Saturday, February 28, 2009

indigenous stories

The Native American Film and Video Festival in New York is enjoying it’s 30th anniversary this year.

Anyone ever been? Because it sounds grand – “Throughout this week the festival presents Native storytelling at its best–wrenching at times, engrossing, risky, ironic, hilarious and experimental.” This year it has received more than 350 entries, from indigenous media artists from Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, and the United States. I was struck by the themes:

“Themes sounded in these films–honor to elders and hope for youth, courageous community action, the survival of Native languages, and many others–speak of the Native realities of the 21st century.” From here.

Which got me considering themes you find in many emerging or missional conferences …
Honor to elders – generally no, because the traditional church is meant to be dead;
Hope for youth – sometimes yes with space needed for younger leaders, sometimes no with rants about the impact of postmodernity on youth culture;
Courageous community action – sometimes yes because community action is a big theme, but often with the irony that such stories are told by individuals;
Survival of native languages – not really.
And as for Native American emerging church conferences giving voice to stories from so many places around the world … I’ll leave you to answer that 🙂

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM

Friday, February 27, 2009

communion and the family

One of the change processes I’m working with at the moment that might be of interest to blog readers is around communion here at Opawa. For a while I’ve been concerned about how we pass on the importance of communion to our children and what it means for children and adults to gather around the communion table.

So this week I am leaving our 10:30 am Sunday service with the kids, to talk with them about what communion means. I will be doing godly play, first with the passover narrative, then inviting the kids to make connections with the Christian practice of communion. Then I’m bringing the kids back with me into the service to celebrate communion together. In the Bible, Passover was a Jewish family ritual, while for the early church, communion occurred in households. So practically, I want to see our children be part of our worship when communion is celebrated.

To help them with this, we have made flip cards for each child, 6 cards that list the 6 parts of the Baptist communion liturgy: (explain/invite/pray/break bread/eat and drink/thank). These have been laminated and put on metal rings, so that kids can flip through, picking their way through the service.

Bringing our kids back into church has big implications, so the “big people” are starting a series of sermons – Passover (March 1), gospels meals with Jesus (April 5), eating and drinking in Corinth (May 3), a long farewell in John 17 (May 31) that make sense of communion. (Ben Witherington’s book, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper has been very helpful).

In order to try and capture these 4 Biblical passages, in order to set an agenda for the change process and in order to provide information for visitors and new people, I have tried to compile a set of guidelines. (called something like “Making a meal of it: Where communion at Opawa is…”) This is being introduced as draft in March. We then preach the key Scriptures, then invite feedback on the guidelines.

I’m nervous, but excited. For some, this will be a big change and I worry that I am introducing to much change. On the other hand, it’s an issue important for our life as a church family.

For those interested, here is my first draft of the guidelines: Making a meal of it: Where communion at Opawa is ….

Posted by steve at 04:33 PM

Thursday, February 26, 2009

help my church is dying: updated

Updated: Thanks to those who made comment. The morning went very well. The material I presented seem to frame a very positive conversation, frank, gutsy, faith-filled. Will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens next …

What would you say to a group of leaders you’ve never met, who wonder if there church is dying? Here are my current thoughts and I’d welcome comments and feedback.

Aim: outline and encourage a process of change that has continuity with past and openness to the future and is enhanced by an intentional alignment of resources.

Premise 0. We live in a missionfield.
Premise 1. The current state is not working. We are not good missionaries
Premise 2. Current state is working for some.
Premise 3. That the current state demands resources. The smaller the church gets, the more the current state sucks up resources.
Premise 4. God is always at work. This is a theological hope and a future compass.
Premise 5. What will it mean to gather resources around what God is doing? (Biblical narrative – Elijah text; Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you (19:7) / listen in new ways (19:11) / form new partnerships (19:15) cf Luke 10:1-12: Go (10.3) / Take no bags (10.4) / Kingdom is near (10.9)
Premise 6. Given 2 and 3, leaders need to be gut honest. Practically: how do we deploy existing resources for mission not preservation?

I am then planning to talk about what this looked like when we came to Opawa in terms of the “resources” that a church has:
– buildings
– financial assets
– goodwill (or illwill) in church community
– goodwill (or illwill) in wider community
– volunteers
– pastoral time
– creative capital
and narrate some of the hard and courageous work of re-alignment that began before and after I arrived, before inviting them to consider their context, working their way through their “resources”. My hope is that they will go away to put time into Premise 4, before meeting again to consider Premise 5 and 6.


Posted by steve at 04:04 PM

spiritual resourcing or church as kings seeds

I blogged a few days ago about my vegetable garden. I contrasted the limited range of vegetables on offer at the local supermarket with the fantastic range of vegetable seeds on offer from Kings seeds. A blog comment also noted the Kings catalogue, and the way it stimulated teenage students they were working with.

A few hours later, I dropped a Lenten spiritual resource into a letterbox. For a joke, I wrote on the back “Opawa Baptist Spiritual resourcing centre” (or words to that effect). As I drove back, I thought about the different ways we at Opawa are resourcing people for Lent this year.
– a individual, at home resource, upon request
Bible days, offering resources to encourage lectionary reading
Life shapes, an evening course during Lent.
– flax spirituality, (still under development but we are tossing around a creative idea that takes us from Lent, through Easter, to Pentecost.)
– a number of emails, from churches in Wellington and Minneapolis, asking us for our Lenten (07) spirituality resources.

I wonder if some churches are like supermarkets – they offer a limited number of items, come to us, attractively presented, gently misted.

Then I look at Kings seeds – pick your own, grow your own, get your hands dirty, enjoy the catalogue in your time and space. I’d like Opawa to be more and more of the later – that there is not one way, one time, one place, come to us – but there are multiple ways for people to grow their own, and that our energy goes into being a producer of spiritual resource. I think we’re making progress and it’s a great joy to see so many different types of people taking advantage of our range of resources over the last few weeks. I also realise that it’s probably not either/or, although I suspect that generally, more church energy goes into the come-to-us models than the resource-from-us models. (This is another way of getting at some stuff in my (2005) Out of Bounds Church? book, in which I talked about the church as a “funder” of spiritual tourists.) Buy it hereoutofboundschurch.jpg

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

church manager needed:updated

With two impending staff retirements, Opawa Baptist Church is now seeking a church manager, 30 hours a week, starting ASAP. The role includes
– managing people;
– managing systems and resources;
– helping shape our future mission among our present people.

Updated: A position description, along with our generic recruitment process is attached. We are seeking applicants by Thursday, 12 March.

For more information, or if you think you know someone who might be suitable, please contact steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz

Posted by steve at 05:26 PM

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

colour my world: seeds and sustainability

I used to wander the vegetable aisle at my supermarket and feel, well, bored. The gently misted vegetables looked appealing, but the selection seemed so same, same. There was little seasonal variation, the beans were constantly green, the vegetables were similar. There never seemed anything new, different, mysterious. At the risk of being theologically irreverent, was this the best that God could do?

It seemed such a churlish reaction (especially for a vegetarian), so I walked on feeling both guilty and bored.

Over the last few months, we’ve been enjoying the fruits our spring garden extension (5 new raised bed gardens). Last night’s meal included peas, beans, courgette, parsley, cherry tomatoes, boysenberries, raspberries. The pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, corn and peppers are due for harvest any day, and with winter coming, I needed some seeds. Last night I went surfing and stumbled upon Kings Seeds. (Postage is $4, order more than $40 and you get 2 seed packets free.)

Today I’m neither guilty or bored, simply excited and angry, because the supermarket has been ripping me off!! Last night I found out that beans don’t only come in green. They also come in red and white. Imagine what Borlotto Fire Tongue beans, or Cannellino beans will look like in a salad. Think of a winter brightened by green cauliflower and purple cabbage (Palm Tree di Toscana). What about the bell pepper mix, in seven different colours. There are so many different types of vegetables to colour our world. Yah!, The palate of my sustainable spirituality horizons have just been enriched.

Tangential thought: It might just be me, but gardening seems to be back in. Lots of people around Opawa are talking about their new gardens, lots of magazine and media coverage. Makes me wonder if its time to bring back the old-fashioned harvest festival? A few years ago, a harvest festival seemed to have little connectivity in an urban environment. But I wonder if times, they are a changing, and if so, what a 21st century harvest festival would look like. I’d certainly me keen to offer God a salad that included Borlotto Fire Tongue beans, Cannellino beans and seven different colours of peppers!

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Monday, February 23, 2009

Updated: Well hooray for commonsense. Announcement today that the proposed legislation has just been scrapped.

Updated: The Government has stalled a proposed law to enforce copyright on the internet after a “web roots” protest that blacked out sites yesterday. Prime Minister John Key conceded that Section 92a of the Copyright Act could be “problematic” more here.

This Saturday, February 28th, Section 92A of the Copyright Act is due to come into force. This law has the potential to be used to disconnect New Zealanders from the internet based on accusations of copyright infringement, without a trial and without evidence held up to court scrutiny. May we be very clear: we do not support or condone copyright infringement or illegal downloads. But this blatant disregard towards the basic human right to a fair trial is completely unjust and unworkable and it has the potential to punish New Zealand businesses and individuals where in fact no laws have been broken. Similar laws have been rejected in the EU as being against

Posted by steve at 02:41 PM

Sunday, February 22, 2009

the grapejuice sparkled

A real celebration at Opawa this morning, with the baptism of T. She wanted it to be a party. So as T. came up out of the water, a bottle of sparkling was opened. As the cork was popped, arcing over the piano, there were cheers of celebration, followed by a community toast “to life.” It was a great expression of God’s goodness and life.

T. first stepped into the Opawa building when she joined us for our annual Spring clean day. (Annually we combine with local community groups, sharing in community projects, enjoying food together. I initiated the Spring Clean when I arrived at Opawa 5 years ago, and it has grown and strengthened ever year since).

Before that, Opawa’s relational involvement with the local community cottage, meant some relational bridges with T. had naturally formed. (This includes one of our pastoral staff, whose role includes hanging out in the community). Following the Spring Clean day, T. checked out church and has continued to grow.

A tear leaked from my eyes as we toasted life. T. is the second baptism in the last few months of an adult, a local, with little previous church involvement. It’s not always been easy being the minister at Opawa, and leading major change in a historic and conservative church. Today just makes it all worth it.

It caps off a great week for the church – excellent annual meeting, a new discipling group in the form of Life Shapes begun, a successful first Bible day, gathering around the Gospel of John. It just feels like the Kingdom – harmony in a diverse body, intentional growth structures, deepening of Biblical engagement, new life being celebrated.

Posted by steve at 09:33 PM

Saturday, February 21, 2009

u2 conference postponed

The global credit crunch bites and the U2 conference has been postponed. I’d already paid for my tickets, so it’s rather expensive personal news, let alone the fact I was really looking forward to it, my paper was looking good and I was really happy that I would be connecting face to face with Pernell Goodyear and the Cultivate gathering.

Posted by steve at 11:32 AM

Friday, February 20, 2009

bible days kickoff

Gospel of John, this Saturday 21 February, 3:30-5:30pm, Opawa Baptist. In just two hours you will get a helicopter overview of the gospel of John, skills in how to apply it to life today and tools to encourage ongoing reading. Open to anyone (with a $5 cost for those outside Opawa).

Why Bible Days? Last year the Bible Society surveyed over 3,300 Kiwis about their Bible reading habits. They found that only 11% of Christians read the Bible daily and only 23% of New Zealanders regularly discuss the teachings of the Bible with others. Not the best stats.

At the same time, I had been reading the history of the Bible Reading Fellowship. It started from one local church, keen to encourage Bible reading, who began to offer monthly Bible teaching, linked to daily Bible reading. I was struck by the way this would deepen reading by applying scholarship, the way that one-off evenings in fact allow continual promotion of what is a regular practice and the potential to blend the individual and the corporate.

Hence Bible days. Seven times in 2009 we have asked some excellent Kiwi Bible teachers for two hours of their best on their favourite Bible book. The books are chosen based on the daily Bible reading plan published in the church newsletter. In other words, in the week the Bible reading plan switches to the gospel of John, so comes the Bible day – Saturday, 21 February.

Previously we have provided overview courses – how to read the Old Testament and New Testament for all it’s worth. Well worth doing. But once the course, is done, what next? With Bible days, we are freed by the lectionary calendar, able to offer short 2 hour bursts that sync with our existing practices around Bible reading.

As the project builds (it won’t all happen the first day) we hope to
– make the 2 hours podcastable, so anyone can access it.
– place in the 24/7 room resources to allow further study
– provide ways online and offline to encourage ongoing daily discussion.

I’m quietly excited. It feels simple, yet allows multiple access points to different generations. And maybe, in the process and through the mix of 2 hour teaching, daily reading, internet technologies and multiple discussion options, Opawa might actually become better Bible readers. (more explanation here).

Posted by steve at 04:35 PM

Thursday, February 19, 2009

do you want your toys with that?: updated

It’s our church annual meeting tonight. Which means for me, today is one of the more stressful days of the year. There is a huge amount of work, done by lots of people, needed to make a night like this go well – finances done, budgets agreed, ideas prepared with clarity and accuracy. An organisation has history that it brings to annual meetings, let alone the history that a baptist church might bring. That history can include people throwing their toys!

This is my 6th annual meeting at Opawa and to date they’ve been great – cordial, positive, smooth. But who knows what could happen at this time around.

Some of my missional and emerging friends pooh, pooh meetings. For me, I consider them essential to healthy living. I was listening to a friend raving about their new church that meet in a home and how great it was that together they talked about how they were going to distribute money that people gave. At which point I couldn’t help myself and cheekily suggested it sounded just like a church meeting. I then asked what would happen if 2 people had different ideas on spending the money. In the silence, I said I had some written guidelines about what to do at that point. Called a constitution of course! My point, amid the banter, was that all groups need ways to be talk and be accountable and do life together. Which makes finances and budgets and motions an essential part of healthy living.

So tonite Opawa gathers. And I wait, wondering how the agendas of a diverse and complex group will meet on this particular nite, amid this particular season, with all its particular pressures and joys …

Updated: Ok, if you are interested highlights included (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:05 PM

is my fresh expression like your fresh expression

Had an enjoyable and stimulating afternoon with Peter and Helen Pillinger, involved in fresh expressions (Methodist) in the UK. Adding richness to the conversation was David Bush (New Zealand Methodist leader), Pete Majendie (Kiwi installation artist) and Mark Pierson (World Vision New Zealand).

We talked widely comparing countries:
– the uniqueness of the UK in having such great denominational leadership resourcing fresh expressions
– the uniqueness of the rave scene in the UK, which birthed alternative worship
– the uniqueness of the Baptist scene in New Zealand, which has the strength of allowing local innovation, but the seeming disadvantage of an inability to resource longer-term innovation and change
– whether size of fresh expression congregations is an adequate marker of missional effectiveness
– how to find, resource and train fresh expression leaders
– if everything is a fresh expression, is anything a fresh expression
– how blinded are we to the needed shapes of future leaders.

Not many conclusions. For me, sitting in around the couches at Opawa it was quite encouraging to realise that from a UK fresh expression perspective, Opawa as a church has planted 4 “fresh expressions” in the last 5 years. And that my year long training of missional church leaders is considered ahead of the UK game. (They have put aside millions to work on their training of pioneer leaders, while down here in New Zealand we simply plug away, innovating on our shoestrings.) Yah for Opawa and for Kiwi no. 8 wire innovation.

Posted by steve at 02:11 PM

feedback. right, expectation and gift

“I find this to be a remarkably feedback-less world.” It was a passing comment that got me thinking, a moment of frustration in which I found myself nodding.

The importance of feedback – a blog comment, a short and specific comment, a question that shows an active and engaged mind, a story told 3 weeks later. I don’t know how to interpret silence. I tend to interpret it as negativity and disinterest.

It is why I love smaller groups and teaching classes, because I can construct environments in which I get feedback. Feedback allows me to change tack, to clarify and expand, to walk in step with the other.

It is why I struggle with “that was good thanks”, because it’s a meaningless cliche, a polite step on the slippery slope of social irrelevancy.

It is why I struggle with monological preaching – this sense of talking into silence, of lacking the feedback – and why I seek to get engagement in various ways at Opawa.

A caveat here: Open mics simply mean encouragement for extroverts to speak without thinking, and introverts to die inside. So part of the skill is designing feedback that floats across personality types and life experiences – to mix huddles with groups with paper with focus groups with forums with lectures.

Yet I still know that some people hate it. HATE it! Personally, I don’t think a person should be allowed to come to a gathering and just sit. But am I just imposing my “feedback seeking” personality? Or is it that we live in societies and cultures that are actually low in feedback? Perhaps time poor, perhaps bred for passivity, perhaps lacking skills to give feedback well?

What does feedback mean to you? Should it be an expected right or an unexpected gift?

Posted by steve at 12:39 PM

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

lifeshapes for discipleship: updated

In the last few months of last year, I discovered Mike Breen’s The Passionate Church and the use of lifeshapes. There are 8 of them, things like semicircles for work/life balance, circles for discipleship, triangles for purpose, hexagons for prayer. (More resources here).

Mike had given me a copy of the book in Los Angeles in 2006. I’d said thanks, but never read it. Browsing my bookshelf last year, I re-found the book and a number of things clicked. I shared one lifeshape at church that Sunday, using the semi-circle and the need for work/life balance in a pendulum to frame my sabbatical. I was surprised by how widespread across the church the positive feedback was, connecting with people new and old in the faith. So I preached the triangle – a Christian life going up to God, in to people and out to the world – and again got widespread positive feedback.

The upshot is that we’re experimenting with the lifeshapes as a discipleship course. Starting this Wednesday evening, for the next 8 weeks, we’re using a shape a week to reflect on the art of life-changing discipleship. We hope to provide it as post-Alpha next step while also a learning experience for any in the church.

What I like is that the shapes are visual, they are something people see. (We’ve got shapes hanging around church and in the foyer). The shapes are also practical, they provide a way to life and seem appreciated no matter what stage of people’s journey. (Which makes sense, since discipleship is lifelong, not at the beginning). So in terms of learning styles, it engages visual and tactile learners, while much discipleship stuff is more focused on learners who read and talk. What this means is that discipleship is being framed fundamentally not as stuff you need to know, but discipleship as living life to the full.

So, the nervous wait begins. We’ve discerned energy and in response have prayed, advertised and invited and now we wait for kick-off … Update: One of the best opening nites I’ve been part of. Partly based on those in the room – thoughtful, honest. But again based on the material. There is this uncanny ability to talk to a huge breadth of human experience, making an excellent conversation starters and there is Biblical and theological depth (and I can’t say that about a lot of discipleship stuff I see). On nites like this, I remember why I wanted to be a minister – to engage life and the Bible with real people across the diversity of life’s spectrum.

Posted by steve at 11:23 AM