Monday, 21 November 2016

Transformational leadership

John 4:39-42
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
We are transformed so,that the world may be transformed.

Traditional churches will only become missionary churches as those in authority (and even those without formal authority) develop capacity to lead their congregations through a long, truly transformational process that starts with the transformation of the leaders and requires a thoroughgoing change in leadership functioning. Tod Bolsinger: Canoeing the Mountains

While we're taking care to map what we can of our individual and collective journeys on Path of Renewal, we've been reluctant to be too specific about goals and objectives. Because much of the work is the work of discernment - listening deeply for where God is in our lives and in the lives of our communities while listening, too, for God's invitation to mission.
Carving out the time and developing the skills necessary for that discernment is transformational work. It transforms us and, in time, transforms the communities we serve.
As we model our compassion and engagement with those around us on the example of Jesus, we recognise the nudge to get to the heart of the matter, to ask the difficult questions, and to grapple with things that take us out of our comfort zone.
We recognise the need to challenge inherited models of behaviour and interaction, to unlearn what we think we know, to clear out the clutter to make way for what God is revealing to us. And, only once we ourselves have begun that process of transformation can we expect others to join us.
Our teaching is not in what we say but in what we do, in what we model for others to follow. Jesus did not call anyone to go where he himself was not prepared to journey. But neither did he ask his followers to have it all worked out before they began. He required only a commitment to surrender all that we think we know to get started on the journey of transformation.
We've been mapping out some of the transitions we hope to see - but the first transition begins with us transforming the way we model leadership in a post-Christian era, laying down the tools we have to hand and proceeding empty handed along a path that the Spirit only reveals in that place of listening, that scary place where we are disarmed and recreated, equipped and transformed for leadership in such a time as this.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Keeping up with the Spirit

Conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder.
Ed Friedman - A failure of nerve

It's much easier to tweak programmes, to step up on strategy and to put more effort into delivering on expectations than to step aside, take time out and imagine a new future.
It's easier to work harder at what we know than to embrace what is uncertain and requires learning new skills and, crucially, a different mindset.
On Path of Renewal, we're confronting that with varying degrees of boldness because we recognise an opportunity to redefine church in a post-Christendom era, we have discerned something of God's spirit ahead of us and, quite frankly, we have seen that our current practice and structures are not sufficient for the age we now inhabit. So why would tinkering with those practices or rearranging those structures when the premise on which they were built (a Christendom era) no longer prevails?
What, though, of those for whom the old ways do still seem to be working? What of those wedded to a system, with the resources to keep things running for some time to come, who see no need to do things any other way and, for whom, initiating any radical changes would result in loss, whose immediate context does not mirror the rapidly changing culture with which others are grappling?
Our mission is not to change how others "do church" but to faithfully listen to the Spirit's leading where we are. To listen to and follow God into the places we are called to serve and be served and to continue listening for the voice of God on the fringes and in the heart of the communities we inhabit.
And, in doing that, to share our stories, to gather evidence of God at work and the divine invitation to get involved, to persist in the face of obstacles spurred on by God's affirmation of our calling to be faithful. To learn lessons that may be shared but, first of all, to be obedient to and shaped by God at work in our lives and in our context.

John 14:25-27
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Transforming the world

Isaiah 43:18-19
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

How can we embrace, today, the notion that God wants to do a new thing in the world? We, who sense God's calling to go in a new direction, to venture on paths whose terrain is unfamiliar and which lead to God knows where?
How can we who are often trained or have become ingrained in "doing the church thing", learn new ways, wrestle with new questions, explore different connections and keep on listening to God and to those around us, the communities in which we are called, along with our neighbour, to be church?
How can we risk letting go of what we know and step out empty handed along a way we have nor determined, mapped out or set?
We, who are trained and equipped to preach, to teach, to answer questions, to be the keepers of the faith, how can we journey with the stranger and, together, grapple with what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?
We, who know how to set (and to protect or fence) the table are called to throw caution to the winds and sit at table with those who haven't learned table etiquette.
Walking in that unfamiliar landscape requires humility, demands listening to and learning from others, it involves letting go of things long cherished and of holding lightly the new things that we learn in the knowledge that the God of every journey is working a transformation in us for the sake of the world.
And to do all this, not from a place of scarcity or fear of decline and loss but from a conviction of the sufficiency - even abundance - of God's grace!
The good news is that the Spirit of God is already ahead of us, transforming the world, transforming our communities, ready to surprise us in our transformation.
This new thing is not for those who prefer good order, clean lines and clear definitions.
To get caught up in the new thing that God is doing is like opening a sparkly Christmas card, covered in glitter - you can be sure that, long after, you'll be finding glitter in places you never expected - and certainly in places you didn't want it to be.
God is doing a new thing - reshaping and recreating the body of Christ in the world. Dare we dive in and be a part of that?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Failure as learning

“We can fail, but we can’t suck.”
Tod Bolsinger: Canoeing the Mountains

This is one of my favourite quotes from Canoeing The Mountains.
In a church culture which is encouraging and investing in experiments on the fringes, it's an important premise to hold. 
Unfortunately institutions, not least that of the Church, tend to be risk averse. 
History reveals that often organisations, in times of change, enter a self preservation mode, becoming inward looking, redrawng boundaries, revising policies and structures, hoping that tweaking and redefining what is familiar will ensure survival. 
But it is those organisations that can look outward, adapt to culture, be informed and learn from those on the fringes or outside the organisation that are more likely to weather the storm. 
An institution that is prepared to listen to and engage with a changing culture rather than defaulting to what is known and safe (and no longer works) is more likely to find a way through a constantly changing environment.
Asking different questions also helps.
It is the listening and engaging that enables experimentation to be better thought out and implemented  - and less likely to suck! 
Experiments thought through, even when their outcomes are not immediately clear, produce more learning - whether or not they work.
So, in this time of change for the church as an institution, a healthy culture of experimentation will enable learning even from failure.
In order to "not suck" creating a platform for telling the stories of experimentation and disseminating learning as we go will be important markers along the way.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Chaotic beginnings

Acts 6:1
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

Gird your loins...
Wake up and smell the coffee..
Suck it up...
... and other euphemisms come to mind to describe how we might respond to the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.

"When you stand before people and tell them that in order to accomplish a mission, they have to change, adapt, give up something for the greater good, work with those they don’t like or compromise on something they care about, they get mad . They get really mad. Mostly, they get mad at you , and this is exactly the sign that transformation is beginning to happen.(Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains)

I'm reading Canoeing the Mountains alongside re-reading Ed Friedman's Failure of Nerve - which is providing a very helpful focus for the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.
Listening deeply to both God and our communities, asking the right kind of questions, hearing the stories, both ancient and modern and, through those practices, discerning God's invitation to join in mission takes us into unfamiliar territory. It takes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to confront hard choices. And, in particular, although we might have known support when we were "saying the right things", encouraging folk to consider their focus and purpose alongside God, it's a whole other matter when it's time to move from talking mission to living mission. Often, our role in that part of the process, aside from exemplifying change is to provide a non-anxious presence when accompanying others through change - confronting the outward and the inward effects of transition - and to do this effectively while processing our own inner journey because mission is not a solo pursuit but a journey we make alongside others. It's also about holding our nerve when it seems that folk no longer like us, something that none of us find easy. It is indeed cold comfort to know that this signals the beginning of the transformation of which we dream.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

To what are we called?

Reading Tod Bolsinger's "Canoeing the Mountains", I was arrested by the question: "To what are we called?" Reflecting on that question takes us a long way along the road to discovery of a way forward in being church today.
I know that that might seem like a really obvious and basic question - but I wonder how often we revisit the source and purpose of our calling?
In the midst of huge cultural shifts that take us into sometimes hostile terrain, reflecting on our purpose in our context gives us, not just an inkling of how we might navigate or negotiate a way through, but also the resolve that arises from fully comprehending why we want to do so.
The Falkirk Wheel is an amazing feat of engineering, built to link the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. It saves boaters having to navigate a series of locks. Indeed, the 19th Century locks, 11 locks, navigating a 35m incline, had been demolished and the land reclaimed and given over to a housing development after years of disuse. When engineers and waterway enthusiasts wanted to link the canals again, in effect linking Glasgow and Edinburgh by canal, their practical solution, based on 21st century engineering, also created a Scottish landmark and tourist attraction. But at the heart of those spin offs is a very practical solution to recovering a navigable waterway, the initial and driving purpose of the endeavour.
In the last few years, the Church of Scotland affirmed its commitment to "Providing the ordinances of religion in every part of Scotland" a tenet that once meant there would be church buildings in communities large and small, the length and breadth of the land. That commitment has often been mistaken as our "raisond'ĂȘtre". And so, our focus, particularly under stress, defaults to the preservation and conservation of buildings, signs of the church's presence in communities, and the maintenance of systems and structures that support that.
But is our purpose to provide the ordinances of religion, or is it to be involved in the Mission of God? These are, of course, not mutually exclusive but what if the mission God calls on us to be engaged in reduces our capacity to fulfil ordinances or maintain buildings? What if, today, amidst the vastly changed landscape in which we find ourselves we have to leave our buildings and "the ordinances of religion" in order to be alongside those  with whom God calls us to be?
How do we resource and equip those whose calling is to leave the building alongside those whose faithfulness and gifting is in maintenance? And how do we ensure that, in stress, we do not seek comfort in what we have always done and in what we know?
New structures, imaginative permission giving, prayer and blessing are just a few of the terrains to be negotiated as we work out how to be church today, involved in the Mission of God. Finding our 21st century purpose with the trappings of earlier foci is no easy feat. All the more vital that our purpose is secure and found in the Mission of God in the world where we are called to serve today.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The dance of love

John 1:9-10
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn't even notice.
This week, as I was pondering God as a dance partner in mission, I'm grateful to colleagues who pointed me to the Perichoresis - the dance of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That set me off on a whole new image fest- Rather than the sedate ballroom style dance, like that portrayed in Jack Vettriano's 'Dance me to the end of love', my imagination whirled off to a Ceilidh - and I imagined a Strip the Willow or an Eightsome Reel or even a Progressive Canadian Barn Dance with God in the midst of the action. The sound track accompanying my sedate waltz with God,  played by a tux wearing pianist, morphed into a jig with crazy Scottish snaps in the music and fiddle bows flying over strings in a blur. 
Mission imagined at a slow, dignified pace became Mission in the melee - Perhaps a much more realistic image of partnering God in mission.
I'm not sure who it was who said: "Show me your gods and I will show you your people" but a God of the ceilidh is perhaps a more arresting image than the God of the ballroom. And now I am picturing God weaving in and out of the reel or sedately joining in a two step to a melancholy air. God, who takes time to learn the basic steps but who is comfortable with improvisations, often instigating a change of pace. But, above all, God who continues to invite us all into the action, to risk looking foolish alongside God, taking two steps forward and one step back, to dare to make it up as we go along, experimenting and learning from failure, all the while dancing in the dance of the Trinity of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who call us to be partners in mission in God's world 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Changing the Narrative

Matthew 11:7-9
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

These wonderful sculptures - The Kelpies -  attract lots of visitors who can enjoy, as well as a tour recounting their engineering, lovely walks around the Forth and Clyde Canal. They have enhanced a beautiful area of the Scottish countryside and encouraged many visitors to explore and enjoy that beauty.
But Kelpies were scary characters in Scottish mythology and folk tales - malevolent water horses who lured the innocent to watery deaths! The creation of this wonderful tourist attraction has somewhat redeemed the Kelpies!
It has long been acknowledged that often prophecies can be self fulfilling. If we are pessimistic about something for long enough, our pessimism is often rewarded! Expecting the worst, we often fail to notice when our expectations are confounded.
Of course we cannot merely wish good news into being. But, expecting a good outcome opens us up to the possibility of seeing the positive things that are around us.
When the disciples of John the Baptist went to find out if Jesus was the promised Messiah, Jesus asked them "What do you see?"
The work of renewal in the church involves changing the narrative. Operating, not out of a place of fear fuelled by stories of decline and death but from a position of belief in the transforming mission of God that is ongoing in the world. Renewal involves telling a different story- one of excitement and risk and faith and of a God who loves and invites us into mission today. We cannot wish renewal into being but we can be involved in changing the narrative by sharing the stories of love and faith against the odds that are all around us today, seeking out the places we see God at work and working alongside God in the places we inhabit, transforming the darkness,bringing good news stories to life.
It's time to change the narrative.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Living a questionable life

1 Peter 3:15
Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.

As we prepare to embark on a new season in Path of Renewal, our hope will be to persuade congregations at large that they have a crucial part to play in evangelism today.
That will require lots to affirmation and assurance. It will require winning over those who, in the past, have felt inadequate or turned off by the stereotype of the evangelist who stands on the street corner or in the back courts haranguing folk to follow Jesus. It will require the reclaiming of the term "questionable lives" so that those who hold office in our congregations and those who don't will see themselves as evangelists - those who are always prepared to "explain the hope they have in them ... with gentleness and respect." - confidently sharing why church is important to them, why they choose to spend Sundays in worship or week nights involved in church activities, being open about how they spend their time so that folk will want to question why they spend their time engaged in the work of the church.
As well as dismantling stereotypes, we also want to encourage people to recall those who faithfully and gently mentored and nurtured them in faith - those who cared when they didn't show up at Bible Class or Youth Fellowship or some other church activity, those who inspired and influenced them, and those who walked quietly alongside them. There are many stories residing in memories, perhaps not visited for some time. By recalling those, the hope is that otherwise diffident folk will embrace the possibility that, today, they have all that it takes to walk with others, to encourage others into and through faith.
Changing a mindset is no easy task but perhaps a first step is tapping into shared stories and memories, demythologising the task of evangelism, and restoring it to a normative place in our culture today.
Matthew 10:10
You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Making the old new

Winston Churchill said 
"One of the signs of a great society is the diligence with which it passes culture from one generation to the next. This culture is the embodiment of everything the people of that society hold dear: its religious faith, its heroes.....when one generation no longer esteems it's own heritage and fails to pass the torch to its children, it is saying in essence that the very foundational principles and experiences that make the society what it is are no longer valid. This leaves that generation without any sense of definition or direction, making them the fulfillment of Karl Marx's dictum, 'A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.' What is required when this happens and the society has lost its way, is for leaders to arise, who have not forgotten the discarded legacy and who love it with all their hearts. They can then become the voice of that lost generation, wooing an errant generation back to the faith of their fathers, back to the ancient foundations and bedrock values...
(Never Give In, The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, Page 190)

I've been pondering the above quote since I came across the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Paris - and I'm conflicted by its sentiment.
On the one hand, I want to claim its veracity as an encouragement to recover the roots of our Celtic spirituality, to mine the riches of that particular seam of Christian heritage, to return to a faith rooted in the earth and in social justice, particularly in response to the world today.
But, on the other hand, history (and heritage) is always composed and contextualised by one generation to make sense of the past for the next and thus given a perspective that may only be true in the eyes of the narrator.
In our heritage of faith, what is truth and what is relevant for this generation? Surely it is more helpful, not to bequeath a culture but to pass on tools with which to engage fully with the intricacies and peculiarities of life today. Tools that build resilience, that foster hope, that allow discovery of meaning. Those tools don't come neatly packaged but emerge out of careful consideration and discernment alongside those with whom they are fashioned. We don't indiscriminately hand on or plunder our heritage but, rather, sift and weigh what is of use for each generation.
Our task is not to woo a lost generation back to irrelevant practices but to create opportunity to see how those ancient rhythms connect with life today, to create space for contemplation, to create opportunity for action, to build community and accountability.
The heritage of faith is not an entity that one generation bequeaths to another but a feast from which one selects courses that appeal. And lest that suggests a lack of depth, there is the assurance of the prayers of the saints through the ages harnessing and releasing the power of the spirit, enabling wisdom and insight and revealing the presence of God at work in the world.
People of faith are the connectors, discerning God at work, creating sign posts and offering practices that create supportive communities in which individuals can find belonging and, together, create new stories.
Ours is not to woo but, rather, out of respect for our shared heritage of faith, to wade in to the melee, offering our vulnerability and love for our world today, forging new meaning from ancient ways.

Sunday, 24 July 2016


Genesis 18:32
Then Abraham said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.

Luke 11:1
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

From Wikipedia:
Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.

Google's BHAG is: To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Facebook's BHAG is: To make the world more open and connected.

It was audacity that saw Abraham asking God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if even 10 righteous souls could be found (having worked his way down from 50).
It was audacity that led the disciples to ask Jesus: Teach us to pray.
What part does Audacity play in our Missional strategies today?
In our medium - long term goals, is there a place for audacity?
The audacity that causes those who look on with suspicion to question our sanity?
The audacity that is possible because we trust in God who specialises in the impossible?
The audacity that dares the Kingdom of God to break out in the midst of a world where people are subjected to prejudice, violence, injustice and abuse of power, a world that breaks God's heart, 

BHAGs create a sense of unity in teams working together toward a common vision as well as offering a stretch beyond what is, perhaps, considered realistic.
The very audacity, however, motivates those involved to reach that bit further to achieve what others consider beyond reach.
Changing the mindset and culture of the church might well be a BHAG, one that might take more than a generation to achieve but the audacity must begin somewhere. 
In discovering ways to be church in our cultures today, we continue to practice audacity, sharing stories along the way that speak of breakthroughs and of set backs. We hold on for the long term, doing all that we can, always asking boldly for the force of God's Holy Spirit to show us the way, for the breath of God to breathe in us and for the life of God to flow through us, changing hearts, changing minds, starting from where we are.
That's a BHAG for sure!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Bathed in prayer

Matthew 9:37 - 10:1
"What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!"
The Twelve Harvest Hands
The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.
I've always been grateful for the Prayer Warriors who have surrounded me with prayer through life - praying for me to explore faith, to find faith, to commit, to discern and then follow a vocation, to have courage, to step up, to remain and to relax in God and to find adventure in following the unpredictable Spirit as she leads in escapades that could never have been planned or anticipated.
Often, when people have been apologetic about not being "actively" involved in ministry, I have offered consolation by assuring them that they might engage in prayer.
And yet, prayer is not a consolation, but the energy in every venture.
Prayer is not an optional extra or an add on but the grounding of faith in action.
Praying for - as well as stepping up to be - harvest hands demands that we are bathed in prayer as surely as we scrub our faces in the morning.
Entering the harvest demands that we pay as much attention to our prayer life as we do to recruiting and energising and building relationships and being "out there doing ministry", and yet it is one of the most difficult routines to cultivate and one of the first we let slip under pressure.
And, while most of us are prepared to admit our weaknesses in some areas of ministry, we rarely admit to how much we struggle with the disciplines of prayer - that seems a step too far in our vulnerability.
In some ways, with the variety of apps available to us (like centering prayer or pray as you go) it should be easier to cultivate a discipline in prayer but the ever increasing demands of ministry lure us away from stillness and contemplation. And we probably scorn those who assert that such contemplation can be found on the morning commute or as we load the dishwasher or as we return from the school run....
As long as we see prayer as "taking time out" we are unlikely to make it a priority in our lives. Would it make a difference if we saw prayer as "putting time in?" It seems that we're more likely to take on something extra than take time away from those activities we see as core in ministry. And while most of us would assert that prayer is core, we still manage to consider it as requiring time that we simply don't have.
Engagement in any ministry and especially ministry on the edge can be isolating and pressured and the very least we can gift to ourselves is doing whatever it takes to find a way to be bathed in prayer - asking others to pray and finding a regular, habitual way to pray ourselves.
How do habits develop? By doing the same thing over and over. Once a habit is established it can be varied and developed but the first step is in forming a habit.
I firmly believe that, often, God acts with us and in spite of us. Our chaotic prayer life will not thwart the Spirit's efforts but grounding and bathing ourselves in prayer may bring us affirmation and consolation, insight and inspiration - that edge that sustains us through the desert, that irrigates and refines hopes and dreams and brings the impetus to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.
May our mundane habit of prayer become a power house in the work of the kingdom wherever we are, fuelling the work of the harvest in ways we would never have imagined - for the glory of God.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The real thing

Acts 2:46-47

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I once worked with a small rural congregation, in a village small enough for everyone to know each other fairly well. One winter, going over the accounts with office bearers, a heated discussion developed over the price of heating oil and, before I could refocus folks' attention back to church finances, receipts were being produced from pockets and all were commiserating with one another about the shocking price of fuel. I smiled benevolently.
Similarly, in a larger congregation, with a bigger number of office bearers, when we were discussing members with whom we no longer had contact because they had apparently moved out of the address we had on the roll, a lengthy story unfolded of the comings and goings of neighbours and the growing incidence of buy to let properties in the area. Anxious to move the business on to accommodate a full agenda, I was impatient and frustrated.
And yet, both of these moments were kairos moments. Both were opportunities to stop and take stock. To learn about what affected and concerned members, what affected and concerned the community we served. Be it the price of fuel or sort term tenancies.
How often do we miss such moments from which we can learn and through which we might better serve?
In a quest to be efficient and to maintain good order - or just to get out of the building at a reasonable hour, we pass up opportunities to learn and grow together. And the bigger our agenda, the more tasks we have to tick off, the more positions we have to fill, the further we move from the core of our calling - to love God and to love one another. The tensions that arise out of trying to function efficiently erode the business of being community together, a community of love, gathered around the living word of God.
Perhaps we can learn to live with being less efficient. Perhaps we can learn to accommodate gaps, discern that they are there for a reason and a season, rather than stress over them. Perhaps we can learn that all the programmes in the world cannot replace relationships. And in learning all this, perhaps we can remember that the God of love calls us to be - to be with God and with one another.
Learning anew how to be church rather than do church.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Heart and Soul 2016

A reflection shared at Heart and Soul 2016
It's been a joy and a privilege to journey with the folks on Path of Renewal exploring what it means to be Involved with God in God's mission today - something that is different in every context and for every community but that has some basic principles, and even some ancient ways.
In our last gathering on Path of Renewal, we were re-imagining discipleship for today, looking again at Jesus example, at how he made disciples and modelled discipleship.
Discipleship is playing a huge part in our journeying together.
We're wresting with the question: How can we be disciples and how can we make disciples today?
Of course there are lessons to be learned from People of the Way all through Scripture as they journeyed on paths Unknown:
The Psalmists - saw themselves as People of the Way - in light and in darkness, in their brightest moments and in their trials.
They saw the presence and the word of God lighting up the way ahead for them at every turn.
In Psalm 23, we read: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me by still waters - Describing an ancient path and an ancient promise.
The Psalmists' route was never an easy one, nor straightforward. 
But they travelled with hope and with vision.
It's that kind of hope and that kind of vision that sustain People of the Way today.
To get to those green pastures and those still waters involves, first of all, negotiating some fairly difficult dry scrub land, places, it seems, with which we're more familiar - sometimes places in which we are tempted to linger because they are so well-known and well-loved.
But God's vision for us is for so much more - green pastures and still waters.
Today, God still leads us to those places of abundance. For that is Gods will for all Gods people.
Our calling is to live into and out of that abundance, to recapture the vision and the promise of God as people of the way for this age.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

People of the Way #GA2016

Some of the congregations involved in Path of Renewal have been reflecting on this year's General Assembly and Heart and Soul theme: People of the Way.
This from Carol Anne Parker, minister at Alloa: Ludgate

How does the Path of Renewal allow you to explore your calling as 'People of the Way'?
It's not just buildings that make us static, it's minds too. We get used to doing things a certain way, and in the end don't think too much about them. And if we're honest perhaps we can admit that most of what we think of as innovation or doing differently is really just playing around with the edges. The Path of Renewal is at the very least about encouraging us to ask questions about all of that. And to ponder the frightening but ultimately freeing question, is there a more faithful way for us to be together as People of the Way? 

What excites you about the Path of Renewal?
You know, I don't want to get to retirement and find all I have to show is a tally of how many funerals I shared in or how many times I preached through the lectionary cycle or whatever. I want to laugh into older age, I want to chuckle at stories of daring, of risks taken, of helping each other up when things went wrong. I want to marvel at how folk who never thought of bringing their light to the church's door found faith for life simply because we were willing to be with them, really be with them, where they were. That's God's work. But the Path of Renewal might just help us along that way. That's what excites me. 

What challenges is the Path of Renewal helping you overcome?
The Path of Renewal is giving us a language to speak about why things are the way they are for mainline denominations in the West. This is by and large a time of decline for the church but that is not to say that people do not feel an itch to explore faith's questions. The fact remains, though, that people are not generally looking to the church to explore those questions. The Path of Renewal is helping us to understand the reasons this might be so. And to find ways to share our faith that resonate with people here and now.   

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Difference

Matthew 4:18-22
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

A different kind of rabbi and a different kind of disciple.
These are just two of the issues with which we're wrestling on Path of Renewal.
Jesus didn't surround himself with the brightest and the best when he gathered his disciples:
"Come, follow me" was a recognised summons to discipleship but the people to whom that summons was issued, by Jesus, were not the kind of folk normally invited into such a prestigious relationship.
It was an honour to be invited into discipleship, an honour that involved profound change as the disciple learned from and tried to imitate the teacher.
Most Rabbis were very prescriptive in their teaching, setting out the law simply and precisely so that their disciples would be in no danger of transgressing if they followed the very clear boundaries spelled out for them.
Jesus, however, though he taught the law simply, also left wiggle room - room for his disciples to work out how they could best fulfil the law - and how far they might go to do so. Rather than teach his disciples to do the least possible, Jesus encouraged them to do more. "Love one another" became an encouragement to practice selfless giving rather than simply doing no harm to your neighbour.
As we grapple with disciple making today, we are forced to examine our own discipleship: How are we imitating Jesus and what, in our lives, would we want others to imitate? 
It is clear that, although the disciples whom Jesus called seemed a strange, eclectic mix, they had amazing success in discipling others. The growth rate from the twelve, along with the women who also accompanied Jesus is evident in the stories in Acts of the early church. Not only were people being saved, but leaders were stepping up to take on roles in kingdom work.
With the activity of the Holy Spirit, the number of believers grew beyond imagining and the task of discipling became all the more crucial.
It is daunting to consider ourselves as disciple makers. Often we can barely get past all that we would not want others to imitate. And yet Jesus called the least likely folk as his first disciples.
Today, we are called, equipped and empowered to go into all the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples.
This is kingdom work that will involve changing the very culture of church as we know it. We cannot look to others to effect that change. It begins with us stepping into the role to which the Risen Christ commissioned us in the power of the Spirit, a role through which he promises to accompany us every step of the way.
A different kind of Rabbi and a different kind of disciple.
Matthew 28:19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Opting in

John 6:66-69
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I recently heard a Pioneer Priest refer to "the church of slimming world" and, immersed in exploring discipleship models as I am at present, that phrase resonated with me.
Our communities, not least our church buildings, are populated by all manner of motivational groups for healthy living, groups that attract because people are unhappy with their lifestyle or with their body image. (The kind of media that encourages that dissatisfaction or dictates what is ideal is a whole other story) People sign up to these groups to be mentored through change. They become part of a community that stimulates and encourages the kind of changes that they perceive are necessary. Within those communities they experience motivation and accountability.
One of the interesting facts is that few people go along to such a group, learn the basics, pick up a schedule and then decide to go it alone - or if they do, they soon return to the community looking for help. Because the encouragement and accountability are necessary parts of the plan. And leadership is important too - someone dynamically bringing that all together, discerning when to be gentle, when to be more confrontational, when to encourage or cajole. 
What's more, such groups often really do offer supportive community. They are open, accepting and affirming, groups that most are comfortable inviting their friends to join.
Clearly there are parallels here for the church as an Attractional model.
But, alongside these groups, there is also an intensive leadership programme - and a different layer of community being formed among those leaders. A community that is intentional in training, in equipping and in empowering. A community that holds its members accountable and that expects results. A community that invites folk to step up, own the challenges, celebrating success and analysing failure. A community that expects leaders to model the programme.
Aren't those the kind of demands we want to make on those involved in discipling others? Those who have themselves experienced the kind of change that following Jesus brings, whose lifestyle demonstrates that change and who are willing to put themselves out there as a model of the transformative power of the love of God. Those who set targets and also deliver. Those who, in community will share openly and honestly, constantly learning new skills, finding growth in their journey of discipleship that will enrich and shape how they disciple others.
The question is: Would you want to be a disciple who disciples others?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Buzz words

Matthew 28:19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Discipleship has become quite the buzz word in church in all its many hued forms at present. 
I have an aversion to being on trend. I'm a 4 on the Enneagram, so, as soon as something becomes trendy I'm off looking for the next distraction. 
Discipleship, it seems, is not to be so easily shucked off.
Our last gathering of ministers involved in the Path of Renewal Pilot focussed on Discipleship, as will, I imagine, many of our gatherings for the future.
Rich Robinson of 3DM-Europe helped us work through some of the essentials of being and making disciples: Information, Imitation and Innovation. 
How tempting it is to take what we think we've learned and then rush to put it into practice. From Information straight to innovation, without the imitation piece. Of course we'd much rather bypass the difficult work of modelling discipleship for others - that's the hard bit!
I'm currently trawling through books on discipleship, discerning what might work in different contexts. But, as one of the ministers involved in the Pilot reminded us, this is a journey we are on together. There are no guinea pigs - we share the road and the lessons learned along the way.
For my part, authentic relationships, vulnerability and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, along with studying Scripture to learn from Jesus' interactions with his disciples are leading me on paths long forgotten or avoided.
And so, as we consider Renewal in the church from the inside out, so too, discerning discipleship is proving to bring personal renewal from the inside out. We are absolutely, unequivocally on a journey of discovery together. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Love one another

John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
These words of Jesus, set against the backdrop of him washing the disciples' feet,in some ways make all our angst to find just the right model of discipleship a nonsense and, in other ways, sets us the biggest challenge possible:
How can we make disciples if we cannot Be disciples? 
I love that hymn by William Rutherford:
Lord, can this really be?
Is this your church, the people that I see, 
who gather here and worship you with me?
And must I love them all,
shoulder their loads, and answer when they call,
forgive their faults and raise them when they fall?
With the coda:
Lord, could this really be?
Lord, let it really be.
That challenge extends beyond the walls of our congregations. We are constantly called back to love, whether trying to be disciples or to make disciples.
All the books and all the programmes, tried and tested, in the world will make no difference until, first, we learn to love and love and love again.
Perhaps a very basic but always helpful reminder as we seek to be authentic in our relationships and in following Jesus' command to Go - and make disciples.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Minecraft - more than a game

So, I've never dabbled much in adventure or fantasy computer games,preferring the safety of simple number or word games. But I was intrigued by this article about Minecraft to which a friend directed me recently.
And, as ever, I saw in it all sorts of parallels for church engagement and, in particular, for Path of Renewal. 
These are just some of the insights:
Participants are creating, on their own or with others, complex virtual worlds, populated with elements that have to be figured out by others to discover how they work. It seems there is no limit on creative possibilities.
It is intergenerational though largely populated by younger people who inform others.
It encourages creativity, thinking laterally, building blocks that are both functional and aesthetic.
It is often surprising.
The Mine craft community is self governed - wreckers (or griefers) will be censured by peers and those who want to interact negotiate the rules of engagement together.
There are no official cheat sheets - though you tube hosts how-to videos.
There is no predictable outcome
With no blueprint, it is necessary to write the programme and the codes needed to make things work.
Everyone contributes to community shared learning.
There are lots of small communities as well as access to larger places of interaction.
It runs contrary to the quick fix, idiot proof world that is the norm in so many digital worlds today.
Players learn by engaging with it - there is no manual.
People who play build up a resilience, encountering failure regularly and having to rethink their strategy.
Creativity, problem solving, resilience - much, much more than a game.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Culture of Experimentation

Acts 1:6-8
The Ascension of Jesus
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Whenever I speak to groups about Path of Renewal, I try to make it clear that this Pilot Project is just one of a number of experiments being supported by the church in Scotland:
In response to a changing culture, the national church is fostering a climate of permission giving, recognising that the Pilots being trialled may lead us into territory that we have long avoided exploring.
And, particularly when it is recognised at the outset that few of these experiments, if any, are likely to result in an increase in church membership, we begin to gauge something of the brave new era in which the church finds itself. Indeed, finding new ways of "being church" may, in fact, in some respects, undermine the institution.
Is it true, as some suggest, that 500 years on from the Reformation, we are on the brink of another major shake up?
Has the global, digital age of communication and the, almost universal, access to informed debate on religion and science (among other things) forced us to rethink kingdom priorities?
Has the war on terrorism and unprecedented migration provided a new urgency to live out the great commandment to love God and neighbour?
Is being welcoming, invitational or affirming simply not enough in the midst of the diversity encountered in many communities today?
So many variables demand a plethora of responses, some of which are probably still inconceivable.
But an openness to the winds of the Spirit heralding change alongside the willingness to embrace and learn from failure seems like a healthy place to be - the sort of environment in which God has space to surprise us with unfailing love and grace and draw us into the mission of God in the world.
"To the ends of the earth" may well begin right where we are!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Moving in

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Recently, reading Samuel Well's: A Nazareth Manifesto and The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block, I have been drawn back to St John's prologue.
Although I've been involved in many conferences and conversations with church leaders and with civic leaders about Asset Based Community Development, what I've witnessed and experienced has largely been an attitude of "doing for" rather than "doing with" in community initiatives. More about enabling than empowering. More about filling gaps than encouraging growth. Sometimes considerable resources have gone into undertaking community research and then acting on findings, ploughing in further resources. And the reality is that resource rich intervention is hard to replicate.
Even when considerable assets have been identified within the community, it seems that the temptation to enhance the gifts present is still compelling. The question is: Whose needs are being met?
It's much more difficult to simply highlight potential and allow that potential to flourish without dictating direction.
Generosity calls not just for open hands but for open hearts and minds that allow natural growth and development as well as stumbles and falls. It involves the recognition that the gifts are there waiting to be released. It involves taking risks, gambling that the odds are stacked in favour of abundance rather than scarcity.
In the gospels, we see Jesus hanging out - in kitchens, in the temple, on the beach, by the lakeside, taking time to be with those around him. Not imposing an agenda. Not introducing a programme. But making friends, forming relationships, listening and entering into the story of those around him. "Moving into the neighbourhood" as The Message translates John 1:14.
As we discern where God is at work in our neighbourhoods today, it will always be tempting to plunge in, rolling up our sleeves as we go. But God invites us to find our place in the stories of our community by offering a generous presence - a presence that listens more than speaks, a presence that receives more than gives, a presence that connects stories rather than writes them, a presence that sticks around, becoming rooted, showing commitment to weaving stories together, to making connections simply by being present and open to the communities in which we live, in whom we are invested  and by whom we are changed. Our call is to be in our neighbourhood, practising those gifts of generosity. Not an easy call for those of us who are more comfortable doing rather than being and whose default is more ministering to than ministering with.
What might it be like to move into our neighbourhoods, practising the kind of generosity that releases the God given gifts of others?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Living out of abundance

Matthew 10:8-10
Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

A huge part of the work in Path of Renewal will involve finding and investing in local leaders in our communities.
I was reminiscing with a colleague recently about the folk who invested in me, gave me opportunities to discover and develop gifts and continually discipled me in faith. And who were disappointed when God called me to serve in another sphere from that in which I was nurtured. 
The way ahead, with God, is rarely predictable and never restrictive.
We tend to perceive the gifts of God as a limited commodity and yet our communities are filled with people with gifts, some yet to be discovered, some needing encouragement and some simply waiting to be released. 
Imagining our communities as incubators for the gifts of God helps us to appreciate God's extravagance and to live out of that abundance.
Building communities around the gifts of people was an important element in the Church Without Walls report - operating out of abundance and not scarcity. 
Changing our perception from scarcity to abundance makes a vast difference in our faith and in our hope. And operating out of abundance rather than scarcity allows us to find, to invest in and to nurture others, to move them from the confined space of an incubator, releasing them to follow God's call wherever that may take them, knowing that we have done our part and that God who is faithful will continue to raise up leaders and servants to work for the Kingdom. 
Our investment is never wasted in growing, with God, those who will live abundantly in the extravagant Kingdom of God.
In the words of Matthew 10:8 (The Message version) we who have been treated generously, live generously.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Getting it done or savouring the journey

In every crisis, there is a push to put in place strategies that will move things swiftly into safer waters. One of the luxuries in Path of Renewal is the resistance to mapping the journey in advance. Instead, space is being created to listen for the voice of God and to discern the Spirit at work. Without the pressure to deliver a solution, creativity is awakened and discovery of new ways is more than a possibility.
Reflecting on this gift I was reminded of a story Henri Nouwen told of his work with L'Arche community:
... this afternoon, I went apple picking with Janice, Carol, Adam, Rose and their assistants. MY attitude was to get the apples picked, put them in bags and go home. But I soon learned all of that was much less important than to help Rose pick one or two apples, to walk with Janice looking for apples that hang low enough so that she herself can reach them, to compliment Carol on her ability to find good apples, and just to sit beside Adam in his wheelchair under an apple tree and give him a sense of belonging to a group... Efficiency is not the most important word - care is.
(Road to Daybreak p28)
When our task is about changing a mindset and a culture, a lot of the work is intuitive, directed, not by guidelines but by gentle nudges and prompting of God. What we learn along the way, the people and the experiences we encounter take precedence over designing a route. What we discover will not be empirical but will be kingdom work.
God has led people this way in the past:
Numbers 9:22-23
Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out. At the command of the Lord they would camp, and at the command of the Lord they would set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.
The waiting on God is not a time for idleness but a time of waking and of discovery, a time in which to grow more attuned to that gentle whisper of God inviting us in this time and place to develop new kingdom awareness. While that is difficult for those who prefer more order and direction and a gift for those who are more comfortable with mess and unpredictability, for both, it is a time to respond to God given opportunity in obedience, inspired by the people of God in all ages.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The language of engagement

Ephesians 4:11-13

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

As our learning community met this week, one of the common themes we encountered was the lack of clarity and uniformity in the language we use to engage with others.
Words move in and out of fashion as culture changes and, to engage effectively, we must be conversant with the language peculiar to the group we are encountering - not so that we can emit trendy sound bytes but so that we can converse intelligently with those around.
Currently, communities are increasingly concerned with health and well being - our church halls are filled with diet and exercise groups and local authority employees speak of the health and well being of communities and seek ways to deliver programmes that contribute positively to those facets of life.
While the last thing we need in local congregations is another programme or activity that taps into this agenda, it is possible to embrace the language, promoting Spiritual health and well being as part of the holistic care for our community.
Gauging the Spiritual health of the body of Christ and encouraging faith communities to care for souls wherever their daily life and work is focussed allows us to remain conversant with our communities and to be concerned with their concerns, building up the body of Christ, heart, mind and soul, releasing all those different gifts and growing together in community.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Culture eats strategy for breakfast*

Matthew 16:21-23
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I recently spent 5 days on a cruise ship with 50 other women clergy exploring the paradigm shifts that have changed the culture around us leaving the church scrabbling to somehow catch up and find a new place in this changing landscape.
Now, safely back on dry land, journeying through the season of Lent, I'm rediscovering the same dilemma in the disciples as they accompanied Jesus on the way to Jerusalem:
Jesus kept on speaking of his impending suffering and death but the disciples had a whole other notion of Messiah-ship, so they failed to understand. Then. They did, however, have that unequivocal teaching of Jesus echoing in their minds when they needed it most.
It's that kind of challenge that makes transitioning so difficult in many churches today. We tweak what we are doing to try and be a bit more culturally relevant. We put on more and better programmes designed to better feed those who are there and attract those who are not. But, for many, both in the church and outside the church, their notion of church, formed over years of positive and negative experiences is so ingrained that other possibilities are inconceivable. Changing the cultural imagination takes much longer than changing programmes.
But now is the time to make a start. Now, when there are enough signs of decline to make us desperate enough to act yet enough life left to make transition possible. Now, when God is calling the church into a whole new age of discovery and adventure, a whole re-imagining of what it means to be disciples. Now is the time to engage with the out of date culture that is perpetuated in the church while at the same time engaging with the vastly different culture that exists beyond th sanctuary walls. It is time to pick up the mantle and be disciples with Jesus' mandate ringing in our ears: Go into all the world and make disciples.
(*The title of the RevGalBlogPals Continuing Ed event January 2016, BE9)

Friday, 5 February 2016

What we think we know...

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

T S Elliot

As the children of God journeyed through the wilderness, they were accompanied by visible signs of God's presence, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. These signs dictated when they should be on the move and when they should stay put.
As time went on, Moses built the Ark of the Covenant to house the Ten Commandments and to symbolise God's faithful presence accompanying the people in all their wandering.
Eventually, Solomon built a temple to house the presence of the Lord and the priests administered and interpreted the things of God.
Even today, priests and ministers are perceived to preside over the Spirit of God in our communities and in the world, operating programmes out of buildings erected for that purpose. Even when the programme involves moving out of the sanctuary, still it is regulated and controlled by the professional whose job it is to keep all things "in good order".
This phase of Path of Renewal invests in those paid staff, ministers used to operating within the confines of buildings and parishes wherein the Spirt of God is contained. The challenge and call is not to abandon those places where, despite our best efforts at containment, God's spirit is yet able to emerge and impact lives - but also to risk venturing out, seeking and acknowledging the presence of God's Spirit in all the unlikely places, not least in the children whom God calls beloved.
Acts 7:48-50
Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

God is in our sanctuaries but is not confined there.
God inhabits the street corners, the playing fields, the dog parks of our communities - and more - God inhabits the lives of those who frequent those places in our neighbourhood.
Our calling is to be faithful in serving the affairs of the Spirit manifest in our buildings but also to recognise and promote the activity of God's Spirit that roams freely in our world, changing lives without programme or plan or even expectation.
Our calling is to be awake to those signs of the Spirit at work, to celebrate lives changed and purpose rediscovered, to lay down our need to corral and control, sharing the wonder that God continues to dwell in the life of the world.
Unlearning what we think we know and learning all those new things that Christ sought to reveal and continues to unfold to us by the Spirit - those are the tasks that will take us further along a Path of Renewal.