Looking to the years to come

Funny, I was watching Ugly Betty last night.  I don’t know if you watch it, but basically one of Betty’s ex-boyfriends confronts her about the fact that she’s working in a fashion mag when she wanted to be a serious journalist.  She’d forgotten her vision.

Like I said, the Army stuff is difficult mainly because we believed that ‘doing officership differently’ was part of the DNA of a Salvation Army who’s founders were so full of the principle of adaptability – one we heart and soul believe in.  Laying the Army aside, as we’ve had to do, still leaves us with the call of God upon our lives.  We do have a vision!

So what is the vision then?  We want to be in the place where we can try to live a new model of ‘ministry.’  Its not entirely new, of course, its biblical, but it is somewhat contrary to the approach of Christendom church for the last 1600 years.  We want to be self supporting workers on permanant mission to plant a network of small missional communities at the margins of our society, amongst ‘the poor’, living among them, serving, gaining their trust and being good news to the poor.  We also want to equip others to do the same.  I believe, with Bonnhoeffer, that some sort of new monasticism will bring renewal to the church (more on that another day) and want to encourage brothers and sisters in this.  I believe that people ‘out there’ are spiritual people who don’t just want religious shows, but want community, a sense of depth of spirituality and real honest answers to their questions.   They also need to experience those things in the real world, not in the cloistered conditions of an attractional model church.

We are in transition.  God is gently moving us from on phase to the next.  It has actually been quite important for us in these days just to pay our own rent, our own bills, run our own car, to work set hours and be paid for that rather than being given allowance to live from the church.  I work my hours (and more) and claim back the extra time in lieu. Why?  because I chose to see my work as work.  It is our LIVES that are missional, not just what we are paid to do.  My work stops when I leave the office.  Our live’s mission never stops.

When we sense it is the right time to move on from this stage, we will.  We are already working hard on improving our financial situation and developing ideas and strategies for ways of sustaining family life to release us for the next stage.  We value your prayer.

So, just in case you thought I was going off the side of the cliff in the last post, we’re not.  There is a place in ourselves where we have to properly grieve the separation and to gradually tease the vision from the institution and take bold steps towards it.  This is an experience that the Desert fathers and mothers had as they began to drift from the increasinly ‘state’ clericalised church in the 4th and 5th centuries…they withdrew to the desert to ask the question ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ and ‘How then shall we live?’  and then sought to live out the reality.  Here in Britain, we have much to learn from Columba, Cuthbert, Aidan and their other Celtic brothers and sisters who engaged pagan British Isles with the radical gospel of Jesus Christ not from a position of centrality, power and privelege, but from voluntary poverty on the margins of society propelled by the Spirit to ‘go into all the world.’

We are, in essence, looking for a new ‘order’.  The Army as an order is by far the best description of it that fits it in its purest form.  Now, we look for another cymborgi (companions of the heart) to journey with into a new day.  We’re in a stage of history in the church where it is very much twilight.  The curtains have been drawn on Christendom church, in some places its only begining, in others their twilight is dawn instead of dusk.  But whether we here in Britain are in dawn or dusk, the landscape is changing and we need to seek the will of the Lord as to how we can serve our present age and be faithful expressions of the body of Christ on earth in these days.

Have a read for more on new monasticism:  http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/12-marks-of-a-new-monasticism/

 

 

Settled?

One of the things I get asked incessantly these days is “are you settling in?” I guess I hear it so often because I’m part of a big collection of people here at Trinity.  When I hear it I need to remember that it’s very likely that this person probably hasn’t asked me before and therefore my answer has to sound genuine and as interesting as it might be as if I was being asked it the first time.  I recently have had the same experience listening to the talks on our recently started Alpha course.  It’s all very familiar having led Alpha several times over the last 10 years or so.  Quite easy to get bored with the familiar and the oft visited.

It strikes me again and again that there is so much of our Christian traditions and practices that we do again and again and yet start losing touch with the excitement of the first time round discovery.   Part of this is because much of Christian practice has been pretty entrenched in the Christendom approach which has been very similar for around 1600 years give or take a year or two.

One of the big areas I’ve noticed this is particularly the area of sacraments, the meal in particular.  You will understand that as a Salvationist I actually find it difficult to elevate things like this to the sacramental and ritualistic way in which they are often performed. In this, I’m well and truly an outsider looking in.  Not that it is done overtly ritualistic at Trinity, it’s not, it’s quite understated and actually very inclusive which is great.

I am far from negative about the whole thing.  But like everything new, I’m coming at this for the first time fresh.  The first thing that strikes me is that when I look at the last supper and the subsequent mentions of breaking bread, it appears to me that the context is, of course, very informal. Secondly, I’m struck with the fact that the people are eating meal together and as they do so they remember Christ’s death as they go through the common symbols of bread and wine…something that would have been at every meal table in Israel.   Thirdly, although there is every evidence that they shared it, I don’t get the impression they got a tiny little nibble of bread  and what can only be described as a thimble of grape juice.

The final thing that strikes me is that this was a practical, communal, missional meal of a missional people!  Jesus had given them an extremely memorable, functional and repeatable way of sharing the story of the tribe that is the Christian family.  I mean it’s the most accessible, transferrable, common, simple and yet profoundly intimate description of Jesus and his purposes we have and we lock it in the church. I mean, I think that this was the reason that the temple curtain was torn in two, to replace ritualistic access only able to be performed by another by a profoundly multi-sensory experience of the Saviour of our souls. If breaking bread is to be something that conveys grace and blessing of sharing in the blessings of the Crucified Christ, then it is surely something that must have wider significance.

I’m not trying to mock the church. I am seeking to understand and maybe seeking to provoke the question of thinking about what we communicate when we do these things. It strikes me that one of the elements of the dynamism of the early church was the natural daily breaking of bread, one with another, without qualification, this gospel symbol of incarnation, salvation, redemption, grace and glory. Why is this something we only want to do once a month? I’m only really starting to ask the question.

I’ll say this, however: when you view breaking bread from a mission standpoint instead of an ecclesiastical stand point, there is simply a world of a difference!

Prevenient Grace

Those of us who find oursevles on the ‘Wesleyan’ side of the fence when it cmes to theology have a beautiful contribution to make on the theme of God’s activity in the world.    Its not exclusive to Wesleyans of course, its biblical but the Calvinist would roughtly define the same idea as ‘common grace’ – that which sparks within the human being and which enables them, for example, to love and do good.  The concept of prevenient grace would take a whole lot of unpacking un its fulness,  but there are some really interesting implications for mission.

Firstly, prevenient grace recognises that God, first and foremost, is a missionary God.  Even before his people, he is absolutely out there whispering his presence in peoples lives, relentlessly presenting himself before them, pursuing them and opening the door of response.  Yes, people are sinful, they have lost their glory in its fulness, and there are many who shun Him, but God is out there active as the real missionary in the world.  The Father send the Son, the Son sent the Spirit and they all send us.  So wow, when we go out into the world in response to the missional-incarnational impulse place in us by Holy Spirit, we find that God has indeed prepared the way.  He is ALREADY active in the places where we have not yet had the courage to go.  God goes to the pub more often that  you do.  He does to the strip club more often than you do.

I remember one evening after a Street Pastor session encountering a young lady who had just finished a shift at a lap-dancing club in the town.  She stood before me, expectant that I had a message for her.  I delivered the message that God gave me there and then and whilst there were drunken brawls going on around us, we stood with tears in our eyes as we experience the tangible presence of Holy Spirit amplifying Jesus and his radical grace towards her, even her.  She subesquently left her line of  ‘work’ and returned to full time education with a part time job, (so she told me some weeks later).

It is out of some sense of moral superiority that we perhaps imagine that there are places he won’t go.  A sort of spiritual superiority, a modern day phariseeism that says ‘God won’t be seen amongst those people.’  My colleage, David, preached about the 10 lepers on Sunday evening from Luke 17 where Jesus slams home the truth of grace amongst the foreigner in the healing of the lepers, without strings!  Hey….God broke into my life when I was just as sinful, just as depraved and as far away from God as any other ‘sinner’ or ‘foreigner’ to God.  Why should I assume that he will only meet me in the sanctuary.  Indeed, everywhere that the God encounter can be had is the holy place.  And thank the Lord I’ve been in some pretty dank Holy Places in my life!

The second lovely aspect of prevenient grace is, as I’ve mentioned partly already, the idea that even in the very worst of person, not only is there something worth redeeming, but there is (however marred) the image of God.  This, I believe, is a crucial aspect of belief that will help us in mission in these post-Christendom days especially with regards to reaching people who the typical British church struggles to link up with.  People with radically alternative lifestyles.  We are quick, and I have been so quick, to judge others.  After all, some people’s sin is very obvious and its easy for us to condemn it or point it out.  Our concept of holiness means that we can’t cope with ‘such people.’  Again, we only need to look to Jesus.  The pharisees wandered around trying to keep themselves pure and undefiled from the filth around them yet here is Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, Alpha and Omega mixing with sinners, tax collectors, prostitues, lepers and all other sorts of societies outcasts who would only dare call on Jesus from afar due to the pharisaical religious attitudes they had faced.  Jesus is the one who leaps over all their walls and speaks into their lives.

He extends grace…favour, attention, time, love, care, mercy, forgiveness, wholeness, healing and salvation that they don’t deserve.  Yet is that not what he has done for us?  How then, as followers in the way of Jesus, engage in this grace-filled ministry?  Might it begin by being able to recognise even in ‘the worst’ that there is, within that person, the stamp of God – Father, Son and Holy Sprit – in that very being?  And might we realise that holiness is not so much about maintining an outward ritual purity as much as it is extending the radical grace that has transformed us to those who need it most.

A former Archbishop of Canterbury once noted ‘everywhere Jesus went, there was a riot.  When I go places they make me cups of tea!’

Prevenient grace and the theology of the missionary God (the missio Dei – as the sophisticated like to call it) go hand in hand and we find that God himself not only calls us to be missionaries, but in the person of Jesus, who is the perfect representation of the Godhead, shows us how to operate in radical grace.  It transforms ‘Go for souls…and go for the worst!’ (William Booth)

Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy

Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy!  I hope you’ll join the ride here and be inspired, challenged, maybe educated a wee bit and most of all encouraged in your Jesus following.  I hope as time goes on, through conversation and interaction, we’ll become co-conspirators to lift up the name of Jesus and his kingdom in this new ‘post-Christendom, post-everything’ age.  In a day where ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ of Christianity seem equally unappealing, I’m convinced that Jesus is the way.  Re-calibrating around the Lord Jesus, I suspect, will be the uniting and strengthening of the church in this time…giving him his rightful place as the head of the church and living out our call to be his body.

The last few months, since last October really, have probably seen the most radical shake-up of my own life and ‘ministry’.  I set myself the task, after nearly 10 years leading Salvation Army churches of asking the big questions that had been appearing again and again in my heart and mind.  The long and short of it, is that I have around 5 weeks left as a Salvation Army officer.  My exploration of leadership, discipleship, ‘churchmanship’, the theology of mission and the incarnation have brought me to a place that The Army could see working….so I ‘resigned’ on the premise that there was so much of the journey that I could neither dismiss nor fully reconcile with where I was at.  In any case, leaders in the Army couldn’t see how there was a place for me so even the ways I thought might work weren’t going to happen.

Truth is, I’m a Salvo at heart and Salvo thinking and people will probably continue to shape my life but there is something bigger at stake for me.  In my old blog I put out a bit of a confessional about the ways I’d become side-tracked, almost institutionalised by the role I was in.  It was starting to feel as if something else, other than Jesus, was becoming central and so I felt I had to strip away.  One of the other titles I thought about for this blog was ‘The Naked Salvo’ – because I really want to look at the bare essentials of fleshing out Jesus faith in my life.  (However, I really didn’t want to constantly inflict the image of me without a shirt on…so thought of something much more suitable!)

The author Frank Viola, in his book ‘Finding Organic Church’ advises that no-one should embark on any form of Christian leadership until they are thirty.  It sounds weird at first, and even slightly “Jesus-was-thirty-when-he-started-his-ministry” type of statement…like a sort of ‘What would Jesus do?’ gone mad.  I read on and discovered that it was little to do with that, but more about the cycles of life which we all go through.  Psychologists suggest that pretty much every person, when they reach 30, gets to the stage of re-evaluating all that they did in their twenties and truly start to know what they want their life to be about.  Maybe the first of the mid-life crises!  I’m not ashamed to confess I’m in that place still.

I want my life to be about empowering others to follow Jesus above all else.  I want to live out kingdom conspiracy ‘to the ends of the earth!’  Hope you join in.