Posts Tagged “faith”

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’.


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There is a truism in the world of fitness… ‘fit for what?’

The question is simple but hugely important.  Fitness is completely subjective.  Being fit to run a marathon doesn’t make you fit to play rugby.

Fitness is built on repetition of specific exercises to build up your capability to do these more efficiently.  So, my training to run 13 miles included long runs, but also sprints to improve the way your body uses oxygen.  But I didn’t lift heavy weights.

Fitness needs a goal.  Something to be fit for.  You can’t get fit without taking part fully.  And you don’t jump right in and run a marathon.  You start slowly.

I often wonder what church is fit for?

To be fit for a purpose the church needs to practice spiritual exercises.

What would those be?

What would a ‘fit’ church look like?

How would it help people to build up their spiritual fitness?

Who would the coaches be?

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“What kind of a man is a man who does not try to make the world a better place?”

Balian in Kingdom of Heaven

This week the lectionary takes us to the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children).  I’ve been wondering about the story all week, particularly verse 16.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

 16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

It struck me that we always read this as a miracle of Jesus, but at the very least the disciples were partners in it.  “You give them something to eat” but the disciples look to their very obvious limitations.

Only 5 loaves and 2 fish.

That’s not going to be enough.

But with God’s blessing it is.

So Jesus takes what they have, gives thanks and blesses it, and then gets them to share what they have.

It turns out that the little they have is more than enough.

How often do we look at the world and say ‘It’s too big and I’m too small to change it”?  The disciples fed the 5,000 with Jesus’ help.  I wonder what we could do to make the world a better place with that kind of help?

What kind of a man doesn’t even try?

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‘Ministry’ fascinates me.

Reading your thoughts on the ‘What are ministers for?‘ discussion leave me with a kind of split personality.  I agree with almost everything written.

I think ministry is a calling and that there is no job like it but I also think that it has been moulded and shaped through training, rules and the selection process to be more limited that it perhaps should be in terms of style, focus and the kind of qualifications that bring people into ministry.

I spent my teenage years in a manse.  Some of my best friends are ministers.  I have huge respect for them and the work they do.

Almost every week someone asks me when I’m going to become a minister.  I smile and say something like ‘I couldn’t take the pay cut’ when part of me wants to say “what do you think I spend my time doing?’ and the other part of me wonders if that is where I should be heading.

Ministry has become synonymous with ‘The Minister’.  That was the thought that drove my two questions about ministers and congregations.

My answers to my own questions are that congregations are supposed to be ministers.  And ministers are supposed to enable that ministry.

I guess my frustration comes from years of working with churches where this just doesn’t happen.  Too many Congregations default and defer to the Minister and too many Ministers are quite happy with that.  It’s a strange kind of stalemate that doesn’t really work for either party but is hard for them to get past.

I wonder if that is a view that is only mine or if it is prevalent enough to earn the tag ‘model’?

The other issue that drives the question is the one of deployment.  As I said previously, how can we decide how to deploy ministers when we not to be quite sure what their role is and what they are expected to achieve?  And what happens when they just aren’t up to scratch?

Most denominations spend over 90% of their central funding on ministers.  Is that a good use of resources?

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In his comment on part 1 of this little series of posts John grasps on of the key criticisms of both Emerging Church and of Youth Work… lack of substance.

I often hear that both are prone to style over content.  Both suffer from a tendancy towards the flash and attractive.  I’ve seen it and can hold my hand up and say that I’ve also done it.

But I’m not sure that lack of substance is a fair criticism of either Emerging Church or Youth Work done well.

At the heart of both seems to be a desire for relationship.

Youth work has struggled to get past the attractional model where we put on some big fancy event that lots of young people will come to and hope that for some strange reason that will be enough to get them to stay for the rather naff games and poor attempts at bible study where we tell them what the Bible should mean to them.

Emerging Church is informed by a similar process where big church for grown ups had a go at being all interesting and attractive.  It was called ‘Alternative Worship’.  Churches discovered that presentation mattered and that people wanted to be involved but many of the ‘Alternative Worship’ experiments were little more than a reformatted version of the standard church service.  People saw through it and discovered that, like attractional youth work, all that glitters is not gold.

Substance is the goal for both.  Depth of relationship, participation, learning, sharing and growing together seem to be the key factors in youth work… and in emerging church.

The cycle has been the same.  Attractional followed by a move to deeper more substantial communities.

I wonder if that is because those who now inhabit leadership positions in the church and experienced the attractional youth work model are now being joined by a younger generation of leaders who have grown up on incarnational youth work and who experienced youth groups where they were loved and valued and experienced opportunities to know God?

It seems to me that both areas are rediscovering something that has been lost.  Both youth work and emerging church are pursuing models where stillness, spiritual practices, relationship building and learning in a collaborative manner are all valued.

These seem to me to be the practices that grow from the values of community work I outlined in part 2.

It also grows from a sense of disconnection.  I heard Mark Lau Branson talk about how he has abandoned the lectionary because the people in his church don’t understand the context of these weekly fragments of scripture as they jump around the highlights of the Christian story.  That seems to bear out my own experience and those of many worship leaders I meet.

I think that’s partly the fault of the attractional youth work model which focused on highlights, particularly from the Gospel because that was the most important bit and the rest didn’t matter much.

Church has been the same.  Scotland has never been big on Bible Study for adults.  The 15 minute sermon on a Sunday morning has been the main teaching for the majority of adults.  In any other context 15 minutes a week would be laughable.  Can you imagine trying to learn a language, to play an instrument or to build a relationship by spending 15 minutes a week on it?

Youth work is about building community.  Church should be too.  Emerging Church seems to be up for going deeper… but still needs to guard against the ‘cool for the sake of it’ phenomena which happens when any group of creative people get together… apparently.emerging

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fullcover-kindle St Peter’s Brewery by Jonathan D Blundell is different. In a good way.

Before I tell you why let me first say that Jonathan is my friend and co-host on the Something Beautiful Podcast and he gave me an advance copy of the book.

That could have made this review a little awkward.  At least it would have if the book wasn’t great!

I read it all in one sitting, unusual for me, and was drawn in to this story of Jimmy, a man who has withdrawn from life because engaging is just too painful.

Jimmy finds sanctuary in St Peter’s Brewery, the converted church where he now drinks alone.  His only friend is the barman, Pete, who lends an ear when he wants to talk and knows when to leave Jimmy alone when he doesn’t.

Jimmy’s life is one that so many can relate to.  Things haven’t gone well for him.  Relationships have been broken, work has become a place to escape life rather than live it, life is empty and that’s just fine with Jimmy.

One of the joys of working with Jonathan on the Something Beautiful Podcast is his passion for people and for their stories of life and faith.  He loves to let people talk, to share their own passions and to hear their experiences without rushing to comment or, as the church so often does, judge.  There is something very beautiful about a story, a lived experience.

Jonathan brings that beauty to his first novel.

It is a story of community, sanctuary, redemption and forgiveness.  Jimmy’s life is turned upside down by people, the very thing he’s tried to avoid for his whole adult life.  A motley crew of the most unlikely people including a trucker, a bar tender, a postal worker and a hippy, show Jimmy that he is not alone and that God isn’t anything like he thought.

I like this book.  A lot.  Sure I could be critical about a couple of small parts that seem a little wedged in to make a point that Jonanthan is passionate about, but that would be picky and they don’t detract from the plot in any way.

Jonathan has approached the issues that surround people’s experience and perceptions of the church in a creative and sensitive way.  People have been burned by religion.  Every day people walk away from the ‘church’ because they don’t find the kind of sanctuary Jimmy craves and finds in St Peter’s Brewery.  But every day people find hope and meaning and redemption and belonging in ‘church’.

Where’s your sanctuary?  St Peter’s Brewery could be just the place.  Mine’s a pint of St Peter’s Golden Revelation!

St Peter’s Brewery by Jonathan D Blundell is now available in print for $14.99 (24% off with code: 3YK4MGUP) and on Kindle for $12.64. (I don’t get any money from any sales, just in case you’re wondering!)

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