Posts Tagged “church”

I’ve just spent a few days at college considering play and creativity in the context of church. I have lots of notes and thoughts, but the one that has stuck with me is about space to play and create art.

Play is at the centre of creativity.

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Play is about trying things out.  It’s about testing ideas, positions, opinions and options by imagining what they would be like without committing to them.  Art then, at least partly, capturing what you discover as you play.  This process of imagining something then making it if  done reflectively can be a spiritual practice.

That must surely begin with a playful attitude, the expectation that church is a place that encourages and enables play and art and creativity.  And that means you!  Yes, YOU!

So, how do we create both the expectation and the space for our churches and communities to be creative places?

I don’t think it’s accidental that Messy Church and Godly Play have been two of the most successful things to happen to the church for years.  Why?  Because they centre around play.  Spill the Beans works in a similar way because it centres on story, a playful and imaginative exploration of an incident or idea.

The strength of these approaches is perhaps that they don’t expect masterpieces, just that you take part and see what happens.

That your contribution is valued and valid…

no matter what your art teacher told you at school.

I’m fed up with church being about finding the one, correct answer.  The idea that a parable has one right, correct and universal meaning is just nonsense.  They are stories designed to make us think, imagine, test, explore and create meaning.  So, how else can we explore these meanings except by play and art?

The kingdom of God is like…

Imagine is the kingdom of God is like…

‘is like’ is an invitation to imagine.

What if it is like:

a seed

a man in a field

a box of treasure

a prodigal son

a vineyard

or whatever else we are invited to imagine.

How does that playful, fun, imaginative engagement help us to understand more about God, life and each other?

If that’s no the point of church what is?

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I came across an article about church as a space for co-working yesterday.

It was one of those moments when you think that something is so obvious you can’t believe everyone isn’t already doing it!

We know that working patterns have changed.  Loads of people work from home now.  That’s great.  You don’t have to commute.  You can work in your pjs, listen to whatever music you like as loud as you want, video conference, email, work hours to suit your life… Home working has lots of upside, but it can also be a lonely existence.

That’s why you see so many people camped out in coffee shops with their MacBooks.  They are looking for company.  The presence of other human beings.  And cake.

nomad worker http://www.travelandworkonline.com

But we also know that being with others is a creative way to work.  Those conversations where people ask what you’re working on and then add some insight or suggest a contact that could help, or suggest working together on something…

So, why doesn’t your church create a space for these nomadic workers?

You have a hall that probably doesn’t get used much during the day.

You have tables and chairs.

You have a kitchen and toilets.

All you need is some good, reliable wifi, power sockets, a wifi printer and someone to be around to welcome people and put the kettle on and make a decent cup of coffee.  Stick in some whiteboards and plants and you have just created co-working nirvana.

It’s like a constant coffee morning for people with jobs.  And they will pay to use your space.

I’m not suggesting you become a start up incubator, yet, just a nice friendly place with space and a welcome.

There are some great examples of churches who are already doing it…

St Lydia’s in Brooklyn is my favourite.  They do dinner church so they were already half way there.

Sy Lydia’s Co-working

So, what’s stopping your church from being a space for co-working?

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Does church maintain the status quo?  We talk a good game about transformation and renewal but are we organisationally set up to avoid it?

Broken Rhythms

This isn’t a new question for me.

I remember thinking about it when I was training for youth work at Jordanhill in 1991.  Apparently other people had been thinking about organisational inertia it for longer than that because there were books written about it.

In youth work this questions appears in the guise of ‘Do we train young people to be good, middle class, well mannered high achievers?’ or ‘Do we just want young people to be like us?’.

There is some really interesting stuff around at the moment about how we might work with young people to develop an authentic expression of church with no expectation that they should or would even want to worship and gather in community in the same way we might.

There is another aspect to this question… Does the church maintain the political and social status quo?

I remember sitting in a Church of Scotland General Assembly where someone suggested a change.  The Principle Clerk stood up and stated that such a change would require an Act of Parliament.  The clear implication taken was that this would be too difficult and the proposer should sit down and shut up.  Which they did.  This is just one fairly extreme example but in many ways all of our decision making processes mitigate against change.  We consult widely, we need broad agreement, we take ages to change.

These can all be good things.  Taking time prevents lurching from one position to another, making snap decisions and encourage reflection and consultation.  It gives time for discussion, consideration and prayer.  These ‘safeguards’ prevent the loudest voice winning out, include a wide range of people in the process and hopefully listen to what God might be saying to the church.

They can also kill enthusiasm, limit growth and stifle innovation.

What really baffles me is when the church seems to be in agreement about the need for change but is completely unable to make that change happen.  Perhaps it is be cause too many things would need to change all at once.  Perhaps it is because we don’t have a clear idea what that change would actually look like.  Perhaps it is because we aren’t training people to be creative, risk taking leaders.

The recent Church Growth Research from the Church of England seems to paint a clear picture of the recipe for growth:

Church Growth

 

 

I’ve managed to get myself nominated to be on a United Reformed Church task group considering 20-40s.  It would seem to be ‘money where your mouth is’ time.

So, what do we need to do to become the kind of church that people in the 20-40s would engage in?  What might that kind of church look like?  What are the things that really stop people engaging with church?  Are they big philosophical issues?  Are they relational?  Are they about time and energy?

Answers on postcard, Facebook comment, tweet, email, text or more preferably over a coffee… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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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