Questions

I was involved in a snippet of a conversation recently about the kinds of questions people are asking with regards faith.  We often assume that our ‘not-yet-Christian’ or ‘looking-unlikely-ever-to-be-Christian’ friends are asking the profoud spiritual questions that Christians would like them to be asking.  The classic set of these questions are typically summed up by the Alpha Course (other courses are available!).

For example:  Who was Jesus?  Why did Jesus die? Why should I pray?  Why should I read my Bible?  What about the church? etc etc.  These are NOT the questions that I find most people are asking.  Rather, they are the questions that the church would LIKE people to be asking because we think we have some answers to those and we fundamentally think that its those sorts of questions that lead to people discovering faith.

I find people asking different sets of questions altogether.  Questions like:  how can I keep food on my table?  How can I spend less time stressing about work and give more time for my family?  How do I build in time to keep myself sane in the midst of all this?  How can I make sure I don’t screw up my kids for good?  How can I be happy, healthy and get by in life?

We can do two things with those questions.  Firstly, we can tell people that those are the wrong questions and continue to force the answers to our questions upon an increasingly bored audience.  Who wants to spend their lives doing that?  Or, Secondly, we can take Jesus approach and speak right to the heart of THEIR questions.  Have a look through the gospels and see where Jesus has interactions with people and watch how expertly, sensitively and powerfully he speaks right to the heart of the soul in front of Him.

Jesus gospel was nowhere near as arrogant as ours is.  Jesus didn’t assume a certain type of question was being asked.  He responded to people’s questions from the centre of who he was and what he had come to do for them at the point at which there was a point of connection.

How does my preaching and teaching, my every day conversations, my ideas about mission and evangelism respond to that stuff?  How do you? What does it mean to stop seeing people as scalps to be hunted and rather as human beings with fundamental survival questions and a need for a loving network of relationships to actually get them through life?  More than that, if our understanding of Jesus shapes our understanding of mission, how do then those shape how we gather people together in Christian community?  Fairly sure its not for a Sunday Morning Jesus Show.  I just wonder how seriously we take the call to ‘make disciples’ and if we are willing to accept the implications for the whole ‘Christian’ set up.

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Creativity

10436198_584855781634172_8608291948743982162_nSometimes I wonder if the church has just lost its imagination in so many places.  Its either that, or we get so involved in maintaining the status quo that we lose the ability to be creative and think fresh ideas.  I came across this great graphic this week.  It basically says use your noggin, have a go, keep trying and eventually you’ll hit the spot.

Over the years I’ve sat in many a meeting with great folk, creative folk, people working in highly sophisticated and intelligent environments, but when it comes to the mission of the church don’t seem able to burst out the box.  It is so sad, because we claim to worship a creative God.

It is, actually, so simple and we make it so complicated.  Most of the time, its actually only about taking a leaf out of someone else’s book.

This week, for example, I came across ‘Night Church’ in Chester.  They open up the church from 10pm – 1am, put on some ambient lighting, some chill out music, have tea and coffee on tap, have people on hand to talk and pray, have a place where people can post prayers or light candles and its a rip roaring success.  People come out of curiosity for a look, the like that the church can provide such a chill out zone and they genuinely like it.

Now, isn’t that a fab idea?  To be honest, sounds like the kind of church I’d like to go to.  And you know what?  I reckon I’ll probably try it at Trinity before the year is out because its such a simple thing.  It is simply about having a good theology of ‘space’ and ‘place’.  Its that same reason people flock to cathedrals, holy wells and stone circles, country churches and other such places: people have a concept of transcendence, eternity is ‘set in their heart’, the bible tells us, and the want to connect.

Does your situation lack creative vision?  Speak to Jesus about it.

 

Clann Community – My Response to PCG challenge

So what came first?  The chicken or the egg?  I’m not that bothered about chickens and their eggs, but I’m still working out my own response to the call of Jesus which can be summed up in Pray, Connect, Gather.  Simple terms.  I mentioned a little in the last post, but have taken a few steps along the line since then.

For some time I’ve wanted to pioneer a small community, a missional community, in the Celtic tradition…it is partly what has led me to promote the PCG Community.  For me, as I said in the last post, I’ve had a keen sense of call to do this in Newcastle for a wee while.  In this case, this call came before the PCG stuff, but totally makes sense in that context.

I want to invest some of my time to get a small community off the ground: very informal, focussed on spirituality and spiritual practice, rooted in creation around us, a place for the arts to flourish too.  So, I’ve contacted my friends at the Holy Biscuit in Shieldfield, a Methodist run project, and I’m going to hire their fantastic space once a month to hold the monthly gathering for worship for Clann Community.  The weeks in between, we’ll meet out in the community, connecting.

When I say we, I mean the small handful of people who may be interested in being part of the launch team and all those we’ll contact through the simple outreach of prayer and conversation in the public square.   I already have a couple of expressions of interest, which is great.    If there are any others interested, have a look at our simple blog  at clanncommunity.wordpress.com

The reasons for a Monday community is quite simply because its my day off from my paid role.  I’m often in public places chilling out on my day off, and it fits into the rhythm of my week to use that day for gentle contact with people and sharing news about an open, inclusive and hopefully meaningful group.

I don’t particularly want millions of already Christians to hoard up, but I probably need one or two folks who ‘get’ what the picture might look like.  If thats you, get in touch.  Equally, if you have Mondays spare and want to do some creative outreach during the day, get in touch.  More than that, hold me and this little initiative in your prayers.  I’d appreciate that. I’ll keep you up to date with how its going.

In the mean time, have a look at the gatherings that are in place already:  http://clanncommunity.wordpress.com/details-of-gatherings/

peace and good,
Andrew

Getting stuck in…

1506890_10152252889192069_832260893_nI really want my remaining time in Newcastle upon Tyne to be about creative and active discipleship, both doing it and encouraging it.  The wee vision I announced yesterday which I hope people will engage in will hopefully gain a little momentum at least amongst a few people bold enough to dare.

It is important, however, to ‘lead’ by example. Important to get stuck in!  I am already involved in facilitating Tyneside Forest Church roughly once a month, which has had its fits and starts but developing reasonably, although not necessarily as I’d like.  It is very experimental and I’ve learned a lot from it so far.  We’ve had some great sessions, and a few great moments along the way so far.

The challenge, as someone committed to an apostolic dynamic to ministry, is to continue to be creative but also to create opportunities that don’t rely on me for the long term.  We see from scripture that Paul rarely spent long times with the communities he founded.  If the foundations are laid right, the work of the community will continue.

Anyway, as my commitment to PCG Community, I’m going to invest my day off in pioneering the Clann Community…a new monastic community in the Celtic Monastic tradition.  I’m open to ‘whoever’ being part of this, but I’m going to invest time personally in seeking to connect with folks not yet connected to a Jesus community.  I guess if you feel you want to explore living a PCG Community rhythm and can cope with a bit of indigenous North-Eastern Christian expression, you might consider getting involved.  The embryonic website is here.

I’m an experiential learner.  I’m coming up to study a MA in Celtic Mission and Spirituality, hoping to look at new monasticism in my dissertation, so would be glad of company on the learning experience! 😉

The Big Vision

feetI’m a passionate follower of Jesus.  I love his church.  I long to see his Kingdom come, his will be done.

We live in a world where the church is facing massive challenges as it seeks to engage in the 21st century.

We live in a world where around 85% of people will simply not be touched by our current forms of traditional church, regardless of funky music, attractive programmes, or engaging preaching.

We have a problem.  We want people to connect with Jesus and his Way.

Whilst I want to bless and encourage the church as it meets in its many different ways, it is clear that the need for change is here.  This is not new news.  You know this already.

The Call

And so, I want to add my voice to call you into the movement; into the Way of Jesus.   This is not my movement or yours, it is not geographically bound but universal.  I want to communicate it as simply as I can.

1.  Pray.  Connect with God; pray with others; pray alone; learn to pray; teach others to pray…Connect with God.  This is our first call…to love the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength.

2.  Connect. having done all that, hit the road. Carry the blessing, the peace, the shalom, the community, the love, all of it, as you go both alone and together. Live open lives in such a ways that you’ll help people connect with God above all else.  Practice radical hospitality, care for the poor, connect with real people.

3.  Gather.  You can’t live this Way on your own.  You need likeminded people who will join hearts and hands with you.  You probably already know some of them.  Eat together, encourage one another, do the prayer thing together, and seek to find creative ways to impact your world.  Gather wherever and whenever you can, seeking to build community with others.  Be the new community of God for the new people of God and kickstart the movement today where you are.

Simple as that.  Many of you will be doing these things already.  Other things will arise on the way, but there are the three foundational calls.

Why the big announcement?
I basically want to equip this in simple ways.  I want to encourage people to network together to act on this, not just to talk about it and read about it.  I want to encourage people to live like this and I want people to know that they don’t have to do it alone.   I want to invite you and help you to find ways to make it happen in your own context.

What now?
Quite simply, talk to Jesus about these three calls.  How are you doing in these three areas at the moment? If you were to make those three things core parts of your life, how would it look for you?

Then, watch for the link to a simple website (here) which will act as an online resource to equip you to respond and figure out what these calls mean for you.  We will bring you news from others, but also accessible and practical resources, articles and videos to help you do it.

Simple as that.  

Renewal of the Church?

Ideas-Make-or-Break-Your-BusinessAs I prepare to begin my MA in Mission (Celtic Mission and Spirituality) course in the autumn of this year,  I’m starting to think towards the big D….the dissertation.  Although I haven’t had any formal conversation with the college yet, my current thoughts are to make a study of Celtic New Monasticism…in particular, what role it may or may not have in the renewal or reinvention of the church for post-Christendom UK.  I’m convinced that the renewal of the church will come from a form of new monasticism, just like Bonnhoeffer was.  I was convinced of that in my Salvation Army days, and am equally convinced now.

What is clear to me is that even some of our most successful churches in the UK are running on ‘Christendom-shaped’ paradigms.  Professional staff, audience of worshippers, programme based, etc.  When this works, its fine.  But by and large, it isn’t working because it takes a huge of effort to pull it off.  I know this full well….I’m at the helm of trying to make a church like Trinity tick.  There is still a place for this form of church, of course, but it is fading.  I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic.

People protest – ‘the Lord will build his church!  Why are you saying it is failing?’  I think we need to understand, again and again, church is people – the body of Christ.  Church is NOT our structures, ways of being and doing.  The people of God will continue to grow and form the body of Christ.  The question is, what does the body of Christ look like for our generation.

On Wednesday this week (18th June) I’m going to publish a short vision document.  It is an idea, a hope, a something that has been with me for a long long time but which is coming into maturity and also into sharper focus.  I’ve sung  General Booth’s line ‘The revolution now being…send the fire today.’  Now is the time to have a stab at it!

Please tune in!!!

Secret Room

man-praying‘Unless there is a still centre in the middle of the storm, unless a person in the midst of all their activities preserves a secret room in their heart, where they can be alone before God, then they will lose all sense of spiritual direction, and be torn to pieces.’ – Kallistos Ware

I came across this quote today in something I was reading.  Cultivating that secret room in the heart has been a devotional focus of mine more especially in the last year.  Not particularly because my life was full of storms, but because there is nothing else I want in the world but to live life aware of his abiding presence.  I find that living a very public life in ministry, I need to balance the ‘outward’ with the ‘inward’, particularly because of my personality style, but especially because of the role I have.

There is something I really don’t understand and that is why any follower of Jesus wouldn’t have the pursuit of the presence of God as a priority in their life.  I just don’t get it.  I really try to resist making the judgement as to why people I sometimes encounter don’t have the intention to cultivate that ‘secret room’ and try to encourage and challenge.  However, you can normally see the fruit of the inner life in the outer expression of life, and I’m looking mainly at myself!  I know how my life turns if I neglect the matters of the heart.

There is a fantastic Old Welsh word, ‘cymbrogi’, which means ‘companions of the heart.’  It comes from that ancient sense of community bondedness.  Most of us will find that we need the encouragement of others to move towards the creation of that room.  For me, regular Spiritual Direction and my Northumbria Community mentor keep that question alive for me:  what is God doing in your life?  where is he moving?  how are you praying with that?  what is giving you joy or sorrow?  what decisions are facing you and where is God in it?

Do you have someone to ask you these questions and listen with you?  So helpful.  I’ve been so grateful to have had the opportunity to do six months of training on the ministry of Spiritual Direction, the ministry of ‘holy listening’ and I’m glad to say I’ve actually found the best way for me to engage in a pastoral form of ministry (as opposed to evangelistic, strategic or teaching).  The building of the ‘secret room’ is so crucial for when the storms rage.  What are you building with?

Disconnection

The biggest barrier to engaging in mission of any sort is disconnection.

1.  Disconnection from God.  God doesn’t go far, its one of the things he can’t do.  He is in everything, we cannot escape his presence.  We, however, are very good at failing to connect with the presence of God, the Divine.  Don’t beat yourself up though, today can be the day where you resolve to pause and practice God’s presence.  Take a few moments to stop and just ‘be’.  It was Karl Jung who said ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is present.’  The question is ‘are you present to Him?’

2.  Disconnection from ourselves.  Not only are we out of touch with God at times, but we allow life to rush by at a ridiculous rate of knots, driven by deadlines, should dos, must dos and ought to dos.  It is easy to continue is such a way as to end up saying to your self ‘where has this year gone?!’  The answer to that is that you simply missed it.  You’ve let life get in the way of living.  Sabbath is a good remedy for this.  It not only gives space to connect with God, but it gives space not to feel you have to work, create, achieve or any other such frantic thing.  If we aren’t living a balance life, we certainly aren’t going to believe we have anytime to stop and connect with our wider community.

3.  Disconnection from people.  I think the biggest barrier is simply this:  Christians spend too much time with Christians.  Sure, we want to be committed to the body of Christ.  But when our busy work schedules and Christian meetings are done, there is little time left to engage creatively and lovingly with friends as well as to nourish and invest in our families.  Do yourself a favour, quit the religious stuff.  De-join a committee or two, or three.  Turn of the telly for a bit.  Recognise that there is a time for everything and take time to reconnect with those we want to bless in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.

The world does not need more church services, more sermons or more meetings.  What the world does need is for those who have been touched with the healing power of the cross to go out in the the ‘highways and byways’ and reconnect with all God’s people who need to know his love and healing.

Woe!

It strikes me more and more that we need to live to keep alive, daily, the question of ‘who is Jesus to me today?’  The old maxim says ‘the Jesus you see will dictate the Christian you will be.’

Some people look at the bible and see a homophobic, judgemental, racist, critical and condemnatory Jesus.  I just struggle to know where they start with that.  Some people look in the bible and see a Jesus who didn’t issue the call to come and die to self, take up the cross, and live life as a devoted follower of his.  I can’t begin to imagine what I’d have to cut out to see that Jesus.

When I look at the pages of the gospels I see a Jesus who ate with the wrong people, upset the wrong people, loved in the wrong way and lived the wrong way to such an extent that there were some who were willing to kill him for it.

If that is the Jesus I see, why does my existence provoke so little in the hearts and minds of others?  If that is the Jesus I follow, should I listen to him when he says ‘woe to you when people speak well of you.’   Does the way I live my life resemble anything of my Lord at all?

These are the questions to live, sit with, ponder, and allow to do their work.  This, it seems to me, is the sharp end of what it must mean to be a disciple.