. The call upon us is to an abandonment…not to some religious imprisoning, but to freedom and fullness. We carry our cross as we go, the the path is a freedom path and our song is a freedom song that we invite the world to begin humming as we go.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ – John 10:10