Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Missional Cartography

For some time, I've been meaning to update the SatNav in my car. Recently, a trip to the North East of Scotland became more of an adventure than I would have preferred because of the outdated information currently on the device. Fortunately I had a companion on the road who provided amusement and a non anxious presence! Sat Navs are only as good as the latest update.
With the addition of another 25 congregations on the journey that is Path of Renewal, it has been affirming to review what has already been learned in the process. It feels like we are beginning in quite a different place from where we set out with 40 congregations 2 years ago, bearing out our assertion that we would learn with and from those involved and reshape the process as we went. But, while we can point to some markers along the way, charting changes and discoveries, even pinpointing growth, Path of Renewal remains a work in progress. And, I suspect, that as soon as we tried to draw up some kind of blueprint, the contours would prove fairly elusive, being so dependant on context and lived -out experience, on the groundwork being done and the pilgrims we encounter on the way. The tools we are using are simply clues along the road to discernment of the purposes of God and pointers to the change of mindset it takes to recognise God at work in ever new ways.
There are some fascinating facts about cartography in a Wikipedia article, many of which highlight how much the culture of those who produce maps affects how they draw and what information they include or deem important. The article also highlights how ever changing technology affects the drawing of maps, still subject to the bias of the cartographer.
Just as the skills of cartography are always changing and evolving, dependant on context and culture, subject to information being sought or questions being asked, so, when we seek to join with God in mission, a prerequisite is being light on our feet, with the ability to change and adapt at the drop of a hat. And there's a requirement to keep getting the latest updates by staying close to the map maker. That's a tough call for individuals, but there is also something renewing about living on the edge that makes it worthwhile and that lends every experience - even those experiments that don't quite turn out as we'd hoped - with a sense of adventure and learning. Giving thanks for all who are on this particular journey bringing humour and calm when the maps are out of date.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Power of Stories

Hebrews 11:37-40
We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless— the world didn't deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

Two years ago,when Path of Renewal was being launched, I shared with congregations considering embarking on the journey the hope that we would pitch in with our stories, discerning God in those tales and, together with God, look forward to writing the next chapter, as we discerned God's ways of Renewal for today.
Stories are such a powerful way of connecting. Indeed there was, in most Scottish communities a designated story teller - a Seanachaidh - charged with keeping tradition alive by passing on tales from generation to generation.
Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh recently hosted a conference, collaborating with the HeartEdge network. Practitioners came together to share stories. The ethos of Heart Edge is bringing folk together to give and to take. People, no matter who they are or where they come from have something to share and much to learn from one another.
I was asked to share some of the stories of Path of Renewal.
And, while we don't have a set of blueprints to hand to the church, or instructions to be followed that will bring about growth and renewal, we do have stories to share of hearts and minds being changed, of ways of being church transformed and of the rediscovery of God inviting us to mission where we are with the people we encounter everyday.
Like one man in a congregation telling me: I'm still not sure what Path of Renewal is all about but I can see a huge difference in those who are engaged in it.
Or the minister with almost 30 years experience in ministry saying: I've discovered a whole new way of being in ministry that has revolutionised my practice and my preaching.
And the young woman on the fringes of church who has found faith and purpose through being invited to experiment with spiritual practices, finding that habits form character.
Along with the stories, however, there are also a fe principles emerging - including:

  • Being too busy prevents us from discerning God's mission. 
  • Spiritual practices - individual and corporate - take us to a place where we are more likely to hear God and understand what it is God is asking of us today. We become what we practice.
  • Cultivating relationships and being intentional about discipleship works. Whether dog walking or coffee drinking is our thing - doing it with others allows us to have faith conversations as we go.
  • Transition is hard work - acknowledging the loss folk feel when change occurs, journeying with them and helping them see the promised land - even and especially when it seems far off in the distance is sacred work. We are called, not to complete the journey but to begin the journey now.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Discerning the priorities of God

John 15:1-5
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

18 months along the Path of Renewal, stories of transformation are emerging - and we will find ways of sharing those. But much of the work in which we have been engaged is foundational - involving changing mindsets. Those kind of changes are not immediately visible but pave the way for the future.
It is preparing the ground, taking time to discern the will and calling of God. Discerning what God is asking of us as well as identifying those things that it is time to stop doing.
Few of us have difficulty with Jesus words on pruning those things that bear no fruit. 
In practice, it's not easy in the church to stop things, even when they've long since stopped fulfilling their purpose. But, with some effort and sensitivity, managing expectations and acknowledging folks' sense of loss, we can resolve to lay aside some long cherished programmes or activities.
But, perhaps more difficult, is the intentional pruning of those things that are fruitful, either to make them more fruitful or to clear space and energy for something else that God is calling us to instead.
Why tamper with something that is working?
Or give up the things that affirm us?
Why risk the established for the new and unknown?
Just because something is apparently healthy and "achieving results" doesn't mean that it is what God wants us engaged in.
And, if it isn't easy to stop those things that are no longer serving their purpose, how much more difficult is it to give up those thing that are working and that we may even enjoy?
This is the task to discernment to which we are called: to constantly ask: 
 - What are the priorities of God for this time and for these people?
 - Where do we detect the heart beat of God in the communities we serve?
 - Where, today, are we being invited to join God in mission?
 - What must we stop doing to make way for a new season of fruitfulness based on obedience?
Grappling with the thorns of faithfulness, pruning, obedience and fruitfulness are the tasks to which God calls us in the work of renewal. The vine and the branches.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

God's Mission and the church

Ecclesiastes 3:14-15I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Tom Allan, in his 1954 publication: The Face of My Parish, describes D P Thomson's notion of a "Church within the Church": "Corresponding closely to the people who surrounded Jesus...there are the five thousand - the "fringers"...who remain on the periphery...the seventy - the dependable workers...leaders of organisations...loyal to their church...the twelve - a narrower circle and the intimate friends - those who have truly been with Jesus."(The Face of My Parish, Tom Allan p51)  
He viewed part of his task as bringing people from one circle into another, always moving closer to Christ. And he sought to achieve this by involving them in missionary activities in the parish.
However, although he was seeing a rapid growth in membership of the parish church, he cautions: "It Is the easiest thing in the world to get people to "join" the church; it is supremely difficult to know what to do with them once they are in; and it is virtually impossible to keep the majority of them within the conventional framework of the church's life."  (The Face of My Parish, Tom Allan p33)

Sixty plus years on, as congregations explore what it means to be a Missional Church today, we are rediscovering some of those challenges that Allan faced in his parishes in Glasgow. While we are not experiencing rapid numerical growth, we are grappling with how, or more realistically, whether to assimilate those who are experiencing growth in faith and commitment. As God continues to reshape the church today, it is clear that a fluid, less structured body is required to support disciples whose call is to live incarnationally in their neighbourhoods.
Recognising that God is already at work in our communities we face again the knowledge that, often, the church as an institution is a stumbling block rather than a launch pad that helps people discover the call to discipleship, discern their gifts and then equips and releases folk to live out the good news in their many and varied contexts.

In Mission by the People: Rediscovering the Dynamic Missiology of Tom Allan and his Scottish Contemporaries; (Alexander Forsyth 2017)  Forsyth draws this conclusion:
"...practical and theological highpoints of Allan’s missiology can be identified. These demonstrate that his missiology should not be viewed primarily in terms of practical “failure” viewed from the present vantage point, but in many ways as a success and source of inspiration."

It is to be hoped that, as the institution and individual congregations grasp the need to be tentative, to be places of experimentation where we learn from failure rather than fail to take risks, that we will continue to be grateful for saints who have gone before us leaving clues along the way. And, learning from their endeavours, we will contribute to the picture of God at work in the world, calling the church into mission.

Hebrews 11:39-40 (The Message)
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Generating Capacity

Leadership should generate capacity, not dependency.
Ronald Heifetz

One of the things we seek to do on Path of Renewal is encourage others to listen to what God is asking of them in their current context - and, having discerned that, to step into that role at God's invitation. 
There is no scarcity of God's gifting but sometimes a reluctance or fear or simply blindness on our part to celebrate and release those gifts in others. And that's just part of the adaptive challenge that we are being forced to confront at this stage of our journey in faith.
Often our default mode is, when we see a gap, to seek to plug that gap, a simple, technical fix. Such fixes, however, do not generate capacity in others but help to shore up the myth of our usefulness based on the authority or position of leadership that we hold.

Developing and nurturing spiritual practices that make space to listen to God is an important task to be engaged in both as individuals and as a community. And spending time with the ancient stories of God's people in our sacred texts alert us to signposts that provide way markers for today. There are plenty of stories of the people of God stepping into unlikely leadership roles demanded of them as they journeyed with God learning how to be God's people in each place and time.

One of the things Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Lessons in Leadership, explores is the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, charting the journey Moses made as he grew into leadership:
One illustration he uses is the description of how, early on the journey, the people complain to Moses about the lack of food and Moses provides food - with God, manna is provided. Moses meets a technical challenge at that stage. The people need food, Moses speaks to God and food is provided.
However, a bit further on in the journey, when the people complain about food again, Moses despairs. He asks God to let him die because he cannot carry this burden. Why such a different response?Because Moses recognises this as a deeper test of his leadership. This is no longer simply about food. It's a revelation of some of the hard battles that are before him, not just taking the people out of Egypt but taking Egypt out of the people!
It is at that point that Moses realises that simply plugging the gap, supplying food is not enough. He is now faced with an adaptive challenge, that of changing the hearts and minds of the people he leads, equipping them to be strong and resilient, ready to face what lies ahead on the journey. They too need to develop leadership skills rather than constantly succumbing to authoritarian figures who, albeit cruelly, have supplied their needs as a people in slavery.

Leadership requires grace that can accommodate the anger of people resistant to change. It also brings out, releases and encourages gifts of leadership in others. 
Leadership takes seriously the possibility of learning from all sorts of unexpected sources, being prepared, even expectant for our own growth as well as celebrating growth in others.
Leadership distinguishes between technical and adaptive challenges and recognises that there are often others who are better equipped than we are to take on a task and helps facilitate the recognition and use of different gifts that build up the body of Christ. 
Leadership that embraces humility and vulnerability is more suited to responding to adaptive challenges. That is the kind of leadership we seek to embolden and encourage today.
Ephesians 4:15-16
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Path of Renewal - A movement, not a programme

Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

From the beginning, we've been at pains to make it clear that Path of Renewal is not simply another church growth programme - or, indeed, any type of programme. It is not an attempt to "fix" the church but a movement that seeks to recover the core purpose of what the church is about and work out how we live out those immutable values in our local communities today.
Many institutions have grown out of good and noble and sometimes radical intentions to provide services - religion, finance, education, health: The National Health Service (in the UK) sought to provide health care for all, free at the point of delivery.
The challenge is that, once these institutions become established, the radical nature of their instigation and their core values become obscured, not least by bureaucracy and by other competing interests.
In response to this, movements arise on the margins that seek to challenge the stagnation or status quo of institutions in an attempt to recover those radical principles on which they were founded. However, in an institution there are a lot of extraneous paraphernalia at stake, useful for maintaining an institution but not for delivering or engaging with the core purpose of the organisation and there is often a struggle to maintain the status quo that protects those elements of an institution, particularly when status or employment is at stake.
Sometimes movements have to constantly battle against institutions. Occasionally, the institution sees the value of a movement and offers collaboration to help it restore core purposes.
Those who participate in movements find their values critically examined by others. This is helpful in honing and defining the purpose of a movement. It also helps those engaged in the movement to embody the changes they want to effect. 
Our work in Path of Renewal, part of which is establishing spiritual practices that transform the lives of leaders involved is an important part of that embodiment.
In the stories of the Exodus of God's people from Egypt, we see God's people being transformed by the re-establishment of God's will and purpose in their lives individually and in community.
As they became settled in a new land, institutions grew up, a monarchy was established and corruption set in. Prophets then emerged to challenge those institutions and to lead new movements that re-established the core purposes of the people of God - to live in God's peacable kingdom where the lion lies down with the lamb by loving justice, practising mercy and walking humbly with God.
Similarly, we see Jesus and his disciples engaged in a kingdom movement, challenging the political and religious authorities of the day. And what a movement - one that included prostitutes and tax collectors, that encouraged parties but that also promoted focussing on the inner life - feeding body, mind and spirit!
The vitality of the church demands that such movements, birthed by the Holy Spirit remain active in communities today, embodied, contagious, always willing to challenge institutions by focussing on renewal, inspiring others to re-define core values and how those might be lived out in our different cultures today. 
Movements, though they must remain mobile and light on their feet, responsive to new insight and revelation, also require resilience and a commitment for the long term. Change, particularly cultural change is an ambitious endeavour and slow to effect. That is why embodying effective Spiritual Practices are essential for health and growth. These practices are also transformative for individuals.
And so we continue to be part of a movement not a programme, a kingdom movement that seeks to discern and realise the purposes of God today. 

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.