Archive for the “Creativity” Category

spill beans 8 coverThe new edition of Spill the Beans is out and the material starts from Trinity Sunday (26 May) and goes through to Pentecost 14 (25 August).  As usual there are great resources from a hugely talented team for children and young people and those who lead and enable worship.

You can download a free sample if you want to try before you buy.

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I was invited by the good people of Angus Presbytery to come and talk about the stuff I’ve written about Missing Generations last weekend and they kindly filmed all the seminars.  So, here’s my seminar…

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Spill-Issue-7-Cover-460

It has been quite some feat by the Spill the Beans Team to pull this off over the festive season, but after a crazy deadline of 31 December for all the writing, the next issue of Spill the Beans is now beautifully formed and available for download. This is the Lent to Pentecost edition that sees us from 17 February all the way to 19 May 2013! And this edition is not limited just to Sundays, you also get ideas for each day of Holy Week too. It is a large issue.

Inside you will find worship ideas and resources, including Bible notes, stories, prayers, reflections, music suggestions, and more, and for age groups you will find suggestions for activities, crafts, games and teen discussion resources.

If you have already used Spill the Beans, you will know what a great resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you haven’t, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

If you’d like to download a full copy of Issue 7 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. It is a positive steal at only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB.

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too.

If you would like a print copy of Spill the Beans, Issue 6, then this can be arranged. The cost is £20+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Lanark Greyfriars Church. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. We have had to raise the costs of the print copy from our initial issues as we have found the original costs were not covering the costs of producing the copies.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a few days to wait before you receive yours) then you can email office [at] lanarkgreyfriars [dot] com with your order details. An invoice will be issued after dispatch of your order. If you prefer you can contact Greyfriars Church Office on 01555 661510 and place your order over the phone.

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What’s missing today is a high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch.

The quality of the results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which the people in the system operate.

(Otto Scharmer)

Since writing the first batch of posts on Missing Generations I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two events and several conversations which have expanded my thinking on some of the topics I raised.  I think those events and conversations have at least begun to produce a quality of awareness…

 

The Church is perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving. (Alan Hirsch)

Those were the opening words of Alan Hirsch at a recent conference, The Shaping of Things To Come… in Scotland.  He and Michael Frost were talking through some of the thoughts from the book of the same name (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church) and Hirsch was basically saying that our focus on pastor/ teacher leads to a focus on an intellectual style of engagement.  We have pretty much ignored other forms of ministry like apostle, prophet and evangelist.  That means we skew our thinking in one direction and that has led to the church we have today.

That analysis would certainly explain our present forms of worship and even our liking of austere buildings.  We could trace that back to the reformation and tie it to the Enlightenment but it also chimes with a second conversation I was part of with Brian McLaren.  The link below is Brian’s podcast at a recent conference and he was saying the same thing at the event I was at.

Brian McLaren at children,youth and a new kind of Christianity  http://www.woodlakebooks.com/files/CYNKC-Brian%20McLaren-Christian%20Faith%20and%20the%20Next%20Generation.mp3

His assertion is that we are telling the wrong story, or at least telling the story in the wrong way.  That stems from even further back than the reformation and Brian blames those pesky Greco-Romans and their philosophy.  He says that the story we tell is transposed onto Plato’s ‘Cave’.

greek philosophy diagram

So our version is:

christianity diagram

McLaren’s assertion is that our story is something very different.  Our story begins with the Exile.  That cycle of exile, rediscovering a relationship with God, returning and forgetting again.  Genesis is the prequel and the sequel is Isaiah and his vision of the kingdom which leads us to Jesus and the incarnation.

One of Hirsch and Frost’s thoughts is that we focus too much on one particular end of the story of Jesus.  We focus on the cross, resurrection and the return.  We forget the incarnation.  We forget an amazing and hugely significant part of the story, the life of Jesus, here on Earth.

Michael Frost talked about ‘excarnation’, the opposite of ‘incarnation’.  Excarnation means stripping away flesh.  I wonder if that’s what we have done in the way that we tell the story of Jesus, or in how we behave as Christians?  It would seem that rather than being an incarnational community, a community in the flesh, we have become in many ways an excarnational community, a community of thought.

If that is true then it has some serious implications for us.  We are, again, telling the wrong story.

And that leads to us doing the wrong things.  We focus on learning rather than sharing, study rather than community and maintaining an institution rather than participating in a movement.

Hirsch asked the question: Did you get into this to run a club or build a kingdom?  Why do we spend all our energy doing the former and not the latter?

I’ve come across this video in a couple of places now.  I think part of the trap of the club is that we are stuck in a cycle of property ownership and wages.  What if money was no object?  What would you do?

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Is the Church, all wretch and no vomit?

A final thought for now:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein

 

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How people learn has changed.

I talked about learning preferences in part 1.  This video shows just how much teaching and learning has moved on since I was at school.

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I wonder how much church has recognised and embraced these changes?  Or, if the church has actually been at the forefront of them?

I see live streaming of services, websites, video in worship and even some mobile phone apps but these changes in learning are not just about embracing the technology.  For the most part churches are using tech to produce a new shiny version of what they have always done.  It’s just about better visuals.  And that’s good.  Production value is important.  But…

The ‘flipped’ learning model in the video gives an illusion of control to the learner.  They can learn whenever they want, in a way they want… but the teacher still sets the agenda.  There are things that have to be learned… and tested.  All that has happened is that the instructional part of the class is delivered on video so replaces the homework bit.

That in itself is interesting.  What if church had stuff to watch, read or listen to before you showed up?  What if the sermon or teaching was delivered via video so you could watch when you want, read up a bit, think it over so that on Sunday you came with your questions?  Instead of 5 hymns, 3 prayers, a children’s talk and a sermon we could actually talk about what the passage means to us, what we think about it and how it might impact how we live.  Would that work?

Perhaps the real revolution needed in church learning isn’t shown in the film above.  The real learning revolution is something deeper.  And the church should be at the very heart of it.  After all, we started it.

Jesus came to set us free.  But how?  From what?

We could say that it is freedom from sin.  OK.  That would be good because I think that freedom is as much about freedom from the political structures and expectations of the world, the exercising of power over another, the need for wealth and status and the exploitation of others it is about anything else.

The Brazilian educationalist and theologian Paulo Freire talks about “the practice of freedom”.  Why?  Because education and freedom are so closely linked that it’s hard to imagine one without the other.  But education is politically loaded.

Knowledge is power.

I often wonder how much the church’s insistence on a professionalised, theologically trained (look up the meaning of that word) ministry has led to the liberation of people through education, or if it has led to a dependency on ‘the educated’?

Institutions maintain culture.  It’s what they are for.

We use all kinds of things to maintain power.  We dream up systems of governance that require large majorities or complex procedures to make change.  We load decision making bodies with experts because they know best.

What a church looks like where the minister, the teaching elder, was tasked with enabling the discovery of knowledge, not by telling people what things mean but by pointing people in the right direction, assisting in their search, asking good questions, building confidence and empowering people… and the people wanted to learn?

That requires a certain level of self-confidence, to lay down your position, your status and your power.  But then I’m fairly sure that’s what Jesus did.

How many questions did Jesus answer with a straight answer?  How many questions did he answer with another question?  Or with a story?

I think our role is to help people discover what they already know.  To share the God they bring with them, not to tell them that their God should be the same as the one we brought.

But, here’s the problem… people don’t like this.  It’s too hard.  It takes lots of time and commitment.  People also buy into the systems that control and dominate them.

This kind of learning community will challenge everything about who we are, what we do and why.

But it works.

And it’s worth it.

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What spiritual practices do you do?

Eh?  What’s a spiritual practice?

I wrote in my chapter of Inside Verdict that the church isn’t very good at helping members keep the promises they make.  I promised to read the Bible, to pray and to join with other believers in worship.

Reading the Bible is difficult.  So it’s nice that someone explains it for 15 minutes once a week.

Praying is hard.  So it’s nice that the same person prays on my behalf for a few minutes once a week.

Joining other believers in worship is ok.  So long as I’m able to get there at 11am on a Sunday and I’m ok with ‘joining’ meaning sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head (if it’s busy enough that there is someone sitting in front of me).

It’s easy to criticise, but I think one of the most profound failings of the church with all age groups is our failure to help people develop spiritual practices.

Most people reading this won’t know what I’m talking about.  We don’t even use the phrase in our churches.

Christianity has a rich tradition of spiritual practice.  Prayer is one of them.  Meditation.  Fasting.  Walking the labyrinth.  Prayer beads.  Retreats. Lectio divina.  And yet we don’t talk about them, much less promote and practice them.

In fact, the very opposite is sometimes true.  We are suspicious of spiritual practices.  They are things that other religions do.

We have been shaped by the Enlightenment to such an extent that we now have an almost entirely cerebral faith.  God lives in our heads, not our hearts.  Except that’s not really anyone’s experience of God, is it?  We feel God.

I quoted a passage from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple on Sunday:

Shug Avery asks ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church?’

Celie’s answers ‘I never did.  I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show.  Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me.  And I think all the other folks did too.  They come to share God, not find God.’

God doesn’t live in church.  God lives in everything.  We say it, but if we really believe that then how do we equip people to see God in everything and meet God everywhere rather than coming to church expecting to find God there and leaving disappointed?

Spiritual practices are a key to helping us have a deeper faith (and better mental health!).

The reason the Enlightenment left us with a cerebral faith was literacy.  People can read.  The church is only just catching up with this remarkable development.  Before mass literacy (that’s not a theological pun!) people needed someone to read to them and explain what things meant because they had no access to books.  That has changed.  Completely.  Our style of worship hasn’t.

So, what is worship for?

Someone once told me it is how we show God his worth.  I like that answer but it lays down a challenge.  If God means everything to us then shouldn’t worship be about everything we are and all that God means?

I think at some level worship needs to do three things; connect, engage, inspire.

Connect

Worship has to connect with people.  Deeply.  It has to help people connect with themselves, each other and God.  A sermon can do that.  Singing can do that.  Prayers can do that.  But so can other things.  Connection is one of the things Xers and Yers need.

Engage

Worship has to be engaging.  It has to draw people in and create a space where people feel able to engage without fear.  But it also has to engage with the world.  Worship can’t be a nice, safe spiritual bubble.  It has to reflect the joys and the struggles.

Inspire

Worship has to inspire change.  I’m fed up being told I fall short.  I know.  I get it.  Help me to be better.  Inspire me, don’t blame me.  We talk about forgiveness but it feels like someone keeps a list, and the list gets added to each week.  Worship needs to encourage us to be more and to make a difference in the world.

I keep returning to these arrows.

The balance and focus of spiritual practice and of worship is vital.  These are like chair legs.  The story is the floor (backwards and forwards).  If we neglect ourselves (inward), our church/fellow travellers (together), our community and world (outwards) or God (upwards) then we end up on a chair with uneven legs and we spend all of our time wondering why it is so hard to balance.

So, what spiritual practices are you engaging with?  What is worship for?  What should it look like?  And who should do it?

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Who am I?  Who am I for?  Why am I for them?

There are questions that go to the very core of who we are.  As we have already discussed the various generations might choose to answer these questions in quite different terms.

  • Builders are for the country, the establishment.
  • Boomers are for the kids, and they’re still paying for them.
  • Xers are for themselves, and the world.
  • Yers are for whatever cause captures their interest.

Of course those are generalisations but even those four glib stereotyping statements give us an indication of the problem of a ‘one size fits all’ church.  It is almost impossible to be a place that meets everyone’s needs… almost.

To discover if the church is a place where people can belong the church needs to grapple with its answers those same questions.

Who are we for?  What are we for? Why are we for them?

These are questions that are central to our very reason for being and yet I’m not sure we, the church, could answer those questions well.

We could say that we are for God, we are for the poor and we are for them because we believe in Jesus, God’s son, and he told us that we should be for the poor.

But that does that really answer the questions?

Yes.  And no.  And maybe.

And that’s a problem. The answer works ok for Builder’s and for some Boomers.  It appeals to Builder’s sense of ‘doing the right thing’ and building a better world.  It appeals to Boomer’s need for a bit of certainty in an ever-changing world.

It is particularly problematic for Xers and Yers.  They want to know the detail.  Which poor?  Define poor?  For God?  What does that mean?  Why should we do what Jesus says?

I’ve had a look around at some church websites to see how people answer these kinds of questions.  Most don’t.  At least not in an up front way.  Some have a go in a ‘mission statement’ or like my own Synod who have a list of aspirations.

I like Mars Hill in Grand Rapids approach.  If you visit their website you find a ‘who we are’ sections that has a sections headed ‘What we believe’.  In there you find paragraphs on theology, values, mission, serving and membership.

The Values section has the arrows you might have seen in one of the previous post:

For Xers and Yers the answers to each of these directions; backwards, forwards, inward, withward (got to love those made up words!), outward and upward, are vital and I think we need to answer each of these questions for each of our churches:

Backwards – where have we come from?  What is our ‘big story’?  How do we fit in the story of faith?

Forwards – where are we heading? Who are we travelling with?

Inwards (one we almost always avoid) – Why are we here?  Do we value the wholeness of people?  Do we value their mind, body, soul, emotion and experience?

Withward (community) – How do we as a group of people live together?  What are the rules and expectations of our community?

Outward – Who are we serving?  Who are we fighting for?  Who’s lives do we make better?

Upward (celebration) – What does God mean to us?  How do we show that?  How do we share that in our community?

Once we answer those questions we need to be honest about who might share our answers.

I used the phrase ‘mixed economy’ in part 2 and this is where it becomes important.  Even if the generations can agree on the answers the next step is ‘How?’ and I don’t have a problem with that and I don’t think the church should either.  In fact I think we should embrace it.

We are kidding ourselves if we don’t think we already have ‘niche church’.  We all serve a group or a type.  Why not be honest about it and serve a varied menu?

And that brings us back to ministers…

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