about me

I am the Director of the Windermere Centre, the United Reformed Church’s residential training centre in the English Lake District. The Centre exists to help the Church discover its life-in-mission. Mission is about the Church becoming more faithful rather than successful. It is about discerning where God is at world in the world and joining in. In other words, its focus is the Kingdom of God, rather than the Christian Church. The greatest challenge facing the Christian Church in the western world at present is how to connect meaningfully with the increasing millions who find Christian faith and the Church an anachronism and irrelevance. They do not hear the Gospel as Good News. Discipleship of Jesus Christ has neither meaning nor attraction for them. This has as much to do with the way in which the Church has believed and acted historically as with any peculiar postmodern resistance to faith.
The journey to reconnecting with society challenges the Church at its core. The path of least resistance is to buy into the challenge to become more “effective” churches. What that usually means in practice is becoming better skilled at attracting a greater share of disaffected Christians from other denominations. That is a vision we need consciously to avoid. Instead, we must grasp the nettle of making the Gospel relevant to a society that has grown tired of old formulations, old answers to redundant questions, and old forms of connections to God. That journey will be a source of re-evangelising the Church. It will discover new and more faithful ways of being Church. These changes will be the mustard seeds of a new Tomorrow under God, not only for the world but for the Church too.

A theologian by training, I was born and brought up in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). As a deeply committed young Christian, I spent 2 years as a detective in the Rhodesian Special Branch during the Independence Chimurenga in the late 1970s, specialising in political and military intelligence. It was not until pursuing doctoral studies in South African political theology in Cambridge form 1987 onwards that I came face to face with all that this had meant. During the long journey to reappropriate my faith, I had to come to terms with the fact that my society, friends, family, church, and even the God with whom I communed daily had not prevented me from being involved in something radically unchristlike, all the time believing it to be my Christian duty!
I came to learn that Christians believe in different Christs. The Jesus who blesses white supremacy, repression and torture, colonialism and the haves at the expense of the have-nots is a different Jesus from the one whose gospel was Good News to the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed and the marginalised. It is not just that Christians have to discover how to communicate Jesus to those who have nothing to do with him: they have also to discover for themselves who the true Jesus is in the midst of competing Christs, and in so doing, learn who their God is.
I was fortunate to study missiology under David Bosch in South Africa, and New Testament under James Dunn in Durham. My supervisor in Cambridge, Chris Rowland, taught me the subversive power of biblical texts (both for good an ill) and the necessity of taking sides with those on the margins truly to understand the liberative power of the Gospel. But it is Walter Brueggemann who has put into words what I had experienced for myself in reading the Bible: the power of the texts lies in their ability to disclose a new world – not some other world to which we can escape, but this world, disclosed as filled with God’s presence and saving activity.
That is the task facing today's Church.   It is to reconfigure our world in the light of God’s presence and saving activity, so that the seemingly intractable and impregnable powers of death and despair which imprison this world are temporary, awaiting transformation by God whose Kingdom we pray for daily. It is to disclose the new possibilities that were previously unthought or unimagined because we did not know of God’s nearness. When that happens, the converting and transforming power of the Good News is unleashed and the hearers of the Word can never be the same again.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James  |  9 July, 2006 at 1:04 am

    Dear Lawrence,

    I have enjoyed our brief exchanges on your Mustard Seeds blog and want to thank you for your generous responses. I wondered whether you have come across Frankie Ward’s research into blogging as a method of theological reflection. Below you will find her questionaire perhaps you may find the time to fill it in and aid her research.

    God bless,

    James Church

    Hi! I’m Frankie Ward and with Elaine Graham and Heather Walton we’re the speakers at the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology conference that meets in Manchester July 18 – 20th this year, with the theme of theological reflection. I’d like to do something at the conference on blogging as a method of theological reflection – and would be really grateful if you could answer any or all of these questions – and forward them on to anyone else you know who might be prepared to answer them too. I need responses, if possible, by July 3rd … I don’t blog (yet!) so responses to my email address at fefward@btinternet.com although if there’s any way that some dialogue can be generated within whatever blogging community you belong to, it would be great to be notified of any links etc that I might otherwise miss.
    Many thanks in anticipation …

    1. How long have you been blogging?

    2. What got you started?

    3. Do you have a history of diary/journal/log writing beforehand?

    4. How in your own mind do you negotiate the boundary between private and public?

    5. How do you decide? What criteria do you use for inclusion/exclusion?

    6. How much time, on average, do you spend blogging each day or week?

    7. How many other people do you actively engage with – e.g. are part of your blog community?

    8. Who is your readership – literally; as far as you know?

    9. and metaphorically? Do you imagine someone to whom you write/with whom you engage?

    10. What counts as successful blogging?

    11. What does blogging offer as a method of theological reflection?

    12. What potential do you see for blogging as a method of theological reflection? See

    13. Do you know of examples of theological education programmes where students are required to keep a learning journal and blog as a form of journal?

    14. Blogging and gender: do you think gender makes any difference to any of the above questions?

    Reply
  • 2. Faith McGill-Cossick  |  5 September, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    September 5, 2006 I’d just like to tell someone I love God. I love Jesus. I’m feeling sad and alone and as though there isn’t a human soul to whom I could express this love and expect them to believe me. I am often angry; I am nearly always tired and in some sort of relatively minor, but constant physical pain. I am 47 years old, a woman, and wouldn’t venture to say when it was I “became a Christian.” Other than to pronounce that it was apparently from the foundation of the earth He chose to call me to Himself. And yet I am angry that I have yet to “seem” to have come to Him at all. I know I am His. I want to scream my thanks for that. But I am not “nice.” I do not “play well with others.” I am angry, so angry and disappointed. But I love Him. I love Him because He first loved me and I love Him imperfectly so imperfectly because He so seldom does things the way I would wish him to. This morning I am thankful for Bob Dylan’s new album, “Modern Times.” If I could I would hug Bob Dylan close, tell him how beautiful and sweet he is and assure him, for what it’s worth, that I don’t doubt he’s still clinging to Jesus for dear life. I never expected him to start sounding like the Gaithers, never wanted him to start traveling with Billy Graham. I would appologize to him on behalf of my fellow evangelical church nice people of whom I am not really a part and do not know how to be. My heart aches to create beauty that will both thank God for saving me and will relieve other’s ache and help Him draw them to Him. But too much of my energy is spent in anger, hate, dissapointment, longing for escape and retribution. Here are the words from Dylan’s “When the Deal Goes Down” that melted my icy heart this morning: In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light Where wisdom grows up in strife My bewildered brain, toils in vain Through the darkness on the pathways of life Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air Tomorrow keeps turning around We live and we die, we know not why But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down We eat and we drink, we feel and we think Far down the street we stray I laugh and I cry and I’m haunted by Things I never meant or wished to say The midnight rain follows the train We all wear the same thorny crown Doul to soul, our shadows roll And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.” There are two more verses but these first two are sufficient to let me know I am not alone on this planet. There are others who strut and fret and never get to be elders or elders wives but who know that they know that they know they’ll be with their God and He will be with them “when the deal goes down.”

    Reply
  • 3. big dog  |  30 October, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    big dog

    Definitely, the most sensible thing i have seen in a long time.

    Reply
  • 4. Arth26  |  18 May, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    thanks, big dog. i’m honored to have my thoughts of September 5, 2006 pronounced sensible, a word never once in fifty years applied to any thought, word, or deed having its genesis in me. bless you, big dog. you are, i suspect, a good big dog, a faithful and feeling companion. trot ever closer to our Master. today i trot with jaunty dignity borrowed from the master, thanks to your affirming comment made over a year ago.

    i remain a sayer of sensible things

    Reply
  • 5. Faith McGill-Cossick  |  29 November, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Where are you Big Dog?
    Who are you?

    Reply

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