Fuzzy Theo-Logic?

The last church I was at decided it was going to build a community centre.

The idea was that rather than build a bigger church building to get used one day a week for services, we would build a community facility that could be used as much as possible by community groups with church just meeting there on Sunday. It was deemed a ‘mission project’.

All well and good, and a pretty common idea for churches in the 90’s…

Where it got interesting though was when we began to discuss the question of who could meet there. Who would we allow to use our facility?

And here’s where the theo-logic began to get fuzzy…

Would we allow:

The local rotary club – yes of course!

The P & C – yes…

The book club – uh huh…

The philosophy club – yep…

The yoga group – hmmm… maybe… yoga does involve a spiritual aspect… not so sure, but we think so…

The Mormon choir – hmmm…. again a tricky one… they are cult after all and what if they use our building? what would that say?…

The Freemasons – too hard basket…

The Reiki group – oh I don’t think so… reiki is a new age practice and not compatible with our beliefs. They also do things that involve spiritual power.

A tarot reader – nope – definitely not.

The witches coven – absolutely not! They are against everything we are for. It would not be appropriate.

So, does it matter who meets there?

Does a tarot reader make it somehow corrupt? Or even a witches coven for that matter?

If witches pollute things then should we go to the shops, because after all witches have been known to go to shops?…

And what if the book club were to read a book like the Exorcist? Would we still allow them in?

If its a mission project are there certain kinds of people we want to outreach to and some we would prefer to avoid?

Ok, so my point of view is showing in my cynicism!

What do you think though?

Should there be any boundaries on which groups can use a community facility?

Who Does the Thinking?

For the last couple of months I have taken Sam on Tuesdays while Danelle has taken the day to do whatever she wants. Often this involves some time reading, praying and tuning into God in a more focused way than is possible with fatboy around.

We were talking last night about this practice of taking time to read/reflect/pray/dream/think and I suggested that maybe it should be normal for everyone – that we all need to create significant space in our lives to listen to God and to think beyond the day to day.

Danelle wasn’t so sure.

She wasn’t convinced it was either possible or important for everyone to spend substantial time in reflective types of activities. She wondered whether it is down to some of us to do more thinking on behalf of all of us in a church / mission setting.

Its an interesting question.

You see in my observation people want two similar but at times disparate things. They want to be able to think thru decisions and processes, but they also want to be led with conviction. Sometimes leading with conviction can over-ride the importance of people thinking for themselves. A charismatic leader can convince people of a direction by the power of persuasion. But if people go along with a convincing idea without really owning it then ultimately it is doomed, because it lacks genuine ownership.

Maybe the skill of leadership is in doing both effectively – thinking deeply, broadly and well ahead, but also facilitating a process that helps others engage significantly with the questions.

It does mean that one or two people end up doing the bulk of the thinking.

Is this a problem, or is it just a reality that we need to face?

The idealists (see previous post) will always want everyone engaged in every decision and signing off on it with concensus. The pragmatist just does whatever works.

In our setting I accept that I do way more thinking than anyone else. I have the time and I also love thinking. (This blog is often the spill out of the thoughts in my head.) Maybe we just need to accept that those in full time jobs cannot give the level of thought to our community processes that someone with my time can. Maybe we need to factor that in to our decision making in some way.

I’d be interested to hear some other insights on this as we (Upstream) began with something of an idealist perspective on this (i.e. we all make decisions) but reality is that we don’t all think things thru as thoroughly and it often ends up that I give a pretty strong steer.

Blessed are the Pessimists

“Blessed are the pessimists for they shall never be disappointed.”

I don’t know if anyone has actually said this, so if not I will claim it as my own quote!

I see a spectrum of people in this world:

Idealists – who dream of the perfect world and believe it is possible.

Optimists – who know the world isn’t perfect, but like to make the most of it.

Realists – who just do what they can with the hand they are dealt.

Pessimists – who know that life sux and hence there is no point in trying to make it better.

Cynics corruptor the divx download – who once believed it could be good, but now know not to bother trying because its all stuffed.

I usually see myself as an optimist, but lately I’ve been realising that maybe I’ve actually been more of an idealist than I’d care to admit!

The problem with being an idealist is that you are frequently disappointed – because – well… no one, myself included ever meets up to ideals (otherwise they wouldn’t be ‘ideals’ – they’d be ‘reals’).

I’m not sure if you can choose to change your natural orientation, but I’m also not sure I’d want to. I think I’d rather be an optimist and go down fighting than be a pessimist who just sits down and give up because nothing changes anyway.

Who are you on this list?…

What is a Bastard?

This piece of wisdom from my mate across the road…

Quite often we ask ourselves hard to answer questions, like, “What is a bastard?”

And we wax philosophic with metaphysical postulations, incomplete aphorisms, and inconsistent sophisms that make one more and more sure that the only true thing is that a picture is worth a thousand words.

In the photo below, the guy on the right is a member of a bomb squad in the middle of a deactivation.

The guy behind him, well, he’s a bastard.

More on Church & Kingdom

from Howard Snyder’s ‘Liberating the Church’ via jonny baker

The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks its in the church business rather than the Kingdom business. In the church business people are concerned with church activities, religious behaviour and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behaviour and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with spiritual meaning and Kingdom significance.

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people often think about how to get people into church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

When Christians put the church ahead of the Kingdom they settle for the status quo and their own kind of people. When they catch a vision of the Kingdom of God their sights shift to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the refugee ‘the wretched of the earth’ and to God’s future. They see the life and work of the church from the perspective of the Kingdom.

If the church has one great need it is this: to be set free for the Kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends…

I am increasingly convinced that getting the relationship of church to kingdom correct is critical if we are to do what Jesus intends for us to do.download sesame street presents follow that bird free


Thom Rainer’s latest book (along with Eric Geiger) is entitled Simple Church – Returning to God’s process for making Disciples.

What a novel idea…

Or is it now a trendy idea, given much of what is happening in emerging circles?

Whatever the case I am sure simplicity is a definite key to continual growth in discipleship. I imagine that’s why Jesus summed up the entire law with two commands – love God – love others. That’s it. Do just this and you’re on the road!

So how on earth did it get so complex?…

How did we somehow turn something so obvious and straightforward into a job for theologically trained experts?

My guess is that as churches took on clergy as paid professionals, as we have become property developers and CEO’s and as we have sought to work with a programmatic mentality and imititate the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of this world, we have added layers of complexity that just do not need to be there.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole book, but the first chapter is very hopeful. In simply describing the frantic life of Pastor ‘Rush’ I am sure Rainer will pick up many readers. This complex task that is now ministry leaves poor old ‘Rush’ a weary and conflicted man, wishing for a way out of his confusing and jam packed life.

Rainer then goes to describe the ‘revolution of simple’ using Apple and Google as secular examples before offering Jesus as the primary biblical model of simplification. In distilling the 613 Jewish laws into two principles, ‘simple’ is a good word to describe him.

At Upstream we came to realise recently that even with such a small group and so early in the journey we had made our task more complex than we needed to. So we too have been engaging in a process of simplification – not because people are dumb and can’t follow complex tasks, but because (as my wife would say) discipleship is not meant to be complex.

On a pragmatic level I believe that if people can’t articulate what they are on about in 1 or 2 sentences then they probably haven’t really got it.

And if they can’t describe how things work in another 1 or 2 sentences then its also too complicated.

Rainer and Geiger suggests that there are four steps to achieve simplicity: clarity, movement, alignment and focus.

Start with clarity, they advise. “Clarity is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people,” they write. “If you want your process to be clear, you must define it, illustrate it, discuss it and measure it. You must also constantly monitor the understanding of your people in regard to your process.”

Movement is the next step in the simplicity process. “Movement is the sequential steps in the process that causes people to move to greater areas of commitment,” they write. Rainer and Geiger detail five prescriptions and examples of how to create movement in a church.

Alignment follows movement and involves maximizing the energy of all members. “Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.”

Focus, the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside the simple ministry process. Rainer and Geiger outline the importance of eliminating nonessential programs within the church.I’m interested to read the whole book as Breakout Churches (another Rainer book) was also an excellent read.

As part of our re-thinking at Upstream we are trying to make our core practices as simple as possible (note: like Rainer we agree that ‘simple’ does not necessarily equate to ‘easy’)

Last week I suggested to our crew that being a disciple of Jesus involved growth in 3 broad areas and if we worked in these we would probably get things happening.

The picture below shows the three areas.

Its true that all of us are stronger in some areas than others and this is our gift to the body.

I lean towards the ‘loving God/loving the world’ side so I am more naturally a disciplined, task oriented and outward focused leader. In our team meeting the other night we each marked ourselves on the diagram according to where we felt we naturally fitted and it was good to see a balance of people in different places. (I put my x on the left side just below the red arrow head)

I should add that this is not a model I have tested at any length but rather is just a helpful lens for us to view discipleship thru. If you have any comments or observations then send them thru.

What does it mean in practice?

Well, as we seek to develop ‘core practices’ that shape us in our journey towards Christlikeness we will be framing up 3 common practices – one for each area that we all do and then adding one or two other personal practices in each area that we see as important in our own growth.

Tomorrow night we come together to give shape to those common practices. I have some strong feelings on what is important for us and have already made my own thinking known on the general form I feel they should take.

I believe that under ‘loving God’ we need to agree to a certain degree of engagement with scripture. Given this is our primary source of revelation (and also one of the most neglected aspects of our discipleship) I’d like to put this firmly on the agenda. Anyone who wants to disagree on that one will be in for a stoush!

When it comes to ‘loving the world’, I believe we need to keep it simple again and ask each person to be committed to at least one ongoing relationship within our local community. People can add other practices (eg workplace) as they wish, but this would seem an obvious place to start given that we are a team with a local focus.

And finally under ‘loving one another’ I am thinking that if we were to take the ‘one another’s’ from the New Testament and simply do one or two of these a week to each other then it would be a practical step towards developing our own community relationships.

We have agreed that we will meet up regularly in 2’s and 3’s to encourage each other, provide accountability and to share what we are doing. I like Neil Cole’s ideas on Life Transformation Groups, so we will be seeking to draw on his learning there without necessarily being a direct imitation.

My hope is that as we do this we will all be both growing in discipleship as we practice in the key areas and operating with common understandings of our purpose as a community.

I know there’s nothing very spectacular about all of that, but I actually think that’s the whole point…

To see a different yet also simple and easily transferable expression of discipleship have a look at the Lifeshapes stuff from St Thoms in Sheffield. Andrew Dowsett has probably blogged on it somewhere!

Of course at the end of the day, models and diagrams mean bugger all if we don’t just get on with it…