Posts Tagged “god”

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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I’ve been one for 20 years.

It began around 1989 when I completed the Boys’ Brigade’s King George IV officer cadet training and became a BB officer.

I’ve worked with young people and the adults who work with them for all of my adult life.  Most of this work has been in a church context and for most of that time I have been employed to work for a denomination.

I am a trained community worker with knowledge and skills in community building, group work, informal learning, social research and reflective practice.

I lead worship almost every Sunday in a variety of churches.

I teach ministers in training and in service and I lecture on a Youth And Community Work with Applied Theology degree.

No one has ever called me one.

In fact just the opposite.  People often ask me when I will become a proper one.  A minister.

They mean a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  A dog collar wearing, robed up preacher who is allowed to preside at Communion, conduct weddings and baptise people.

I don’t blame people for this.  That’s the only kind of ‘minister’ they know.  And that’s the problem.

That view of ministry creates a hierarchy of ministry with the Ministers of Word and Sacrament at the top and it doesn’t leave any space for the ministries that others perform.  That means that we don’t value those ministries.  In fact we don’t even talk about them in terms of ministry.

When was the last time you heard a Sunday school teacher talk about their ministry?  Or someone serving soup in a lunch club talk about their ministry?

Our understanding of ‘Ministry’ is killing the church.

Ministers (the word & sacrament kind) aren’t killing the church.  They are as much the victim of this as anyone else.

As soon as you elevate one position above others you create a hierarchy.  We ‘set ministers apart’.  Set apart from what?  Life?  Responsibility?  Other people?  Sadly, it’s the later.  We tell ministers that they are special, different, called to something by God, and then we complain when they act like it.

I think the job of ‘minister’ is important.  I think that it is good for communities to have someone who is enabled to spend their time working to build and sustain the community, to inspire and lead, to equip and enable.

But that’s not what we train ministers to do.

We train them to do our theology for us.  That’s dangerous.  Not because they aren’t good at it but because it means we, the mere mortals in the pews, don’t have to bother.

I’ve worked as a youth worker.  People employ youth workers partly for their skills but also partly so they don’t have to do youth work.  Someone else will do it on their behalf.  I heard a phone in on the radio the other day about litter.  The resounding opinion of the callers was ‘I’m not picking up someone else’s litter.  That’s someone else’s job.’  And that’s how it is with ministry.

Often Ministers fall into the trap and play along.  And complain that people leave everything to them.  Congregations fall into the trap and play along.  They leave everything to the minister and complain that they don’t get to do anything.

We have a system that de-skills people, including Ministers.  For example, training in practical theology doesn’t make you a marriage or bereavement counsellor and yet we expect ministers to do these jobs, and with no professional supervision.  The good ones know their limitations and pass people on to those who can deal with these issues but too many think their theological training means they can deal with difficult situations.

At the same time we may have people in our congregations with these skills who feel unable to offer them because pastoral care is the Minister’s job.

We have a system that means we value 1 hour a week more than the other 167.  The sad think is we actually expect very little of people in that 1 hour.  Their role is to sing, shut their eyes, listen and put money in the plate.

This just won’t do.

In an organisation like this Builders will try to maintain what is.  Boomers will hijack any power that’s going (look around a kirk session, elder’s meeting or parish council and tell me that’s not true!).

Xers and Yers on the other hand will just go off and find places that their contribution is sought and valued, where their opinion is expected and their thoughts encouraged and developed.

Church needs to start to value the spiritual gifts of everyone equally.  The Sunday school teacher’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  The person who makes the soup for the lunch club’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  Growing faith and feeding people.  When did they become something less?

If we are going to persist with Ministers of Word and Sacrament their role needs to be much more about being the teaching elder they are meant to be.  Their role has to be about enabling, encouraging and assisting than entertaining and imparting knowledge using big words.

Their job is about making sure people feel that their spiritual insights are valued, helping people to discover and maintain spiritual practices (more on those later) that will sustain them and give them deeper insight and they must be about growing and developing community.

That means having different set of skills in addition to some theological training.

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… and the big story of God.  For example, when we celebrate communion I’m fairly sure that most people don’t know the wider context of that.  Can this week’s gospel (John talking more about blood and flesh) be understood without knowing about Passover and the Levitical laws and kosher practice?  But we are not Jews and because the canon closed 2,000 years ago do we see ourselves as separate from that story.  I wonder if most people really believe that God has said anything since John’s revelation?  How does that isolation from the story affect us?

Broken Rhythms

If the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with people then does our focus on the ancient part of the story help or hinder our sense of connection?

Once, when I was feeling brave, I scrapped the sermon and we talked about what we are doing when we celebrate communion instead.  Of course there are many answers to that question but what was evident was that there were no thoughts of the connection to anything further back than the last supper.

That’s not a surprise.  After all, in our liturgy we tell the story of the Last Supper from Paul’s point of view.  If that’s what you hear every time you gather for communion then why would you make connections beyond that?

Does that matter?

Well, the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with a group of people.  Jesus speaks about that relationship all the time so if we don’t know that story then we miss lots of the story.  The example at the beginning of this post about Jesus talking about how we should eat his flesh and drink his blood sounds strange.  That’s cannibalism.  That was one of the accusations made against the early Christians but it wasn’t what the Pharisees had a problem with.

Drinking blood wasn’t allowed and not just for health reasons.  They believed that blood contained the life-force of an animal.  That’s why kosher butchers drain the blood from animals.  But we don’t do that.

Lamb’s blood is also central to the Passover story.

Making these kind of links in the big story of God is really important but I often wonder how easy it is to see ourselves as part of that story?  We are viewing the events of the Bible from 2,000 years distance.  We are not Jews.  We don’t live in the Middle East.  We don’t follow Livitical laws or Jewish custom.

The Old Testament can seem so distant and difficult and messy and disconnected from us.  The New Testament isn’t much closer to us.  In some ways it might be easier to see ourselves in the story because Jesus because some of the Gospel writers and the authors of the Epistles focus on ‘outsiders’, people other than the Jews, but much of that focus on the external is through comparison with Jewish society so we still need to know what’s going on.

But that story doesn’t ends at Revelation, does it?

Well, I’m sure that for lots of people it did.

I sometimes wonder if by ‘preaching the Gospel’ every week we actually add to the sense that God is in the past?  The basis of our worship is always ‘this is what God did 2,000 years ago’ and then we apply that to today.

That’s fine, but what has God been saying since then?  And how do we reflect that ongoing relationship in our worship and in our communities?

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Iain mentioned in a facebook response to my last post that he hadn’t yet heard me talk about partnership…

I was struck by the comment because for me partnership is implicit in community engagement.

When I talk about how the church needs to engage with communities of course I mean with people but I also mean with organisations, agencies and institutions.

Perhaps it’s because my training is in Community Education that for me looking for people to work together with on things seems the natural thing to do.

Why wouldn’t a church want to share resources, make space available, support activities and work towards the well-being of its community?

But that doesn’t appear to be the natural response of lots of churches.  I think that’s what I meant in my previous post when I said that too much of that kind of activity is too dependant on the attitude of the minister or on whoever holds the power.  I shouldn’t be.  It should be the default position of all churches.

The ones that do this flourish, the ones that don’t seem almost to set themselves in opposition to their communities, as though their church is some kind of holy huddle sheltering from the big bad world.

Engagement is relational.  You can’t engage with someone or something that doesn’t want to be engaged with.  That’s just nagging.

That’s not what we are called to.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account to Jesus being rejected in his hometown.  The people in Nazareth know Jesus.  They know his mum and his brothers and sisters and they don’t want to be preached at by the carpenter’s boy.  Who does he think he is?  Not much unusual in that!

For me what’s more interesting is what comes next…

Jesus sends out the disciples to minister to engage with the surrounding villages.

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.   Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

That’s got to be working in partnership with the community.  You can’t work like that without the collaboration of the community.  You’d starve!  To survive in that kind of relationship with a community you’d need to be bringing something pretty special to the table.

I think the church does bring many things to a partnership, not least a group of people deeply committed to working together to make the world a better place but we need to stop viewing the world with suspicion and start seeing the opportunities to work with our partners for good.

It’s maybe telling that the church has been much better at working with partners in foreign lands to solve problems far away than we have at working with our neighbours in our own communities…

Perhaps the placing of the two incidents in this week’s Gospel isn’t accidental after all…

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What if over the past 50 years an organisation had lost the majority of its members?

What should it do?  What should it change?

The decline in membership of the church in the UK has been well documented and plenty of words have been used on diagnosing the problem but I wonder how much time the major denominations have spent actually thinking about how they need to adapt and change to meet the challenge of being the church in a new way for a different kind of world?

There are two areas in which the church spends the vast majority of its ever dwindling resources: buildings and ministers.

It seems less than controversial to suggest that ancient church buildings are at best a mixed blessing and at worst a millstone around the necks of congregations.  They are expensive to maintain and inflexible.

It would also seem less than controversial to suggest that as the world has changed that the job of minister has also evolved.  It would seem strange perhaps that there is a continued emphasis on theological training, almost to the exclusion of anything else, when the role of minister requires so much more.

The Church of England has gone some way towards addressing the new world with its new category of ‘pioneer minister’ which frees people from the bureaucracy of the parish and allows them to build communities in new places and in new forms.

That was a bold step, and it seems to be working.

Something else has been quietly happening… some churches are growing.  I know, surprising isn’t it.

We’ve known for a while that charismatic and pentecostal churches have been growing but it also seems that churches which have positioned themselves as ‘open and afirming’ are adding members.  It would be great to see what it is that these churches are doing that is attractive but I’d hazard a guess that engaging with the wider community and providing spaces for people to build community and actually get to know each other beyond formal times of worship would be common to most of them.

My concern is that this kind of development is hugely dependant on the minister’s personality and interests.  Sometimes it is strategic, but not often.

That’s not good enough.

When will denominations recognise that more of the same will lead to more of the same?

As funds become scarce we retreat into sustaining what is and what has been.  We merge, link and unite so that we can continue to provide ‘ministry’.  No-one seems to be asking if that kind of ministry is what is needed.

Some denominations have community workers.  These people have training in both theology and community work.  These are recognised ministries and the people who perform them have the primary task of engaging with communities, organising projects and enabling people to meet the needs of their communities.

There are a growing number of youth workers and children and family workers who study both theology and community work.  These are not recognised ministries but they engage with people outside traditional church structures and work to enable people to meet the needs of their communities.

These community ministries are often viewed as extra, peripheral, something to be done if there is time and money to spare.  You could add chaplaincy into the same category.

Which brings me back to my initial question… what if?

What if we flipped our view of essential ministry?

What if rather than spending almost all of our money on crumbling buildings and ministry of word and sacrament we spent 90% of our funding on community workers with some theological training who had a strategic mission to engage with communities, build capacity and resource worship in those communities?

What if, rather than investing everything in maintaining a building for people to come and sit for an hour once a week we sold the buildings and we invested that money in places for homeless people to sleep, for hungry people to eat, for lonely people to meet others, and people’s homes became places where people gathered to worship, to plan and scheme random acts of kindness and deliberate acts of grace?

What would that kind of church look like?

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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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