today i have been asked to promote/review three books for the following the missionary spirit gathering in london. i assume this is because i have been very enthusiastic about two of those three in reviews!
i reviewed church for every context here
and fresh here
the third one is called fresh expressions and the kingdom of god and as far as i know is not out yet though maybe it will be available at the day today? according to amazon it's out at the end of december. but i got sent an advance electronic copy so let me give another enthusiastic review! no one is paying me to do positive reviews btw - i have a reputation of saying what i think so i wouldn't be reviewing them in this way if i didn't think they were good.
the book is in the series ancient faith future mission and edited by the usual suspects - graham cray, ian mobsby and aaron kennedy - and follows a similar pattern. it opens up with a few chapters that give some theological reflections, and is then followed by stories and accounts from practictioners working it out in various contexts. of course there are stories and theology in both parts but that is the broad picture.
my approach to the book was to read all of the first section. in fact i couldn't put it down! and then to pick and choose the stories that most grabbed my attention. i'm sure i'll come back to the rest.
the backdrop to the book seems to be quite explicitly criticism that has come fresh expressions way of variously
i was worried that the book was going to therefore be too defensive or too locked into an internal dispute but fortunately whilst the concerns are taken seriously they are used as a launch pad rather than a narrow corridor.
i think i said this on a previous book in this series but it's worth getting for archbishop rowan williams chapter alone. he simply throws down a challenge to every church community that runs the risk of reducing worship to entertainment, doctrine to uplift, and witness to marketing! yes every church including fresh expressions should take a good hard look in the mirror on that analysis of his. in contrast the church is called to manifest the new humanity together. he suggests three very simple ways this might be - in relations with god in prayer, in effecting some tangible contribution to the wider society, and growing into a maturity in the community of genuinely mutual shared life and building up. he has some lovely ways as ever of describing things and suggest fresh expressions at their best affirm the freedom of god from our comfort zones and religiosity, learning new things about god from what god is doing ahead of us in the world god loves. (if only the church of england in its structures embodied that same sense of the freedom of god but that's another tangent...)
this is followed up by an equally brilliant chapter by graham cray called communities of the kingdom in which he explores the symbiotic relationship between church and kingdom and uses lesslie newbiggin's church as sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom. curiously it was the title of the chapter that has lingered with me. i was recently at a gathering in london diocese where the focus of new communities was anything but their own life - they all seemed to have come together to serve the communities and contexts in which they find themselves. perhaps this is simply a maturing of the movement and hopefully a responding to the spirit calling the church outwards? alt worship, fresh expressions, emerging church have probably all spent lots of hours deconstructing and reconstructing church and worship which has been helpful in lots of ways but this overall direction of being missional and getting involved in transformation in the local community is a very encouraging turn. every church should be asking itself if it is a community of the kingdom and as rowan has his three things so graham introduces a different (though not dissimilar) four. i much prefer these two lists to a lot of the healthy church or natural church growth type measures of success.
then we are into a whole range of chapters and stories of communites of the kingdom. it's hugely encouraging to read of the creative ways people are doing this. and lots of communities are really connecting with challenging contexts with people on the margins. one chapter i particularly liked was nadia bolz webber's and their community's manifold ways of making connections and engaging with people in their locale - loved the blessing of the bicycles amongst other things. but what interested me about her story was the tesnsion many communites feel between engaging outwards thinking that people will come to attend their church services. but finding out that what happens is a growing set of relations and transformation in the community and peoples lives but the core community doesn't necessarily grow hugely. i guess it's akin to jesus' metaphors of the kingdom of god being like salt and yeast that flavours and gets in amongst the culture to affect the whole? if i may i'll quote nadia as i think this will resonate with many...
I write these final few pages having just come home from our community’s Theology Pub. Every month we gather in the Horseshoe Lounge to talk theology. So many people show up to this event that we have to break up into two, sometimes three groups. Talking about forgiveness, last night’s topic, over 80s pop music, my group consisted of four HFASSers, one United Church of Christ, one Roman Catholic and a couple of Evangelicals. We shared our experiences, talked about the meaning of reconciliation, reminded each other of the cross, disagreed about free will and knocked back a couple of beers. That is to say, we were being church.
As I was leaving, the young Roman Catholic man who had joined us for the first time thanked me for creating a space where our conversation could take place. Is he going to ‘join our church’? There are two answers to that: 1) no; 2) he already has. You see, when we started doing all these things out in the community and were joined by so many people (like last Friday when there were 60 people at Beer & Carols – only 18 of whom were actually HFASS ‘members’), I thought that these fun, quirky events would draw lots of new people into our regular Sunday worshipping community. That never happened. Ends up, that’s been a lousy church growth strategy.
And for a few months early on I even began to actually believe that these events were a failure. Then, like so often is the case when you are part of this whole death-and-resurrection thing called Christianity, I realized that I had been seeing it all wrong. I think we call this repentance. These events are an end – not a means to an end. We live out our life as a church in public, porous ways in which others are always invited to participate, and they do. The point is not to get them to join us on Sundays for the Eucharist. The point is that the Eucharist sustains us in the life we live out all week long, in which so many othersparticipate.
look out for the book when it comes out. to me it's a sign of a growing and maturing move of the spirit of god that we are trying to catch up with. having read it i feel challenged about my own life and the community i am part of and how we join in with this as a community of the kingdom.
we do an open day each term for anyone interested to come and find out about the cms pioneer mission leadership training and the courses on offer. they are always really good days. there is one next tuesday - it's not too late to come along - just let us know.
i am not sure in the busyness of setting things up whether i have even blogged about this before but we now offer an MA alongside the foundation degree and certificate which is exciting.
there are a couple of pieces this week on fresh expressions about worship and liturgy that are really interesting.
one is a movie of about 10 minutes - i am one of four people interviewed in it.
the second is a written reflection from kim hartshorne (one of our pioneers on the cms course) on liturgy and finding a different voice. this is a really good piece and it's a very interesting conversation beginning in the comments. go join in...
something really interesting continues to bubble up in the church in the uk - small missional communities.
yesterday there was a gathering in london diocese of around 30 groups like this and church plants. and well done the diocese for encouraging such a gathering! i don't want to create a glossary or anything but a church plant is generally someone starting a new church and the language of plant means it often takes something of the character of what it's planted from and usually looks like a church - people gathering, worshipping, reaching out, making disciples, giving money and eventually embedding into the wider structures of the church. it used to be quite something to be able to get permission to plant a church but now certainly in london there is a lot of activity in this area which is great.
but what was so interesting yesterday was that most of the people in the room were doing something else, often a bit looser, harder to pin down and perhaps harder to see, more missional. most were a small community that had moved into a particular area (often one with a lot of deprivation and poverty), meeting together in a bar or home or allotment, seeking to follow christ but their focus is simply helping transform their community - in arts, environment, in social needs, with youth and so on. they are not that focused on growing big - but more like the yeast of the kingdom that jesus talked about infecting the wider batch of dough. a couple of people spoke of the challenge of weaning members off their addiction to consumer approaches to church where they get their fix of worship and teaching and meeting with friends before they could properly engage in this more local, outward focused community approach (maybe we need a 12 step detox programme for leaving consumner church!?). what was also interesting is that many of these described a positive relationship with their local churches - they were not competing for punters - far from it. but they brought a mission energy to the area that could really help a local church or do things a local church was not able to do. on the basis of what was shared, if i was a parish priest (which isn't going to happen) i'd be on the lookout to see if i could encourage a mission community or two in my area. for those up with mission thinking this is a great example of what missiologist ralph winter termed sodal and modal expressions of church working well together (see also this follow up thinking from george lings). the challenge of his paper is that our language has so bought into the local church as what church is that we easily forget it is actually langauge that describes both structures.
anyway if you are interested in missional communities ian adams gets interviewed about starting them here, there is a list of 20 tips for getting started here, cms has a facebook page for mission projects and communities here, along with a growing network of small missional communities some of whom are developing a stronger relationship with cms by being rooted and connected (contact ian adams or mark berry if you want to know more). something's going on and i like it!
today was the first day of the new year on the cms pioneer mission leadership training. it's always so exciting to go round on the first morning and hear who people are and what they dream and aspire to pioneer in mission. some have already started, others have an idea, others just know they want to do something. this is our third year and i have loved both so far and i can tell i'm going to love this one. on top of what we have been doing we have an MA starting and our first intake of ordained pioneers which should keep us busy... i called this photo 'apsirational' - seemed to fit the mood...
michael mitton led a pligrimage over august to ireland and wales which provoked a rush of poetry which is up on his web site here. they are poems inspired by celtic saints ciaran, brendan, brigid, kevin, brynach, non, illtyd. they are absolutley delightful and very moving. i know mark berry is going to love this poem/prayer on brendan!! i am making the collection a worship trick. makes me want to go on this pilgrimage...
Brendan was as mad as a bear with toothache
But it was a madness you loved
And you took hold of that old bear
And threw him out to sea
'Til he returned to land with such a wild tale
That even the priests laughed themselves silly.
The people danced in the surf of Bantry Bay
And a thousand coracles set sail
Into the bright breeze of your Spirit.
O Lord madden me by that same Spirit
Bring on the God-blessed flights of fancy
Inebriate me with Holy Ghost visions
And set me free to behold with the eyes of my heart
Great wonders on the high seas of God.
every year there is a 24 hour get together of people in a region of 5 dioceses in the central south who are involved in theological education. the last few years i've been along and they always manage to find a very stimulating speaker to get conversation started. this year it was graeme codrington of the tomorrow today project who describes himself as a futurist. really what this means is talking about cultural changes in a number of areas and helping businesses, schools, churches and whoever think about the implications. i actually knew graham some years back when he was involved in youth ministry (an area in which people are always interested in the changes in culture of course).
all that is by way of saying that we had a pretty interesting discussion today around this question -
If the old logic won't work how do we find a new logic for the moment?
i had lots of suggestions to make but if you have any thoughts leave a comment!
a second and related quote from mark twain was also memorable
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble it's what you know for sure…
we have four ReSource weekends lined up for 2012-2013. we've been running these for about 8 or 9 years now i think. i always love them. a brilliant way to learn about mission. they work best in my view if you do all four in a year...
chris goan (whose blog is always so thoughtful...) reflects on the life of small missional groups after 7 years of the community aoradh in dunoon. he particularly highlights some of scott peck's reflections on groups. this includes the stages a group goes through and the characteristics of community. they are really worth a read if you are in any kind of small group, community or missional group. there is a lot there to chew over...
small missional groups are one of the growing edges in the church in the uk - often just tucked out of sight of those who like to count and measure numbers of attendance. if you've not seen it before ian adams ways in to small missional communities is a wonderful simple guide to the sort of process a group might go through.
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where i come across creative ideas, liturgies, movies, music tracks, service outlines or anything that strikes me, i add them as worship tricks. i started these in april 2002 when i first began blogging and they have built up over the years so that i am now on the third series. this has proved a pretty popular feature of the blog.