Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Word

John 1.1-14 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Words are strange things. They can have multiple meanings in different contexts. They can mean different things to different people. So what does it mean for Jesus to be the Word?

The Word in Greek is Logos. Like other words it has a variety of different meanings. It can mean word, but also it can mean discourse, or The Argument. For the stoic philosophers it was identified with the divine animating principle pervading the universe. John wasn’t the only Jewish writer to use the term Logos . Philo used the term writing “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated”. Philo was building on Hebrew ideas. Further back in the Jewish tradition we have the testimony of Wisdom found in the Jewish Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek. Wisdom in active in creation from the beginning, and throughout the Old Testament is referred to as She.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2015 the 3M's

Missional, Managerial or Maintenance?

As much of the church continues to decline in the UK, especially the Church of England we will continue to struggle with what models will reverse this trend. 

The maintenance model of carrying on with what we do well and hope people return to faith is only working for larger churches who do what we have always done really well. Transfer growth in Cathedrals is a clear example of this. 

Locally I see smaller evangelical churches struggling as much as liturgical congregations - indeed if anything in evangelical circles this tendency is more advanced. Unfortunately maintenance thinking can lead to lossy successes - if 10 small congregations of 60 are replaced with by a single congregation of 500 then it looks and feels successful but we have shrunk numerically and lost community engagement. 

Even at a smaller scale this approach can be problematic. Many congregations are successful and sustainable at 100-150, a size which offers people the sense of family but is very hard to grow beyond without losing that very same sense.

The management model has been hinted at by the Green Report. Growth is identified and leaders who are catylysts for growth supported and 'promoted'. However under the prevailing maintenance model that growth may not be growth at all - and we may end up with entirely the wrong leadership with the wrong model of success. The management model also deconstructs itself as examples are sparse from church history of management driving church growth or spiritual renewal.

Which leaves us with a missional model. Newbigen wrote:

“The Church is sent into the world to continue that which he came to do, in the power of the same Spirit, reconciling people to God.”
Missional thinking is diverse because being sent requires different approaches in different contexts. So what follows is my own perspective.

Jesus' ministry, doing what Jesus did, lies at the core - Jesus didn't manage or maintain but invested in a small community. In reading the gospels the work of Jesus' ministry isn't primarily in preaching or healing or leading worship  (although Jesus did all those things) but in building relationships - making disciples. Furthermore at many points Jesus seems like he is on the edge of his own religious community. The missional practitioner is not at the centre of an organisation but is centred on the boundary of that community. In being so she/he forms others who are boundary centred, being a gate creator not a gate keeper.

Imagine a ministry profile which began:

We are seeking a minister who will invest time in a small group of Jesus followers, who led by her/his example will welcome others into the household of faith through profound encounter with God, and in doing so enrich our Christian family.

Sounds like my sort of Bishop.

Missional leadership needs space to follow this pattern however. Google's management philosophy includes the importance of allowing colleagues space to work on their own projects. Many church posts do not consider this possibility. Asking for clergy posts to be 80% missional and 20% management and maintenance may be a pipe dream, but factoring in 20% of time for creative missional endeavour seems far more achievable.

In 2015 I am committed to applying this approach not just in my own context but building networks with others exploring the same thinking - especially those on the intersection between the catholic and charismatic.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Awards 2014

So the thing is you pick people who have influenced you over the year, inspired you, encouraged you, made you think. And of course these lists are most useful if they are people who may not be known in the the circles you move in.

And are not your bessie m's.

So here are three:

Broderick Greer

seminarian | Beyoncé | liberation | politics | theology | 3/5 | pop culture | bow ties | slavery | liturgy | justice
Broderick is completing an M.Div Virginia Theological Seminary, and writes with theological, personal and spiritual insight. His work can be found on Huff Post.
"And on the heels of their jubilation, I walked to the site of Michael's death. There, leading up to our Golgotha, was a line of dead roses, telling signs of a life lost prematurely. And I stood there -- I stand here -- with a tumultuous stream of questions: read more

Sarah Moon

Bifurious,Queer Methodist. Spouse to@AbeKoby. Momma to Pickle and Meryl (cats). Published researcher. Wannabe theologian. Writer at Patheos.
Sarah tweets about faith, feminism, and everyday life. Sarah is often prepared to say all the things that I wont say in public! She blogs at Patheos.
"Never thought I'd be accused of being a "Tumblr Queer" and a "bible-bashing creationist from Texas" all in one day. #LevelUp

Diverse Church

Diverse Church is a supportive community of 160 young LGBT+ Christians in UK evangelical churches. We aim to be a pastoral/mission resource for the wider church
I may not be Evangelical but being Charismatic and Inclusive there is a lot of overlap with the work of Diverse Church. The stories on their twitter feed from young LGBT+ Christians this year have been brave and at times heart breaking.
"I so appreciate having @Diverse_Church where I can be myself wholly, unashamedly and unapologetically, where I am welcomed and loved for it.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Green Report

If you haven't read the Green Report you have probably read something about it. The report suggests a more focused approach to senior appointments, including a talent pool of 150 bright sparks who will be given extra management & leadership training.

The response from clergy has hardly been overwhelmingly positive. I want to look at the bigger picture.

Firstly, effective clergy are motivated by the prospect of new challenges and opportunities. For most of us this won't be bishop, but it may be the possibility of other posts which the report addresses. However open the application process to these posts may be, if the perception is that the talent pool is the (only) way into those posts, effective and engaged clergy will be demotivated. All clergy need clear mentoring with 5, 10 & 15 year vocational development plans.

Secondly the church is awkward to manage. Parish clergy work in partnership with PCC's who have far more immediate potential to make our life wonderful or miserable than our bishops. As vicars manage parishes of volunteers through inspiration and encouragement and love, so bishops manage clergy. If that dynamic is going to change at a diocesan level then parish clergy need to be given the same tool kit at parish level.

Finally many of the clergy bloggers and tweeters who are concerned by the report are younger, missional, emerging and dynamic. A danger that the senior leadership of the church needs to address is a potential divide between missional and managerial streams in the church. Historically where the senior leadership of the church has struggled to respond to missional movements those movements have formed their own networks. I suspect that this is opposite to the intention of the report.

Have a very happy Christmas - my Christmas reading is How Google Works.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mary: Graced, Gate, Lens, Ark & Mother

This post is from the Archives. 
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the Virgin Mary — rejoice!
The time of grace has come—
This that we have desired,
Verses of joy
Let us devoutly return.
God has become man,
To the wonderment of Nature,
The world has been renewed
By the reigning Christ.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through,
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.
Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.
Gaudete C16th
As our Advent journey draws to a close, as we come to the cusp of the Christ Mass, our thoughts turn to Mary. The ark of the new covenant, mother to beloved disciples, mother of God, queen of heaven, or simply the greatest Christian who ever lived. The language Christians us to speak of this remarkable young teenage girl who carried God incarnate within herself, magnifying the lord in her very flesh, has varied through the centuries.