Posts filed under ‘mission’

kids on the bible

We’ve had kids for Hope at the Centre for 12 days. They’re Palestinian youngsters, aged 12-15, identified as potential future leaders in their communities and they’ve spent the time here getting away from the war zone, experiencing freedom, making friends and undergoing Leadership Training & Personal Development. It’s been a great time with them. We’ve certainly got as much – if not more – out of having them than they have out of being here.

I did s bible study on forgiveness with them, using the parable of the prodigal. Of course, one of the main things is that it ought to be called “The Parable of the Lost Son”, coming as it does as the climax of a 3-parable section on the theme of losing and finding. Re-read it if that surprises you. The important implication of the fact that we generally mis-title the parable is that we miss the principal character: God! It’s a parable about the lovesick father, not the wasteful son!

The kids got that one straight away. We read the parable (in Arabic and English) and I then asked them to identify the principal characters. Then I divided them into three groups, each taking one character: the father, the son and the older brother. They each had 2 questions to explore, identifying with their character.

I took the group on the father. The first question was, “How did this parable strike you?” A 12-year old boy answered “Shocking!” I asked why. A 15-year old girl answered, “because the boy told his father he wanted him dead!” And she’s right! You see what happens? Youngsters “get it” straight away, because they come to it unencumbered by years of reading it and hearing it expounded in a church context. It’s a parable whose main offence isn’t the actions of the son in the far country, but in the son’s deliberate rejection of any relationship whatsoever with the father. He wishes the father dead so that he can get his hands on the money.

The surprise of the parable is grace – the joy of the loving father who won’t hear of the son coming back as a servant. The son doesn’t repent, of course! He comes home to negotiate a new relationship, not to restore the old! he knows he’s turned his back fully and finally upon his father. It’s about grace because the father doesn’t take this “last word” of the son on the subject as the Last Word. His Last Word is of love and acceptance. He welcomes the son back – as a son who was lost and is found, was dead and is alive.

The point of the parable, in the words of Philip Yancey, is that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less. That’s not the conclusion most church groups come to – but the kids got it in one!

30 July, 2006 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

does god actually make a difference?

Does God actually make any difference at all to our efforts to transform the world into a place of justice and peace? This isn't a question about whether or not we ought to be doing it: we ought! The question is, what difference does being a Christian make to our work of transformation, compared with other people and groups who are working towards the same goals but with no Christian reference. What do I say to the young man I know who is passioantely committed to making a difference in the world, but sees no need whatsoever to do is "for Christ's sake". He cannot see that Christian faith adds anything, nor does he see any evidence for some notion of the work of the Spirit that means there is some sort of appreciable difference in either the quality or effectiveness of Christian participation in the struggle for justice. What's the answer here, folks? Is there an answer? And if there isn't, why do we bother about the "God" bit?

22 June, 2006 at 10:05 am 11 comments

social exclusion, the church and proclaiming the gospel

Here's something to read: the Archbishop of York's letter to The Guardian, and an article by Fran Beckett about the Church and social exclusion. One of the things we're bad at as churches is blowing our own trumpets. Now, that's an obvious virtue. But what's the balance between blowing our own trumpets (hiss! boo!) and proclamation (hooray!)? We are in the business of proclaiming Good News. Good News in a Christian sense doesn't exist as some sort of free-floating message. It is Good News – Gospel – to a world governed by Bad News. It has to become incarnate, which means that it needs to take shape on the ground. The Good News about Jesus is not about escaping to heaven but about heaven coming down to earth. It is about our reality being transformed – our world becoming the kingdom of God.

There's a direct relationship, in other words, between our disciplehip of and faith in Jesus and our actions in the world – between proclamation and mission. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be involved in God's story of salvation for the world. That is why we do what we do. We cannot neglect either aspect of it. The missiologist, David Bosch, distinguishes helpfully between evangelical dimension and evangelical intention. Not everything we do is explicitly aimed at calling people to faith in Christ (intention). But everything has an evangelical dimension because it is intimately connected to the story of God in Christ.

A vital part of mission is therefore always to make explicit the connection between what we do and our faith. The task of proclamation is to establish the congruence between our living and acting in the world in the light of the kingdom, on the one hand, and our faith that God has acted in Christ to save the world. That is when our actions to combat social exclusion, feed the hungry, clothe naked, comfort the suffering and liberate the oppressed truly become the Good News of Jesus Christ.

7 June, 2006 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

uniquely jesus …

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model
100%
Mystical Communion Model
61%
Sacrament model
61%
Herald Model
50%
Institutional Model
0%

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com

So there it is! It's worth looking at these things every so often – mine's changed a little since last time. I'm intrigued at the suggestion that I could concentrate more on the uniqueness of Jesus. That's my presupposition. I believe that only Jesus saves – but not only Christians are saved! Jesus is unique not least because Jesus uniquely refuses the boundaries that most of us – church and world alike – create. So I'm right up with those who say that Jesus alone saves us. No one else has done or could do what Christ did on the cross. That is the means of salvation. But Jesus came, not to start a new religion or create the Church, but to transform the world into the kingdom of God.

That is not to say that Jesus alone gives us access to God or to Truth. But Jesus alone gives us access to the Life that God for us here – the Holy Spirit and involvement in God's continual mission to make this world wall that God intends. I don't usually frame the question this way, but if it's the one I was asked a week ago – "Can Buddhists be saved?" – my answer is "Yes, of course they can? Who can't be saved? But Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, genocidal maniacs, alcoholics, unborn children and whomever else are all saved because of what God has done in Jesus. No one else."

18 February, 2006 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

a theology of contamination


We're privileged to have Richard Giles, author of Re-pitching the Tent, doing a course at the Centre as I write. For those of us in the URC, buildings are a real issue. They soak up huge amounts of time, energy and resources. Most importantly, membership in the URC has declined by 51% in the last 30 years, while the number of church buildings has declined by only 16%. In other words, we've got fewer than half the people supporting nearly the same work. Add the complications of increasing maintenance charges because of age, increased standing costs as utility costs rise, increased expectations and the requirements to conform with ever-burgeoning legislation and it is small wonder that buildings generate frantic activity just to stand still! They throw us into "survival mode" in ways that few other aspects of church life do.

Richard pointed out something very interesting this morning. He is an Anglican priest (presently Dean of Philadelphia Cathedral but keen to return to his native shores at every opportunity!) and he started out with a slide of the Jewish temple, with its courts at varying distances away from the Holy of Holies. He then put up a slide of a typical parish church, with the knave acting like the court of the Gentiles or the court of Israel, the choir acting as the priests (all robed etc) and then the altar – the Holy of Holies. His argument is that we reproduce the temple in our church buildings. And he's right!

What struck me even more forcibly is that the traditional seating plan in churches, where we fill up (from the back) and gaze forwards to the action spot (where God is) is based on a theology of holiness and contamination. God is holy. That means people must keep their distance. The holier we are, the greater proximity we are allowed to the "God spot"! For all the difficulties of worshipping in the round, it struck me as vitally important that we do so. It says something – that we are a community, gathered around God. We have equal access to God. It is a necessary corrective to a theology of contamination, expressed weekly in "performance", whereby we gather at a "safe" distance from God.

20 September, 2005 at 12:29 pm 6 comments

model of the church

This is how I scored on models of the church (thanks, stuart). A servant model. I'm intrigued by the mystical communion high score. Pleased and not surprised that church as institution is not exactly right up there at the top …

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model
84%
Mystical Communion Model
72%
Sacrament model
72%
Herald Model
45%
Institutional Model
6%

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com

15 September, 2005 at 8:13 pm Leave a comment

church life is also mission

I'm writing this in Cleveland, Ohio, where 4 of us from the URC are visiting the United Churches of Christ to consult on their God is Still Speaking, initiative. It's quite something! This relatively small church has done market research which shows that many people are extremely angry with the Church. They are alienated from the institutional church, rather than from God. They feel there isn't a place for them. This includes lesbians, gays and transgengered people, but also thinking people, divorcees and others whom the church feels unable to welcome. They've mounted a nation-wide sophisticated advertising campaign that extends a welcome to everyone, without suggesting they need to become "like us". The God is still speaking theme is to say that God hasn't pronounced the last word on subjects the church often appears to regard as closed. The inclusion of gay people is an obvious area. The point is that if a subject is closed, then so are the doors to the people it affects.

In one sense, it seems an innocuous enough campaign. After all, don't we all tend to say "Everyone is welcome here"? Yet people experience a different reality. As a result of the campaign, the UCC has had hundreds of thousands of people contacting them to find their nearest UCC church. The attitude is "If church is really like that, I want to be part of it!" The response has been astonishing and overwhelming. They've had independent churches wanting to affiliate to the UCC because of the campaign. The streets here are lined with banners with the campaign strap lines and the UCC logo.

My concern was that this was yet another instance of a church engaged in self-promotion. It clearly isn't! They've found a way of being unapologetically evangelical not only about the gospel but also about church (without confusing the two inappropriately) because the message of welcome is heard as Good News.

One reason for the campaign's success is that the campaign is edgy, irreverent and playful. Its message is designed with the target audience in mind, rather than the church itself. And it genuinely communicates! Have a look at stillspeaking.com and play the bouncer ad on the title page. We've heard and seen testimonies about how the simple message of genuine love, acceptance and welcome has revolutionised people's lives. It's stopped suicides. It's given hope and purpose. And it's enabled people to relate to God in Jesus Christ in new and real ways.

We were talking about the way in which we as the URC and other UK churches still have to resolve the sexuality issue. Ron Buford, the mover behind the campaign, said something that I've not heard in the various church debates on the subject and that made a deep impression. He said, "We are a covenant church. Baptism is a covenant. It promises lifelong incorporation into the body of Christ and acceptance. When we exclude people whom we've baptised, we break covenant. We say, 'Sorry. We didn't mean that this was a lifelong covenant!' Then we break covenant with God and that is desperately serious!"

Another comment that really grabbed me as true of so much of church life: "If the 1950s ever return, let me tell you: we're ready for it!" Isn't it depressingly true that we're stuck in models of the past that are passe and will never do for us now what they did in their time? Let's bring that emerging church to birth … quickly!

15 September, 2005 at 7:35 pm 5 comments

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