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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in Church (47)

Thursday
Feb252010

Church decline and neuroscience... How people decide.

A few times a year I have the great opportunity of teaching some classes at Media Village (mainly in their school of video production and school of photography).  This is an incredible place, run by Graham and Diane Vermooten, two of the most gifted and passionate media specialists I have ever encountered.

I think it is safe to say that their yearly video are among the most effective mobilization tools that the Global Day of Prayer has!

So, today I started my two days of lectures with an incredible team of people - the classroom is abuzz with intellect, commitment and engagement.  It is one of the highlights of my month to be with such a diverse group of people (they always come from all over the world).

The title of today's session is: (A theology) of media, ministry and minds.

In this first session I cover some of the major shifts in Christianity (mainly drawing on the work of Jennings' 'The next Christendom', and my own research published in my recent book 'Christian and positive: Reflections on Christianity in an HIV+ world').  What is clear is that Christianity is moving from the West to the East and from the North to the South.  However, there are some other radical shifts in the 'Christian world'.  In parts of Europe (where Christianity was once strongest, and from where so many of the missionaries came) the faith is loosing ground at a rapid pace!

What is clear is that the traditional Church is in decline.  There are two pragmatic reasons for this decline (you'll be surprised at how simple they are!)

 

  • Fewer people are joining the Church.
  • More people are leaving Churches.

 

These are two simple facts!  The statistics are clear, and I will gladly share them with you - as a start you may wish to read the lecture that I presented in the UK in March last year which has some statistics on South Africa and England.

Simply stated, Church attendance is declining because people are no longer going to Church.  There are many complex reasons for that.  Central to my argument, however, is the thesis that the message of the Gospel, and the person and work of Jesus, have not lost their effectiveness.  However, the Christian faith's method of engagement, support, and community is no longer finding favour in many contexts.

My theory is that there is a neuroscientific explanation for this choice - let me explain.

Human persons choose to do certain things and not to do others.  At a very basic level choice is a function of the brain's operation.  The core purpose of all brains (including those of animals) is survival.  Basically the human brain is a complex survival mechanism (I have written about this elsewhere in detail).  It is designed to help you survive and to help the species survive.  Moreover, the human brain is not only a survival mechanism, it is an efficiency system!  The human brain is incredibly efficient at processing choices for survival!

Let share the following narrative to explain this point.  I'm sure you would have heard about the epic battle of minds between Gary Kasparov (the Chess Grand Master) and the Artificially Intelligent Super Computer, Big Blue (designed by IBM)?  Big Blue was the first computer ever to beat a human at the game of chess. What the programmers and engineers did was to design a machine that could massive linear processing that was both accurate and fast, and pitted all of that power against the Chess Master's years of experience and skill.  As the two opponents faced off against each other they would examine the chess pieces on the board and then each decide in turn what would be the best, or most effective, move or set of moves to make in order to defeat their opponent.  What Big Blue did was to study the chess board and then process every possible move that could be made working out the statistical probability of success for each series of moves (aggregating these statistics by considering a few moves into the future.  For example, if Big blue moved this piece and Kasparov moved that piece, then what set of choices would be presented and would that be good or bad).  You can see how complex that is!  However, the computer's power and speed allowed it to sift through all of the millions of options that had been programmed in each instance to decide what move would be best.  However, this processing is extremely energy intensive!  So much so that Big Blue had to be cooled in order to avoid the risk of fire!

Kasparov, on the other hand, made use of years of 'tacit' learning (basically neural pathways of experience, coupled with dopamine reactions and the input of the occipital frontal cortex) to simply glance at the chess board, see which 4 or 5 options were best (based on years of experience at chess) and so only had to process the probability of those 4 or 5 moves.  Kasparov hardly broke a sweat!  

The human brain is incredibly efficient!  It has been designed for survival and efficiency (which, as I argued in this post, is the reason why greed exists!  We know we need to survive, and so we hoard money and possessions in order to survive for longer with less effort - anyway, watch the little video as well, it gives a succinct explanation of my thoughts in this regard).

What makes all of this even more significant is that the decision-making centre of the brain resides predominantly in the 'old brain', an area of the brain that processes what is best for survival and efficiency without bringing every choice into the 'new brain' (the frontal cortex).  For example, your brain does not alert you of the need to breath, it just does that because you need oxygen to survive.  The same goes for metabolizing your food etc.  The choice to expend energy doing these things is a 'no brainer' as some have said.  It just happens because it is necessary for survival.

Now when you couple this to the way in which the Church operates, you can see why people sometimes choose (consciously or unconsciously) not to attend Church or adhere to the Christian faith. 

I have often asked Christian groups and Churches what tangible value we contribute to society - it is, perhaps, best phrased in a question that I first heard asked by Rev Dr Ross Olivier, "Would anyone in your community (other than your Church's members) notice if your Church shut down today?"  This is a challenging question!  I'm sure that there are many Churches that add little or no value to the communities in which they exist.  Yet, there is a hope that through these communities people will come to experience the Good News of salvation in Christ!

As such, I have come to think that the average person simply does not even consider the role of the Church in their lives.  Moreover, until we are able to effectively meet the 'felt needs' of our communities we cannot expect them to respond to propositional truths about our faith! I've quoted this before, but Ed Silvoso, an Argentian minister once said:

Preaching the good news without love is like giving someone a good kiss when you have bad breath.  No matter how good the kiss, all the recipient will remember is your bad breath!

I think that sometimes my faith, and the faith of Christians communities I am a part of suffers from this unfortunate situation.  Our intentions are pure.  We long to encounter people with the truth that God loves them, and that God loves all people.  Yet, as with the instance of Ecclesia de Lange and Bishop Paul Verryn, we do not show love.  Rather we show judgement and condemnation...

And, when we're 'hard-wired' for survivial and efficiency we will avoid all uncessary pain and all unecessary commitment that does not add value to our lives or the lives of those we care about.

What do you think?  Am I missing the mark?  Is there something that you can see that I've missed, or some point on which I have it completely wrong?

I'd love to hear your views!  I long to discover, and help other discover, ways of bringing the unchanging, transforming, Gospel of Christ to the whole world!

Just on a final note, I am coming to understand the incredible value of shared narrative!  For this new generation 'conversation' is so much more important than 'content'!  They can learn most of what I can teach from books, google searches (and even from I've written on my blog and in books).  It is far more valuable to learn with each other and from each other by conversation and mutual discovery of some truths!

Tuesday
Feb162010

A calendar for Church Activities in the City of Cape Town

The South African Council of Churches (SACC), Consultation of Christian Churches (CCC), Transformation Africa (GDOP Cape Town) and The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) agreed at their last meeting to try and set up a single calendar for the Church’s events in Cape Town.

Please see http://bit.ly/CTchurch  If you would like to add anything that your ministry is doing please contact Willem at the CCC to get it added.  

Here are Willem’s details:

Rev Willem Malherbe
Administrator: CCC

CCC Kantoor/CCC Office
Phn:  021 914 0441
Fax:  086 605 7114
Email:     
ccc@genesis.org.za

Office hours:  Mon-Fri 09:00-13:00

Please feel free to share this link with anyone who may be interested!

Rich blessing,

Dion

 

Saturday
Nov032007

An example of A GREAT powerpoint presentation!

Here's an example of a GREAT powerpoint presentation (and of course the presenter is using an Apple! Yeah!)

It's a Youtube Video, so simply click it and let it load...

What do you think? Of course this is not the kind of presentation style that one could use for every occasion (or Church service). That would be exhausting, plus it may not suit all genre's and styles of content.

PS. This also happens to be an incredible take on identity (a subject that interests me a great deal! I particularly like what Dick [sic] says about his identity at around 3:22... What others say about us is often truer than what we say about ourselves!) Anyway, watch the movie - it is a great example of a superb presentation!

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Saturday
Nov032007

The best powerpoint tips I've ever heard! How to get your point across powerfully!

'Rich media' has become such an integral part of most Church services. Most middle class Churches now own (and use, and I employ the 'verb' use with a measure of liberal grace) a computer and a data projector.

I enjoy images, verbal images are more exciting that visuals by my standards... I am of the mind that it takes a lot more skill to carefully and effectively communicate a verbal image than simply slapping a 30 second video clip or pithy image on powerpoint. However, there are those who do the latter very well! So please hear me, I have NOTHING against good presentations, I just think that it can detract from the message rather than aid it.

One of the very best worship experiences I have ever had was at the Hillsong conference in the Sydney Olympic stadium... delirious? were leading a worship session and they displayed incredible skill and artistic insight in how they used their media technology!

In short, I have found that in most Churches (and particularly in sermons) we tend to allow our use of 'rich media' (such as video, pictures, and sound bites) to be a distraction to the message rather than an aid! I have been guilty of this more than once.

One of my favourite sites to check in on from time to time is missinglink - the owner Rich also has a magnificent flickr page, and maintains joblog. missinglink is a media company that helps boring corporate types, presenters, public speakers, and a host of other communicators to get their message across!

I wish I had the money to spend a bit of time learning from these guys! I do believe that we have an incredible message to share (the message of the love and mercy of Christ, and our purpose to encourage one another to develop a community of justice, love, and grace for all people)! It would be great to have the skill to effectively communicate that message and inspire others to be a part of the work of bringing healing and transformation to the world!

As I point out below, I actually came across Rich and the missinglink when I was looking for some tips on putting together, and delivering, effective powerpoint presentations. On their site they have a 1 minute master class on powerpoint presentations!

Here it is:


Welcome to Missing Link's presentation master class, the entire programme lasts about 1-minute.

You will be tested, so pay attention.

Rule 1: Make sure you enjoy your presentation more than your audience does, no matter how detailed or serious the content.
Rule 2: Serious is fine. Boring is not.
Rule 3: Most people prefer to listen to words, and see pictures. Be nice to those people.
Rule 4: You are the presentation. Prepare for every preso under the assumption that your visual aids wont work. If you need slides only to enhance your message, you'll design them more efficiently.
Rule 5: Presentation is storytelling, stories are fun, knock yourself out.

There's more, but if you can get these right, you're well on your way. Of course, if you really do want more info feel free to download and read our Attention Spam tutorial, or simply follow the links on the right hand side, I'll update them often, so check back, or subscribe to our RSS feed.

Class dismissed...!

Please, Please, Please, Please, pay attention to Rules 1, 3 and 5!!!!!!!! It hurts me when I go to Church and encounter 'death by side screen'! I love the "attention spam tutorial" - it is very effective!

Thanks Rich.

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Wednesday
Oct242007

Willow Creek Church repents... We were wrong.

I have visited Willow Creek Church in Chicago. It is impressive in very many ways - it is extremely well matched to its context. In fact, I have enjoyed quite a lot of what has come from that Church, the Willow Creek association, and Bill Hybels himself. I have even had the good fortune of meeting Bill Hybels and spending a bit of time chatting with him.

I am certainly NOT one of those pastors or scholars who believes that nothing good can come from America. Sure, there are a few things about Willow that I think need changing (both in their context, and certainly for ours), but I think that there is a lot that we can learn about being strategic, careful, and deliberate in sharing the Gospel.

However, this remarkable article came into my inbox today... It was quite a challenge to read it. However, on the other hand it also shows me that perhaps there is something more to this Church than just empire building - they have integrity, and the courage to admit where they've made a mistake.

Read it if you get a chance and let me know what your thoughts are:


Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.

Article sent to me by my friend Andrew Franks. It comes from here.

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Thursday
Oct182007

What every South African Church MUST do... If it is to be obedient.

Each year I have challenged my students, and my congregation, to look around them and understand the needs of our society. The basic principle is:

God will not consider how you pastored your congregation, but how you ministered to your community.

In the light of this I have become convinced that any Church in Southern Africa that does not have an effective HIV AIDS ministry has some growing to do in order to be obedient to God, and to participate in God's mission of bringing Christ's healing and transformation to the world.

Central to my theology is the question "What must the Gospel look like?" - we so often hear what the Gospel sounds like, but ask yourself the question, what does the Gospel LOOK LIKE in nation where there are more deaths than births? What does the Gospel look like where there are millions of Child headed households? What does the Gospel look like where people have monitised life saving drugs, turning the suffering of others into their profit? What does the Gospel look like? What is Good News to the dying? Of course the Gospel looks like our Churches - isn't it amazing that in a country where 78% of the population indicated that they were Christians we face social problems such as this?

I still have some work to do!

Today this shocking news report was released:

South Africa is in danger of losing the battle against HIV/Aids, the United Nations children's agency has warned.

Unicef's South Africa representative, Macharia Kamau, said infection and death rates were outpacing treatment.

This was having a devastating effect on children whose parents died of Aids, and sent out a dire message for the future, he said.

Mr Kamau said if present trends continued, there could be five million orphans in South Africa by 2015.

Huge risk

South Africa is one of just nine countries worldwide where infant mortality is rising - from 60 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 95 deaths today.

The main reason, Unicef says, is HIV/Aids.

The average infection rate is almost 30% of the population - and in some regions it is closer to 50%.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Kamau said the effect on children was devastating, and that infants whose mothers died of Aids were at huge risk of dying themselves.

Older children who have lost one or more parents faced a struggle to survive and to go to school, he added.

In South Africa today there are 1.5 million Aids orphans. If the trend of 400,000 deaths from Aids per year continues, by 2015, the number of orphans will have reached five million.

Mr Kamau said that the numbers of people in South Africa being treated for Aids were constantly being outstripped by the numbers becoming infected and dying.

He described this as a dire message for the future because although 380,000 South African Aids patients were receiving anti-retroviral drugs, 1.2 million were not receiving treatment.

As long as infection and death rates continued to outpace treatment, South Africa would lose the battle against Aids, he said.

Unicef says an aggressive expansion of treatment is needed immediately, alongside a much more open Aids prevention campaign from the government, to challenge the stigma which still surrounds the disease in South Africa.

Monday
Oct152007

The prosperity gospel (with a small 'g') - fantasy, fallacy, or fully realisable?

I am always a little weary about pointing a finger directly at what I find wrong in another person, simply because I am so well aware of how wrong I am most of the time, about most things... However, this afternoon when I got home my 8 year old was flicking through the channels on DSTV. She stopped for a moment on TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) and I caught a glimpse of a guy called Andre Roebert.

I have great respect for the late Ed Roebert, not necessarily because I agree with his theology (which I cannot say I have studied in any detail), but simply because God used him to do something great in South Africa during his lifetime. I remember reading the story of the 'Hatfield Baptist Church' (if I'm not mistaken) called "Church ablaze" many, many, years ago, and being impressed by the courage and faith that it took to break with convention, follow God's calling and dream, and do something great. I think John Wesley did it in his day, Nicky Gumbel will surely be remembered for doing it in our day, and possibly Ed will be remembered in South Africa (surely in Pretoria) for what he did here.

The Hatfield Christian church (now near Menlyn in Pretoria), is still doing great things I believe - a school, AIDS ministries etc. As for Ed Roebert, well, I never did hear too much more about him, or take the time to read up and scrutinize his theology - sometimes ignorance is bliss!

So, seeing the name Andre Roebert made me wonder who this guy is - I was curious. So, I did what every net savvy person does, I 'googled' him and found his ministry website - River Ministries in East London. I clicked on the link expecting to find the usual glossy, independent church web page... Instead here's what I found (located right in the centre of the web page):


For those who don't load images on in their browsers let me copy the text from the image below:


River Ministries is a non-profit organisation (incorporated in terms of Section 21 of the Companies Act of South Africa that was established as an administrative vehicle for a number of related and like minded ministries as well as some commercial business entities. The purpose of the group is to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth through the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ - River Ministries was established in 1995 by Pastors Andre and Jenny Roebert

The ministry's slogan seems to be 'more than a church' - I might say, that by the standards of orthodox ecclesiology this is so much LESS than a church.... But, I could be wrong.

When I looked at the 'like minded' commercial enterprises (mentioned in their statement above), I see that they have a property (probably their Church building - I think I went there for a friend's Ordination some years ago) which they sub let, and an air charter service with 3 planes!

Now here's where I need to ask for guidance and help. I am constantly sprouting forth about doing the work of God's Kingdom in new and creative ways... Yet, why do I feel so uncomfortable about this? Perhaps its because for a ministry that is 'not for profit', their primary communication to all visitors to their main website is about a company, with no statement about the content and power of the Gospel to transform individuals and society (note I use a capital 'G', whereas they used a small 'g')?

I worry about this kind of portrayal of Jesus, and of those who serve him and follow his ministry. We read in the Gospels that Jesus was one who lived on the margins of society, with a preferential option for the outcast and disregarded, those who were poor, oppressed and disenfranchised. I wonder if Jesus would have set up a property and air charter service to establish His Kingdom among us? Please forgive me if I am wrong, and if I have judged this ministry unfairly. I don't think that all wealth is wrong - in fact I know quite a few very wealthy people who are responsible and faithful stewards. But, I do worry that these people have made it the centre of their 'ministry'. You need only look at the list of CD's available (read the topics and descriptions) to see that there is an unhealthy emphasis on capital gain, not for the good of society, but for the enrichment of self!

My request is that as Christians we take care not to taint the Gospel of Christ with the gospel of mammon.

I seem to remember Jesus, when teaching on the Kingdom, saying something about it being more difficult for a rich person to get into the Kingdom than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Luke 18:25).

Sadly, I smell a scandal brewing...

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Saturday
Oct132007

The Catholic Church is maneuvering to save the Soul of Italian footbal

I remember a song that used to irritate the heck out of me when I was younger - I think it was by Sir Cliff (Richard that is), which had a lyric "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Anybody remember that one? I simply didn't like it because it was Cliff Richard - however, the message is a good one! Why should we give over everything that is fun, enjoyable, and entertaining, to the corrupt, money making, ruthless elements of society? Surely God enjoys a good game of football, or a well choreographed concert, or a well written song or novel, as much as we do?

Well, here's another interesting story from the Mail & Guardian. The Catholic Bishops in a certain area of Italy have offered a €1,6-million a year sponsorship deal to a soccer league in order to encourage it to get 'good and wholesome' again. At first I thought, heck there are much better things to do with that much money! And of course there are!

But, if your members are no longer coming to your Cathedrals, why not find a way to add the value, blessing, joy, and love of the Gospel to their lives where they are! They'll be at the soccer match, where will the Church be - well the Catholic Church in Italy will be right there with them!

What do you think? I would LOVE to see my favourite team, Kaizer Chiefs from Soweto (not to be confused with Kaiser Chiefs ,from Leeds in England, - whom I also happen to love, especially the song "everything is average now days), get some good wholesome values out there as an example to the fans!

We have a young man in our denomination, Fikile Khumalo, who is passionate about using sport to reach people. I wonder what a difference the South African Church could make if we got organised around sharing the Gospel, and making a real difference in the lives of people, at the 2010 World Cup? I'm there with you Fikile!

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Saturday
Oct132007

Looting, Eating, or Praying? What would you do if the world was going to end in an hour?

If a meteor was to destroy the earth in an hour's time, what would you do?

This was a question posed in a recent survey in Britain. I include the report (with results) from the Mail & Guardian newspaper below.

What I found interesting in the results of this survey is that only 3% of the population said they would pray, beating gluttony, and theft by looting, with just 1%! Amazingly sex did not feature all that high on the list (Hollywood must be wrong), although it dead beat prayer hand down!

That got me thinking about traditional forms of ministry. Perhaps the 'open doors' policy of the Church is no longer relevant - it certainly seems that it is not working in secular cultures such as that in Britain! What do I mean by 'open doors' ministry? Well, it is the kind of ministry that I'm sure many people of my generation and older are used to - it says "We'll be here every Sunday at 9.30 and 18.30. Our doors will be open, we'll be doing our thing. We know it is during your free time, but you should come to us, God is more important than anything else in life!" Of course God is more important than anything else in life... Except perhaps our sinful and selfish nature...

Perhaps we are needing to 'take it to the streets', so to speak? I am always encouraged when I read of new models of sharing the love and grace of Jesus Christ! Here's a wonderful model that has begun to add value to communities in the UK - Street Pastors at Work in the UK.


"We're not here to preach heaven and hell at people, we're here just to help people with whatever help they might need," said pastor Paul Rush... They are trained to have skills in meeting and counseling people before starting work on the streets.

The eight-week course also tackles anger management and crowd control as well as health and safety, first aid and drug awareness.

Here's the report on the survey from the Mail & Guardian:

Quick! Hand me the fatty food, the world's about to end
London, United Kingdom

An asteroid is on a collision course with the earth and you have one hour left to live. What would you do in your last 60 minutes?

Not surprisingly, the majority of Britons questioned in a survey -- 54% -- said they would like to spend it either with or on the phone to their loved ones.

But the survey revealed a strong hedonistic streak -- 13% would sit back, accept the inevitable and reach for a glass of champagne.

Sex appealed to only 9% while just 3% would turn to prayer.

Two percent intriguingly said they would reach for some fatty food while another 2% decided, with just an hour's life to go, that it was time to start looting.

The survey was commissioned by Ziji Publishing to mark the release of Cloud Cuckoo Land by debut novelist Steven Sivell, who "uses the classic premise of an impending meteorite collision as a metaphor for threats to the human race". -- Reuters

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Tuesday
Aug142007

An odd Church!

This morning Matthew Charlton, an American Methodist minister from Nashville, delivered his remarkable paper in our working group. His paper is entitled " “That’s Not So Odd: The Spiritless Church in a Post Christian Age.” (simply click on the link to download it).

In this paper Matthew argues that one of the real problems with the Church in a 'post-Christian' era is that it has become tame, ordinary, and so much a part of society. Of course I asked the question whether we do truly live in a post-Christian era (you only need to look at the Church in the two-thirds world that is growing at a rate of knots to realise that perhaps we are not living in a post-Christian era, but merely in a post Western-Christian era!)

However, Matthew's paper (which is incredibly well written and is WELL WORTH READING - hint, hint to all my students!!!) resonated with a feeling that I had whilst in London. On Saturday I visited St Paul's Cathedral (my New Testament students should be familiar with this image, remember this is the Cathedral that the Queen described as "Awful, amusing, and artificial" after Christopher Wren spent most of his life working on it. I use this as an illustration to show how important it is to understand the context locked language of statements - in Wren's time awful meant to be filled with awe, amusing meant amazing, and artificial meant something that is intricately crafted and well engineered - all in all she was giving him a compliment, of course. The point that I try to make is that the language of the Bible (which is much older, and more context locked than the English of 300 years ago) can be similarly misunderstood and abused).

However, I have digressed!

Matthew's paper reminded me how I felt when I visited St Paul's Cathedral. This is a magnificent testimony to the triumphalism of Christianity some 300 years ago! It was erected at the height of the relationship between Christendom and the empire to offer worship and honour to God! I am certain that over its life it has served as a place of refuge, comfort, inspiration, and even discovery of new life and forgiveness, for many people. However, in 2007 it was nothing more than an oddity! It was something to visit and marvel at. However, for most of the persons who visited it it had nothing to do with faith, with Christ, with death, with sacrifice, with real life. Rather, the building was amusing (in the modern sense of the word!) There are 443 steps to climb to the top (I climbed them all! Here's the picture to prove it! This picture shows the view from the top of St Paul's across the Millennium bridge to the Tate Modern art Gallery along the Thames in London). Sadly, St Paul's does not seem to have space to encounter God. Well, very little of it anyway. Mostly it is just a hustle and bustle with tourists coming to be amazed and amused.

I wondered if the 'institutional' Church of our day is not facing a similar challenge? People look at it and can recognise that at some stage it was grand and glorious, but it is so far from what they need, want, and experience in their everyday lives that they simply regard it as "awful, amusing, and artificial" - in the modern understanding of these words. I think that Matthew's paper, which suggests that the Church needs to be odd (in a very different way to that of St Paul's) gives us some real answers! The Church needs to be odd in discipline, in holiness, in vocation, in mission, in true live. The Church needs to be Spirit filled and Christ lead. It needs, not to be in contrast to the world (like a prophet), but lovingly and evangelically presenting the world with a real alternative that may seem odd, but that brings life - a message of Christ that saves, of a world in which no one person has too much, and no one has too little.

Anyway, I was challenged by this!

Wednesday
Apr252007

What is the 'emerging church'?

My friend Arthur, who is the Children's Pastor at Bryanston Methodist Church, sent me an email about the emerging Church. WOW Art, this blows my mind! AND...., your blog needs updating.....

What is the emerging Church? Here's a quote from the paper you can download below:

Perhaps a little Mark Twain tomfoolery will give us a fresh start. Here's the urban legend: The emerging movement talks like Lutherans - which means they cuss and use naughty words; they evangelize and theologize like the Reformed - which means, in the first case, they don't do much of it, and in the second, they do it all the time; they confess their faith like the mainliners - which means they say things publicly they don't really believe in their hearts; they drink like Episcopalians - which means - to steal some words from Mark Twain - they are teetotalers sometimes - when it is judicious to be one; they worship like the charismatics - which means with each part of the body, some parts of which have tattoos; they vote liberal - which means they all move to Massachusetts come election time; they deny truth - which means Derrida is carried in their backpacks.


Ha! Isn't that GREAT! I loved the bit about worshiping with every part of the body, "some of which have tattoos"!

Download Scot McKnight's address to the Westminster Theological Seminary on the emerging Church here. (Gus, you and I will enjoy this guy, he is a progressive New Testament scholar! Very few of those around! Except you and I of course ;-)

Wes, I would love to hear your learned thoughts (being a Doctor of the ecclesiological arts yourself).

The article is a GREAT read, and certainly resonates with my idea of what the Church should be! I will be using some of this when I preach at the Highveld and Swaziland SYNOD of the Methodist Church in a few weeks!

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