27 Mar

Easter

Just starting the usual and expected series of church services that happen during the run-up to Easter Sunday – this involves a programme of services hosted by the different denominations during the week, meditations each morning and services each evening. What strikes me already is that the people attending are all (at least virtually all, with the exception of the ministers) well past retirement age. I should not be surprised of course but it has already made me realise that it will not be many years before these events simply stop happening because there will be no-one left to attend.

I must confess to thinking that surely this is all an exercise in futility? I really don’t mean to be negative but isn’t this realistic? I can certainly understand why ministers would want to perpetuate these services, simply because of their responsibility to pastor those who have been doing this since they were children. But there is nothing missional in these services. They are led by church folk, for church folk, and they seem not to understand, nor have any real clue, as to why the generations following them do not attend.

From my perspective such events are, dare I say it, anti-missional in that the whole manner of the presentation and delivery would be deeply disturbing and off-putting to the vast majority of todays general population (and to some extent to me!). With Easter being the highlight of the Christian year and its deep significance for the human condition we really need to start doing something different. Quite what that might look like I admit I do not yet know…. but the missional imagination really does need to work prayerfully and practically on this matter.

One thing that I am considering is to see whether we can identify a few churches that are thriving in the sense that they do have people representing all generations (even if only in part). Once identified it would be worthwhile taking a few elders along to see the shape of the churches life and compare that with our own. Whilst I certainly have plenty of ideas about what could do with changing it is always helpful if one can show people scenarios that are working. So, I am going to see if I can find some thriving churches that are small ie certainly less than 100 participants, and pay them a visit.

10 Mar

Too much church

Its been a few months since the last post – I have moved house and job and church, so been fairly busy but with lots of time for reflection. The new job calls for much more focus on what it is to be missional and the future offers two different possibilities for me – one is the revitalisation of the existing small and vulnerable congregation, and the other is a church plant. At this stage I am not sure whether this is going to be one, the other or both possibilities.

However, I have become aware that one of the main obstacles to being missional is ‘church’, at least in my 10 years experience as a Presbyterian minister in Scotland. Christians spend a great deal of time and energy in thinking about church rather than their Christian lives. They will talk about the worship, the music, the sermon, the minister, and about the various activities organised by the church. These subjects exercise them greatly and if they live in a town/city where there are various churches on ‘offer’ they will move around and check them out, but always taking with them the same ‘church’ agenda. There is generally very little talk or consideration of the Christian life and what it ‘means’ on a daily basis. Its all about ‘church’ and in our present context its often about numbers, families and children – what can be done to get them back into ‘church’?

To make matters worse (in my mind) Christian lives are often virtually indistinguishable from their secular counterparts in just about every area except ‘church’ attendance. They even suffer from the same aspirations of money, success, image, materialism and the pursuit of happiness. Sadly, the result is inevitable – busy, unfulfilled, goal driven, lives with real tendencies to the development of ‘coping mechanisms’ of various kinds. These tend to involve alcohol, or exercise etc but it seems to be to no avail because, according to the statistics, we drink too much and we pop more pills than ever to help us cope with the ‘pressures’ of modern day living.

One of the names for Jesus is Saviour and it seems to me that he has been saving people from the ills of their particular generational pressures for some considerable time. He is the one who promises life in all its fullness and that’s why it is tragic that so many Christians have somehow been duped into thinking too much about ‘church’ and too little about the Christian life. If we are going to be missional in this generation we first have to get back to the latter, and guess what might happen?? – we get a blessing, we develop a much clearer understanding of what the Saviour has in mind for us, and that enables us to be a blessing to those around us! ūüôā

Check yourself out on this – what do you talk about? Church or the Christian life? Take care that you are not thinking/speaking/doing too much church!

 

 

01 Nov

The Parable of Three Friends

For those fairly new to missional church thinking the first books mentioned in the Reading List on this site are well worth reading because they address the move away from Christendom, a rapidly changing world, and the ‘need’ for the church to become missional. However, it is Book 3 (Alan Roxburgh: Missional. Joining God in the Neighborhood. 2011) that contains a Chapter that I think very insightful for practitioners ie those trying to help churches transition into missional churches. That of course involves changing peoples mindsets!

In Chapter 2 Roxburgh writes about a ‘Parable of Three Friends’ and eventually gets to tell us that the three friends are the gospel, the church and the culture. These friends have been in various states of dialogue over the centuries but Roxburgh neatly points out that many attracted to or persuaded to start thinking missionally are motivated only from the ‘church‘ perspective, and are not motivated primarily by the gospel perspective. Their fundamental driver is their concern about the state of the church today ie falling numbers and influence, and they hope that missional thinking and practice will fix the church. The term church of course referring to the institution of the church, rather than the church as the gathering of Gods people.

This is helpful in trying to understand what seems to have been happening to the church in the UK and it suggests that large sections of the church have been having a dialogue with the culture in recent years (because they want to save the church), but not the gospel . The culture in turn has said “We don’t like your gospel, because it is amongst other things homophobic, exclusive and constraining. We want something that works for us, something forward thinking, progressive and inclusive”. The churches response has been to say “We can do that…..” hence the origins and acceptance of revisionist theology (which does not treat the Bible in an orthodox manner)¬† by so many in the churches here and in the USA.¬† Whilst this is an oversimplification¬† it has much to commend it in practical terms, and of course my response is to see whether it might be possible to get the ‘Three Friends’ back together and ask afresh what is the gospel saying to church and culture today? This goes counter to the changes being made by many protestant churches which seem to be clearly driven by the culture and are not in agreement with the gospel. You will have already guessed that I think a missional church should be engaged with the ‘Three Friends’ but firmly rooted in a orthodox understanding of the Bible.

Note: I had not heard of revisionist theology until about three years ago and I will say much more about it in due course because, unsurprisingly, theology has a big effect on the shape of mission!¬† However, if you are unfamiliar with the term, a search on revisionist theology will get you started.¬† Like lots of theology it can hard going but the effects of it are becoming very easy to spot….

13 Sep

Missional Imagination

Welcome to these missional imagination pages.

A practitioners perspective on what a missional church looks like and how one either creates one afresh or transitions into one. There will be references to books read and what has been learned, along with practical examples of questions, concerns, successes and failures. Based within the Presbyterian church framework in Scotland I also hope to understand what can or cannot be readily translated from theories expounded and lessons learned outside the UK.

One thing is for sure, this is a work in progress!