Archive for the “United Reformed Church” Category

YA2014 PCard f CropSo… here are my first keynotes from URC Youth Assembly 2014.

As always, your thoughts, comments and observations are welcome…

Here are the pdfs

URCYA14 Keynote 1

“When the world was dark…” Spill the Beans

“Exile is…” comes from Rob Bell’s book Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

URCYA14 Keynote 2

“Open Arms” by Elbow

“And they asked Jesus…” Spill the Beans

“Vine grower…” Spill the Beans

URCYA14 Keynote 3

“exile is not always the darkest corner of the earth. Sometimes it is lush and plentiful, sometimes it is full of life…” Carola PerlaGibbin House

 

 

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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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This is my sermon from today, Pentecost 2013, preached at Dunfermline United Reformed Church.  The readings the sermon is based on are Acts2:1-21 and John 14:8-17.

As always, your comments and thoughts are very welcome.

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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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recovery-sign-resize

It is possible to recover.

It’s amazing how far people will go to disprove this, how powerful our negative voice can be and how programmed for fear we are. This negative perspective can overwhelm our collective planning and conversation.

We do two simple things that ensure we almost always have conversations about negative things.

The first is to focus almost exclusively on problems. Our agendas are dominated by what is wrong, broken or problematic. We spend almost no time talking about what is right, what works and what brings joy and hope. We call the gatherings we have to consider our negativity ‘meetings’ or ‘committees’. If we are being really negative we call them ‘committee meetings’.

The second is that we describe what is positive in apologetic terms, as though we are sorry that we are doing well or something is good and as though we don’t want to say anything about it in case we make other people feel bad.

This behaviour is not helpful.

Tackling our negative thoughts is not easy.

We are programmed to listen to them. They are deep and primal ways of protecting ourselves, part of the flight or fight reflex. Hiding in a cave is a valid strategy for not being eaten. I’m not so sure that’s not how we as a church feel at the moment.

Recovery is about more than positive self-talk, but that’s where it starts. Recovery is possible… but only if you believe it is.

It needs a range of supportive factors to be in place and I think it is perhaps here that we might find some of the reasons why we find the concept of ‘recovery’ and ‘growth’ difficult in church.

Research has found that important factors on the road to recovery include:

  • good relationships
  • financial security
  • satisfying work
  • personal growth
  • the right living environment
  • developing one’s own cultural or spiritual perspectives
  • developing resilience to possible adversity or stress in the future.

Getting these factors in place is the first task of recovery. It needs a plan, but more of that later. I also want to write more about this list but before I do, I wonder do how you react to the list in terms of church as an organisation?

Can our regional bodies and our General Assemblies claim that these factors are all being addressed? We seem to be preoccupied with finances.

What does ‘good relationships’ look like for a church? What about ‘satisfying work, personal growth, the right living environment, developing one’s own cultural or spiritual perspectives’? How much time and energy do we spend on addressing these issues? And is financial security not related to supporting these?

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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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recovery-sign-resizeA holistic view

In this section I want to look at the Recovery Model then begin to work through it point by point in the posts that follow.

I realise that for some people suggesting an organisation is mentally ill is a bit of a leap but I want to assure you all that I’m not suggesting that either everyone in the organisation has a mental health problem  (although there would be absolutely nothing wrong with it if they did and a high participation rate of people with mental health problems might actually be an indicator of growth, after all 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any one year) or that I don’t realise that organisations are not people. Organisations do, however, have personality, moods and behaviours, which make, I think, a comparison with mental and physical health appropriate. More on that thought shortly.

So, what are the principles of Recovery?

The Mental Health Foundation describes the recovery process as follows:

  • provides a holistic view of mental illness that focuses on the person, not just their symptoms
  • believes recovery from severe mental illness is possible
  • 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
  • calls for optimism and commitment from all concerned
  • is profoundly influenced by people’s expectations and attitudes
  • requires a well organised system of support from family, friends or professionals
  • requires services to embrace new and innovative ways of working.

This model is based on evidence. It works.  It’s biggest feature is the idea that people can help themselves get better by challenging and changing behaviours.

So, let’s look at the first principle:

The Recovery Process provides a holistic view of mental illness that focuses on the person (organisation), not just their symptoms

People have pointed out in response to my first post that organisations aren’t people and they don’t have the same characteristics. I agree, sort of. But I also think the comparison is worth making in terms of the model, so please, go with it for now and feel free to criticise.

In one forum discussing my first post some people were offended by my use of mental health as a metaphor for organisational behaviour. No offence was meant. I’m in no way belittling or trivialising mental illness and the effect it has on people.

Interestingly, people seemed much more comfortable with a comparison with physical health. I wonder why that should be the case? We are used to the metaphor of body and physical health for the church, but the body includes a head and a mind.  Jesus and Paul use the body metaphor so it has been around since the very beginning of Christianity but we rarely talk about the mind part except in a ‘knowledge related’ way.

Mental and physical health are related, indeed, dependant on each other. This is one of the problems faced in engaging fully in recovery. We know that our physical health affects how we feel and our mood. We know that eating well, sleeping well, taking exercise and tending to our physical health helps to maintain our mental health.

We also know that our state of mind affects how we feel physically. People who are bored often feel tired and lethargic. People who feel excited feel physically alert and stimulated.

Our bodies and minds are not disconnected. Neither is our mental and physical health, but we find it difficult to treat ourselves holistically.

My own example is my on-going problem with my gluteus medius muscles. I get treatment, the sports therapist sorts the problem as much as he can, and usually enough to get me back to running. He also gives me exercises and stretches to do to prevent the injury happening again. I do those for three days, I feel better, so I stop doing them. The injury reoccurs the next time I stress the muscle because I try to run fast or too far. That’s a physical problem but the solution is at least partly mental. I know I should do the exercises. I know I need to engage in my recovery. I know that I can’t just leave it up to the physio, great as he is. But I can’t be bothered.

I think the same is true in our denominations. Our decision making process is the organisational manifestation of our ‘mental health’ and the things we do are the manifestation of our ‘physical health’.

We notice the physical symptoms first. Fewer people. Those who are there can feel tired and lethargic, stressed and anxious, disheartened and dispirited.

We tend to try to treat those physical symptoms we feel we can manage best. We reorganise the rota, invest in some equipment or stop doing that activity.

What we rarely do is explore the feelings around those activities or around the organisation.

In the Recovery Model people are asked to consider biological, sociological and psychological factors which impact how they feel.  There are a range of factors which impact the life of the church.   The demography, locality, cultural and political context and the expectations from self and others all impact how we feel as a denomination.  We know that our work or living environment can cause mental ill health. The way we think, how people treat us and how we process thoughts and feelings can exacerbate mental ill health.  I think the same is true of an organisation.

Meaning and Purpose

In my Missing Generations series I talked about ‘meaning and purpose’. These are central to the Recovery Model. The fundamental questions we need to grapple with as individual members and an organisation are what gives us meaning and what gives us purpose?

One of the impacts of a loss of meaning and purpose can often be a loss of self and identity. It displays as a lack of self esteem, low levels of confidence and withdrawal.

These are also organisational traits. We talk about the economy in similar terms. A lack of confidence or a buoyant market, the big depression.

So, if we want to recover we need to consider the whole, not just individual symptoms.

We label people by their illness or abilities. In a talk at Greenbelt John Swinton talks about a deaf woman who had a vision of heaven. She told people about how great it was and how immaculate Jesus’ signing was. That somehow jars with our idea of perfection. Some of us would have expected the woman to say that in heaven she could hear, but heaven for her was the rest of us making the effort to include her fully. We often see mental ill health in the same way.

In organisation terms we talk about a declining or dying church when what we mean is that it is becoming numerically smaller. Those are not the same thing. A healthy, vibrant church might be one with fewer members. Part of the Recovery Model is seeing what is helpful and what is unhelpful. How we think about things and the way we frame our reality can be helpful or unhelpful. That isn’t about denying facts, rather, it is about choosing to focus on the things that promote recovery.

That would mean the church focusing on its strengths rather than its weaknesses whilst not denying that there are problems; looking at where growth happens at the same time as addressing financial problems; thinking about how we train and deploy ministers while at the same time supporting children and young people; thinking about new forms or church while at the same time supporting existing models, and choosing to frame all of this in a helpful way that is encouraging and enabling, life bringing and hopeful.

It would start with those things which give us meaning and purpose and build on those. Small steps.  Achievable goals.  And a relentless focus on the positive.

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