January 2007

I’ve said I want to challenge the assumptions the C of E has about how to do church, particularly with reference to releasing the emerging church.

First on my hit list is paying people.

When we think about beginning a new project, we set out from the foundational belief – almost credal – that you have to have paid staff from day one. I’ve been told by a leading C of E thinker on fresh expressions that, to pioneer a new project successfully, you need two full-time paid staff. I frequently meet with people who tell me about their vision for a fresh expression of church, only for it to transpire that the reason they are sharing their passion is because they want me to pay for it!

But does this need to be the case?

The news that Manchester (my home town) has been ‘awarded’ the first of the UK’s super casinos is surely bad news.  Gambling turnover has soared from £7 billion in 2001 to £50 billion in 2005.  That ought to worry any government, but apparently not ours.  Why is this?

Government research published in April 2006 explains why.  The researchers conclude that deregulation will lead to “more money generated in the gambling sector than any other”.  The increase will create jobs and inward investment.  What is less clear is what the human cost to this epidemic will be?

I’m not going to pretend that the world of blogging is one I’ve been exploring for a long time. Although I did think of starting to blog about a year ago, it was by accident (literally) that I set up a blog and I have only been blogging “properly” for the last month.

Technorati has this great quotation by one Matt: “55 million blogs… some of them have to be good.” I have only begun to explore the blogosphere but here are a few blogs from the Christian scene that I have spent some time at.

In the Christian scene, there’s a huge amount out there coming out of the emerging church. Blogs that have interested me here go from the local, with my friend and colleague, Paul Roberts, blogging on this subject amongst others, to the global, with Alan Hirsch in Australia saying some interesting things. One of the most popular hubs for the alternative worship community is Jonny Baker’s blog.

There also seem to be a lot of chaplains blogging out there. I’ve enjoyed checking out Maggi Dawn’s stuff (not just because she has linked to me).

Dave Walker at Cartoon Church commented in response to me starting to blog that the C of E as an institution has been fairly “anti-blogging”. I have no idea about that. It’s more likely that a lot of us in the C of E are clueless about new technology and how to use it. I for one am still a beginner. What I do know is that it’s a great way of sharing and cross-pollenating ideas.

A lot of what I have learnt over the years about change management has been gleaned from what I would describe as “secular” material, for want of a better term. I have no problem with this but, as a Christian leader, I also ask myself whether there are any distinctives that my faith would bring to this subject.

Given that most of us are not committed to change for change’s sake, we’ve got to reflect on why we are called to change and secondly what we are called to change to.

The English cricket team are going through a very bad time. The most recent overnight surrender points to a lack of self-belief. Two years ago, we celebrated victory in an epic Ashes confrontation. Today we wonder where it has all gone. The BBC commentary team were clear in their assessment of the top order batters’ performance: they got out to poor shot selection, rather than to the Aussie bowlers.

You can deploy all the usual excuses: it’s the captain; it’s the coach; it’s the loss of some key players; it’s the poor preparation; it’s allowing WAGs to be around, undermining the team’s focus etc. However, they’re good players, so what’s gone wrong?

I’m often asked to address the subject of change and how it can be managed.  Yesterday, at the Christian Resources Exhibition in Exeter, I addressed a group of over 100 bright-eyed and motivated people (all the more amazing as it was in the after lunch graveyard slot!) on the subject of leading for change.  I am interested, though not surprised, that this subject always creates an audience, not least in voluntary and non-profit organisations.

Consequently, I plan to do some posts on the subject of change and how it can be managed.  Obviously, this will relate to churches, but it will also have some value for anyone who is tasked with overseeing change wherever they are.  Here goes…

The first thing is obvious, but often missed by leaders who are introducing change.  Ask yourself this question, “As I seek to lead change, what am I modelling in my own life about an openness to change?” It’s “practise what you preach” stuff.

“Can we expect emerging churches to emerge in an institutional context?” I asked this question in a post a couple of weeks ago and have been asking it of myself, my colleagues and practitioners in the emerging church movement for some time.

My answer to the question would be “probably not”. Some people in the institution would say the same. What I find interesting is that we say one thing and do another. When you’ve been immersed in an institution, it takes major resolve to identify and challenge the way we do things – our culture. And, as Mark Greene memorably told our clergy conference last year, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. When our institutional culture dominates, we default to a one-size-fits-all approach to inherited and emerging church alike and deal out all our traditional forms of accountability, training and support (financial, pastoral etc) to the emerging church.

This afternoon Anthea and I went to see the Consultant responsible for the ongoing management of her neck injury.  Regular visitors to the blog will know that she had the ‘halo’ contraption removed in December and it was replaced with a stiff collar.  After close scrutiny of an X ray taken today she now has the collar off and for the first time for a very long time is supporting the weight of her neck on her own, and more importantly she looks and feels more like normal.  We have been given the all clear to take a short holiday in Spain in February, which is great!

There was a little anxiety about the increased intensity of pins and needles in her right (undamaged) hand and so the Consultant has asked that she have an MRI scan just to be sure that there is nothing untoward causing this.  She will also have some tests which will reveal the extent of any nerve damage caused by the velocity of the intital impact. 

All in all, however, today feels like a step forward.  There is even some talk of her being able to resume swimming in the near future.  I thought that those of you who are concerned would appreciate the latest news.  Thank you for your ongoing prayers and your concern.

I’ve been very tempted to join the debate about the Celebrity Big Brother bullying/racism stuff but, having not watched a second of it, felt a bit fraudulent doing so.

I was talking with my assistant, Oliver, who had only watched 20 minutes last Saturday night. He knew nothing of what had been going on in the house at that point but immediately picked up on the bullying that was occurring and was disturbed by the racist overtones. He told me his response was to suggest to his wife that they turn it off, and they did. Only a couple of days later did he realise that thousands of people were having the same reaction.

Drawn like a moth to the flame, he watched the interview with Jade following her eviction last night. He and his wife were struck by her reaction to the video footage she was shown of her behaviour in the house. While not claiming that she’d been edited manipulatively, she found it very difficult to recognise herself in the footage. “That’s not me,” she kept saying.

Whether it was a refusal or inability to see herself as others do, it’s very like that well known sermon analogy of being taking into a cinema at the end of your life and shown a film of all your actions and words – and then being told that all your friends and family have been invited to the second viewing. Reality TV has brought that terrifying and chastening experience to earth. But I doubt Jade’s story will extend the possibility of how God is able to see her through the lens of His grace, only severe human judgement.

Incidentally, how many times in the media coverage of all this have we heard people start to comment by saying, “I’m not a racist, but……”  I think it’s what is generally called, ‘blowing your cover’!  It reminded me of a John Maxwell quote, “when people say, ‘yes but’, no-one hears the ‘yes’.

One thing it’s difficult to escape in our culture is a pervasive cynicism.  Everybody’s good idea is subject to a scrutiny that quickly leads into criticism and hostility.

I reflect on the several media interviews I have heard on the really important issues related to the environment and climate change.  Typical of this was a radio interview which picked up on the efforts of Chris Martin (of Coldplay fame) to offset the CO2 emissions generated by their 26 million album sales by buying 10,000 mango trees in India.  One environmental campaigner made the point that they had burnt down (a fact disputed by another campaigner) and that he probably went to visit his mango trees in his Learjet.

Here’s the point.  HE DID SOMETHING!  It may not be perfect and he may drive a BMW, but he did something and there are others whose travel habits are equally profligate who have done nothing.  How many of us intend to do something to reduce our emissions and it’s always going to be ‘manana’

This is typical of the cynicism I’m on about.  Criticising everything and everybody is likely to stop people from having a go.  We all need to do something and the sooner we start, the better.  No one strategy is perfect, but a lot of imperfect attempts will make some kind of difference, which is what we need.  I don’t know Chris Martin and I doubt he claims to be perfect, but at least he’s made the effort. 

Of course it’s not just the corridors of environmental innovation that are haunted by cynicism.  We are cynical about almost everything, happier to decry than celebrate.  This is true in our churches and can apply to the “Fresh Expressions” stuff.  Sometimes, I sense, people are quick to leap in and make their criticisms (e.g. “it’s only an old way of being church in a new venue”). I’ve done it myself.

The first rule of innovation is to give people permission to fail.  God knows we need a group of out on the edge, entrepreneurial church leaders who are prepared to have a go.  Of course they will make mistakes; of course they will create some ideas which won’t work; little they do will be perfect.  But let’s get behind them rather than greet them and their outrageous plans with an unhealthy cynicism.

To that faithful, often exhausted and frustrated band of church leaders who, in their own way, are trying to make a difference, I simply say this: Thank you and please don’t stop what your trying to achieve!

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