Friday, 1 September 2017

Making failure count

Fear of failure on mission can be the biggest hindrance you and your church face to being a missional church. 
Logan Gentry in a blog post for Verge:

One of the tenets to which we aspire in Path of Renewal has been to create a culture of experimentation in our various local contexts. Indeed, the initiation and funding of the Pilot has demonstrated an uncharacteristic risk-taking by the national church. In the recruitment process with congregations, I often spoke about the risk of failure, emphasising the learning that would be gained even if we did not achieve our objectives.
And yet there is, understandably, great reticence to speak of our failures. Far from making them learning experiences, we turn them into causes of shame, to be buried and not examined too closely.
Gentry goes on to say that "failure produces great stories!"
And in stories are the beginnings of healing and learning.
The Old Testament is full of such stories - as are the gospels. Stories that put a spotlight on the nature of God's relationship with creation, a relationship characterised by love, understanding, patience, affirmation, renewal.... A relationship that makes every failure an opportunity for something new - not by minimising or sugar coating reality but by allowing space for forgiveness, and for second, third and fourth chances that lead to growth for us and for our communities.
There are plenty of experts about, offering all sorts of formulae for developing Missional churches. There is lots of good advice and tried and tested development programmes.
But there is nothing that can take the place of journeying with God and our communities, trying and failing, leading and learning, creating stories together that are shot through with humour and with the amazing grace of God.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Discerning God in our everyday

John 20:19-21
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

If I'm asked to describe Path of Renewal (which I am frequently), I most often describe it as an opportunity to create space, to take a step back (or several steps back) and discern what God is revealing of how we are being invited to join in the mission of God wherever we are today - Something that is different for every context, congregation and individual. That discernment involves deepening our own relationship with God and with the communities we serve and demands our own transformation before we can begin to transform the world around us,
For most of the time I've been involved with Path of Renewal, I've also been undertaking a Diploma in Pastoral Supervision. Both of these pursuits involve creating space for discernment - discernment of God's call on our lives. As a facilitator in Path of Renewal and as a Supervisor in Pastoral Supervision, my role is one of creating space, a space for listening and, out of that nuanced listening, occasionally offering alternative images for consideration, always recognising and honouring the wisdom and creativity of those with whom I work. To be involved in that process is a sacred gift.
Discernment invites us, in community, to recognise the presence of the risen Christ in our midst and to hear the call of God on our lives. It is not a mechanical discipline but a spiritual practice involving transformation of hearts and minds.
The disciples in the locked room, confronted by their risen Lord, could not rely on their knowledge or expectations, they could not revert to former roles and practice - this was a whole new ball game and they had to find a new level at which to engage with Christ"s presence and with his commission to them: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."m
Discernment, whether undertaken with one other person or with a whole community, involves that same sort of switch- going beyond what, in our heads makes sense, to believing in our hearts the way that God reveals and then following that way, sent into the world transformed by the risen Christ to serve the world today.
Diana Butler Bass in Christianity For The Rest Of Us shares this:
Emerging Christianity is about change—about changing from spiritual tourists to pilgrims—about transforming our selves, our congregations, and our communities. We are going there, to a change of heart that revolutionizes one’s whole life. 
In our changed landscapes and culture today, the risen Christ invites us on a journey of discovery and transformation - and breathes his peace into us as we set out on our own particular path of renewal.

Monday, 3 July 2017

The slow work of love

“It saddens me to see how many are still locked down by the belief that if they just work a little harder, if they just collaborate better or build a bigger network, if they just develop a new approach, they’ll turn the world around. Can we please abandon these self-destructive beliefs?”
Margaret Wheatley, So far from home 35

This may sound a little defeatist for the work we are about today but also very freeing. If we can somehow abandon the mindset that our one task is to find that key that will unlock renewal in the church, not only will we save ourselves a lot of heart ache and frustration, but we will also be clearing a path for the Spirit to breathe through structures that obstruct and control and break down barriers that are hindering God's reshaping for today. We are making way for the great spiritual rummage sale of this era if we can stop tinkering at the edges and begin to glimpse the new thing that God is doing and in which we are invited to participate.
That work isn't corporate or outcomes driven - the Holy Spirit doesn't recognise such confinement. Rather, it will emerge from individual discernment of God's calling and purpose. Leaders in today's church are being asked to deepen their own faith by cultivating spiritual practices that keep us rooted and grounded in God and in the power of the Spirit and then to invest in others to encourage and enable spiritual growth that helps others to recognise God at work in their context and the work to which God calls and equips them. It's not about the latest trend or quick fixes but about the slow work of the Spirit moulding and shaping a culture that allows the free reign of God to flourish.
In the words of Paul: Ephesians 3:16
I pray that, according to the riches of God's glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God's Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
The world conspires to convince us that we do not have time for such slow work in the church today nor the power to effect change. But the Spirit of God beseeches us to harness the power of the Spirit while exercising patience with ourselves and with others to allow new seeds to be sown that will, in God's good time, produce a harvest. We may not see that harvest but, meantime, as we reconnect with the grounding power of love, we can reach out and transform the world around us with the much needed love and compassion of God, preparing the ground in which the Spirit can flourish.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Without a blueprint

Changing our world means cooperating with the redemptive possibilities God is birthing around us...that involves abandoning our preconceived notions of what ministry should look like and entering fully into the contexts in which God has placed us.
To Alter Our World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities; Alan Frost, Christiana Rice

For the last 18 months, 40 congregations have been exploring together what it means to take up God's invitation to join in the mission of God in their communities. That journey has been different for each context. It involves laying foundations for a mindset change that encourages people to listen to God and, from that place of deep listening, to discern to what it is that God calls them at this time.
While there are many stories of encouragement that have emerged from the journey, as well as stories of caution and the pain of a journey from knowing to unknowing, there is little to show for the changes that have been wrought. Yet those changes have been foundational, wrought in the hearts and minds of those called to lead, with God, in rebirthing kingdom communities.
And so, as we seek to recruit some more ministers and congregations to embark on this journey of discovery, it is almost as difficult to articulate what it is we are inviting folks into as it was in the beginning. While, we can, perhaps, better explain what the desired outcomes might be, essentially, we are inviting people to go on a journey. It's a journey that will be new to some, one that some have been on for some time, and one that some will discover is not, in fact, the journey they thought they were making.
The Panel on Review and Reform's report to the General Assembly of 2016 that sought approval to embark on the Path of Renewal Pilot Project, identified some characteristics of Missional Churches: those who are: involved in local community & wider; engaged in authentic Christian community life & worship, open & relevant to all generations;  and forming people in faith at all ages and stages of life.
But what the Pilot has taught us is that making the journey together, exploring as we go is important in the process of discovering what God reveals along the way. Recognising the God who walks alongside, sometimes playful, sometimes frustrating, sometimes clear and directive, sometimes baffling, but always just ahead and enabling us to catch up, displaying infinite patience while we do brings us into a new relationship with God, changes us as we seek, with God, to change our communities.
Perhaps it's the kind of journey on which  the Woman at the Well embarked - a journey with Jesus that transformed not only her but her community too:
John 4:28-30
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Taking on the mantle

John 7:2-5
Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So Jesus' brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.)

"Leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can absorb" Ed Friedman
Tod Bolsinger, working with leaders in the Church of Scotland, shared this wisdom from Ed Friedman that he also quotes in his book: Canoeing the Mountains. 
I find this quote more comforting than I probably should - mainly because I have often disappointed people and continue to do so!
Think of how often Moses disappointed the Israelites in the wilderness - so much so that people wanted to return to the slavery they knew in Egypt.
Or of how Jesus didn't conform to expectations but, all the way to the cross, continued to disappoint those who wanted something different from a Messiah.
In the church, so many of us who are called or appointed to be leaders end up being servants to the  expectations of others. And, even when we don't disappoint others, we probably disappoint ourselves.
A bit later on in the book, Tod has this to say about the kind of leadership that is required in the church today:
Transformational leadership is a skill set that can be learned but not easily mastered. It is not a role or position, but a way of being, a way of leading that is far different than most of us have learned before.
That, too, is a comfort of sorts. For one thing is clear- Ministry formation programmes have not prepared us for the necessary leadership roles that will help us and those whom we lead to engage in the mission of God today.
We can spend time bemoaning that fact, or we can step up and offer ourselves for the kind of transformation that will enable us to step out and encourage others to join us on an adventure that is characterised more by what we do not know, but are willing to learn and by the courage and willingness to acknowledge and embrace the loss that is a close companion of change.
The transformation required begins in us who seek to model a way of being that is faithful to the call of God today in a post Christendom world whose terrain we may not have imagined. Incorporating our sense of loss and finding healing in the lure of adventure into which God leads, allows us to embody a model of leadership that is at once patient and demanding, comforting and challenging. A model of leadership that requires trust and that inspires risk and vulnerability - for the sake of God's kingdom.
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done on earth....

Friday, 31 March 2017

The baby and the bath water

1 Corinthians 3:10-11
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

As we've been learning and sharing more about the Adaptive Challenges facing the church in Scotland this week, I was struck by one phrase in particular, from Heifitz and Laurie who were writing for Harvard Business Review: They state that tackling an adaptive challenge involves "Distinguishing immutable values from historical practices."  - that seems like a pressing pursuit for the church.
Most organisations under threat seek to redouble efforts to retain what they can, enforcing customs and norms as vital to their raison d'ĂȘtre when often the paraphernalia obscures their very reason for existence.
Responding to an adaptive challenge involves changing hearts and minds. In the church, that will mean weighing up the values that are central to our faith and freeing those from the walls of practice and tradition we have built around them. It means releasing the gospel from the obscurity to which we often consign it. It means sharing that good news freely in every sphere of life, wherever we find ourselves. It means discovering the plans God has for us and walking in those. As well as honouring and equipping others to engage with whatever God lays before them.
At one of the conferences, one minister remarked: "This sounds like getting back to basics." Precisely.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples. Today, we are called, not just to be disciples, being salt and light, sharing faith in all of life, but to make disciples. And to make disciples who make disciples. Sharing immutable values, discarding historical practices, gently or brutally, that no longer serve this core calling and continually discerning the voice of the Spirit of God as she stirs up a chafing with the confines of an organisation are just some of the ways we can respond to the adaptive challenge facing the church today. The foundation has already been laid. It is for us to clear away the debris and build on that foundation as we are enabled and empowered by God. For the sake of God's kingdom.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Creating and creative liminality

In 1990, anarchist and poet Hakim Bey coined the phrase Temporary Autonomous Zone, to describe a place and time where normal rules and roles were suspended, where alternative realities could be imagined without the harshness of judgment or ridicule or what he saw as inevitable betrayal.
In a TAZ, beauty and peace are undisturbed, undefiled, and creativity is given free rein.
A simplistic example might be waking up to find that it had snowed heavily overnight, roads were blocked, schools were closed... People would abandon their plans for the day, they would clear the snow from their neighbours' path, ensure the elderly and infirm had food and warmth - they might even get together, have fun in the snow and drink hot chocolate together... I'm sure you get the picture.
In that state of suspension, that Temporary Autonomous Zone, there is space for creativity, for dreaming, for behaving differently. There are no hierarchies and alternative communities are created.
It struck me that we could use a few TAZs in the church - suspension of rules and roles, space to dream and create, where there are no critics or saboteurs, no systems to consider and maintain. No need to think about what happens when the snow melts and everyone retreats to their customary places, where getting caught up in the mission of God was unhindered by structures and negativity.
And, who knows, maybe some of that would stick even after the TAZ had been dismantled....