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.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Discerning God in our everyday

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

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

Monday, 3 July 2017

The slow work of love

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

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

Friday, 19 May 2017

Without a blueprint

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

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

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Taking on the mantle

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

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

Friday, 31 March 2017

The baby and the bath water

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

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

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Creating and creative liminality

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

Friday, 10 March 2017

Redistribution and Growth - a Conundrum

Matthew 9:36 - 10:1
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "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'm trying to process conflicting and contradictory concepts at the moment:
Concepts that I think may be key in our moving from an inherited model of church to a Missional model. Concepts that may signal the difference between being engaged in the Mission of God and ensuring the survival of an institution.
Please be clear that what I share is my questioning, not criticism and not solutions.
A phrase I've heard numerous times in the last few weeks is: "we must stop taking minsters out of the parish ministry pool". And yet, a growing phenomenon in the Church of Scotland at present (and one that is being actively encouraged) is the influx of ministers ordained to word and sacrament from other (selective) countries. To increase our pool, we diminish another pool.
We are also engaged in a huge recruitment exercise, largely aimed at under 45s, assessing those who respond using robust but traditional methods and then slotting those who survive that into a programme of training and theological education that is generic.
Stefan Paas suggested at a recent conference that, if a person has been able to endure the prescribed route into parish ministry, which includes the rigour of gaining a theological degree, they are unlikely to have the necessary skills for entrepreneurial or pioneer ministry.
And yet, haven't those called to ministry been prepared to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to get to a place or to gain the recognition required to practice ministry in all its forms? Operating within the confines of an institution should not mean that, when the opportunity presents itself, one shouldn't be released into a Missional calling.
And, if the reshaping God is about today signals anything, it is that renewal will come from the fringes and leadership will grow there too. Structures and compliance tend to squash that growth on the margins. 
It seems that, more than ever, we need to hold things lightly, using structure to equip and empower rather than curtail. And that this freedom should extend to the growth of new leaders as well as being extended to those chafing within the confines of the institution.
So, how do we hold lightly and yet not subscribe to an "anything goes" approach to ministry?
How do we honour our Presbyterian need for good order while responding to the ravages of the Spirit, allowing the Spirit to blow through our structures yet maintaining a culture of care and support for those who are dependant on such structures?
Path of Renewal has, from the outset, sought to be an agent of transitioning inherited to Missional, to embrace the adaptive challenge of changing a culture and mindset, to be a movement and not a programme. 
Perhaps that also calls for a more intentional naming of the questions and tensions that are around, the dichotomies with which we engage in this time of upsetting and reshaping. 
And, for sure, it calls for a continued openness to the Spirit of God, showing us the way through the wilderness for this age in all its complexity and confusion.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Adaptive Leadership

We've just begun the process of recruiting for the next tranche of Path of Renewal congregations. I'm always careful about stressing that Path of Renewal is just one of the 'experiments' happening around the edges of the church at the moment. It is by no means a panacea. But, as Stefan Paas helpfully reminded us in our conferences on Pioneer Ministry and on Church in a Secular Age last week, change will be effected from the margins, not from the centre. And true innovation cannot be controlled or packaged - for then it ceases to be innovative. But if we can support people while they engage with a culture of experimentation, we leave room for the Spirit to enliven and embolden our efforts.
Much of what we are about in Path of Renewal is bringing to life the principles outlined in the Church Without Walls report of 2001.
Among questions I was asked yesterday are - Why 15 years on are we any more likely to act on the Church Without Walls Report? And how will Path of Renewal seek to do that?
One, perhaps obvious, answer to the first question is that the statistics of decline have only continued to get worse. 
Another answer may be that the prayers of the faithful have led to a new breath of the Spirit.
A third strand is that we are recognising that what is facing the church right now is an Adaptive Challenge that calls for Adaptive Leadership.
Heifetz and Linsky have written much about this. When "problems" can no longer be solved with the tools readily at hand, it's time to experiment with new things that allow us to engage with a new culture. This is not about survival but about thriving in a changed and changing environment.
None of us would deny that the church finds itself in a dramatically altered landscape. To thrive in such a terrain means that we have to sift through the things of our past, retain or reclaim what is still useful in our new environment, jettison those things that hold us back, and find new solutions, new methods of engagement with our culture today.
That will call for adaptive leaders - leaders who, fuelled by ancient practices of prayer, scripture and sacraments are willing not to look for a quick fix but to try out new ways of engagement, new ways of being church today, leaders who are able to hold their nerve and not resort to grasping hold of the latest programme or latest trend but who recognise these as temporary fixes that won't build the resilience that being involved in the mission of God demands of us today.
It's fair to say that most of the ministers currently involved in Path of Renewal recognise that the biggest transformation has been in them. Adaptive challenge calls for adaptive leaders.
It's time, not to ditch the DNA of the church but to change it so that it will thrive and be strengthened for today.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Honest wrestling

2 Corinthians 4:1-2 (The Message)
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.
One of the things I probably love best about Path of Renewal is the, sometimes brutal, honesty of the ministers who are currently grappling with the question of how to be church today, each in their different contexts, each attempting to discern where God is already at work. These are ministers who are not afraid of speaking the truth about how difficult becoming Missional really is. Ministers who are not about to lure others into a false sense of ease. Ministers who are prepared to admit that, every time they think they might just have "got it" something shifts and they have to start again, albeit from a slightly different place with, perhaps, just a little more understanding of what it is we are about. Ministers who understand that seeking to transform the inherited model of church, changing mindsets, begins with our personal transformation.
In spite of all the challenges, however, all of those who have engaged with Path of Renewal are committed to staying the course, journeying on, making the most of the glimpses of God along the way.
Today we shared a little of that in a conference looking at the church in a secular age, at which there was a great mix of practitioners from different denominations, with differing theologies and involving lots of partnerships and agents of change.
One of my favourite moments of today's conference came when one of the Path of Renewal ministers said: "Starting Path of Renewal was like having a very large boot removed from my spiritual throat."
Another minister shared the realisation that it might be more helpful to be slightly inept as a congregational leader - that makes it more natural to enable others and make space for them to discover and exercise their own gifts and calling. (Some would call that skilled ministry)
Today's conference was the second of two conferences with Stefan Paas, a Dutch theologian who shared his research, insights, reflections and practical experience of Pioneering ministry and church planting. It was affirming to hear so many of the struggles we are experiencing in the church in Scotland reflected in the European context and to consider the wrestling we must continue to do together. And it's good to do that with folk who are brutally honest about the complexity and sometimes hostility of the road ahead.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Reefing the sails

Mark 2:27
Then Jesus said to them: "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath..."
When I crewed for sailing friends, I didn't particularly like it when we had to reef the mainsail - that inevitably meant we were in for a bumpy ride! Of course it made things a lot safer but it also made the boat seem heavier, more sluggish, as though it didn't like being curtailed in its movement and freedom. I enjoyed shaking out the sails when we'd come through the worst of a storm and loved the feel of  the yacht restored to full power - as it was made to be.
There is a tendency in the Church of Scotland for folks to constantly operate under reefed conditions, blaming the structure and the constitution for imposing rules that limit freedom in all sorts of ways. Jesus often pointed out to the Pharisees how laws should permit us to be free rather than curtailed - free to love, free to be generous, free to embrace the other in our midst.
The popularity of the recent content of the Chalmers Lectures, focussing on reforming the church and its structures signalled a readiness to embrace change that takes cognisance of the post-Christendom era in which the church operates today and find new ways of working that will enable congregations and individuals to embrace the culture in which we find ourselves, discovering anew God's mission in the midst of that, a mission in which God invites us to participate.
Perhaps, before we change structures we need to rediscover to what it is we are being called . Once we have discerned our place in the Mission of God, we'll be able to put things in place that support and enable that calling. When we've shaken out the sails, allowed the wind of the Spirit to take us where she will, we can then adjust the tiller and follow where she leads, working out what we need to keep us on course as we go.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Making language work

"Putting missional on as a modifier to church missed the point in the book Missional Church because it turned the conversation back to the church. That was a mistake because it became a conversation about saving our story called church. What's happening is a massive unraveling of our church story. There is no putting that story back together. Instead as the modern church continues to die, experiments will develop as people explore the connections of gospel and culture. There they will discern Gods activity in this current culture. And what emerges will be very different." Alan Roxburgh ATCO2015

It's difficult to find descriptors for what we are about in Path of Renewal. Many of the words we are wont to use have become passé or are used in different, sometimes unhelpful ways, leading to confusion and misunderstanding.
Missional is just one of those words...
Pushed to define what we mean when we speak of being Missional perhaps we can do no better than resort to the words of the gospel:
Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:
"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Matthew 10:5-8

Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'Matthew 25:40

Doing and telling. Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in word and action. Experimenting, not from the safety of our sanctuaries in words and rituals we've practiced and honed to attract but with tools less familiar and beyond our comfort and expertise. 
Becoming Missional seems like a slow process involving us laying down what we think we know to catch up with the new thing that God is about - Finding connections we might not have envisaged and living with the unpredictability of what the Spirit reveals of God's activity in our neighbourhoods. 

In the end, it is not the descriptors that matter so much as the evidence of our involvement, with God, in pointing to all that brings fullness of life to all of creation, starting with the communities in which we live and work. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Acts 10:25-29
On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

We imagine the apostle Peter, who learned hard lessons as a disciple of Jesus, would have a handle on living the gospel faithfully in the culture in which he was rooted. But then he meets Cornelius and his foundations are shaken. Each converts the other to a new way of being in the world, in the kingdom work of joining God in mission.

Meeting last week to review the journey that is Path of Renewal, we spoke of the unraveling and dismantling that has confronted and challenged us as we seek ways of faithfully being disciples in our culture today.
The work of discerning where and how God invites us to join in mission for this age involves relinquishing our hold on things we thought we had learned and the laying down of skills we thought we had mastered to make room for new possibilities that God sets before us. Being involved in God's mission renders us novices instead of the seasoned professionals we previously considered ourselves. We find ourselves questioning all that we thought we knew.*
It's hard work - and it's tempting to return to the status quo, where we feel slightly better equipped and where we perhaps better fulfil the expectations of others. Life would be so much easier if we could stick with what we think we know. (Perhaps!)
But, having glimpsed that preferred and promised future that God lays before us and beckons us to pursue, we cannot turn back, no matter how awkward the terrain or how slow the journey.
We are compelled by the God of mission to keep on seeking out the Cornelius's who challenge us to broaden our horizons, to change our mindsets, to embrace a new commitment to discipleship and to keep on following God whose mission we are about.
And so the hard work of listening to God, of forging and deepening relationships, of letting go, of laying down our professionalism, of encouraging and empowering others and of continually re-aligning our notion of mission to that of God become the things that we take up every day - the tools and the work of the Kingdom. The great unraveling!

*Ministers involved in Path of Renewal Pilot have from 2 to 30 years experience!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Discerning the task

Mark 1:35-39
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Discerning the focus of the ministry to which each of us is uniquely called is not an easy task.
There are so many distractions and seductions that lie in wait diverting us from that one thing that is ours to do.
And rarely do we have the opportunity to step aside and take time to enquire of God: What is it you would have me do?
Our lives are lived fast paced in the melee of juggling so many demands and calls and opportunities - in being busy.
To say no to anything that seems like it might extend the love and grace of God to others is a risk we are unwilling to take. We hate to disappoint. We live in fear of that one time we held back being the time we might be involved in kingdom work with God.
Discernment is crucial.
So, too, is creating the space to dabble.
Creating space, the foundations of which are listening, love, grace and forgiveness, that allows trial - and error, that encourages stepping out and embraces return, that fosters growth even when pulling back, and that provides a safety net for risks undertaken.
Finding that one thing requires resisting seduction but, rather, taking time to listen, finding courage to try and embracing both hope that we are in tune with the heartbeat of God and forgiveness when we miss the mark, along with resilience to learn and to try again.
...for that is what I came out to do.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Escape to Egypt

Matthew 2:13-14

The Escape to Egypt
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

The season of Epiphany is not just about gifts and stars and wise travellers but also about fear and flight and a whole caravan of slaughter. Those wise visitors left chaos in their wake. They stirred up the fears of a nation, precipitated the slaughter of innocents and the Son of God was forced to seek the relative safety of Egypt.
Egypt as safe space or as a refuge is a recurrent theme in Scripture. When the people of God became disillusioned in the wilderness, they longed for the familiarity of Egypt, conveniently forgetting the oppressive regime they had endured while slaves in that land.
In the business of transition, which is a slow and often painful process, there will always be the temptation to "return to Egypt" whatever or wherever Egypt may be for us. 
In the midst of disorientation and confusion we will be tempted to settle for what we know, however unhealthy or ineffective we know that to be.
The work of renewal demands that we hold tight through the chaos in the knowledge that, though arduous, the God-inspired journey is worth making however uncomfortable it becomes.
And identifying the "Egypts" in whose safety we are tempted to seek refuge will help us recognise when we are settling for less than the promised land that can only be reached by faithful travelling alongside God.
Our prayer is that, on the journey, God gives us glimpses of affirmation - Epiphanies along the way.

(Coddiwompling: travelling purposely toward an as-yet unknown destination.)