Sunday, March 15, 2009

sense making faith as a great missional resource

Sense Making Faith. Body Spirit Journey is one of the best missional resources I’ve come across in recent years. If asked to explain it in one sentence, I’d call it an Alpha course using the senses, not the intellect. And since God made us whole bodies, Sense making faith is thus a great gift to the church.

I ran the course twice last year, once at Opawa for about 15 people with a range of faith experiences, and once with a local community group working with mental illness. Both time I was astonished at the ability of the course to open conversations, to connect with those inside and outside the church and to enrich people’s lives. The open-ended exercises allowed each group to find a life of their own.

The highlight for me is week one, which introduces the course by inviting people to wonder. One of the exercises involves spreading photos around the room and inviting participants to take the one that most catches their attention. Three simple questions become quite transformative: What caught your attention? What caught the attention of the photographer? How does looking at this make you feel? In so doing, participants are introduced to the heart of the spiritual search: to notice the beauty that surrounds us. And so our eyes, ears, noses, skin and mouths are in fact the gateway by which we can be struck, aroused, challenged by God. This is not an intellect pursuit, but a embodied engagement with the God of life.

Sense making faith originated in the UK. During Lent 09, the BBC are using it as a Lenten resource. A supporting website is here

It’s not a perfect course. The book seems to suffer from an internal conflict. Having started with the challenge to wonder, the book then devotes considerable time and attention to critiquing current church practice, and the lack of attention to the senses in churches today. While the criticism is valid, it turns the initial “hermeneutic of wonder” into a hermeneutic of critique. It also tends to push the resource toward being of more use to those who enter churches, which is a shame. However, this is where the extensive appendix becomes really useful, providing lots of exercises that in fact allow the book to recapture it’s original ethos, a journey of sense making faith. Essentially I bypassed the main material, and simply used the exercises as springboard into shared group learning experiences.

If you’re looking to engage with spiritual seekers, Sense Making Faith is one of the best resources I’ve found. I’m planning to run another course later this year and hoping that this might be a stepping stone to a new congregation, probably based more on monthly retreat days than weekly church services. This is because the course covers 7 weeks (introduction: sight : sound : smell : taste : touch : imagination) and thus it offers a framework through which to keep gathering, not around content, but around what each participant is learning as they simply pay attention to their senses in the journey of life.

Posted by steve at 11:03 PM

Friday, March 13, 2009

a snapshot of local ministry

Driving home a few weeks ago, a question was asked from the back seat of the car, about why we collected money at church and what happens to it and where does it go?

Later that week, I was due to attend a prayer and planning meeting for Soak, our first Sunday of the month evening congregation. It was a lovely, balmy evening, so I decided to walk. It’s a great privilige to be able to walk the streets of the community. A different pace, a different rythym. As I walked past the church, one of our pastoral team, drove past. He was on his way to a planning meeting, to talk about the possibilities for seeding a new local gathering.

As we chatted on the side of the road, another Opawa punter drove past. He was on his way to the Thursday evening worship practice, preparing for our 10:30 am Sunday service. They tooted and we waved and as we did, a young girl wearing a local school uniform, was watching us. She called out, “Was that man who tooted the man with and special ice cream making machine?”

And I was walked on, she biked along beside me, chatting about how cool that ice machine was and how much she was enjoying our Tuesday evening Girls Brigade. It was a great pastoral moment, hearing her excitement and gladness and listening to the relational connections she was making with local folk.

Those few minutes are in fact a wonderful snapshot of our current life as a church here at Opawa – the work that goes into our multiple congregations which bring such rich diversity to our life, our pastoral team that walk and serve our community, our growing ministry among the local community, our programs which provide community contact.

And those few minutes nicely answer that question asked from the back seat: of what happens to the offering, and of how it reflects Opawa’s heart and direction and current momentum.

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM

car stuff

The CV joint in our car popped out while I was driving yesterday. The car had been to the garage the day before, to fix the CV joint. But was starting to make a knocking noise again. So I phoned and was told to keep driving carefully, which I did, and they would look at it tomorrow.

And then bang and the entire CV joint on the left hand front tire is spraying grease and there’s a big open hole. Thankfully I was pulling off the road into a cafe at the time.

So the car is back in the garage, and today is the third day in a row we’re trying to juggle life around car and garage.

Posted by steve at 09:26 AM

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

shifting espresso

espresso is our Tuesday evening congregation at Opawa. No sermon or singing. Instead opening prayer and closing “creative ending”; in between a free for all conversation about questions that are making people itch.

We had our “annual evaluation” a few weeks ago, an attempt to look at our life and how we were doing. One of the real strengths of a multi-congregational model is how it empowers each congregation to shape and shift their life, as the signs of the time shape and shift. As a result we’re making some changes at espresso.

First in time. We are moving from 7:47-9:15 pm to 6:30-8 pm, in order to be more children friendly.

Second, in format. We are going to try a once a month storytelling time. We’ll place some colours in the “espresso bowl”, from which our questions are placed. We’ll pick a colour and invite people to bring a story about that colour. It’s an attempt to build community and offer new ways to approach the task of learning and growing. It is something I’ve dreamed about at Opawa since I arrived over 5 years ago and it will be fascinating to see how it shapes us.

So, Tuesday March 17: everyone to bring a favourite story of a “yellow” (ginger crunch yellow) moment – from their life or from life in general, when they felt “yellow”; when they saw “yellow.” And food for you in a sharable format, 6:30-8 pm,

Posted by steve at 09:58 PM

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

missional signs as locally homegrown

One of my concerns about the missional church is the way that it can disappear into ever-tightening theological circles, full of Trinitarian depth and ecclesial rigour, but strangely divorced from the reality of church life and mission. While I don’t want to create a dualism between theory and practice, at heart the missional church is a pretty simple understanding that God is in the world and we’re called to participate in that. In essence that’s the awareness that the Spirit of God is becoming visible, however faintly, among our local and homegrown communities of faith.

So, as I’ve looked around Opawa over the last few weeks, the missional signs I’ve noted have included:

1. The hall smells of cigarette smoke as community people drop by needing food.

2. The kids who break into your church four times over the weekend, when caught, are invited into restorative justice.

3. The 24/7 prayer room, which has a combination code for afterhours access, increasingly becomes an emergency refuge at times of domestic violence.

4. People are becoming honest enough to wonder aloud if the Bible narrative might be unfair and in then ensuing conversation, to find their patterns of parenting and living under gently critiqued.

5. The conversations with those struggling with change have a sense of respectful listening and awareness of the other.

6. People from the local community call your church home, and safe, even if they visit rarely.

7. You find people having an afternoon-nana nap on your foyer couches.

8. You watch your 10 year olds help lead worship and your 11 year olds voice their praise to God.

That’s some locally homegrown Opawa missional signs in the last few weeks.

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM

Sunday, March 08, 2009

sunflower prayer

As the sunflower tracks the sun
God, help me track your warmth and love this day,


into my full splendour as your child, Amen.

If you want to make this prayer your own, you could add your initials in the comment section. Other prayers on this blog can be found here.

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM

Thursday, March 05, 2009

practical theology for the liquid church

Last week I blogged about our images of church: as supermarket provider of product or as retailer of seeds. I noted practical ways that Opawa was framing itself as a provider of spiritual resources- through courses and takeaways and internet resources.

Today I picked up Participation And Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church. He is wrestling “intellectually” (albiet with some nice earthed stories about the culture industry around Shine Jesus Shine, Hillsong and Taize) with the same issue.

“The mediation of theological expression in popular culture represents a vital and missiological challenge. How can theological capital and the Christian habitus be developed in this context of an extended ecclesial life? This is a complicated issue and will require further reflection that lies beyond the framework of this book. What seems clear is that the mediation of the divine life that has allowed the Christian community to extend and make more fluid its ecclesial being, suggests that such an enterprise may be possible. The clue to the way forward lies in the freedom of God to be present both in the Church and beyond it through participation and mediation. So like a light beckoning us forward the Spirit is inviting us to find a way to ‘go with the flow’ of the liquid church.”

Posted by steve at 03:29 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

chopping down the Sunday tree

Updated: this post is receiving quite some attention, from here and here and here and here and here. Welcome and ta for the linking luv! Can I stress that this post emerged from a particular set of circumstances, a local church approaching us in terms of a mission partnership, and so being forced to think through this change process. So it’s not a generic recipe for all Sunday mornings, nor a longterm recipe, but simply a wondering about a way to focus a conversation on mission.

Say your church is dying. You have good buildings and some community ministry, but Sunday service is dwindling. It consumes a lot of your energy, both from your pastoral leader and your volunteers – to run sound and play music.

Change proposal: chopping down the Sunday tree.

Keep meeting at 10:30 am Sunday. Keep the doors open. Keep the coffee fresh. Keep the muffins warm. But stop the sermons and stop the singing. Take all that energy and reclaim the time for mission. Read a creed. Dwell in Luke 10:1-12. Initiate some listening experiments. Share stories. Foray into the community for simple acts of service. Return to share stories. Re-read a creed. Re-dwell in Luke 10:1-12. Initiate some more listening experiments. Share stories. Foray into the community for further acts of service.

You get the idea.

If it fails, you were dying anyway.

If visitors do come, they are not meeting a shut door, nor are they finding a stressed group of people. Instead they are finding a warm community who like coffee and muffins. Who knows, they might just be attracted by a group of people taking mission and church and leadership seriously. In the meantime, you are reclaiming an existing resource – your time and your pastoral time – and you’re investing that in mission. And you are redefining your stretched life around mission and community.

Do this for 3 months and see what shoots begin to emerge. Who knows. Some shoots will need another prune. But some might be worth persevering with. Some might even need a new name.

The mission tree.

Posted by steve at 04:21 PM

it may be emerging but is it church?

Just became aware of some Kiwi and Presbyterian discussion of emerging church in the last month or so. The annual lecture at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was delivered by Dr Kevin Ward, titled It may be emerging but is it church? Followed by a response from Bruce Hamill.

A nice compliment by Kevin in his introduction: Steve Taylor, who has emerged as the leading spokesperson for emerging church in NZ, and a significant global voice, in quoting my “A Kiwi Emerging Kiwi Church: Yeah Right!” from the VisionNZ Conference last year.

Kevin addresses the question of whether emerging is church by using the fourfold formulae from the Nicene Creed – one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is the same formulae I used in my book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Emergent Ys), to argue that yes, emerging is church. I argue that the Trinity offers us a relational understanding of God and this church is one as two or three gather (Matthew 18:20). I note that the moment a group defines themselves as church (consciously or sub-consciously), they must recognise other groups that define themselves as church. This provides a relational way to approach tradition and history. No church is the Ground Zero of Christian faith. Rather, all churches, are fellow pilgrims, seeking to walk in the expressed love of the Trinity. So just because a church is older, it should not be privileged. Equally, because a church is newer, it should not be privileged. Both are pilgrims, needing to learn from each other.

That was in 2005. In 2009, I find increasingly perplexing the method by which the marks of one, holy, catholic and apostolic are defined. You see this is Kevin’s paper, where the marks are sheeted to theologians (dead white guys). You see this in my book, where the marks are sheeted to the Trinity.

I was pondering this on study leave and I began to wonder what would happen if the marks of the church were sheeted to Biblical narratives, rather than theologians, and particularly to women, rather than men. So Mary in her humility and willingness to say yes to moments of surrender and her singing of magnificient (Luke 1) defines one; Anna in her embodiement of Asher, the banished Northern Tribe, (Luke 2) defines holy; Elizabeth in her generous, hospitable, physical, welcome of the pregnant teenager Mary (Luke 1) defines catholic; Mary Magadalene as the first person post-resurrection instructed to witness defines apostolic.

It seems to me that such a reading produces very different marks of the church and serves both as challenge and encouragement to an ecclesiology that is humble, surrendered, inclusive, hospitable, and missionary.

Just some stray ruminations from a tired little brain on a beautiful Christchurch morning.

Posted by steve at 10:00 AM

Monday, March 02, 2009

no line on the horizon u2 album launch party

A fun nite with friends – celebrating the launch of the new U2 album. No line on the horizon, in the background, bbq on, corn, celery and potatoes, from the garden. Finished with wild blackberries, foraged from a spot we’ve found down by the river. I’ve got lots of thoughts on the album, it’s a joyous, diverse, mix that has echoes of Boy, Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby. It’s an album from a band very comfortable in their own skin. It’s an album, superbly crafted and woven (compared with a few singles and a some backing tracks cobbled together) . And, based on this album, Bono’s lyrics deserves an honorary theological doctorate. More on this another time ….

Posted by steve at 11:19 PM