Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Strong or dead?

An African friend of mine recently posted on Facebook "It takes a strong man to swim against the current; any dead fish will float with it". How very true.

Our daughter Emily recently had her car written off - not her fault I hasten to add - so bought a new one. She needed a roomier car, to carry displays etc. for her work as a brand ambassador, one with good all round-viewing for the driver, reasonably economical to run, new enough to probably not need too many repairs, reliable, and cool and stylish. She found one which perfectly fitted all the criteria, except the cool and stylish bit - and it was for sale at under market value.

Personally I look for functionality as my over-riding criteria, but I realise that for younger people this is not always the case. Content over-style wins for me, as anybody observing my dress-sense (or lack thereof) will agree, style over content is a more common mantra. One of the joys of growing older (more mature?) is genuinely being less concerned with what other people think!

But as I consider trends in politics, often it is personalty-driven politics rather than policy-driven. Many of today's most popular and adored figures are well known only for being well known it seems. And churches too often fall into the trap of putting style over Godly, Biblical, obedience-focussed content.

So well done Emily - your style, panache, flair and utter coolness extend far beyond the metal box you use to transport you from one place to another. And well done politicians who actually stand up for their beliefs and standards and principles whether or not they catch the eye. And well done those rare folk who massively contribute to society without caring if they gain shallow praise. And well done those churches who are faithful in proclaiming good news, celebrating Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and his active presence among his people today, and serving those in greatest need, even if they will never appear on today's list of ten must-visit churches.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Decade of Mission - Some Starting Points

My speaking debut at General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui was pretty much a non-event. It was the kind of motion - calling for a Decade of Mission - that nobody was very excited about, but equally, nobody could be seen to vote against! Synod was focussed very much on the same-sex issues, and worked incredibly hard to find a way forward which would keep us together.

My perspective is that if we don't make a significant, passionate, creative, energetic, faith-filled intentional response to the Decade of Mission, then by 2015 there will be little left to hold together. Yes, good things are happening here and there, but the overall picture for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand is decidedly gloomy, whatever gloss our excellent communications team put on the situation. And I am a compulsive optimist.

So I will step out and make my suggestions for four starting points for this Decade of Mission.

1. We need a clear understanding of the Gospel. The definition of Anglican Mission as "doing something nice for someone and hoping they guess why" simply will not do. The Gospel has never been, is not, and never can be about what I or you do; it must be about what Jesus has done. We do not have a self-help Gospel - that is no good news at all; our Gospel contains an offer of a whole new life which we can accept and live out together. This new life comes exclusively from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, without which we have nothing, absolutely nothing to offer to a needy world.   

2. A clear focus on discipleship. I have publicly stated a number of times that the greatest challenge facing the church in NZ is not evangelism, but discipleship. We have taught that discipleship is about knowledge and understanding, when in fact it is about obedience. Disobedience to God is sin.To not fulfil the Great Commission - to go and make disciples - is sin. There is no discipleship without obedience - not a slavish, fear-filled obedience, but rather an obedience which is feely offered as a joyful response to the ridiculous love, grace, mercy, purpose and abundant life which we have each received.

3. A genuine embracing of every member ministry and every member responsibility. As was stated from the one of the elected members of synod, if we do not each commit to the Decade of Mission ourselves, then voting in favour of the motion is meaningless and hypocritical. (Well, he kind of said that!) Mission is not an option for those 'who like that kind of thing' while the majority look on  (and in ten years time look back and say "I knew it would not make any difference.") The need is for all of God's people to be fully engaged in God's mission, at home, among their neighbours, in the workplace, and college and school and yes, even in church.

4. We must do some things very, very differently. As someone said, "If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always got." The message remains the same, the means of communicating changes. We continue to gather, but what happens when we come together changes. We remain committed to justice and social action, but we learn to lead the way, not meekly follow. This calls for courageous leadership - not just leaders who give permission and keep their distance, but leaders who walk alongside and constantly affirm those risk-takers and ground-breakers among us.

Church Army New Zealand is committed to doing all we can to make this happen. Will you join us, and how can we best serve you?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Liturgy - the good and the bad

Liturgy has been described as " A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship", but often is understood as being the written down bits that we join in with! Having been brought up in the relatively liturgy-free zone of the Methodist Church in UK, it was a shock to start my training with the Church Army and be confronted with a daily dose of the ASB (Alternative service Book). 

Attending a service yesterday brought home to me why I both struggle with liturgy, and also rejoice in it! My biggest gripe is that it can be used thoughtlessly, and this was superbly illustrated when an extra letter 't' appeared on the page to create a sentence reading "...whether tour tomorrows be filled with good or ill...", with the majority of the congregation reading this out thoughtlessly, including the 't'which made the sentence meaningless! 

But let me hastily add some balance...the service took place in a Diocese which would self-identify as being considerably more theologically liberal than I am (not difficult), so I loved the bold liturgical statements in the Great Thanksgiving..."You sent your son to give his life, to release us from our sin, His cross has taken our guilt away...We your people remember your Son. We thank you for his cross and rising again..." and much more! Certain, unequivocal truth joyfully asserted.

Don't say it too loudly, but maybe I'm reasonably Anglican after all!