Archive for the “Emerging Church” Category

Several years ago I began a chapter in a book about the state of the Church of Scotland with these words, “This isn’t working!”.  I was talking then in particular about how as adults we don’t take learning very seriously in the church, but I think the statement applies more widely to the general malaise we find ourselves in.

And that bothers me.

A lot.

Because it’s not the case everywhere… but we seem to be plunging headlong into policies that will make things worse, not better.

Multi-church pastorates or hubs or groups or whatever you want to call them are only about spreading a resource (ministers) more thinly.  There is NO evidence that they stimulate church growth.

2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 sets of everything.

No room for relationship.

No space or time for innovation.

Just spinning the every more wobbly plates of what is.

The Church of Scotland wants every parish to have a fresh expression of church by 2020.  The URC is promoting fresh expressions with great enthusiasm.  Brilliant.  Except the timescale shows that there is no real understanding of what a fresh expression is or how developing one works.  A truly new expression of church is a community that gathers and grows to a point that they might want to create their own culturally appropriate version of church.

There are two parts of that which are vital; creating community and innovation.  Those take time, lots and lots of it, and space.  (And coffee)

So, I’m now a minister.  I’m not about to complain that I’m too busy.  If I am then that’s my fault.  But I work with just one church.  Just one set of meetings, one building, one set of organisations and one place to be on a Sunday.  And I could spend as much time as I have just keeping that all working.

Throw in another church and all space for creating community goes out the window.  Throw in any more and innovation goes too.

Of course we should involve people in helping lead worship.  Most Sundays I announce the hymns and preach.  Other people do almost everything else.  But the preaching part is the bit I’m trained for.  Not that others can’t do it.  They can.  Of course they can.  But what’s the point of me if not to do that.  I’m a minister of word and sacrament after all.

Perhaps it comes down to this…

Spreading a limited resource ever more thinly has never been the solution to anything.

Should we deploy some ministers to one church and have others to maintain the rest?  Like a midwife and palliative care model?

Should we hold our hands up and admit that training people as theologians with skills in Greek and Hebrew but no community work training or serious input on work with children and young people might not be the best model of training, important though those things are?

Should ministers be facilitators?  Has the one person show de-skilled and debilitated our churches to a point where we are so stuck we are paralysed?

The answer to all this lies somewhere in our experience.  I wrote a series of posts a few years ago where I wondered if the church was similar to someone living with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Interestingly people who had experienced those thought I was onto something while those who had not thought I was completely wrong.  I mention this because recovery almost always begins with a decision to get well.  To change.  To take control.  Without that decision things often stay the same.  Often that is helped by talking to people who what already made the same journey.

So, are we ready for recovery?

What do you think?

Comments No Comments »


I love when someone asks,”Can we do ….?”.  Mostly the answer is easy… YES!!!  (And why are you asking me? It’s YOUR church!)

A Burns Supper… a family meal with poems, dancing, song and speeches.  And this is what it looked like.  150 people of all ages enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties, the talents of children and adults and, most importantly, being together in community.

And it was brilliant.

But, so what?

Look at the picture.  Do you see what’s happening?




We could have had separate tables but the long tables meant people were sitting next to other people they might not know, that older people were sitting next to young children, that people made new friends.

I used to have a colleague that talked about planning moments of spontaneity.  I love the idea that what we do is to create the space and the opportunity for stuff to happen… and then get out of the road.  One of the biggest temptations in ministry is to fill the space, to programme every moment and to make sure there is no opportunity to go off course.

When we do that we completely miss the point.

The space is the purpose.

The conversations are the point.

The relationships are what matter.

Comments No Comments »

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.


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.

( 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’.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments 2 Comments »


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?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments 2 Comments »

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…

Tags: , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

Sorry for the gap.  I’m not off blogging for Lent.  It was just that life and as a consequence a lack of time and internet access got in the way.

We’ve moved house and the interweb access was only just turned on so I’m back…

I’ll write more soon but I wanted to draw your attention to Angus Presbytery’s Big Day Out.  It’s on May 4th (Star Wars Day) and I’m leading a seminar and the programme has some great people.  I’m talking about:


For twenty years Stewart Cutler has been running away from things. It started with bigger boys, progressed to exams and then full on career avoidance. It turns out he’s not the only one avoiding things. As we look around our churches we see that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, are missing. They have gone. But where? And why? And what can we do about it? Join Stewart for a surprising look at why everything is his father’s fault.


Comments No Comments »

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

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?

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.

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


Tags: , , ,

Comments No Comments »