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 Now is the time to engage with the out of date culture that is perpetuated in the church while at the same time engaging with the vastly different culture that exists beyond th sanctuary walls.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.