renewing community

Today's post is the third in a series introducing three key factors that I think the church needs to engage well and deeply with if it is to to move forward into the new future that the Spirit is unfolding.   I began with an introduction which you can find here.  The first factor was theology (find the post here) this week I want to start a discussion about community.  

 

Community - if I am honest, as an intellectual introvert, even the thought of community causes anxiety and feelings of overwhelm to rise in me.  But then I read the bible and it is clear that as a Jesus follower I have to have a deeper commitment to community than my personality and upbringing are quite comfortable with.  

There is much written about Christian community, many books on it's theology, it's theory and how to do it.  I suspect they are mostly written by people who are more socially comfortable than me.  I hope you have read some of them, I have enjoyed the ones I have read.  

Finding ways to develop deeply connected well functioning inclusive life-giving communities where our faith can grow is central to building a church for the future.  

As I reflect on community, I find myself wondering - why are there so many books about it?  Perhaps we need so many books about people's experiences and theories about community becausewe struggle to do it well, and need the extra prompting of people writing about it.   My observations and experience of the church certainly support this theory.  I am encouraged that so many churches and individuals are committed to community and I think overall we have good intentions.  The majority of Jesus followers understand that God calls us to live with the deep interdependence of lives connecting.  But often we lack the skills and structures to make it happen in our faith community. My experience is influenced by my context (Auckland has some strange characteristics) and my personality (lots of social interaction - not my thing).   

As we build faith communities for the future we need to start with a deep understanding of why God calls us to interdependence with each other. It starts at the beginning with God.  God who is a community of being, three individuals who share in the life of each other and express and enact unity, allinvolved in the act of creating the world and humans.  We see our communal God create humans in their image, made for relationship.  Created to live in relationships with each other and with God, and with the world.  As we read further in The Bible we see the trajectory of a people that follow this communal God in a culture that values group identity, interdependence and by today's ideas would be described as collectivist.  A collectivist culture stresses the importance of interdependence, of making decisions that benefit the whole community, of putting community goals and success above that of the individual.  Western culture is generally described as individualistic and we value autonomy and independence over community.

Our faith was birthed by a community for a community, and yet from those origins slowly but surely it has moved to one that is individualistic in emphasis.  Western evangelicalism as we know it has certainly promoted this emphasis with its heavy influence on individual decisions and personal practices such as quiet times.  We have reshaped our faith to give it the individual emphasis of our culture.  Those non-western cultures that are collectivist today have much to teach the western church about living in community, and we should be listening better to their wisdom.  

Idealism versus Reality


Our faith contains a call, a thread that leads us to community, as part of our commitment to God and following their way.  Yet as someone immersed in and socialised in a individualistic culture I struggle with this.  I value the community of the early church that I see in the bible, I am committed to struggling with community as that is where God leads, but it is difficult and challenging.

Something I have noticed about New Zealanders is that although we live in a primarily individualistic culture with capitalist values we have enough exposure to collectivist cultures (Maori, Pasifika and Asian) to idealise what it means to be part of a community.   This creates a tension between our ideals and the reality because becoming a community is hard work.  Especially for those of us who are not socialised to do it well, and who often lack the structures and systems that collectivist cultures have for keeping the community functioning.  

We have a longing to belong a desire for community that our lifestyles and independent upbringings are unable to support.  

We see the vision in the bible but often (especially those of us who are introverts) can't naturally make it happen.  Our urban busy lives and the disconnection present in larger cities makes community difficult. As churches we need to think of ways that we can teach people to relate well and healthy to each other.  There seems to be an assumption that if you put people in a room together then community bonds will form.  We need to be more intentional about teaching people the skills needed to create and maintain community.  


As we consider the gap between our ideals and the reality, I want to challenge you to consider have you confused comfort for community?

It is easy to assume that because we feel comfortable and connected we are doing community well. The type of communities that God calls us to form where we are living out the Kingdom of God in restorative relationship, are often uncomfortable and challenging.  I have observed two problems that are often present if a community is comfortable.  Firstly if we are comfortable is often because our connections lack diversity and are made up of well-established cliques based on age, economic or ethnic similarity, (often even all three), these are very hard for new people to enter.  Secondly comfort can indicate that we have created a Christian subculture where belonging is based on similarity of belief and activity, with an unthinking assumption that this is how we do things because we are Christian - often without room for deep learning and questioning.  

As I observe the churches around me I see that we have confused homogeneity with community and belonging with agreement. 


We need to go beyond the superficial, beyond our comfort levels and create interdependent communities where vulnerability is cherished and diversity is welcome.  To create a deeper sense of community that is centred on being God’s household we need to address four issues.  


Homogeneity versus Diversity

It is time to challenge the homogeneity of our faith communities.  The communities of God that we need for the future are diverse.    I have noticed in Auckland that our communities are becoming more stratified economically and culturally.  Part of our call to be the community of God on earth is to create something that can demonstrate a unique and God centred way of being together where diversity is valued as an important part of community.   This creates a tension between being locally contextualised (if our localities become more stratified) and reflecting the diversity of God’s creation.  Yet it is a conversation we need to be having.  

I struggle to feel like I belong and sometimes that has caused me to get over-excited when I find somewhere where I might just find a place.  At those times it is easy to do things that reinforce my belonging that may make others feel excluded or uncomfortable (this may be as simple as telling in-jokes).  A piece of advice that stuck with me about working in diverse teams was that if I am feeling comfortable I am most likely making someone else feel uncomfortable.   Our communities need to express that all belong to God, so all should feel welcome whether from diverse economic situations, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, cultural commitments and ages.  It is through this diversity that we engage together to build a community of God that stands as a prophetic sign of God’s redemptive work in the world.  


multi generational

Part of the diversity I mentioned above was age group, but it is worth mentioning in it’s own category because I believe that the church has a communication gap between age groups that needs to be addressed, if we are to move forward as a healthy community.  Each time the age gap or the failure of the church to engage well with younger people is raised it feels like each group is talking past each other with little real shared understanding developing.  This communication gap needs to be acknowledged and addressed before we can move on.  

In the late 1920’s theories of child development began to influence how churches conducted their children’s programmes.  Sending children out for their own programme became the norm, and then we began separating teenagers out for their own programs and then we began separating young adults out for their own programs.  We created a generation gap by increasingly separating out age groups and inventing programs for them. The result of this is that the age groups have become so separate that they can no longer communicate well with each other.  

We need to begin to envision what it looks like to be a multi-generational community.  Being a multi-generational community would mean much more than simply providing programs for each age group.  Control of the community would not rest in the hands of one age group, rather all age groups would shape and influence the community.  A multi-generational community would have gatherings where age groups interact and develop relationships with each other, where all age groups are included and learn from the gathering, which is done with excellence.  


Psychological Safety

As essential part of creating community involves fostering deep engagement and connection between diverse people.  Mistakes and conflicts will occur, it won’t always be comfortable.  But it does need to be a psychologically safe community.  Organisational Psychology brought us the concept of Psychological safety, which describe an environment in which people are free to engage with their whole self, cognitive, emotional, physical and we could add spiritual to the list.  It is an environment where people don’t need to protect themselves by disengaging on any of those levels.  In a psychologically safe environment it is ok to bring vulnerabilities, mistakes and weaknesses, it is ok to challenge the status quo, to ask questions.  It creates an environment where we experiment and explore together rather than have everything perfect, and it increases the ability to innovate.  Our faith communities need to be places of psychological safety where I am not holding back on bringing my whole self, where it is ok to question and doubt.  Where we are all on a learning journey together, and none of us have all the answers.


accountability vs control

Our faith communities for the future will be transformational, our communities will be growing to become more like Jesus. As we form communities so that lives can shape lives, we need to grow in accountability to each other.  New Zealanders particularly dislike accountability, we are distrustful of power and have seen accountability misused and abused.  We need to get over that because part of interdependence is accountability to each other.  Now the accountability that we put in place needs to lead us all towards Jesus, it is part of the way that we will ensure that no-one in our community is left stagnant but that all are spurred on to growth.  

Recently some-one shared with me that Mike Breen states that many of our churches are high control and low accountability, and that is a mistake.  He has found that for missional communities to grow well they need to be low control and high accountability.  I think often we confuse the two, and need to spend some time clarifying the difference between control and accountability.  

Accountability is being held responsible, control is being told what to do, and asked to conform.  In our faith communities for the future accountability will be to our peers, we will be accountable to each other not necessarily to leaders and people with power.   Too often we are not feeling psychologically safe enough with our peers in the church to allow accountability to develop.  However accountability helps us take action on what the Holy Spirit says to us, it helps us to follow through on commitments we may make, and support us to be transformed.  


Community isn’t easy, there are many challenges but we need to start engaging with them to move forward.  

I’d love to hear from you either here or on the Facebook page:  

How do you struggle to put your ideals of community into practice?

Is your community homogenous or diverse?  How could you increase it’s diversity?

How have you seen the communication gap between age groups in your faith community?

Is your community psychologically safe? What can we do to increase the psychological safety of our communities?

Think about a negative and positive experience of accountability, what made the difference?  

 

New Zealand Jesus: Social and religious transformations of an image, 1890-1940

On the first Monday of each month I offer some reflections on a New Zealand book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder.

This month I am reflecting on New Zealand Jesus: Social and religious transformations of an image, 1890-1940.  By Geoffrey Troughton.

The past helps us see the future

The trajectory of the church fascinates me, where is it going?  Why?  and how is it going to get there? I’m more interested in the future than the past.  But I am becoming aware that understanding the past can help us as we try and see the future. So when a reader suggested NZ Jesus for my  book club reflection I thought it would be a good challenge to learn a bit about the history of the church in New Zealand and it’s social context. 

Images of Jesus in their social and cultural context

Troughton sets out to explore the changes that occurred in the images of Jesus that were common in the churchbetween 1890 and 1940, and how they related to the social changes that were also occurring at that time in NZ.  He describes these particular years as an era in which NZ experiencedkey changesas it moved from a settler based culture to a modern nation.  WWI and increasing industrialisation and urbanisation were some big changes that NZ society was facing.  Troughton describes the worldview of the time as modernist romanticism.  Into this environment we find Christianity struggling to navigate the changing context. He also reinforces some of the more unique aspects of NZs context.  For example he states that:

“For New Zealanders, peculiarly colonial experiences of social change were compounded with other forms of upheaval associated with modernisation.  Together with war and economic fluctuation these altered the context in which religion operated.  Changes upset the basis of connection with the community, and contributed to a sense that the churches’ traditional influence was being eroded. “ (pg 232)

In response to this the church began to become more centred on Jesus (before this the centre had been the Bible).   This promoted what Troughton describes as a kinder, gentler faith that “affirmed the individual and supported simple practical religiosity.”  He goes on to identify 5 key themes to the way Jesus was portrayed by the churches of this time.

The first theme was to emphasise Jesus’ personality and humanity.   As described in the book this was a move away from a focus on Jesus divinity to show that he was human.  Jesus became more personalised and this could be seen in the art and literature of the time. Interestingly that affected how people talked about the motivation to mission service, becoming more about following Jesus example and the great commission, to share God’s love. Previously it had primarily focused on human sinfulness and the glory of God.

The second theme that Troughton writes of is Jesus portrayed as an anti-church prophet.   The Jesus found in this theme stands against organised religion, to some extent this was a reaction against the Christianity of the Victorian era.  There were many claims that the church had misunderstood and misrepresented Jesus.  This Jesus was often associated with socialism and religious reform.

The third theme saw Jesus as a social campaigner.  This involved moral and evangelistic efforts to reform people.  At this time there was also a renewed focus on the Kingdom of God.   “True Kingdom was interpreted in ethical terms and The Sermon on the Mount given special status.” (p.106)

In the fourth theme Troughton shows how Jesus was described to children at the time, particularly in Sunday school and bible class.  He was presented as a gentle friend that loves children.  There were concerns at this time about the number of children who would leave Sunday school and not become part of the church.  There were also concerns that the images of Jesus were too immature to support an adult faith.  

Finally he describes ‘a manly Jesus’.  This developed for a concern about the churches feminisation, and about low numbers of working class men that were involved in church.

What I found interesting.

I struggle to be interested in history so found it difficult to stay engaged in some of the more historical pieces of this book.  But it made me more aware of how little I know about the history of Christianity in NZ.  I was particularly fascinated by how many of the themes didn’t seem that out of date.  For example Jesus as a social campaigner and an emphasis on the Kingdom of God is quite common today. The 1990’s wave of WWJDdoesn’t seem that different from the 1933 version that was made popular by a religious novel.

I was also interested to read how much argument and resistance there was to portraying Jesus in certain ways. It seems that disagreements, resistance to change, dissension and church splits are constants in the history of Christianity.

I was surprised that the desire of the church to address the loss of young people and to identify and serve their needs has been a problem that goes back much further than the last 20 years.  It came across as a key issue behind some of the changes in the images of Jesus  in the time period that Troughton studied.  We actually come from a much larger context of changing social contexts (although possible not as fast a change in worldview as we have experienced lately) and a struggle to engage the next generation. 

It is interesting and important to think about the relationship between what is happening in society and culture and how that influences the church and how we see and portray our faith and Jesus.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog post there is a long history of the church changing its theological emphasis and what it considers important.  This book demonstrates those changes well.  Reading the book has highlighted the subjectivity with which we approach the bible, Jesus and our faith.  It demonstrates very clearly the difficulty of coming to the core of our faith impartially without being influenced by our culture, context and society.  At first I was a bit overwhelmed with the impossibility of the task of finding what we can be sure of in the face of our own subjective lenses. But as I reflected on Jesus incarnation I began to conclude that to a certain extent (good scholarship, does come in here as well) Jesus coming to be part of our humanity, means that we can see him as we need to see him, whether that is as a refugee, a social campaigner or someone who experiences pain and grief.

It is clear as we track the development of Christianity in NZ that it does have its own flavour and cultural influences that make it uniquely kiwi.  There was a desire not to repeat the same divisions in the church as had been experienced in Europe.  But Troughton also describes the church of the time as having a ‘weak tradition of theological reflection’, he sees it as more focused on “pragmatic concerns, and a preference for effective action rather than reflection or formal theology” (p.236). This may help us explain the Churches current state where the pragmatic is emphasised over the creative or intuitive. 

If you read the book

The book does help us understand the trajectory of the church in New Zealand and provides insight into the relationship between church and context that is helpful as we consider our own faith communities today.  It serves as a prompt to start considering the images of Jesus that we share today and how they relate to the history of the church and the society in which we live.

For your reflection

What images of Jesus did you grow up with?

What images of Jesus do you notice being presented around you?

What ‘ basis of connection’ does your church (or christian gathering)  have to its community?

How does NZs focus on a practical faith express itself in your Christian community? 

 

renewing theology

“Where are all the young people?”

I’ve been at countless meetings where I have been approached by a kindly and passionate older lady who has asked me that question.  Statistically in NZ the church is shrinking in people under 60 and growing in people over 60 so probability says our meetings will be dominated by older people.  Many of the older people I have met genuinely want more younger people involved, many of them I have met are even willing to sit with changes to enable that to happen.  I pray that in 30 years time I will have the grace to put aside my own convictions to enable a Christian faith gathering that engages the young.  However despite what feels like revisiting the same issues for several years now, I am not noticing much progress in engaging people under 50 with Christianity.   I started out my ministry career working with young adults and eventually moved to missions,  that may seem like an odd trajectory.  But as I sought to find a way ahead for the young adults I worked with I became convinced that the best research and insight was from missiology.  The principles developed for people crossing cultures helped memost as I tried to find frameworks for engaging with young adults.  We need to acknowledge that people under 40 inhabit a completely different culture than older people.  The church as we currently have it was formed for and by people over 50.   So we have a problem of crossing cultures if we are going to help younger people feel engaged and welcome in a church which is essentially a foreign experience for them.  I am convinced that if we are going to re-imagine the people of God for today and the future, experience Spirit led growth and mend the rift betweenyounger and older generations we need to delve deep and take a prayerful and reflective look at our theology.  

 

Why Theology?

At the core of the generation gap that we are seeing in the church is the worldview shift from modernity to postmodernity.  In the main NZ evangelical churches have failed to acknowledge that this creates a cultural barrier between younger people and older people, which has led to a lack of good contextualisation for the new environment of post-modernity.  Meanwhile wehave experienced an increasing worldview gap between those brought up in modernity and those brought up in post-modernity.  The differences in worldview, in thinking, in ideas and even in how we think about thinking run deep.  

To make progress in re-imagining the church our conversations need to look beyond the stereotypes of what post-modernity is, to look beyond the style of how we do things and bring to the forefront the underlying layer of worldview, ideology and theology. 

What is theology?

We all do theology all the time even if we don’t label it as such.  At it’s most basic, theology can be defined as “the study of God and of God's relation to the world”  (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology).  So we do theology whenever we talk about God and talk about God and the world.  

Theology is also an academic discipline that most pastors and church leaders would have studied as part of their preparation for ministry.  It is defined by Erickson as “that discipline which strives to give a coherent statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith, based primarily upon the Scriptures, placed in the context of culture in general, worded in a contemporary idiom, and related to issues of life.”

So it is clear from the definition of theology that it is not something that stays in the minds of academics, it comes out and rubs shoulders with the context, it engages with the current issues of the day.   However because most of the people who attend church don't study as much theology as their church leaders, it can take time for thinking in the field to become the cultural norm in churches.  So theology that is talked about and written about in leadership settings can be different to the atmosphere of theological thought in a local church setting.  

As part of our desire to engage those who are disengaged from church we need to be asking, Is our theology worded for the society we live in?  and How well does it relate to current issues of life?

Lets start by agreeing that theology is not static

As we begin to prayerfully reflect on our theology, the starting point needs to be an agreement that theology is not static.  Theology is not a body of universal truth that has never changed and will never change.  If we look back at the history of theology we can see how it has changed, developed and grown over time.  For example the centre of theological thought shifted from the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe in the 1000s, this had a major impact on its flavour and development.  Theology is formed in response to time and context.  McGrath says “Christian theology can be regarded as an attempt to make sense of the foundational resources of faith in the light of what each day and age regards as first-rate methods. This means that local circumstances have a major impact upon theological formulations”. It is tempting to be attached to the theology that we learnt when we first came to faith as the sole articulation of truth, but we need to hold those ideas a bit looser to allow theology to continue to develop and grow and to respond to the context and relevant issues and questions of society.  

At its heart theology is a poor human attempt to understand and articulate the divine.  God is vaster than our human brains can describe and that means there is always more that we can know, or say, or understand at a given time.  If we fail to acknowledge that theology is subjective and contextual we fall into the trap of teaching and sharing doctrine rather than encouraging life giving discourse about God.  
 
We need to teach meta-theology


I can hear the gasps and the concern, but if we believe that theology develops over time and is contextual then how do we ensure orthodoxy is maintained.  if we acknowledge that theology does not have to be static then it becomes the role of good process and method applied in a diverse community of faith, to ensure that we don’t stray too far from the boundaries of orthodoxy.  I see many young people going through a process of deconstructing their faith, wrestling through the lifeless (in worst case scenarios harmful) doctrines that they were taught, but as they do this too many of them are left without any tools to begin the process of re-construction.  They then develop a very reductionist idea of what it means to be a Christian. If those of us who preach and teach in the church begin to show a greater transparency that illuminates process and method then younger people will have good tools in place to help them reconstruct their faith to a deeper and more developed level than what they currently manage.  

This is an idea that I am applying from missiology where it was popularised by Heibert who referred to it as meta-theology.  He points out that this was a stance taken by the Ana-baptists who saw “theology as the application of biblical truths to the situations in which people found themselves.”  They had three criteria to test theological processes for error, firstly was it biblically based, was the person/people interpreting the bible responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and was the person open to the responses of the Christian community.  So meta theology is “a set of procedures - by which different theologies, each a partial understanding of the truth in a certain context, could be constructed. These had to be rooted in the scriptures, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ; they had to arise our of the questions of everyday life.”  (Heibert, 1988)

If we are able to equip our young people with the procedures and tests that they need and let them develop a deep discipleship based theology for their time and context we may manage to re-engage them with Christianity.

Developing Theology for the Future

There are three main areas in which we need to develop the theological atmosphere of our churches.

Holistic

Our theology needs to become more holistic, theology that engages with the whole of life and the whole of the created order, it is not just about our spiritual state.  Unfortunately most of the faith systems that western NZers have inherited developed out of a Greco-Roman thought pattern that created and maintained a separation between the spiritual and the worldly or material.  In this way of thinking going to church is spiritual and cooking dinner is not.  This creates compartments that make it difficult for our faith to interact with the rest of our life, and it can leave our faith with nothing to say to current issues.  A holistic theology takes in the whole sweep of the biblical narrative from creation to re-creation.  It acknowledges that after God created the world, everything in it and humans, he declared it good.  We too can see all these things as good, as worthy and valuable.  Of course the relationship between God and people, people and the earth, and people with other people was harmed at the fall so we no longer live in perfect harmony.  I recently had it pointed out to me (thanks Gisela Kreglinger) that God’s covenant after the great flood was with every living thing.  Theology does not just deal with the spiritual piece of humans, theology encompasses the totality of how the world works.  It means that our work to care for creation, is just as spiritual as going to church as it is part of our call and vocation from God.  It allows us to experience God though our senses, through creativity and through creation. 

A holistic theology allows us to delight in the world God created, and care for it as a spiritual act.  

The Gospel revisited  

In the evangelical circles that I used to frequent, it was assumed that we all knew what “The Gospel” was.  It was held in high esteem and it was assumed that we all wanted to share it.  The term “The Gospel”  was really a term for the main message of our faith.  Usually for people who use that term it covers a reductionist statement of what Jesus did, and it is all about individuals sin and guilt.  

We need to ask does this as the main message of our faith resonate any longer?

I know that many mission agencies that focus on evangelism struggle in the NZ church because younger people have lost confidence in “the Gospel”.  Certainly our evangelism efforts within NZ need to start at a point further back in the biblical narrative than Jesus, as people don’t have the basic understandings that they once did.   

The main message of our faith needs to start way back at the beginning with a good and loving God who created the whole world and gave humans a special place in it. This gives us more to work with when we try and understand the main message of our faith. Once again we can turn to the world of missiology for help to consider how to contextualise well the main message of our faith for NZ today.   As the messages of sin and guilt no longer resonate, perhaps it is time to start talking about shame,  as many in the missions world do.  

As I consider the world that we inhabit in New Zealand in 2017 as we formulate a main message of our faith to this world, I am convinced it needs to be a message that is centred on holding out hope to people who are struggling with hopelessness.  As we develop this main messagewe need to find, claim and articulate the hope that our God holds out for us to grasp.  We need to find ways to be living hope bearers connecting the world to the greater hope onto which we cling.  As we develop our main message of hope, we need to keep in mind that if it is not a message of hope for all, then it is not really hope for anyone. 


God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We have a God that is three in one, and it strikes me that during different periods in the history of the Christian faith emphasis has been placed on different persons of the trinity.  Different denominations focus on different persons of the trinity, and as individuals we seem to be captured by or stumped by different persons of the trinity.  Personally I struggle with the Holy Spirit, how the Spirit works and interacts with the rest of the Trinity has always baffled me.  I hope you will forgive me a generalisation but it seems to me that before the reformation the focus was on God the father, then post reformation and with the rise of evangelical rationalism we seemed to emphasise the work of Jesus.  In some situations of more traditional evangelicalism this has almost led to the exclusion of the Holy Spirit. 

As we develop a theology that resonates with the questions of today and gives us a vibrant and relevant faith, we need to put the trinity back together.  Our developing theology needs to place an equal emphasis on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We are moving into a time in the church where there will be a greater emphasis on the work of the Spirit, and a well grounded understanding of the trinity will be required.   Pentecostalism has always emphasised the work of the Spirit, this has been in some cases to the extreme of neglecting God and Jesus.  A holistic theology avoids some of the pitfalls that Pentecostalism can fall into such as prosperity doctrine and an ant-intellectual stance.   Third Article theology has a lot to offer us as we develop a more Trinitarian approach.  Third article theology is named after the third article of the Apostles Creed that states “conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Third article theology refocuses us on the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the world and in our communities.  It helps us develop a theology through the lens of the Holy Spirit.  To read morea bout third article theology go here


In Summary
Theology needs to promote discourse, rather than shut it down,  it needs to provide a framework for exploring questions not provide answers to questions that aren’t being asked.  It is time that we started a discussion about changes that are needed at the theological level if the church is to have a future.  Our theology needs to offer hope for all and support a vibrant well contextualised faith.


How often have you had a conversation at church about theology?  

How often have you had a conversation with someone younger than you about theology?

Do you think that theology is static? Why or why not?

How would you tell the main message of the Christian faith? How does that relate to NZ society?

 

the people of God gathered, for today

A few months ago, a visitor came to the church service I attend. She had been part of the church some time ago, and all she could talk about was how it used to be. She told us her memories of the church as it used to be. She expected us to engage with those memories and the people she had known, but as people new to the church (we have only been going 5 years) we didn't relate to her stories at all. In the flood of memories that she presented was a veiled sense of dissatisfaction with how different it looked today. Our small service gathered around coffee and discussion, was not what she expected or valued. It is easy to become attached to pleasant memories, and many people seem to be caught up in how the church was in their most formative years, when it had most impact on them. But these memories, can influence our expectations of what the church should look like today, and some people get so caught up in their fond memories that they forget to engage well with how things actually are today.

I have the opposite problem I get so caught up in the future, in the idealism of how things could be that I too can miss engaging well with the present. I can also be guilty of having unrealistic expectations of the church today. It is clear that the past has gone, and the future is still cloudy, but we bring our eyes back to the present and look around reflectively. We can make the effort to engage well with how things are today, both in our church and in society. Part of our grounding in the present is to recognise that with the speed of change that we now experience, what worked in the past no longer predicts what works today, and what works today no longer predicts what will work tomorrow.

The world is changing (and I think 2016 made that very clear even to those who continue to deny the speed of change). I have spent the last 10-15 years observing churches wrestling with how to keep up and how to respond. Time after time I have seen them focusing on the style of what they are doing, or the way they are doing things. In the 1990’s many churches started cafes, and even cafe services became the thing to do. Church music styles always seem to go through trends, and at the moment it seems music and an atmosphere that resembles an EDM concert is on trend. There is nothing wrong with these outward changes, I like good coffee and sitting around a table, I like a little EDM in my music mix, and my son certainly loves the atmosphere of EDM. Except that focussing on the style and the way we do church is not addressing the problem of how we need to be the people of God today. The changes are only happening at the most superficial levels of how things look, and what we do. As we consider changes in the way we do things it also become easy to confuse relevance with good contextualisation.

I am convinced that these stylistic issues are distractions from dealing with the deeper issues that have led to the church struggling to grow and to attract post-modern generations.

We need to make a fresh start that isn’t encumbered by our difficult, inadequate or even our successful past. The past can often limit our creativity, we think we are imagining something new yet we are still working in old paradigms and just styling them differently. To truly explore where a prophetic, disruptive imagination can lead us we need to pretend that we are starting afresh, to give ourselves a blank page and ponder:

If we were starting a church for the first time today who would we be?

To start exploring that question we need to take the time to wrestle deeply with three areas. These are not questions of style or how we do things and they are not exotic, new or surprising. I believe the renewal will come when we take the time to explore more deeply our understanding of theology, of community and of ecclesiology (what we understand about the nature and structure of church). I think in our search for relevance we have neglected the churches engagement in these three areas. I will be exploring each of these further in a 6 part series over the next few months I blog once a fortnight and offer a miniblog on the Facebook page in between bread and pomegranates on facebook
It is clear that it is time for change in the church. But what should and could that change look like?

It is so much easier to point the finger of critique, to see the problems and the issues. It is much harder to begin to say “what shall we do about it?” How do we engage today with being church well for the people that we are, and our friends. How do we open up some safe, positive spaces that nurture creativity, gather people together and say lets generate options, throw ideas around, sit together and talk about our dreams for the people of God gathered. Let's explore the new together.

What experiences and memories of your past are hindering you engaging well with seeing what the church could be?

How could you open up a safe positive space to nurture creative engagement with the deep issues in your church?

reflections on Breaking Calabashes

On the first Monday of each month I offer some reflections on a book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder.
This month I am reflecting on Breaking Calabashes: Becoming an intercultural community by Rosemary Dewerse.

 

Breaking Calabashes is written for those in Christian communities (churches or teams) who wish their community to become more diverse and to do it well. Dewerse describes the book as reflective, formational and practical, and it is a good mix of all of those. The research and interviews on which the book is based were conducted for her PhD in Theology. Throughout the book Dewerse includes thought provoking and challenging questions, that are relevant on both a personal and a community level. These questions take the book from being just a good source of information to a book that includes opportunities for reflection on your own life, experiences and actions that can lead to change and transformation.

The book opens with a re-telling of the story from Maori tradition of Hinemoa breaking the calabash that Tutanekai’s servant is carrying to fetch water. She does this to get the attention of Tutanekai, who the tribe considers of too low status to court her. Her actions break the expectations of the tribe and create greater harmony between the two different groups. The story of Hinemoa breaking the calabash serves as a metaphor throughout the book for people who question the status-quo, who challenge the norms and expectations of their group in order to engage with others who are not like them. Dewerse uses the metaphor to expand on four ways of breaking ‘calabashes’ that are helpful as we form connections with people unlike ourselves. The first way of breaking calabashes is by caring for identity, in this chapter she encourages us to challenge stereotypes, to see people as individuals and value their many identities. One way she suggests we do this is to ask “who are you?”, and of course to actually listen to the response. She also points out that to be able to interact well with difference we need to be secure in knowing who we are. It is often the insecurity of not knowing who we are that creates resistance to difference as it can be seen as threatening. She quotes Law who says “if a person or community does not have a strong sense of their identity, or who they are, they will place priority on feeling safe. In order to achieve this they will grow a very strong exclusion boundary that keep out those who are different from them, and particularly those who fit negative stereotypes.” (p. 27)

The second way of breaking calabashes is by listening to silenced voices. There are so many ways that we can silence the voices of those that are different to us, the words we use, what we say, even how we do things can exclude others. In this chapter there is also a challenge for those who want to advocate for those who don’t have a voice, does our own speaking out for them, silence them even further? The third way of breaking calabashes is by nurturing epistemic ruptures. This is like a revelation or conversion experience that changes peoples ideas, thoughts and or beliefs. People often think that what they think, feel and experience is the norm, this type of change leads them to realise that there are other ways of thinking and being. Much like I said in my blog last week these ruptures can be small or large, one offs or small and continuous. The final way of breaking calabashes is by dealing in justice. It is necessary to stop thinking in terms of us and them and to stop thinking that we are better than others. Dewerse concludes the book with a reminder that we are all made in the image of God and that includes our diversity

Although Dewerse wrote this with cultural differences as the primary focus, the ideas, principles and questions are equally applicable to other differences. In our current environment of increasing polarisation between different groups in the church and in politics there are things to learn and put into action in any situations of difference (not just cultural).
The first time I read this book I was working in a mission agency and so was looking for information that would help people as they work on cross-cultural teams. This time I read the book with a more personal focus and I found it quite challenging, I was challenged to consider how diverse my friendship group is (not very!), and how that may have come about. I was challenged to think about my identities and my own sense of privilege, about my own faith community and how it is engaging with difference and how I can be more open to hearing from others.

I have had more than one occasion lately to consider my own privilege, and reading Breaking Calabashes has continued that processing for me.

I am finding that I am reluctant to acknowledge my own privilege.

I started my career researching discrimination and intergroup relations so an awareness of power structures has always been strong. Except I have always identified with the ‘not’ privileged. As a young feminist woman going into Christian ministry only reinforced that position. Of course our privilege fluctuates between different contexts, but what I am experiencing is that if I am feeling marginal in one situation it makes it harder for me to acknowledge the privilege I have in other situations. For example there has been a lot of discussion lately about the importance (especially for children) of seeing people like yourself represented positively in movies and on tv. However I don’t feel privileged in this sense at all, it wasn’t until I was 14 and Ann of Green Gables was released that I saw an intelligent red haired girl on screen. As for infertile women, it is very rare indeed that they are portrayed positively in the media, and multi-ethnic families are in very short supply. So it is easy for me to overlook the fact that as a white (but ginger) middle class, cis, heterosexual, educated women I am still in a position of privilege even though often it doesn’t feel like it.

There was also a challenge for me in the section about dealing in justice and how we can tend to think of ourselves as better than the other. I was challenged to reflect on how I think about those who uphold the traditions and institutions that I am so keen on disrupting, and are so reluctant to change. I need to admit that I do tend to think that it is better to have questioned, processed, wandered and thought deeply. I have a tendency to consider those who just go along with the status quo as immature. I am thinking about how that attitude influences my interactions with them.

Here are some questions to think about that are inspired by the book:

1) Do you think your identity can become overly tied up in ‘not fitting in’? How does this prevent you from acknowledging where you do fit in?

2) What are the calabashes of norms, and status quo that you are currently trying to break?

4) Who are the voices that you might not be hearing? How can you find ways to listen to these silenced voices?

5)As people who are not sitting easily in the church how do we interact well but safely with those who are different from us, especially when they are sitting easily in the church?

6) As leaders and mentors what are three things that we can do to nurture, support and assist those around us that we can see will be calabash breakers?

birthing

Luke 2:1-7 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

adventweekfour

I feel inadequate to reflect on birthing, after all it's not something that I have ever done. That experience of balancing on the thin edge between pain and joy, the culmination of 9 months (or more for many) of nurture and hope, has never been mine. But I chose these themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing. So now I am forced to reflect on birthing in a way that I have avoided for many years. Although I lack experience of the physical experience of giving birth I fall back on my reason for choosing these themes, which was because because they resonate with my current journey towards the new thing that the Holy Spirit is birthing in the NZ church, and my longing to see the new burst forth.

Luke's account of Jesus' birth is surprisingly prosaic, almost terse. These few sentences are all that Luke thought we needed to know and he leaves out so many details. Luke writes like he assumes that we the readers know exactly what he means, and his first readers would have. Unfortunately we live more than 2,000 years after Luke and we aren’t familiar with how births were conducted at the time, and so we crave more detail. However his lack of detail leads us to safely assume that this was a completely normal and unremarkable birth. A young woman gave birth, according to the customs of the day, which most likely involved midwives and other women involved in the process. It is the surrounding verses that help us understand that this was actually an extraordinary event, and point to its spiritual significance.

birthing

It was an ordinary natural event that had spiritual repercussions for the whole of creation. When I reflect on this story I am always flabbergasted that God loves the people he created so much, and is so interested in us and our world, that he chooses to use us in his plans. Humans are so fragile, and it seems so risky that God’s transformative plan was reliant on Mary giving birth. Adolescent mothers face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women. Yet God chose this very ordinary way of sending Jesus to the world.

Although Mary was involved in something of world changing significance, most of her part in it was ordinary, something her body would do naturally, something that is universally a natural part of many women’s lives.

I long to begin something large and significant, to start a movement that changes the world, but most days after doing the washing, cooking dinner and playing with my son I just don’t have the energy. I am not sure that I even have the capacity to think that big. This story from Luke gives me hope that perhaps I don't have to think that big. Mary did something natural and ordinary, that was within her gifts and capabilities and through that the most extraordinary world changing unexpected work of God began. Her story suggests that all I have to do is the next most natural ordinary act that is in front of me and I may not even need to understand it’s significance or the final outcome. It can be through my unremarkable, ordinary actions, that the Holy Spirit can work in new and unexpected ways. This is summed up nicely by Tolkien whose character of Gandalf says

“ it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay."

Luke’s decision to leave so much out of the story, makes it especially interesting when he does include details. It was a crowded busy time during the census in Bethlehem and there was no room for Mary to give birth in the guest house, so for whatever reason (and again Luke doesn't specify) Mary gives birth where the animals were kept. Luke must have had a reason for including these details, and I wonder what they were. It has become trendy to interpret this as Mary and Joseph being excluded and outcast, and although I am tempted to go there there is little indication of this in surrounding verses. All that I can confidently conclude is that finding the Messiah in an animals feeding trough was totally unexpected and unpredictable. God has worked outside of the mainstream religious structure, and an animal’s feeding trough is as far away from the temple as you can imagine!

Mary's ordinary risky, painful, joyous event, initiated a new, unexpected work of God.

For me this story is a call to be open to God's working in unexpected places, through unexpected actions in unpredictable ways. We need to be sensitive and alert to God being at work as they might surprise us and open up new ways for us to live and serve God.

This small prosaic story from Luke prompts us to ponder:

What small, ordinary action lies before me, that may have spiritual significance?

What ideas, thoughts, actions are growing inside me almost ready to burst forth?

Am I looking in unexpected places to find God’s fresh work?

journeying

On November 23rd I introduced the season of Advent (questioning Christmas) the start of the church year and a time for preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus birth. As a change from the traditional advent themes (hope, peace, joy, love) I have selected the traditional Carmelite themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing (as suggested here) for a series of Advent reflections. This week I (and hopefully you will join me) reflect on journeying, inspired by Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America

adventweekthree When my husband and I bought a bracken MG B with chrome bumpers, the journey we took in it was all about the car. As we drove we learnt how to drive it (without power steering), we got to know it's foibles and unsophisticated ways as we drove to Napier, (and of course there was a little bit of pretending to be Richard Hammond). The journey was all about enjoying the car, it was about appreciating ending style. In contrast the journey’s we made on the legendary Route 66 and the windswept Great Ocean Road have been all about the road. They were about the scenery and the corners and straights and enjoying the broad sweep of the road (and pretending to be Richard Hammond). At other times we have gone to visit with good friends, those journeys have been all about warmth and encouragement. The focus of those journeys was on connecting and gaining better insights into the location and life of our friends. The biggest journey I have undertaken was for my OE, and that was about establishing my independence and learning to set out on my own. Most of these physical journeys have been towards things that have drawn me on, but I am also aware of those journeys (away from jobs, away from churches) that are more about what I was leaving, than about where I was journeying to or how I was journeying. Those journeys have been primarily about escaping whats behind rather than moving towards what is ahead.

This week we find Mary somewhat impetuously hurrying off on a journey to visit Elizabeth, in the Judean foothills (outside of Jerusalem). Luke shows us a different side to Mary, who calmly took the angels news in her stride in the previous section. In fact from now on in Luke whenever we come across Mary she is journeying, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Jerusalem. It seems as if in contrast to her early years that would have been relatively still and secluded, God reveals himself and his plans to her and she is now always active and on the move. Luke is very good at drawing us into the action, inviting us to witness the events he has recorded, but there are so many unanswered questions. All he leaves us are hooks that lead us to speculation.

As I speculate I can't help but wonder, Mary as you traveled in haste to see Elizabeth were you running away?

The haste with which she hurries off makes me wonder, was she running away from telling her family that she was pregnant? Was she escaping from the possible rejection of the community that was all she had known? Running from religious leaders who would have been quite sure that angels didn't bother visiting young girls. Was she escaping from being told how God works? Was she running away from the things that were getting in the way of her belief, that would cause her to doubt her call and place in God's work. Running from people who wouldn't recognise the unexpected work of God in her life, and in the world.

Mary left her past and journeyed towards the new thing that God was doing in the world.

journeying Perhaps all these things were driving Mary away and perhaps there was an escape motivation in her journey. Nevertheless her choice to journey pushed her forward deeply into the new unexpected work of God. Again Luke abandons us to speculation, we don't know how Mary made this journey of between 120 and 160 km. We don't know how well she knew Elizabeth or why Mary chose to visit her. Perhaps she wanted confirmation of what Gabriel had told her, perhaps she thought if Elizabeth and Zechariah had also been visited by an angel that they would understand her predicament.

We do know what sort of welcome Mary received, and this can give us a few insights into Elizabeth. Elizabeth was open and able to hear from and be filled with the Holy Spirit. This enabled her to understand the spiritual significance of events (the child leaping in her womb). She welcomes Mary with kindness and warmth. From the manner in which Elizabeth greeted Mary, we understand that she was humble enough to put aside her culturally higher status (older, wife of a priest) to acknowledge Mary's higher status in God's activity. Elizabeth was able to confirm, acknowledge and support all that God had revealed to Mary. Elizabeth was able to re-ignite Mary's confidence in God's call. I like to think that Elizabeth was able to advocate for Mary with Mary's family, helping her reveal to them all that was happening and that God was doing. Elizabeth cared for and comforted Mary in the early stages of her pregnancy (helped her cope with pregnancy nausea perhaps?), and perhaps Mary was able to comfort and care for Elizabeth as the time of John’s birth came near.

Together Mary and Elizabeth are able to help each other recognise all the fresh ways that God was at work in their own lives and the world, together they are drawn to journey forward into the unexpected, miraculous revelation of God.

As Luke prods us to explore more of the mysterious future of our own faith and of the people of God, we can ponder these questions. Are we running away from institutions that get in the way of our belief?

Do we know what we are running towards?

Do we have warm and open companions for our journey?

For those of us traveling a little further ahead in the journey, do we stop and look back and think of how we can be the warm companions to those struggling to come along?

accepting

On November 23rd I introduced the season of Advent (questioning Christmas) the start of the church year and a time for preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus birth. As a change from the traditional advent themes (hope, peace, joy, love) I have selected the traditional Carmelite themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing (as suggested here) for a series of Advent reflections. This week I (and hopefully you will join me) reflect on accepting, inspired by Luke: 26-38. adventweektwo

Luke 1: 26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. via (bible.oremus.org)

I wish Mary was alive today so that we could be friends. I suspect she and I would get on well from the peeks into her personality that Luke offers us. From what Luke does say we see a young girl who probably had introverted thinking tendencies, with a deep sense of calm that I find attractive. We are shown a girl who doesn’t just blindly accept things as they are, she is intellectually active and curious. We see this demonstrated in a verse that I have always liked, Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I think like me she was someone who has to chew things over in her mind, probe, figure things out, perhaps she was a thinker a ponderer, a wonderer.

Unfortunately so much myth and legend has been built up around Mary that we will never know what she was truly like. If only Luke had spent more time on her story so that we could know her better. She is often held up as a role model for acceptance and willingness, and often portrayed as passively submissive to God’s will. I am not sure that she was as submissive as the stereotype suggests, as I can see lots of hints in Luke 1 that challenge that assumption. When she is greeted by the angel Gabriel she is perplexed (or some translations have confused and disturbed).

How encouraging Mary is to those who of who spend lots of time being perplexed, confused and disturbed, by the things that God says.

She also seems quite courageous to me. There is a magnificent awe inspiring angel in front of her bringing messages from God and she is a young girl with a low status in society and she is actually brave enough to point out the problems with the plan. “You think I am going to have a baby but I am a virgin how does that work Gabriel?”

accepting

Luke has set this story up so that we immediately compare and contrast with the angel’s visit to Zechariah. On the surface both Mary and Zechariah respond with questions. But we can tell by the angel’s different response that they must have completely different attitudes. You can just hear poor Zechariah who had perhaps already accepted his childlessness, saying “But God? How is that going to work? What a relief it is to know that despite Zechariah’s response, God in his grace is still active in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives.

My responses are so much more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s my questions come demanding answers and with a tinge of doubt. My acceptance of God’s activity so often becomes dependent on my understanding. I need to understand the big picture, I need to understand how God is at work in the world today, I need to understand how I can use my gifts, I need to understand how I can use my questions. All summed up in that plaintiff cry that I have uttered so many times “But God, I need to understand”.

But Mary didn’t let her questions, doubts, and concerns get in the way of accepting God’s invitation. Mary didn’t need to put her questions aside or stop her investigations or find all the answers to accept God’s invitation. To any of you who have been told that you ask too many questions, or to stop asking questions, be comforted as you meet Mary here in the pages of the Bible. She held her questions, she kept them close and pondered them for YEARS, but she was able at the same time to accept this unexpected, complex mystery of God being at work in the world and at work in her. She had the ability to hold her willingness and her questions together, one did not cancel out the other.

Mary would have had limited understanding of what was to come and limited resources that she could offer. Yet she was still able to give the powerful response of “Here am I, the servant of the Lord”. She doesn't say (as perhaps I would) yes I will do it, what do you want me to do now, and already be halfway on the road to make it happen.

Her acceptance says here am I, full of questions and wondering but still willing. Her acceptance says here am I, with little resource beyond who I am. Her acceptance offers her own self just as she is, not the tasks that she can achieve.

Perhaps the most powerful thing we can say to God as we prepare for Advent is here am I, messy, depleted, full of questions and full of doubts, but still willing. For your thoughts over the next week:

What does it mean to accept that the best we have to offer God this Advent is not our resources, our training, our sense of vocation, it is not our gifts or the gifts we make to others, but is simply us?

reflections on Mission in Motion

On the first Monday of each month I offer some reflections on a book I have been reading. These are not book reviews, but a reflection on how the book interacts with my story and the questions that I currently have. I share where the book takes me with my questions, whether it conjures up new ideas or questions, whether it helps me frame my experiences and gives me things to ponder. This month I am reflecting on Mission in Motion that one of the authors my good friend Jay Matenga gave me as a gift.  (Mission in Motion: Speaking Frankly of Mobilization, Jay Matenga and Malcolm Gold). untitled-design

In many ways I have tracked with this book since I started working for a mission agency in 2008 and over the years Jay and I have had many conversations about the topics raised here. I am even quoted on in the book as saying “member care exists because community doesn’t”, I also recall a conversation about younger people needing inspiration not information that is mentioned towards the end of the book.

MiM describes a qualitative research project that was conducted over a number of years.  Starting in 2005, it involved semi-structured narrative interviews with people involved in mission promotion and recruitment (often called mobilisation) in nine countries. In MiM traditional missions is defined as “long-term, cross-cultural (if not specifically overseas), donation funded, gospel proclamation activity (or means to that end), with the intention of establishing and strengthening churches where none existed.” Into the context of traditional missions they introduce Bosch (1991) and his concept that mission is in crisis, due to contextual and societal changes. The researchers wished to investigate promotion and recruitment practices that would be considered best practices and to particularly look at those in the context of our changing world and the 6 factors that Bosch identified as contributing to the crisis. The book includes many direct quotes from the interviewees and it gives a fascinating insight into different countries perspectives on mission and on mission recruitment and promotion.

It has been six months since mission mobilization and retention was my work world, since I spent time gnawing at the problem of decreasing mission recruitment and funding.  I have moved on in that time and at times I wondered why I was reading this book.  At other times I just felt glad that I was no longer so bound into the mission scene. Although the authors paint a positive picture of a time of change where the traditional evangelical paradigm is no longer dominant. The fact that we are still talking about mission being ‘in crisis’ all these years after Bosch first pointed it out, and yet are still struggling with what the future of missions will look like is frustrating to me.

The pace and nature of change will not be deep enough or come fast enough for me.

MiM did get me thinking about mission again. Particularly wrestling with (as I have done for the last 8 years) why we are struggling to involve younger people in missions. The authors offer a couple of helpful directions for my thoughts to take.

Normlessness

I was fascinated by the introduction of the term from sociology of anomie. The authors define anomie in this way “at its root, the word indicates a sense of normlessness and potential chaos without apparent restraint or adherence to a common guide to negotiate our condition.” In other words we no longer have a reliable roadmap to help us navigate the shifting landscape, at least not one we all agree on (p.16). They claim (and I see this too) that the expectations and understanding of missions are disintegrating and we are entering a period of ambiguity. The ambiguity  is coupled with an exciting opening up of the future where anything becomes possible, as the new way is yet to form. Although they apply this only to the missions scene I would affirm that this also describes the church situation also.  We are all aware that the old ways are no longer working, but we are not entirely sure what the new looks like.  I believe that we are currently in such a state of fluidity that separating out these issues as MiM does to just missions, only tells half the story.   To move forward from where we are currently involves a broader conversation than the mission agencies are able to have by themselves.   The conversation needs to be rooted in theology and our understanding of the church, and it needs to happen before the implications for missions can be unpacked.

We need to be foster kiwi theology.

The quotes from the different respondents highlight some of the contextual differences from countries around the world. Throughout the research the respondents from Oceania seemed to see things slightly differently from the rest of the world. The term ‘missional’ for example has become common here but wasn’t mentioned by respondents from other parts of the world. Respondents from NZ also placed a higher value on relational recruitment practices than others. We need to develop a greater understanding of our context in NZ and stop looking overseas for guidance, but developing a deep sense of our own contextualized theology and missiology.

What next for missions

The book takes a very positive view of the changes that are occurring. Yet I think there are so many things that mission agencies are missing.  Mission agencies are caught in a theological shift. We are moving away from a post-enlightenment emphasis on a rational and word/doctrine based faith in which ‘gospel’ proclamation takes precedence. Instead a more Spirit focused and more holistic theology/spirituality is coming to the fore. It involves kingdom values in all of life, and caring about creation, justice and poverty are ways that our faith is demonstrated. Unfortunately the deep concern about creation, justice and poverty can become paralyzing in this world of destruction, injustice and an increasing wealth gap. Mission agencies need to work harder at reflecting a broader theological stance, and to engage those that are overwhelmed with the need and so often the church's inaction on issues that are core values for them.

The question then becomes how do we frame mission within that space.

What excites you about being in a period of anomie?

How can we develop a deeper NZ theology and missiology?

How do you react when you hear the term ‘gospel proclamation?’

How would you frame mission, if it were to inspire you?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and impressions particularly if you have read the book.

waiting

Last week (questioning Christmas) I introduced the season of Advent, the start of the church year and a time for preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus birth. As a change from the traditional advent themes (hope, peace, joy, love) I have selected the traditional Carmelite themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing (as suggested here with bible verses)  for a series of advent reflections. This week I (and hopefully you will join me) reflect on waiting. adventweekone

Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

(The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995).

Today’s world is one of immediacy, and in the big cities like Auckland where I live, one of hurry and rush. I struggle to wait, I see it as passive and wasting time - there are always 10 other things I could be using the time for. The larger section of Isaiah that these verses are from are written to a people (Israel) in exile.

I imagine that these exiles knew a lot about waiting.

The exiles at this time would have had heavy hearts full of longing. They were living in a foreign land mourning their home, searching for somewhere that had meaning where they could worship their God. They had seen the structures and symbols of their faith destroyed, and the centre of their worship life lay in ruins. Foreigners (the oppressors) had moved in and set up home in the city at the heart of their faith.

How they waited those people in exile, waited to return to their land, waited for God to show himself miraculously.

But it is not just the exiles of long ago that wait. I have heard a few of your stories and I know that some of you will identify with the exiles addressed in Isaiah. I know that you too have heavy hearts and a longing to find somewhere that feels like a faith home. That you are mourning lost relationships, and a lost sense of belonging. That you search for somewhere you can worship God freely and without constraint. I know that you have experienced a dismantling of much that once structured your faith. The symbols and buildings no longer lead you deeper to God, and it feels like they are inhabited by an oppressive force that is completely foreign to your understanding of your faith.

How we wait also us modern day exiles, we wait for a new reformation that gives us a place to call home, we wait for God to work and change the systems and structures that no longer support the vibrancy of our faith.

I wait badly, I am impatient with people who don't see what is happening, and I am eager for God to work immediately. This passage in Isaiah provides comfort in that waiting, as well as some insights into how we wait. Looking back to Isaiah 40 we see that in this extended passage the prophet is instructed to reassure the exiles with God's comfort. One of the comforts is the reassurance that God will act in his power and that when he does it will be good. In many ways it will be beyond whatever the exiles could imagine (Jesus the messiah is coming).  So to we may rest in the idea that whatever God is about to do in this massive shake up of Christianity it will be better than we can imagine. God has heard our cries and our longings.

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As I wait for this beyond imaginable work of God, and reflect on Isaiah I realise that I fall into the trap of seeing and portraying waiting as passive.  Viewing it as primarily negative and a waste of time. However we can see that in the Isaiah passage the waiting that we are called to is much more active. Waiting involves watching and listening, and a few of us, just a few, and just sometimes, will be granted plain sight of what is to come. But the majority of us just get tantalising glimpses. It reminds me of driving down NZ mountain roads towards the coast in summer. As you wind down the road you receive an inviting peek of the glitter of the sun bouncing on the blue sea. You know the sea is there hidden behind the hills, the occasional glimpses between the hills keep you traveling onward filled with anticipation. So as we wait we need to stay alert to the glimpses that keep us moving forward.

The exiles in Isaiah began to rejoice even though the restoration had not yet begun. They could celebrate because they saw that the steps were in place for God to restore the ruins. There is a challenge in there for you modern exiles, I know that it is easy to get caught up in your confusion and in mourning the loss of so much that you held dear. So put your heads up and look and listen and rejoice when you see those small glimpses of God at work.

We seem to sway between mourning the past or feeling frustrated that the future we see is not yet coming about. Part of learning to wait well is as Paula Gooder states "to rediscover the art of savouring the future, staying in the present and finding meaning in the act of waiting (p.5).” Rejoicing in the small glimpses we see helps us to live fully in the present even while anticipating the future. This is a challenge for me, I get so caught up in wanting the future to happen that I can forget to be actively in the present. As I pray through this passage, I realise that like using Advent to prepare for Christmas this stillness of waiting is important, as a pause to ready ourselves for the rebuilding work ahead.

So pause and although we are all anticipating the future that is to come, be still in this moment of waiting.  May you rest in the assurance that God is at work and this period of waiting has a role to play in your life and in God's activity.

This advent you may like to reflect on the following:

If you are a sentinel who can see the Lord at work: What song are you singing? Are you singing loud enough for the other exiles to hear?

If you are an exile: Are you waiting actively, with eyes open and ears attuned? Are you looking out for all the ways that God is at work? Are you accessing the comfort he sends you? Do you have companions to help you rejoice when you get the glittering glimpses?

I love hearing your stories, so do get in touch if you have something to share (christina@breadandpomegranates.com).

questioning Christmas

It is that time of year again when I feel like every weekend is becoming packed with end of year recitals, food, displays, food and parties. The traffic gets unbearable and the malls are overwhelming. Holidays loom temptingly in front of us all. I want you to stop for a minute and to wonder - Why do we do all this?

Why the parties, why the shopping, why the food?

If you have been tracking with me over the last few months since I started my blog, you will know that I love asking questions - lots of questions. It is not enough for me to do something just because everyone else is doing it, or because it has always been done that way. I have to know why we do things, and it has to be meaningful for me. I think there are lots of questions we need to ask about Christmas. For example why do we insist on using snow to decorate when it has no relevance to a southern hemisphere Christmas? I feel a sense of ownership over Christmas and that as a Christian it should be a spiritual time of year that grounds us and nurtures our faith. However it feels like our consumerist culture has hijacked it and created a monster out of it.

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For some years I dealt with this tension by the rather effective practice of denial - my husband and I simply went on holiday the week before Christmas and avoided the whole thing. When my son, Chickpea joined our family that was no longer such a viable option, and I found myself asking two key questions:

What experiences and memories of Christmas do I want Chickpea to have?

What do I want Chickpea to understand and know about Christmas?

I realised that I wanted him to have fun, but fun that wasn't focussed on things (gifts) and what he would get. I also wanted him to understand the significance of Christmas for those who follow Jesus and to experience it as a spiritual time of year.

The next step was then to decide what I could do that achieved those goals.

When he was little it was easy as I could control what he was exposed to, and it was simple, I told him that we were celebrating Jesus birthday. As he has grown and as I have experimented each year, I have settled on observing Advent rather than celebrating Christmas. It enables me to separate myself from the secular interpretation of Christmas and helps my family and I focus on the biblical story in which our faith is rooted and nurtured. It helps me reject the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas but still gives Chickpea enough fun and celebration that he doesn't feel like he is missing out.

Advent comes from the latin word meaning to come and it is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas and looking forward to his coming again. It wasn’t until the end of the 6th C that Christians started observing advent. Originally it was a prescribed period of preparation (including prayer and fasting) for celebrating Christ’s birth. For Christians and churches following the liturgical calendar (a guide to all the celebrations and seasons of the church year) it is the start of the new year.

So observing advent helps me reclaim this time of year as a central sacrament in a yearly rhythm that is focused on the life of Jesus.

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Our Advent celebration

I do include lots of traditions in our advent celebration, I just make sure that we all understand why we are doing it and that it is meaningful for us. Advent usually starts on the last Sunday in November, and finishes on the 24th of December, which means that we get in a whole four weeks of fun and festivity, (not just the 25 days of December). It helps take the focus off one single overwhelming day and helps us be actively mindful, joyous and generous throughout the whole 4 weeks that lead up to Christmas.

We begin Advent by hanging our decorations and I usually use purple as a decorating colour which is a symbol of Jesus royalty. Last year we started a tradition of hosting a strawberries, ice-cream and decorating afternoon tea to celebrate the first day of Advent. We always have a nativity scene and usually the figures travel around the house to arrive at the stable by Christmas Eve, baby Jesus appears on Christmas morning. Some years I decorate with Chrismons which are symbols for the names of Jesus. I have also used a Jesse tree ( The Jesse Tree) to re-tell the biblical story of which Jesus is the fulfilment. This year I have ordered this Jesse Tree book by Ann Voskamp  (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift) so I will be able to share my reflections on that as I use it. I always have an advent wreath with 5 candles, 4 violet (for penitence), 1 pink (for joy) 1 white (for Jesus purity), and we light a candle, read the bible story and say a prayer each morning.

I also make a large advent calendar, and I place in each bag or cup, a chocolate or treat, a bible reading, something to discuss and something to do. Sometimes the things to do are celebratory, like going to see the lego Christmas tree, sometimes they are outward focussed such as bake cookies for the neighbours. I love the generous Christmas challenge and reflections at Advent Wonder I have found them very helpful in taking a more outward approach to Advent and helping us think of ways to give to others.If you want ideas for observing Advent with your family Sacraparental has a great wealth of ideas here Getting Ready for Advent

This year I want to invite you into our Advent journey and will be sharing a reflection each week based on the traditional Carmelite advent themes of waiting, accepting, journeying and birthing.

I challenge you to think through these questions as we prepare for the start of advent on Sunday:

What experiences and memories of Christmas 2016 do I want to have?

What do I want to understand, know and express to others about a Jesus centred Christmas?

May you all be mindful, joyous and generous this Advent.

 

lessons for NZ

I have started writing this post four times. Each time what I have to offer seems inadequate in the face of the grief and pain that I am seeing coming from the US. Each time I start and end up in different places. I am reluctant to blog about the US election as I don’t want to be ‘cashing in’ on something that has been so traumatic for so many. I also feel a little wary of commenting on something that from NZ seems in many ways to be beyond our understanding. However it is an enormously influential event for the world, and for Christianity so I don’t want to ignore it. I have decided the best way to reflect on the US election is to ask what lessons are in it for us in NZ, particularly as we approach our election next year. lessonsfornz

It feels like there was a lot of issues bubbling away quietly hidden in the US and the election has been a catalyst that brought them to light. I think it would benefit us to consider our situation and wonder what is going on that is hidden that we need to be paying more attention to. The US election has shown the amount of polarisation that has occurred, it would benefit us to consider the polarisation that we can also see in NZ. One dividing line that the election has demonstrated is between generations.

We are seeing a clear generational divide in the church.

In the US election we saw (not just for church goers) substantially different voting patterns between those under 29 (who were more likely to vote for Clinton) and those over 65 (who were more likely to vote for Trump). Even voting behaviour was influenced by age with early indications being that more people over 65 voted than those under 29.

The public involvement of US evangelicalism in the election and the way that has played out in the US church and media has meant that people are disassociating themselves from evangelicalism and leaving evangelical churches. My impression is that those that are disassociating from Evangelicalism in the US are mostly from the generation that we would call ‘millenials” (people born between early ‘80s and late '90s). There are many reasons why they are leaving, but the election has been the last straw for many of them. I suspect that this election has damaged evangelicalism beyond repair and we will see it move into quite a different future.

It is good for us in NZ to consider our generational gaps and divides, as I believe we also suffer from an increasing polarisation between generations in the NZ church. I see an increasing ideological, spiritual, ethical and theological divide between millennials and baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964). I have been talking about the gap between generations for about 15 years now, but I don’t think the church is engaging well with this issue.

Have a look around you in church on Sunday. How many people under 30 can you see? (for me last week it was 1) How engaged are they?

This completely tears my heart but as a church community in NZ we are failing our younger generations.

The faith of our older generations is too often presented in a pre-packaged, pre digested format that fails to contextualise well to those living in the post-modern digital age. I still see this over and over, even just last Sunday when we had a visiting speaker.  Baby boomers seem to be saying over and over again, stay on the path that we forged. However their path doesn’t work for millennials, who want to create their own path. This is creating an increasing divide that is preventing good communication between the generations. Unfortunately baby boomers are still holding on to power in the church, and this makes it difficult for millennials to find a strong voice. I must acknowledge that there are many baby boomers who want to understand, however they seem unable to move beyond their pre-existing assumptions and worldview to really engage well with the new ways of thinking. They seem to be unwilling to have their theology challenged or questioned, which shuts down good dialogue.

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So the younger people are leaving, especially those with the ability to think critically and ask questions. I come across them often, in small pockets away from the institutional church.There is a depth to their faith that would surprise those in the church who often say they have left because of a lack of discipleship. It is just that their faith looks a bit different and there isn’t room for it in the existing church structures. They are drifting around, unable to find a church that looks like home. Some of them are floating around the edges of mainstream churches as they know they need the people of God to encourage their faith, but they are not fully engaged. Some carry too much grief and pain from their experience of church to fully engage again.

I am not entirely sure (being a bit older myself) but I suspect that what they are looking for is a group of Jesus followers who can be companions on their journey. A journey that involves giving them the tools to engage well with the biblical text, to walk with the Holy Spirit’s empowering, and engage both of those well with society around them. All in ways that bring the Kingdom of God to earth on a journey of discovery that can cope with each new thing that their changing world throws up. Mostly I suspect that are searching for people who can help them learn how to have deep authentic relationships, and they are looking to be taught tools and systems that can help them form their own theology.

But where are the leaders?

I am not quite sure why, but no one seems to be stepping up to lead this group of millennials who are drifting on the fringes of the church. There seems to be a lack of leaders who can step up and say “lets start something new”. “Lets start meeting together and see what happens”. Leaders who can equip and support them to make their own path through the world in which they live. Leaders who can see and understand the depth of their faith, can see the opportunities to live kingdom values in their everyday lives, who can sweep them up and love them and create a gathering of the people of God that feels like home for them.

To move forward the church needs to acknowledge the generational divide, and to seek ways to create genuine discussion and where both sides can be safely challenged.

People born since 1980 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you engaged in the church?  Why or why not? How would you like church to be? What are your experiences of the generational divide?

book review: learning to walk in the dark

Learning to Walk in the Dark is by Barbara Taylor Brown and was published in 2014 by Harper One. You can get your copy here 9780062024350

 

Those of us who live in big cities are very rarely exposed to true darkness, we always have the glow of streetlights and signs and the ability to light things up at the touch of a finger. If we have grown up as Christians (or Star Wars fans for that matter) we may focus on the goodness of the light, and have little experience of the dark. But Barbara Brown Taylor helps us to take a step back. To stop and think actually didn’t God create the darkness and declare it good? Learning to Walk in the Dark is Barbara Brown Taylor’s exploration of whether we can find the good that lies in the dark, and whether we can meet God there in the darkness. Towards the beginning of the book she defines darkness as

“shorthand for anything that scares me- that I want no part of - either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.” (p.4)

From there Barbara Brown Taylor takes us with her on her journey to explore the meaning and impact of darkness. She takes us through her childhood and what darkness meant to her then, she looks at the physical darkness of being blind or in a cave, and the darkness that exists inside of us. The chapters follow the phases on the moon, the opening of the book is at full moon, which gradually dims and then brightens to full again by the end of the book. Brown Taylor describes the book as a journal, so it is not a theological essay but a personal reflection on her experiences with the dark, although she reflects on her theology and faith throughout the book. She writes with a personal style that makes you feel included in her journey, and that you get to know her a little bit throughout the book. You can almost imagine that she is writing you a personal encouraging letter rather than the much more public forum of a book. Brown Taylor uses words well, she has a lovely attention to word craft that makes reading her books a delight. I particularly liked this description of her writers block

"Not long after that, all the words lay down and died, lying on the page like ants in a poisoned anthill: little black bodies everywhere, their legs curled up like burnt whiskers. I poked at them but they did not move." (p.78)

As each chapter is an exploration of a particular aspect of darkness and because of the personal nature of the book, it can seem a little disjointed in places. I think readers will relate to some chapters better than others depending on where they are at in their own journey. By sharing her journey with the reader she provides things to think about, questions to ponder and ideas that we can use to go on our own journey into our own concepts of darkness. For example I have realised how little time I spend in the dark, even looking around my bedroom at night there are so many things that glow. I am wondering what it would be like to spend more time in the dark. For me the book highlighted something that I have been exploring and pondering for some years now. Often our Christian faith and prayers understand and equate God’s work with removing us from the darkness. It is the equivalent of rushing to turn on the lights as soon as it gets dark. But what Brown Taylor manages to show us is how God can meet us there in the cave of our darkness, without being reduced to simply shining his light to remove the darkness. God is there in whatever darkness we face, and there are treasures in the dark that we cannot see in the light. She concludes that “I need darkness as much as I need light” (p.5). Her’s is not the simple conclusion that we so often hear that without the dark we wouldn't appreciate the light, but rather she shows us how we can build a deep appreciation of the darkness and all that can be learned there. I found it a comfort too as a spend time thinking and praying about the future of the institution of church, I can see we are in for great changes - yet I cannot see what they are. I think there is a lot of reassurance in this book for those of us who are blindly finding our way in the dark, towards the future with one hand stretched in front us us and the Holy Spirit to guide us around any obstacles. God is not only to be met in the certainty of the light, but is with us in all the uncertainties and unclear future that we face. If you have read the book I would really like to hear your thoughts and impressions and what it sparked for you.

Here are some specific questions, that you may like to respond to: What were your first impressions of the book?

What is one of your favourite phrases or sentences from the book?

What is your favourite concept in the book?

I have been listening to Leonard Cohen's - You want it darker. (YouTube link here if you haven't heard it)Do you see resonances or connections between his song and Learning to Walk in the Dark?

How did Learning to Walk in the Dark help grow or challenge your faith?

Was there anything in the book that you didn’t really like or relate to?

Who would you recommend this book too?

 

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

am i an evangelical?

Am I an evangelical? This has been a question that has been playing around the edges of my mind over the last few years. Twenty-five years ago I would have said “what is an evangelical?” Fifteen years ago I would have easily answered “of course I am an evangelical”.

Now I am not so sure.

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What seemed so easy then has become more complex, the more I know and the more I discover, the less certain things become. Other people seem certain about what it means to be an evangelical, and usually that is believing exactly the same things as them. Evangelicals are making the news a lot lately, their involvement in politics in the US and their vocal and visible stance on certain issues puts them in the public eye. Part of my hesitancy around identifying as an evangelical is simply wanting to distance myself from the negative stereotypes and the more conservative sections of evangelicalism. Michael Frost sent a tweet the other day that resonated a lot with me:

https://twitter.com/michaelfrost6/status/789594166799982593

I want to distance myself from that image of what it means to be an evangelical. But that public version of what it means to be an evangelical is not all there is to it.

On this journey to explore whether i am an evangelical or not the first question I have to delve into is, what is an evangelical?

Stuart Lange (affiliate link to A Rising Tide) defines evangelicalism as both a “historical movement and a set of doctrinal commitments.” (p.12). I find it interesting that he states as I found throughout my childhood growing up in the NZ baptist church, that there are groups of people who share the characteristics of evangelicals but do not explicitly call themselves evangelical. Lange goes on to say that from the “time of the sixteenth century reformation, ‘evangelical’ meant belief in justification by faith, and in the primacy of biblical authority and practice’. I might not express it exactly in those words, but if I was living after the reformation I think I could happily say that I was an evangelical. But as Lange says evangelicalism is a movement, so it changes and grows and lives. Lange identifies the roots of what we now see as the modern evangelical movement as emerging in the 1730’s in Britain and it’s colonies. At this time there was a new emphasis on revival, religious experience and evangelism. Ok so by those stands I think I can still happily and easily be an evangelical.

Today it seems that Bebbington’s definition of what it means to be evangelical is most widely accepted. He states that evangelicalism has four characteristics. Firstly a belief that lives need to be changed (conversionism). Secondly having a high regard for the bible (biblicentrism), thirdly putting faith into practice through involvement with social justice, care and sharing faith, (activism). Finally evangelicals emphasise Jesus sacrificial death on the cross (crucicentrism). There are not a lot of doctrines in this definition! For my own journey I can happily sit with three of these characteristics, I believe that people need to change, that the bible is the best way to understand God and his work in the world and in people's lives, and how we are to live in the light of that. I believe that our faith has to be put into actions that show care and love to others and that introduce them to the God who created them. The characteristic I struggle with is the emphasis on Jesus sacrificial death, I have seen that an overemphasis on Jesus death, leaves out so much of the story. The death of Jesus does not stand alone but must be emphasised in context of God’s redeeming work throughout the history of creation and through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. This may just be a matter of semantics and interpretation, I think most evangelicals would agree with me on that.

Now this portrait of what an evangelical is, seems remarkably different to how it is used, and who it describes today. Remember that it is a movement and Lange points out that

“historians have shown how evangelicals emphasised different doctrines and practices at different times and were constantly adapting to new contexts".

Evangelicalism in the US, the UK and NZ are vastly different things, they have grown differently and adapted to their contexts differently. Being a NZ evangelical is not the same as being a US evangelical. Many evangelicals have tried to force a definition based on specific doctrines, but that is not as widely accepted as the broader definitions based on characteristics. Lange describes evangelicalism as “a mindset rather than a closed system, and an unstructured transdenominational movement crossing many ecclessiastical and national boundaries.” Evangelicalism is not just one thing. Large publishing houses, popular bloggers and others from the US may give that impression, but I don’t think they are right.

The question then becomes who gets to decide what evangelicalism is?

It is always the people with the most power (or publicity) who get to make the definitions. I am seeing it more and more used almost as an insult - “if you think that then you are not an evangelical.” I found a lovely quote by Toni Morrison “definitions belong to the definer not the defined”. Just because somebody else says that you are not an evangelical doesn’t mean that it is true. It just means that you don’t agree with them and the doctrines that they think make up evangelicalism.

So I have come full circle, I started this post thinking that I was going to conclude that I wasn’t an evangelical, there is so much I disagree with many of them on. But if I disassociate myself from evangelicalism, if I say I am no longer that, I let those who have the most conservative doctrinally based image of what it means to be an evangelical claim the definition, to make it their own.

I am not sure they get to do that!

If I leave evangelicalism, then I leave evangelicalism stagnant, stuck in a particular model, never to move, never to change, unable to grow and contextualise. We let vocal people from the US define our faith. It ceases to be a mindset and an unstructured movement and becomes a narrow set of doctrines. I find that I am reluctant to leave it to that fate.

 

What are your thoughts? Are you an evangelical? What do you think it means?

theological labour

Have you ever worked in retail? Like most kiwi students I did my time working in retail during high school and undergrad. Standing on your feet all day and being nice to people can be tough, and sometimes it is just the organisational culture of working with other like minded students that provides your enjoyment. Fortunately for me that was before the days when customer service involved prescribed interactions such as you must wish every customer ‘have a good day’. Yes we were polite, respectful and helpful and we had some regular customers who we would genuinely wish a good day. I have been coming across more and more discussion of what is called ‘emotional labour’. This is a concept that was introduced into sociology in 1983 by Hochschild, and has slowly made its way into HR and other disciplines. Emotional labour is when organisations (often service oriented) require people to manage their own feelings to produce a public and visible expression of how they feel, in order to have an effect on others (usually customers). For example when I buy my groceries at Countdown the cashiers are required as part of their job, to say have a good day and smile when you have paid the bill. This requirement for a particular emotional response is what is called emotional labour. thelogical-labour

A few things got me thinking this week, what if among Christian organisations we are seeing a similar phenomenon that I would like to call theological labour. I would describe theological labour as the management of beliefs and their visible outward expressions as a job requirement.

Most staff and members/partners of Christian organisations will be required to sign or agree with some sort of statement of faith or doctrinal position before they start work. So theoretically there should be no dissonance between what the individual believes and the beliefs of the organisation. However in real life faith ebbs and flows, understandings change over time and in my experience not everyone even has the same understanding of the doctrine in the statement of faith. Then there are the extra things that come to life after the initial agreement, extra position papers are released or beliefs that were once peripheral become central.

Sometimes it is not even as overt as a position paper, it can be the culture that rises up in an organisation. This is expressed through the clichés that are left unquestioned, the words and statements that are left un-contextualised, the assumptions that are made that all Christians think the same. It is even expressed through the people that it is ok to invite to an organisational gathering and the theologians and thinkers that it is ok to share on Facebook. Certain ways of thinking about beliefs may become the norm through the organisation without it ever being stated. Slowly but surely the space for growing and changing faith, the space for questions and doubts, the space for diversity slips away. When we lose diversity we lose the richness that different viewpoints can add to our lives, our organisations, our conversations and our understanding of God. We lose the voice that can highlight our blind spots that we are standing too close to see.

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So Christian organisations often create an environment where staff may have to monitor their expressed theological position or risk their job security. It comes when you are out and about, at church, at conferences, networking, and fundraising. The theological labour comes when you know that what you say in response to things that you have heard or read will reflect on your organisation, and may cause challenges with your colleagues that you are not ready for.

Theological labour is the awareness that you need to reflect the theological position of the organisation regardless of what you believe, no matter what your current questions are, and what you believe the Holy Spirit is saying to you.

If you have dedicated your life, and your career to ministry, if you still feel vocationally called (usually to the people you are working with, not the organisation) it is very difficult to just go out and find another job. For those trained and experienced in ministry crossing over to the secular workforce can be very difficult, so the options for leaving are usually difficult.

All organisations require a certain commitment to their vision, mission and passion. But working in the Christian sector is different because of the interaction between personal beliefs and organisational requirements. As Christians our personal beliefs and our relationship with God are central and provide meaning, purpose and vibrancy to our life. Christian organisations therefore have a unique power over their workers as they have an involvement in something that for most people is not mandated by their workplace. The simple act of having a statement of faith gives the organisation leverage over the beliefs of their workers.

Personally both times I have worked for an evangelical organisation I have had to give a certain amount of theological labour. It hasn’t started out that way but as I got further and further into the organisation I discovered more and more belief expectations. This was of course unintentional, it was more about unexamined assumptions, and which books would be on recommended lists than sending around position papers to be signed. To be fair in my first organisation they tried to encourage me to speak up a bit more, but I was not confident, and I was not prepared with the rational arguments to back up my positions that were expected. The second time I found myself having to give theological labour I knew enough to leave before it became undermining to my emotional and spiritual health.

Emotional labour has side effects for those who are engaged in it, and is thought to be a contributor to burnout and so of course does theological labour. The dissonance between personal beliefs and what you need to express publically can begin to take its toll. Authenticity and integrity are challenged and I found it very tiring to always be monitoring what beliefs I was expressing where, and eventually it led me to doubting my faith and my ability to hear from the Holy Spirit. For those of us who care for workers in Christian organisations we need to be aware and ready to explore the impact of theological labour on those who feel that is what they are providing.

If we want to increase the diversity within Christian organisations and allow for the ebbs and flows of faith, for questions and periods of doubt and theological wrestling for new contexts we need to reclaim the story of God’s work throughout history and as told in the bible as the core that unites us. Rather than a set of doctrines, Communion becomes a powerful symbol of unity as we break bread together re-enacting the centre of the story that provides unity and coherence to our work and to our lives.

I would love to hear your impressions and experiences of theological labour

dignified concealment

Yesterday I had to make the decision to euthanize my elderly cat, her health is deteriorating and she is becoming harder to look after both health wise and behaviour wise.  It is always hard to say goodbye to a member of the fur-family that has been with you so long.  It is also pregnancy and infant loss awareness week, a week where I remember my loved and hard won embryos who failed to implant.  It has turned my mind to all the different griefs and losses that I have experienced.  From the personal sense of loss that I still carry from my infertility, to all the grief that my work with people has opened my eyes to.  The grieving process that occurs when you say goodbye to a long-lived pet seems simple in the face of the complex grief of these things that are harder to express.  The non-finite losses, the ambiguous and disenfranchised losses are not well understood by the church, society and mission agencies. grief

In Feb 1820 Sydney Smith (Anglican minister) provided the following advice to his friend Lady Georgiana Morpeth:

Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely – they are always worse for dignified concealment.

Almost 200 years have passed since Rev. Sydney gave that advice, yet it still seems that we default to dignified concealment more often than not. I detect some discomfort in openly engaging with the wider issues of grief and loss.

Let’s talk more about loss, let’s try to understand better.

It is even difficult to find agreed upon definitions of the different types of loss.  Some writers use Non-finite loss where others use ambiguous loss, this is used to describe situations where there is a continuing and ever present sense of loss, it requires frequent re-adjustment of expectations, it is like living in a state of constant grief.  This is the type of loss experienced by people dealing with infertility, chronic illness, adopted children dealing with the absence of birth parents, or carers dealing with the illness or disability of their relative.  This can be related to disenfranchised loss which is when society or people don’t allow or encourage grieving for the particular loss that has occurred.  There is also a type of disenfranchised loss that is common for those who belong to an oppressed or otherwise threatened group.  Society doesn’t tend to recognise and support these more complex types of grief well. There is a lack of rituals and ceremonies, for mourning the losses. These are the losses that for so many of us lie under a layer of dignified concealment.

For those carrying the scars and awareness of loss the church can seem like a different planet.  This gap was made most real to me when I was counselling, I would get off the phones at 12am and struggle into church the next morning where nothing that happened or was said seemed to relate to the pain that I was seeing in the world.  The church is in danger of falling into what Barbara Brown Taylor calls “full solar spirituality”.  (affiliatelink to Learning to Walk in the Dark). This focuses on “absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith” and is characterised by “striving to be positive in attitude”.  In this type of church everything is greeted with a sunny smile and a worship song. Even in churches who may not be reflecting a “full solar spirituality” I am noticing an increasing obsession with wholeness, often expressed through the statement ‘Jesus came to make us whole’.   There is a striving after healing and wholeness that comes close to idolisation, and mirrors wider western capitalist societies current obsession with and creation of the wellbeing industry. We need to make space for connecting with our loss; we need laments to sing, and safe environments in which to share, and connect with the losses of others.  Jesus came not to make us whole, but to show us how to be fully and wonderfully human.  He came to show us how to be human even in the lows of grieving over a city who refused to acknowledge him (Luke 19:41) and the highs of celebrating the resurrection of a good friend (John 11:44).   There is power in Jesus brokenness that makes me wonder and meditate on what power there is also in our experience of loss.  We are made in the image of God so our own experience of loss can give us insights into what grieves God.

Whenever I stop to explore the scars that the losses have left on me, I see that in some undefinable way they are what make me who I am today.  They show me the path that my life has taken, the ways that I have grown. I am fascinated by the way that when Jesus was resurrected he still had his scars. He knew his scars and was comfortable to display his scars. I’m not quite there yet in understanding what that means, but the resurrected Jesus was not made whole – he was still scarred and that is significant to me.  There is something in there for those of us who carry the scars of loss.

Jesus stands before you in all the loses that you have experienced and says examine my hands, see I have scars too.

What grieves your heart?  Does it give you clues as to what grieves God’s heart?

What losses are you hiding with dignified concealment that you wish there was room for sharing in your church or organisation?

8 tips to nourish creativity

In a previous post I explained why creativity is important in and for the church from creation to imagination -creativity in the church. I highlighted the definition of creativity (from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary) as “an ability to think beyond what is in front of us, it is tied to imagination. “The ability to make new things or think of new ideas”. For leaders, especially those who are trying to establish stability, members who are high in creativity can be scary. They ask lots of questions and seem to want to change things all the time. But don’t be afraid, they are often not challenging you or your leadership, they may just have a strong need to understand and for variety. They can be a great asset if you take the time to understand them. nourishcreativity

Most creatives enjoy and appreciate opportunities to use their creativity in church or team life and this helps them feel able to contribute from their gifts and talents. However it is important that creative types don’t start feeling like their creativity is being used rather than nurtured. Church not only needs to be a place where people can contribute creatively but where they can come to have their creativity nurtured and inspired.

So here are my tips for nourishing creative types in your team or congregation.

1. talk about creativity.

If you like stability don’t assume that everyone does. I remember listening to a sermon that was meant to help us cope with change and choice because it is all difficult. I just sat there thinking its great change and choice is stimulating and exciting and I don’t relate to this sermon at all. Remember to acknowledge that you have people oriented towards variety and creativity when you are speaking. Talk broadly about creativity as does the definition above, don’t just use ‘creative’ to mean artistic. Find different ways to acknowledge those with creative talents that helps them to feel seen and affirmed. Thank them for their creative comments even if you find them challenging.

2. preach about creativity.

I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon linking my creativity to being made in the image of our Creator God. I have read it in books but it would be nice to hear it from the front in church. Encourage people to jump into the freedom of exercising their creativity as their vocation to image God. Preach about taking the time to be creative as a spiritual discipline, as something that will draw you closer to God, and as important as other spiritual disciplines such as reading the bible.

3. create frameworks for creativity.

Take the time to make sure that those who lean towards stability and those that tend towards creativity understand each other's needs. That we come together as diverse members of one body and that we can support and enrich each other. Diversity can be supported by creating frameworks that enable those that need stability to feel enclosed and yet provide some space to allow the creatives to play.

creatviepics

4. create creativity events.

Creative types will enjoy getting together regularly or occasionally, to be freely creative together. They will be stimulated and inspired by playing with others. It is also very inspiring for people with very different types of creativity to meet; they can stimulate each other to new imaginings with the different emphases and ways of thinking from their discipline. Let them loose to re-imagine your church – if you dare.

5. create fresh opportunities.

I love empty houses! They have so much potential and I can’t help imagining how they will look furnished. Creative types will enjoy opportunities that come with a blank slate. Starting something completely new where they can be released from pre-existing boundaries and traditions will be invigorating. Let them loose on the new things you want to start that don’t come with existing baggage.

6. protect creativity.

Creativity theorist Alexander Osborn said: “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud.”

Offer creative types protection from unnecessary criticism; help them and others to see things as experiments. Things that don’t work should be reframed as learning events not failures. Be patient remembering that not all creativity is expressed as the traditional lightbulb moment, some creative ideas need time to grow and form. 7). invite expressions of creativity.

Part of nourishing creativity is to include opportunities to be creative as part of the service (or/and team meeting). This could be something as simple as putting out pens and art paper, or something more complex. I heard recently of a church that had a blackboard at the back of the church where people could share thoughts and reactions to the sermons. Be wary here of falling into a routine, always using the same creative response will quickly seem old to those who respond to the stimulation of change. Expose your congregation to things that will challenge and stimulate their thinking. Two talks I remember well used artworks as a centre of the talk one was based on The Trinity by Rublev and the other was based on Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Including the paintings has ensured that I remember these talks’ years after I attended them.

8. limit creativity diminishing structures.

Structures, systems, procedures, rules and routines do not nurture creativity. They tend to make creatives feel squashed, boxed in and uninspired. Get imaginative and release some of the energy that is focused on procedures and rules. For example for extra creativity why not replace your AGM with a wine and cheese evening where you imagine different scenarios for the future.

Go create! I would love to hear ideas of how your church or team nourishes creativity.

decision making for a complex world

decisionmaking My post mission is ripe for disruption stimulated a lot of thought about the way forward for mission agencies.  Most people agree that we are operating in a time where the pace of change means that we need to develop agile systems and procedures.  However we all seem to be getting stuck on answering the question of what these agile systems and procedures will look like? and how will we get there?  Moving forward is not just about changing systems and procedures to move into the new way of working and being in the world.   Organisations need to develop new ways of making decisions.  Many of the old fashioned organisational decision making procedures (like a swot analysis for example) are based on the simple notion that what worked in the past will work again in the future.  To move forward we must acknowledge that we can no longer rely on that notion.  What worked in the past can no longer be counted on to inform our work in the future. So we need to develop new ways of making decisions. In the September issue of the Missions Interlink Bulletin (More about MI here) Jay Matenga introduced the Cynefin framework as a base for understanding agile decision making.  Steve Pavarno then discussed how this could be applied to mission organisations.  (I am re-printing their comments here with permission).

The Cynefin Framework

Cynefin [Kih-NEH-vihn] is a Welsh word for “habitat”, with a meaning very similar to the Maori word, turangawaewae. It conveys a sense of belonging to a place, where you feel empowered and connected. It describes the largely implicit relationship between a person and their place of birth and upbringing, the environment in which they live and to which they are naturally acclimatised. It is a domain you are used to.

Welsh theorist Dave Snowden co-opted the word and its concepts to map a paradigm (framework) to help explore relationships between people, their experience, and their contexts (including their historical and cultural contexts, which are predominantly implicit). The aim is to help discern how best to respond to a situation given the particularities of it—from simple to chaotically complex. It is ultimately a sense-making model (making sense out of data) to assist with decision making in the midst of increasing uncertainty. Depending on which territory you find yourself in, you need to think, analyse and respond differently. This model helps us navigate increasingly unknown territory.

cynefin-framework

 

The Cynefin framework (above) has five domains, like geographic domains separated by flexible and porous borders. The left two are the unordered domains (complex and chaotic), the right two are both ordered systems.

The five domains are:

Obvious. The relationship between cause and effect is self-evident to all. To apply best practice you simply sense the data, categorise it and then respond, step by step by the book (which is already written). This is the bureaucratic domain.

Complicated. The relationship between cause and effect requires some form of expert investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge. To apply good practice you need to sense, and then expertly analyse in order to develop an appropriate (fresh)response. This is the realm of expert consultants.

Complex. The relationship between cause and effect is perceived in retrospect, rarely in advance. You don’t even know what questions to ask beforehand. To discern emergent practice you  need to probe and examine to gather more data, then experiment to get a sense of how to respond tentatively. This usually requires an iterative (trial/error) process before the right response emerges. This is the habitat of collaborative strategists.

Chaotic. No discernible relationship exists between cause and effect at a systemic level. You need to do whatever you have to to contain the situation. You could intentionally enter this territory for innovative purposes but if you accidentally find yourself here it requires urgent attention. This will require novel practice, so you act, then sense, responding quickly and as necessary to escape the territory. It is like a hospital ER where you act quickly to stop the bleeding before looking more intently to figure an appropriate way to heal the situation. Autocrats, Dictators and Commandant types thrive here.

Disorder is the fifth domain (the dark mass in the middle), which is where you have no idea what sort of causality exists. You don’t know which domain you’re in. There is just confusion. This is no-man’s land. In this realm, people revert to their own comfort zone practice in making a decision. Here you will default to your personal preference for action, but you cannot survive here. The objective at this point is to move the situation to another part of the map to better engage with it.

Another critical aspect of the Cynefin framework is the boundary between the Obvious and Chaotic domains (which has been interpreted as a cliff, with a wave at the bottom, represented by the curious squiggle). It is too easy to become complacent in the Obvious realm (remember, this is the land of bureaucracy and clear cut policies and procedures) and drift toward the boundary into Chaotic territory. All other boundaries allow for transitions but with this one crossing the boundary is deemed to be catastrophic (hence the cliff)—you fall over the edge into a (very costly) crisis.

The recommendation is that organisations manage in the top two domains which allow for variability and flexibility and only occasionally in the Obvious domain because it is too prone to rapid and accelerated change toward the Chaotic.

The Cynefin Framework in the Software Industry

Big multinational mission agencies have operating models that are increasingly struggling with the environment they are operating in (both the sending or receiving environments). From the turn of the century the software industry has had to operate in complex and chaotic environments. These parallels offer value to the missions community, but it is first helpful to identify where we’re at. The Cynefin Framework describes successful behaviours for industries facing disruption.

Many mission organisations are operating in the “Obvious” quadrant (see diagram): applying best practices because those practices have worked in the past or are required by their international head office or other compliance regulators. But with pressure from stakeholders, they are finding best-practice is no longer enough. One size is not fitting all. To thrive, missions must adopt an operating model appropriate to the domain their industry is in (see diagram).

When best practice is no longer enough, we need to build organisations that are more agile, able to move and adapt easily, to grasp and implement new opportunities as they arise, take more risks, and even be willing to fail sometimes.

The software industry has learned agility the hard way, from many expensive failed projects. In the old days, we used “Big Design Up Front” to design software. Teams of analysts would meet for months to design a requirement’s specification. This would be handed off to systems architects, then “thrown over the wall” to programmers who would spend years writing the code, before handing it over to the testers. When it finally got to the end user, the original need had often disappeared or changed so dramatically that the product was useless. We could call this the “Ready-Aim-Fire!” cannon methodology.

In 2001 a group of developers decided to move away from traditional methods of software development, towards what they called “agile” project management. The Agile model prefers a lightweight “Ready- Fire-Aim-Aim-Aim” guided missile methodology. It prioritises relationships, communication and results over policy and documentation. It picks the most valuable (important, urgent) piece of a business problem, builds and delivers a working solution to that one piece, and then goes back for the next most important problem. Along the way, it applies learning from the previous stages with constant customer feedback to shape future decisions.  Development cycles are a few hours to a few weeks long, rather than the months or years taken by traditional methods. Google and other large tech companies run multiple parallel experiments to see what works (multivariate testing). Google have launched and later cancelled quite a number of unsuccessful products, yet the company as a whole remains very successful. This pragmatic strategy works well in a Chaotic domain (see diagram) where they have tried something, seen what works, then decided what to do next in evolutionary or progressive steps.  It’s like firing a lot of guided missiles at a swarm of moving targets.

How might agile methodology work for mission organisations?

To start, we will have to undo decades of habits and institutional inertia.

Agile software teams have a saying, “Do the simplest thing that can possibly work”.

Missions are often crippled by poor IT infrastructure and heavy administrative responsibilities, with staff running hard just to keep up. Finance systems can be antiquated or pieced together from off-the-shelf solutions that don’t integrate well. HR systems rely heavily on time consuming email and spreadsheets. Donor or stakeholder management is ad-hoc and misses opportunities to engage with people in the most appropriate ways. New initiatives are subject to lengthy Board or committee approval processes. And, funding is not available for research and development to find better ways of doing things.

Realising that we are no longer in the Obvious domain (see diagram), a first step into new territory, towards a becoming more agile, is to build agile systems (digital platforms) that automate the boring stuff. Digital transformation (if done well) can relieve humans of boring busywork and release them for building relationships and making informed decisions. Human time is far too precious to be spent copying data from one platform to another.

What would it take to become agile, to do the simplest thing, to strip away some of the habits, spreadsheets, approval cycles, policies from your organisation?

What tools (e.g. cloud services) could you use to automate workflows?

What would happen if you simply stopped doing some of the things you have done for years, or did it a different way that only took half the time?

How can you free up time and money to begin to experiment and explore?

 

 

sharing vulnerability

It is duckling season again; a duckling is a good image for vulnerability. They are small, young and fluffy venturing out into a big dangerous world. There are so many perils that face them cats, dogs, drains, cars, lack of food, cold. When I first decided to write about vulnerability for a social media project (initiated by Wholeness blog) I thought it would be easy. Vulnerability has lots to do with psychology, lots to do with theology and I love Brené Brown’s work on it, I can link it in with professional supervision and helping professions and I believe it’s important to talk about. But the question was; what does vulnerability mean to me? Not vulnerability as a psychology or theology topic not applying what Brené Brown learnt in her research to professional supervision.

What does vulnerability mean to ME?

sharing-vulnerability

I am posting a bit later than usual this week, because this was quite a difficult post to write. To write a post about vulnerability I had to explore my own vulnerability. Not just looking at it from the perspective of what would help others. You see inside I have a little duckling soft, fluffy, brown and yellow - vulnerable. It hardly ever sees the light of day, hidden as it is by layers of shell built up year after year. Hidden so deep that I am not even sure what it looks like anymore. I’ve delved down there and I want to share with you three areas in which I am vulnerable. I hope that some of you will relate to them, and that my sharing may encourage you to share your own vulnerabilities with your team and friends.

Some of my vulnerability is around being seen to be competent and independent. I don’t like asking for help or being ‘the needy’ person in a group. I suspect that this is something I inherited from my parents. One of the hardest things I have had to do, as for many people in ministry and mission is raise money for my salary. It put me in a very vulnerable place to ask friends and family to believe in my work enough to pay my salary. It creates even more vulnerability when you are struggling and not producing the results of your vision.

Some of my vulnerability is around my feelings. I don’t come from a generation or culture that was taught, supported or encouraged to share their feelings. So I struggle to express how I feel to others and if I am completely honest sometimes to even acknowledge how I feel to myself. My ability to share my feelings got worse after I struggled with burnout and infertility – basically there were no words deep and true enough to articulate how I felt, so I was unable to share with others. This developed into something of a habit of not sharing my feelings readily or easily.

Some of my vulnerability is around being told that I can’t trust my intuition. That what I believe to be true deep within me by instinct and intuition is wrong. I am particularly vulnerable to that one, because it usually taps into something that I find hard to articulate. It is very hard to counter what feels like an attack on a rational level, when you haven’t articulated the sensing, the intuition and the deep knowing that lie within. That is part of why I have enjoyed my professional supervision course so much, because it values the role of intuition and gut feelings and validates them, encourages us to use them to be good at our work of supervision. When I feel most confident and competent it is when I am supported to work with my intuition, my instinct and to listen to the still small voice that I identify as the Holy Spirit.

ducklings

Sharing my vulnerabilities exposes my fluffy duckling to the peril of hurt, invalidation and self-doubt. Although I know for some of you rejection is a bigger issue. Brené Brown in her very popular Ted talk (Vulnerability Ted Talk )says that “what makes people vulnerable makes people beautiful.”

Is the world missing out on seeing your beauty because you are not able to share your vulnerability?

In a world where everything is processed to be the same and disclosure is managed to portray ourselves from our best side, isn’t it the imperfections, the vulnerabilities that make us distinctive, make us memorable. Although it is scary to share our vulnerabilities with others, the need for connecting well motivates us to take the risk. I know it is difficult, but we follow a God who chose to come to earth in the vulnerable form of a human baby.

Do we see the beauty in that vulnerable act? Do we see how much our God values vulnerability? Do we see the power of deep connection that sharing vulnerability offers?

We need to value vulnerability in our mission and ministry teams. This can be difficult for kiwis as it takes us time to trust others enough to share our vulnerabilities. There are so many vulnerabilities simmering under the surface of moving country, learning another language and being dependent on sponsors and churches back home. I wonder if all the teams that I have seen that have failed to bond and thrive as a team, come back to a lack of shared vulnerability. Sometimes it can be hard for Evangelical Christians to respond well to vulnerabilities, their emphasis on truth and resistance to difference can result in responses that increase self-doubt and discomfort for those sharing. Grace and love and a God who created us to be vulnerable need to guide the way. Leaders need to learn to be vulnerable and to encourage, support and value true vulnerability. We all need to be aware of the spoken and unspoken reactions to vulnerability that you are giving. I once shared something vulnerable, which was met with silence, and never mentioned again. The silence made me feel that the person didn’t want to truly see me and my disappointments, and struggles. I was unable to establish an honest relationship with them after that. When someone shows you their vulnerability, acknowledge their courage, ensure that they feel seen and heard and validated through how you react. See it as a request for connectedness, a chance to deepen your relationship.

What is your duckling, what is soft, fluffy and vulnerable inside of you, that you wish you could share with your team/friends but can't? How can your team make space for you to share that vulnerability?