Archive for the “Theology” Category

333040_344499155563013_960489688_oOver the past few days I’ve been thinking about men.  A lot. That’s not something I do very often.  It’s also something that people in churches don’t do enough of.

This consideration of the male of the species was as part of my training for ministry and was hugely challenging.

To get us thinking we looked through a copy of The Metro and highlighted all the stories that were ‘about men’.  They were, perhaps unsurprisingly, almost completely negative.  Stories of violence and crime, cry babies and deadbeat dads, sexual and emotional disfunction and of course six pages of sport.

Men are bombarded with contradicting messages about what it means to be ‘a real man’.  The loveable rogue or criminal scum.  The protector or lout.  Compassionate and caring or soft and wimpy.

We considered some archetypes from Moore and Gillette:

We wondered which types ministers are expected to be and how much of what we have seen and experienced is the shadow sides of these ideals.  We wondered about how the move away, quite rightly, from associating the language of war and violence with faith in hymns about soldiers and armies and swords and victories has affected and perhaps feminised faith and the church?  How do we see Jesus?  As a strong man, used to felling trees and working wood, well able to survive 40 days alone in a wilderness?  Or as gentle, meek and mild?  And are those two stereotypes incompatible?

We wondered if men are trying to attain these images of masculinity without really understanding what they are trying to be, or why?

We grappled with our indoor, risk averse, cosseted society where boys only exposure to danger is on an xbox.

We explored the differences between male and female networking and support structures and asked questions around what pastoral care looks like for men who hide their emotions or find themselves coming out of a long term relationship with few friends who they feel they can talk to.

Most of all we wondered why church wasn’t dangerous anymore and what impact that has on men’s faith?

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When I don’t write often I find it hard to write often.

Does that make sense?

Writing is a habit.  It takes practice and persistence.  At least that’s what I find.

I’ve been a bit out of practice recently.  I tell myself I’ve been busy, and that’s true, but it’s not an excuse.  Not really.  I can make time for other things, so why not blogging?  Why not journaling my thoughts about my training for ministry?

Perhaps it’s because I’m processing.  I tend to blog when I know what I think about something.  Sometimes I think out loud.  Sometimes I kick an idea around.  But mostly I have a pretty good idea of my thoughts.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been learning and thinking about the writing prophets.  My first module has been Old Testament and we’ve been thinking about Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos.  It’s fascinating to go back to something that was written such a long time ago and find such resonance with today.  It’s also sobering to wonder how anything I write might be read by others and might stand the test of time.

Of course I have been writing in some forms.  I’ve written sermons and emails and notes and study materials but I haven’t blogged my thoughts for ages.  To be honest I only really started this post because we’ve been doing a module on writing for different contexts and I need to write in a few formats.  This seemed more appropriate than writing a magazine article for an imaginary publication.  But why should that be?

Writing is powerful.  Words convey so much.

In a TED talk JJ Abrams talks about how he feels intimidated by his MacBook.  Some days he sits down to write and feels as though he has nothing worthy of this beautiful piece of technology.

I’ve felt that.  I’ve felt it about a new notebook with its fresh, clean pages, just waiting for me to ruin them with my inane scribbling and incoherent thoughts.  I buy Moleskine notebooks.  I use a good pen.  I do that to remind me that committing something to paper is in some ways a sacred thing.  It has value.  Even if no other person ever reads it.

Sometimes that can lead to a paralysis.  A writer’s block.  It’ll never be good enough or nobody will be interested so why even bother?

But I also find I write more when I read more and when I engage in conversation more.

Writing helps me to organise my thoughts.  It forces me to try to make things orderly and coherent.  That’s not always easy and, as I said earlier, perhaps that’s why I wait until I know what I think but sometimes as I write the connections begin to appear.  The dots start to join and a picture starts to appear.

Sometimes when I write it just comes flooding out like a tidal wave of consciousness that always seems to make sense when it’s done.  Other times writing is a long, slow and painful process that results in something that feels unfinished and doesn’t quite capturing the thoughts it grazes against.

So, I’ll try to write more here because some of the stuff I’ve been learning about is important.  Crime and punishment, justice and righteousness.  Big topics with huge implications for society.  Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos thought so too… See… dots to be joined.

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spillbeans10Spill The Beans Issue 10 is now available for download, and takes us from 1 December to 2 March 2014, encompassing Advent, Christmas, Epiphany all the way to the Transfiguration. Over the season of Advent we focus on the bible passages from the prophets, before turning to the gospel readings for the remainder of this issue.

As always, 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. In this issue we also have an advent candle lighting liturgy and two “Blue Christmas” service liturgies, which are well worth looking at if you have never done anything like that before.

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

If you’d like to download a full copy of Issue 10 for use in your church or personally, then click HERE. The cost is 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 note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 6 MB.

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spill the beans conferenceThe big, long awaited Spill the Beans Conference is just around the corner!  Come and find out more about Spill the Beans, how it works, why it works and how you can use it in your church.

Saturday 31st August

Wellington Church on University Avenue, Glasgow.

10am – 4pm

Cost £8 (includes lunch)

 for application forms.

 

 

Workshops include:

  • Storytelling with Adults and Young People
  • Worship Space and Art Installations
  • Community Engagement
  • Worship Teams
  • Using Age Group Materials

Download the  Poster: StB Conference Final

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We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. (Simon Sinek)

In his TED talk Simon Sinek tells why the ‘why’ is important. Much more important than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’.

I work for a Church. I think my job is about the ‘why’ but very often it has little to do with ‘why’ and much more to do with ‘how’ and ‘what’.

Over the past 20 years the church in the West has declined. It’s a long and sad story that has been told often. In response to that story people have come up with plans, strategies and programmes. You’ve probably heard them all.

‘If we do this people will come’.

Sounds like ‘Field of Dreams’ doesn’t it? Except it doesn’t. Not quite. In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ Ray builds a baseball diamond in his back yard against everyone’s advice. He goes on his journey to Fenway because he believes that he will find something significant there. He builds the baseball diamond so he can share what he believes. He doesn’t tell anyone what they should see, or how they can see it. Just that a bunch of dead baseball players seem to show up and play in his back yard baseball pitch.

Sinek thinks that ‘why’ is the golden question. I think he’s right.

People didn’t turn up to hear Dr King for him. They went for themselves. He didn’t talk to them about his plan, he talked about his dream.

Obama did the same. Remember the signs? HOPE.

The SNP did the same. ‘We believe in Scotland’. Relentlessly positive about what could be.

So what is the Church’s ‘why’?

People don’t follow Jesus because it will make their minister feel better. They don’t come to church to make the person who sits beside them feel better.

They follow because they believe. They follow because they believe that God’s grace and forgiveness will change their lives.

That’s not the story we tell. Our story is all about ‘how’ and ‘why’.

If you love God this is how you should behave.

You should love God because if you don’t you’ll go to hell.

That’s the story we tell.

We tell a story of joining a programme or a class or a group, not a story of lives and a world transformed. We tell a story where we apologise for being small or poor or not very good at this not of amazing things done by ordinary people helped by God.

We tell the story of Jesus like this:

“God sent Jesus to die on the cross because we are so terrible. Our sins are forgiven, but we need to earn that forgiveness over and over again because we are all still miserable sinners. Don’t do that. Don’t wear that. Don’t listen to that or love that person. Don’t have sex. Don’t have fun.”

Let’s contrast that with how Jesus asked people to follow Him…

“Follow me and your lives will be transformed.”

Nothing about Jesus invitation is about Him. It isn’t a command and it’s not even about Him. It’s about them.

I will make YOU different… Come with me and YOUR life will never be the same again.

OK.

Now, what is it you want me to do?

That’s not our story. That’s not the one we tell.

It should be.

But it’s not.

We explain the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. We call it theology or a sermon. We don’t tell people the ‘why’. Our ‘why’ is simple and strange and compelling and transforming.

God loves you.

Yes you.

Yes, even you.

Not just good people or straight people or white people or rich people or clever people or left footed people or any other label.

God loves YOU. He loves you so much that he sent his only son to die so that we don’t have to worry or be scared and so that we can live life free of guilt and shame and doubt and worry.

The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ are interesting. But the WHY… now that’s a story we should tell.

Update: Here’s the new Apple ad… If  you don’t believe what Sinek is saying.  Watch and see if they mention the ‘how’ or the ‘what’…

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr1s_B0zqX0 if you’re using one of Apple’s flash free devices)

Not once… but you want a macbook, ipad, ipad mini, ipod or iphone, even though they never mention any of them by name, tell you how much they are or even where you can buy them.

That’s the power of ‘why’.

 

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recovery-sign-resizeI’ve been thinking a bit more about the Recovery Model as a helpful tool for churches. In this post I will consider three of the elements, that recovery:

  • is a journey rather than a destination
  • does not necessarily mean getting back to where you were before
  • happens in ‘fits and starts’ and, like life, has many ups and downs

Journey

Journey is a metaphor that is widely used in faith. I know that there are some people who don’t find it a helpful one, but for an organisation ‘journey’ seems appropriate.

Why? Well because organisations evolve and change. People travel through those changes together, often exploring side roads and dead ends. People also travel in different ways and at different paces with different concerns and priorities at different times.

For organisations, everyone being at one place at the same time is problematic. That’s why making decisions that please everyone is almost impossible.

This raises lots of questions for me.

Should there be a variety of congregations that make up a local church?

How can we minister to ‘what is’ and ‘what might be’ with ever decreasing allocations of minister’s time to pastorates?

How do we go about training ministers and give permission to others to be pioneers and entrepreneurs, creating new ways of being church?

Back to Where You Were

Many denominations seem to have a collective wish to return to the golden age, mostly an imagined period when everyone went to church twice on Sundays, everyone believed in God and everyone respected the views of the church. Sunday schools had a million kids and there was no crime…

Some of that is of course true. Sunday schools were bigger. But were they full of children who wanted to be there? And if all was so good why didn’t those children keep coming to church?

Recovery isn’t about returning to a previous point.

Recovery is about moving forward having lived through and changed by an experience.

Recovery is a learning experience.

We can learn from our very difficult experiences. The problems almost always come when we don’t learn from them. We repeat the same behaviours over and over again expecting different results.

In recovery from mental health this learning includes being aware of the things that might contribute to you becoming unwell and those things that promote well-being. Those things are not always the same for every person so there is no formula, but focusing on the positive while dealing with things which are problematic is always key ingredient.

I wonder how we can do this as communities?

It would almost certainly involve us being open and honest in our communication. Perhaps that’s a good place to start?

Fits and Starts

When we are well we have a line, kind of like a plimsoll, the red line round a ship, which marks the point at above which the water level becomes a problem. We are aware of things lapping over the side like a big wave. When that happens we make allowances, put in place things to deal with the problem. On a ship they have bilge pumps to remove the water that gets in. When they stop working the ship is in trouble.

I wonder what our equivalent is in church? Do we use membership numbers as our plimsoll line? Is that a healthy measurement? And what about our bilge pumps? What are the things, probably people, that work hard to keep us afloat?

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recovery-sign-resizeIn the west, we encourage goal setting. In fact, we’re obsessed with goals – that end point we are striving so hard to reach.

We jump through hoop after hoop, stepping-stone after stepping-stone, sacrificing everything just to get to that finish line. But once we get there, we realize our thinking was flawed.

Now we’re unhappy again and need to set another goal.

We just spent however many hours, days, or years, sacrificing our health, our happiness, our every-single-day, to reach some goal – only to realize that it was the hours, days, months and years we skipped that actually was our life.

The Change Blog

How many ministers, deacons, church related community workers, youth workers and children’s workers do you know who work for a church or denomination and are quite simply knackered?  They are burnt out, stressed, worried, anxious and deflated.

How many people in churches do you know who are the same?

We, the western church, have fallen into the busyness trap.  We have bought into a ‘success narrative’ hook, line and sinker.  We believe that being busy, doing stuff, being productive is what we should be about.

I get paid to work for a denomination and they are entitled to have expectations of what I will do in return for that salary.

This isn’t a complaint.  I think goals and plans can be helpful, but I have the same feeling as the person who wrote the quote at the start of this post.  In fact I have a bigger question:

Does busyness build the kingdom?

I think we use busyness as a way of hiding from what being church is really about, relationship and service.  We get caught up in meetings, programmes, committees, initiatives, fund raising, groups, work parties and even worship.

We never take time to sit, talk, eat, relax, enjoy… to get to know each other, to share our hopes and dreams, our questions and worries.

We talk endlessly about prayer, meditation, retreat and relationship.  These are all those helpful, non-busy practices and then model the absolute opposite.  We justify ourselves by how much we do, how many hours over our contract we work, how many meetings we have been at this week.

Why?  Where in the Bible does Jesus tell us that we will get eternal life if we only work hard enough?

If the church is going to be a place that is helpful and healthy then we really need to break this destructive narrative of busyness. Busyness leads to stress, anxiety and depression.  We know it does, and yet we still plough on… even though Jesus says ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’

Recovery is about regaining balance.  Taking time to do the things which keep you well, which provide support and about creating a narrative of realistic expectations.

It’s not about settling for less, for an easy life, for never taking risks or pushing yourself, but it is about applying your energy in the right direction to the right things.

The next committee meeting you have, take some cakes and coffee, scrap the agenda and talk about why people are still here in the church.

Ask them their hopes and dreams.

Talk.

Then meet again and talk some more.

The last thing we should be doing is creating communities that people feel stressed and anxious in.  And busyness doesn’t work.

Beth Keith’s report ‘Authentic Faith: Fresh expressions of church among young adults’ give some very helpful insight into what does work…

 

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