Friday, November 20, 2009

kingdom living as grassroots business realities

active intent….
I believe that we are created to live the Kingdom of God in our world, not apart from but within society. I am a representative of God’s Kingdom here on earth. I live and speak for God’s rule as an attractive member of the Kingdom, not against the world but for God’s Kingdom, His Good news in Jesus transforming the world.

From the blog of Phil, one of God’s gifts at Opawa. Last year, I invited Phil, and a number of others, to keep a blog as a spiritual practice, a way of being intentional about attending to God’s Kingdom flutters (and further here). It meant that as I preached on the Kingdom during the month, ordinary folk in our church were modelling what this might look like. So it looks like Phil has continued to blog. What’s more, it’s become a fantastic set of grassroots, mission reflections. Not from a pastor, but a businessperson.

There is more to this story. Earlier this year I asked Phil and his wife, Bronwyn, to lead one (of three) mission collectives, living. Four times a year, collectives are meant to gather us around God’s mission – to discuss, resource , pray. For us at Opawa, mission has taken concrete shape in

  • living, faith in our workplaces and among our neighbours
  • loving, the local streets around us
  • creating, the citywide creative capacity of the Christmas Journey and Pentecost.

It’s been an experiment, simply trying to build community and capacity around the green shoots that seem to be Opawa’s season at the moment.

So the blog now contains some of Phil’s reflections on this challenge – what living faith sharing looks like. Again, it is fantastic – grassroots, everyday, outside church walls. Go Phil. Go mission reality beyond Sunday, outside sacred/scared walls.

(By the way, Opawa’s mission collectives are meeting again next weekend, as follows:
Friday, 7:30 pm, November 27, 303 Colombo St
Saturday, 7:45 pm, November 28, Latimer Square
Sunday, November 29, 12:30 pm.)

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Sunday, November 08, 2009

communion anabaptist style

Worship. Which I often define as all that we are responding to all that God is. It includes our bodies, our seating relationships, our words of prayer. Today we continued our series on Turning points in history and the focus was the radical reformation. Especially given that the Baptists are 400 years old this year.

A perfect time to rearrange our church seating, swinging some of the pews into a “U” shape. So that we took communion looking at each other, at the body of Christ, rather than the person at the front. Lots of positive feedback on this very simple change in our church architecture. An embodied realisation that we gather as human people.

A perfect time to pull out this communion liturgy written by Balthasar Hubmaier, an early Anabaptist theologian. I pulled out some phrases I considered noteworthy and invited us to pray them together.

Brothers and sisters, If you will love God before, in and above all things. Response: I will
If you will love your neighbour and serve with deeds of love. Response: I will
If you will make peace and unity and reconcile among yourselves. Response: I will
If you will love your enemies and do good to them. Response: I will
So eat and drink with one another in the name of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. May the Lord impart to us his grace. Amen

Note the fascinating progression in the theology of this communion prayer: -> God -> neighbour -> church community -> enemies. At times Baptists are considered functional pragmatists. These words suggest in fact a deeply relational and missional theology, expressed in the acts of worship and engaging the reality of everyday life. It sounds quite contemporary for a prayer written over 400 years ago!

Posted by steve at 05:33 PM

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Parihaka day: Growing in local peace stories

We need to be blessed by peace stories and peacemakers. Desperately. Even more, we need to be blessed by local peace stories and local peacemakers. Hearing allows us to grow in peace.  So join us

Sunday, 8 November, 7-8:20 pm, Opawa Baptist Church foyer, part of our Grow service.

Mark Grace, Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship will share some of his life story. It includes growing up Pakeha, becoming a Christian and as an adult starting to discover his Maori roots. Including a local Kiwi peace story, the events at Parihaka between Maori and Pakeha.  A local peace story over 100 years old, that has grown, blessed and challenged his understanding of Christian faith.

Updated: For more on Parihaka here’s something I wrote for radio a few years ago (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:33 PM

Monday, November 02, 2009

turning points: martin luther, reformed? or reforming

The second video in the Turning points in Christian history sermon series is now available online. (The first in the Turning points series – on monasticism, mission and discipleship is here).

The aim of the Turning points series is simply to ask what we can learn from what God was up to in history. I’ve been surprised and encouraged by the feedback, folk at Opawa requesting sermons, a whole different set of people engaging with my sermons. I think there’s something about it being a bit different, in thinking and approach, that is appealing.

In summary the sermon outline is as follows:
1. Introduction to Martin Luther
2. Impact of reformation
-positive attitude to world
- vocation for all
- emergence of sciences
3. Reformation as reformed? Or reforming?
4. Application – a challenge: What would Luther bang on our church today? With 6 suggested theses.

For those who want to read further, these are the books I found most helpful:
Reformation Thought: An Introduction
Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity
Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality, The
Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion, (Baker History of the Church)

Posted by steve at 01:32 PM

Sunday, October 25, 2009

forming disciples today: conversations with Christian mission history

Today I started a 4 part sermon series, titled Turning points: key moments in Christian history

Today was the monastic movement, particularly Benedictine spirituality, and the implications for discipleship and mission. Since history is about people, I gave a brief introduction to three monks – Anthony, Clare and Benedict. Since history is about place, I looked at the world’s oldest, largest and most beautiful monasteries.

The sermon raised some significant questions for me in regard to church life today.

1. Forming disciples. Compare a monk, who prays 7 times a day, 7 days a week. That is 49 church services. Consider how much that shapes a person in the way of Jesus. In contrast, much church going is once a week at best. How much can we really expect to grow in our Christian faith, when many of us watch more TV than enter the Christian story? (Now I know that some of you have daily quiet times. But the challenge of the monastic life was how they committed themselves to grow together, not as individuals).

2. Transforming community. I showed a picture of a Celtic monastery, which functioned as a 7 day a week place of prayer, learning, healing and relating. And the mission question, is church really about a worship service that we drive to? How much can we really expect our neighbourhoods to change, as we drive to and fro once a week?

3. Faith for life. Since Benedict was about all of life – prayer and work – ora et labora, then his “rule” must surely have application outside a monastery. It occurred to me that our working days are filled with breaks. We eat 3 times a day, and stop for morning and afternoon tea. So could that be the start of a “local church rule”; in which we commit to pause for micro-prayer every time we hold a hot drink in our hands?

Taking the monks out of history began some pretty challenging after-church coffee conversations. I’d love some feedback on this from my wider blog audience.

I thought it might be of interest to some outside Opawa, so we had a first ever Opawa go – Steve on video, then very basic edit (top and tail) on iMovie, then upload on www. All very new. (coming) (I had lots of powerpoint, but not sure about copyright, so it’s just a straight talking head. Slightly longer than I normally preach, but it was a long weekend, so everyone is a bit more relaxed and there is often less in other parts of the service.)

It was a lot of fun preparing a “history” sermon and I got a stack of positive feedback, people really appreciating a different approach. Variety is spice of life and all that.

And for those who missed it from Friday, here was some of my reading in preparation:
- Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.)
- Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way Of Love
- The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life
- A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, AD 312-600
- Emerging Downunder
- New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church
- St Benedict for Today.

Posted by steve at 06:19 PM

Friday, October 23, 2009

turning points: key moments in Christian history

  • Benedict and Monasteries, Sunday 10:30 am, October 25
  • Luther and Reformation, Sunday 10:30 am, November 1
  • John Smith and Baptists, Sunday 10:30 am, November 8, complete with Anabaptist communion
  • Wesley and faith for all of life, Sunday 10:30 am, November 15

(All at Opawa Baptist, cnr Hastings St East and Wilsons Road). The intention is that Opawa catches a bigger picture of God in history. For a church in transition, knowing our back story helps shape our future. The hope is that I can be clear enough and sharp enough to relate history to life today.

Each Sunday will feature a song, a “saint”, some history and some contemporary application. This Sunday, Benedict and Monasteries, will include
- the facebook monks quiz
- honouring of three monks – Anthony, Benedict and Clare
- an analysis of the impact of the monastic movement on Christianity.
- finally, I want to reflect on what we can learn from the monastic movement for Christian life today. This will include how we imagine church, how we live our lives 24/7 and the shape of our Christian growth.

(The title of the series is borrowed from Mark Noll’s fabulous Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.) Other books I’ve been reading have included:
- Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way Of Love
- The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life
- A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, AD 312-600
- Emerging Downunder
- New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church
- St Benedict for Today.

All in all, it’s been a rich week of sermon reflection.

Posted by steve at 02:06 PM

Sunday, October 18, 2009

neat service: transfiguration of Jesus

Sunday morning’s service included a baptism. We’re seeing a steady stream of local, more working-class adults, who have not previously been in church, saying yes to Jesus. We put a lot of effort into our local community mission and baptisms are wonderful encouragements.

In addition, we had four people share short testimonies in the service. As the service was being shaped around the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-14, during the week I had emailed the church, asking if anyone had an experience of “awe” – whether silence or song, preaching, communion, or art, public or private, while loving a neighbour, or simply driving down the road – that had changed their walk with God and they might be willing to share. Four people said yes. Each was profoundly different, a reminder of God’s living and vital presence.

It seems to me that the stories of God’s activity, whether in baptism or in testimony, are just SO important in terms of change processes.

And for those interested, aware that I’ve been wrestling with the Transfiguration Bible text all week, here is the sermon. With a nod to David Letterman, U2, Transfiguration art, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Chalcedonian Creed (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:26 PM

Sunday, September 20, 2009

up as worship

Worship: all that you are responding to all that God is. So I prepared to lead worship today, aware of the impact that the Pixar movie Up had on me this week. To be true to that, and to what God had been saying to me through the movie, it needed to be woven into the worship. So here is what I curated.

The reading of a Bible verse that had been sitting with me all week: Romans 8:15 in The Message: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

An explanation of the movie: A fantastic family movie. The Taylor’s laughed and cried. It is the story of an old man who has a childhood dream. Grows up and never quite gets there. At the age of 78 decides it’s time to chase his dream. So he ties balloons to his house and goes adventuring. With the help of an unexpected stowaway, 8 year ld called Russell. Got me thinking all week – about Christian life as letting go, as trust, as adventure.

Visual: The Up teaser trailer.

Individual reflection: On your seats as you came in, you would have found a card. Three colours. If you got yellow – I invite you to think about a Bible story of generations coming together; green – people you know who are learning to trust; pink – a Bible character who went on an adventure.

Communal response: Now I invite us together to make an Opawa psalm
This morning we thank God for resurrection life
adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like “What’s next?”
This morning we particularly thankyou for generations who come together

… those with the yellow card, call out …. and a kid cut a helium balloon, which gently floated to the roof … as together we thankyou for generations who come together.

This morning we thank God for resurrection life
adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like “What’s next?”
This morning we particularly thankyou for people who know who are learning to trust
… those with the green card, call out …. and a kid cut a helium balloon … as together we thankyou for people who are learning to trust.

This morning we thank God for resurrection life
adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like “What’s next?”
This morning we particularly thankyou for characters who go on adventures
… those with the pink card, call out …. and a kid cut a helium balloon … as together we thankyou for Bible characters who went on adventures. Amen

and we transitioned into the Chris Tomlin song, Forever. It was a nice mix of individual and communal, visual and kinesethetic, culturally connective and Biblical.

Posted by steve at 11:18 PM

Friday, September 18, 2009

pay it around as part of community development

As a church we offer programmes for youth and children five nights in seven, attracting various age groups. While we used to provide these for free, we find that participants ended up quite disrespectful and demanding. So we have to tried to move toward a gold coin donation, as a way communicating value. However, because we live in a lower socio-economic community, this is a struggle.

As a result, we are going to trial the following in the next few weeks:

Aim: children who attend our local community ministries, and who are struggling to pay the “gold coin” donation, will be offered a chance to work with us, blessing community (in our annual Spring Clean, it will be our 6th this year) in contrast to working for us. In return the church will pay the costs of children participating in a set number of sessions.

Ethos: this will encourage a pay it forward in generosity and participation. Church blesses community, so that community can bless community.

Process: The week before, the children at the programmes will be offered a “voucher”, which explains the process and which kids take home to parents (this is so that parents know clearly what is going on). It invites those who might want financial assistance to join us on our annual community Spring Clean day.

On the actual day, kids and/or parents report to someone at church. After their task/time is completed, the children and/or parents have the “voucher” signed, allowing them “free” nights at the programme.

When the kids then turn up at the programme in the coming weeks, with their voucher (which children’s leader has copy of, in case kids forget), the voucher is “stamped.” The ministry leaders give the stamped and signed voucher to the Church Treasurer, who repays the childrens ministry out of Community Ministry Budget.

thoughts?

Posted by steve at 09:40 PM

Friday, September 11, 2009

a theology of hospitality or stuck in an attractional moment: back to church Sunday

We as a church are participating in Back to Church Sunday. We’ve simply marked a normal, everyday, run of the mill Sunday and encouraged our folk to consider inviting someone they know. Not someone who hates church or goes to another church, but someone who has dropped out of church. We’ve made it clear that the service will be ordinary, just like very other week, because we don’t want this to be switch and bait, false advertising.

For us it started about 3 months ago, with a brainstorming with our ministry leaders. We made a list of all the things we would could improve in relation to our welcome. We eventually came up with 10 “tips” and we’ve simply began presenting them a tip a week, over 10 weeks. For us at Opawa it was things like
- better street signage
- leaving the back rows free
- ensuring those up-front introduce themselves
- finding ways to communicate sustainably our mission to those new among us
- making sure our information was current and easily found
- improving our “oh, well, i’ve been here for years actually!” responses.
We’ve poked a bit of fun at ourselves and quietly chipped away at all those things that often get overlooked.

In surfing this week, I noticed this comment about Back to Church Sunday.

I still think it’s working on a silly model of mission. All that happens with these seeker friendly services (IME) is that all the congregation get annoyed at having to change what they would otherwise be doing, the sermon is either diluted or made overtly evangelistic, and the people who come smile sweetly as they leave and resolve never to come back again (usually because of some birthday song travesty!). We all know this by now surely. Mission is about what we do in the work place (or the post office in your case Dave) or down the pub or even in formal mission events. A weekly service in your local church should be primarily for those who go to it.

I’ve been turning the comment over in my mind, working with their model of mission.

Say you do mission in the workplace. Say over time, your salt and light is attractive and a workmate wants to join your God conversation. Being true to your ethos, you do that at your workplace. Which is fun and exciting. And then 6 months later, another person expresses interest.

Now at this point, the two of you have some decisions to make. Will you provide an extra seat in case this other person comes? Will you say hi and be courteous and introduce yourself when they arrive? Will the two of you continue telling each other in-house jokes that make no sense to the person new among you? Will you share stories from bygone days, conducting a conversation the new person can’t join?

Hopefully the answer is of course not. Because you want to be hospitable.

Which it seems to me is what Back to Church Sunday is all about. It’s about us looking in the mirror.

It’s also about the fact that for some people, it’s far less threatening to check out “gathered church” by slipping in the back of a crowd than by joining two others at a workplace. It’s about both/and, not either/or, in terms of mission.

I wouldn’t have done Back to Church Sunday when we arrived at Opawa, because the imagination was attractional. But six years down the track, with a multi-congregational approach and something like 15 different community ministries and the establishment of three Mission Collectives that intentionally resource people as salt and light in ministry, there’s now a place to ask each other “hey, how hospitable are we?”

Not because we want to attract you, but because we want to be hospitable when you arrive.

Updated: Prodigal Kiwi ponders this post and the motives for Back to Church Sunday here. I like the way he picks up on the essential need for a missional work out and I agree with his worry that BCS runs the risk of being “bolted onto a particular Sunday – a one-off – rather than being a deeply imbedded and explicit feature of the way a congregation is every Sunday of the year.” But that’s exactly why we got involved. As I commented in response to Andrew Hamilton: “I would hope/expect our community (and all churches) to be hospitable every (Sun)day. otherwise why do we do church? And how can we call ourselves Christians if we’re not ready to welcome the outsider/stranger?” The key for me is the pursuit of a theology of hospitality rather than of attraction.

And here is another Kiwi perspective on Back to Church Sunday. What are the theological narratives at work here?

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Friday, September 04, 2009

Conversation starter: a building name change

The Board and pastoral team want to start a conversation at Opawa about a building name change. At an upcoming church meeting, we want to suggest that we adopt not a church name change, but a building name change. … Why?

One: Biblically and theologically: a Christian understanding is that “church” is never a building, but always the people. As we see in 2 Samuel 7, Acts 15 and Revelation 5, God’s building project is not a building, but people. Can we find a name that does not suggest a building is the church?

Two: Ministerially: our buildings are used pretty much 7 days a week, not only for “church” worship services, but for community, for ministry and as a relational space. It would be good to have a name that reflected this use.

Three: Practically: with the completion of Stages 1 and 2 of the building project, a birds eye view of the physical footprint shows a building focused as much on community, team, ministry and relational space as on church worship services.

Four: Timing: that it would be an appropriate way to celebrate a significant moment in our life as a church.

The Board have been experimenting with names. We started by working with combinations: mixing and matching – what we do and what the physical building is:

Opawa Baptist ministry centre? restoration hub? hospitality spot? resting place? spirituality space

To date, none of these possibilities really grab us. So as well as wanting to start a church conversation, in preparation for a church forum, we are calling for constructive, considered suggestions.

Posted by steve at 01:38 PM

Saturday, August 22, 2009

emerging disciples resources: a work in progress

Thanks to those who attended my Emerging disciples workshop in Auckland yesterday. A number of you stayed after to ask specific questions about resources, and I referred you to my blog. Since there’s a lot of stuff here, I will try and draw it together (over the next few days and in between hockey and church). ie this blog post a work in progress (more…)

Posted by steve at 02:02 PM

Friday, August 21, 2009

a personal challenge for Steve the church minister

“Pastoral ministry always comes back to you, the minister. This is the bummer of being a minister. It’s also why it’s a great job. A huge personal growth challenge which you get with very few other jobs.”

Nigel Wright, Baptist leader, Thursday, August 19.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Friday, August 14, 2009

mission collective: living (night 2) reflections

Our second round of mission collectives has just kicked off. I’m just back from the living collective. (Creating meets tomorrow evening, then Loving gathers over Sunday lunch). The aim is to affirm the diversity of our life, gather in a conversational manner (4 times a year) around mission. Tonight I’ve been sitting in a shop, the workplace, of one of our congregation, collecting around the challenge of being salt and light with neighbours and in our workplaces.

In my bag is a blank card, with the words: Live your faith. Share your life, and a verse that encourages us to start by sharing life with people. It’s proved such an eye opener, a reminder of the need to be fully human, real, vulnerable with people.

During the evening P. shared how the off the map interviews we showed last time had inspired him to do an “off the map” interview with their neighbours, and the value and insight experienced in simply listening to the spiritual search of another. M. shared how God has changed her and her friends notice that, so she simply tells them it happened at Opawa and they come along. A. called me over to share that the “grandparenting” role I suggested he try two years ago is still going with one of our young adults. S. asked if I remembered the first time she came to church and how rude she felt she was and how my response lowered her defensives and now she’s an “apprentice” Christian.

I drove home, my heart singing. It’s been a tough week for me, people in my ear about this and that. But its nights like this that make it all worthwhile – honest people caring enough about mission to gather tired bodies and the stories of lives changed and changing.

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM