Category Archives: Cultural connections

Making cultural connections for the ministry of the church and commenting on culture will go in this category

Real Christianity :: A Christian Country? Ask Wilberforce!


I can’t quite get my head round the current debate – unwittingly (or was it?) kicked off by David Cameron – about whether or not Britain is a Christian Country. Letters from secularists to newspapers, twitter is all a flap – many comments appear to be either ‘of course it is’ or ‘of course it isn’t’ and then there are comments writers who are proclaiming that Britain both ‘definitely is’ and also proclaiming that it most definitely ‘is not’ in the same articles!

Thankfully, as with so much debate that appears to be very much of its day – we have been here before. I say that, with a few caveats – which I will get to . . .

But, before that, my own context and understanding as a children’s and youth worker for both local church, regional and national Christian organisations over the last 28 years tells me that:

:: Firstly, We are engaged in children’s and youth work in a world that is no longer ‘Christendom’ – books have been written about this in recent years, my three personal favourites would be ‘Postmodern Youth Ministry‘ by Tony Jones; ‘Ambiguous Evangelism‘ by Bob Mayo and ‘Youthwork After Christendom‘ by Jo and Nigel Pimlott. If you are after a ‘primer’ on the challenges of Christian children’s and youth ministry today – start with these. Follow these up with ‘Almost Christian‘ by Kenda Creasy-Dean. This book, although American – gives a pretty accurate picture of the state of the church in the ‘western World’ in particular, The States, Canada, Australia and the UK . . .

:: Secondly, I am also taking the view (because it is mine!) that ‘Christian’ means being a Christ follower, a disciple of Jesus. Someone who has acknowledged their need of a Saviour, given their life to Christ and is seeking to live for Him daily. This is not someone who knows some stuff ABOUT Christianity, or ABOUT Jesus. I am talking about a Christian as someone who KNOWS Jesus and desires to put Jesus at the centre of their whole life.

So, with those two caveats – I don’t know what to say about the current debate. It seems to me (frustratingly) to be about Religion, about ‘values’ and where we have got our ‘morals’ from and being proud of our history – and, obviously, a focus (by some) of all the rubbish done in the name of Christianity or Religion or BIG institutional stuff . . . . Jesus did not break the power of sin and death to lay the ground work for religious institutions – but to reconcile all things to Himself!

Anyway . . . . I don’t want to get lost in having a debate with a few people about my tiny perspective (my view point) on this huge subject – but, would like to refer ALL those interested in this debate (the exasperated too, like myself) to Wilberforce!

He wrote a cracking book, 200 years ago – uncannily he could have written it in response to SOME of the articles and thought and comment going on right now about whether we are a Christian Country – it has commonly been known as ‘Real Christianity’ but has the longer title of, ‘A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classed of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity’ (a bit of a mouthful, so you can see why it was shortened!) . . .

Essentially, Wilberforce was encouraging his readers to throw off a kind of ‘cultural Christianity’ and pursue what he saw as ‘authentic Christianity’ which was a life of faith, lived after Jesus Christ. Not something that a person is simply born into, neither was it something to benignly be a ‘part of’ without fully grasping what a person believed and why they believed it. He sparked a debate, a fair bit of repentance and laid some of the ground work for seeing the slavery of the time banned!

This isn’t the debate that seems to be happening. We seem to be sat in that cultural malaise and discussing the cultural ‘merits’ of Christianity – which seems to be totally missing the point of being ‘Christian’!

Lord God, how I pray for men and women of God like Wilberforce to be raised up in this generation and have the kind of influence he had on this nation – would that such a book could be written today (and find a publisher!)

Book Reviews || Flood Fiction || #1. The Flood, David Maine

imageThere has been MASSIVE interest in the new Noah film – and rightly so, what a stonking story! I hope to see the film at some point . . . but, I ALSO have a couple of great books on my shelf which use the biblical story of Noah as a backdrop for some great fiction. So, in the next couple of days – 3 brief reviews – first up:

1. ‘The Flood’ by David Maine
This is a staggering book – drawing you right in to the time, the place, the whole feel of . . . Well, humanity on the edge of a precipice! Earthy, honest language from a whole host of characters (we get Noe’s perspective – Noah; and a bunch of his family comment – from totally devoted ‘my father can do no wrong’ to, ‘dads a crackpot’. All this commentary on the crazy notion of an ark in the middle of nowhere and beautiful writing,

The sun beats him like a rod. Around him the land quivers and ripples as if still just an idea in God’s mind . . . . He wonders if he has made a mistake, then exiles that thought. If he has made a mistake, it means God has too.

The pages where Noe speaks himself are wondrous in their simplicity – this simple, straightforward man thrust into a bizarre and epic struggle to save his family and a bunch of animals . . . but, the voice I enjoyed the most was when his wife narrates, she refers to Noah as, ‘Himself’,

Himself thrives on sacrifice. It’s bread and meat to him, it’s air, it’s the blood in his marrow. If God ever stops asking for sacrifice, Himself won’t know what to do with himself.

We come through the maelstrom and out the other side, Noe hears God speak and be holds the sign of God’s promise,

Across the sky streaks a rainbow of such intensity it leaves Noe gasping. Spanning from horizon to horizon, it sprays down colour like an enormous prism, painting green fields with red, riverbanks with yellow, fruit trees with dazzling indigo. Even Noe’s own shadow glows with a crisp blue sheen. He tries to speak but the words cower in his larynx. Then The Lord is gone out of his head anyway, and Noe is alone again.

It is not the Bible. It is a work of fiction, but a fabulous rendering of the story. It is not a child’s book. This is a grown up rebelling, nature red in tooth and claw – as is humanity, which is why God cleansed the world. It is powerful, sobering stuff – and will leave you wondering at what took place and what it meant for Noah and his family to get ready for it (for years) then live through hell on earth and come out the other side . . . It will also have you scurrying back to the scriptures to read the original.

Tomorrow, ‘Not The End of the World’ by Geraldine McCaughrean . . .


Values don’t Trend


This is fairly blunt – but, we can easily get distracted from what is eternal and timeless (and priceless) by what is immediate, offers the ‘latest’ or most ‘current’ thinking, gives us a recommended formula, is something that – despite the 2000 years of a Christian history that we have yet to realise – something ‘new’!

The truth is that what MAKES for great ministry is not the latest thing but eternal things. The values that we have have as we go about our ministry with children and young people are far more important than what we actually DO.

– No programme can beat authentic relationships.
– No charismatic leader that likes the lime light can beat a dedicated volunteer who desires the best for the young people.
– No special events to keep it ‘interesting’ can match week in week out commitment to ‘being there’

My previous 4 posts were focused in what young people need from the church: acceptance / love / guidance / significance – these ‘needs’ do not change, they have not changed in the time I have been doing children’s and youth ministry – I have to confess though, I have sometimes disappeared off after the latest idea or trend or ‘transform your ministry’ model. Sometimes it can be a subtle thing that distracts us – the church up the road tries dome thing different (it might be right for them) and then I have assumed I can ‘transplant’ that thing to what I am doing . . . James Dobson once said,

comparison is the root of all inferiority
James Dobson

Equally true in ministry as for whether my six pack (ha) matches up to the guy who just ran past me . . .

The values we have and the values we instil in our young people are the things that will last. Don’t loose your values in a desire to keep up – let values drive your work with young people, let those values shape the kind of ministry you lead and invest in.

5 Minute Post // 3 Church Challenges for today and tomorrow

I am trying to write almost every day – not just on the blog, but just get thoughts and ideas DOWN.  So, here is my first experiment of trying to get a blog written in about 5 minutes!

Had a session last night with our finishing “Gap Year” students, on “The Future of The Church” . . . .

The three things I think are (and will increasingly be) most challenging for the Church are as follows:

1.  Authentic Community.  What does that look like?  Being “in” the community is fairly straight forward if we live cheek by jowl with people who we are seeking to minister to.  However, as soon as we use language like trying to “reach” people – we immediately take ourselves out of the community in some way.  We struggle to Be the community and reach it and understand the difference.  We also talk more about being a church community than actually being one, so what would an authentic community look like – and where does that get built?  Literally – in a geographical location?  Somewhere special that can gather a crowd, in a lounge, in cyberspace?  where do we spend most of our time (online / social media?)

2.  Distinctive.  This is challenging – when we are trying to be real with people and not be some “weird” Christians . . . what makes our faith and our lives distinctive?  What, essentially makes us Christians?  Are we actually called to be distinctive?  Or are we simply to point others (and be orientated that way ourselves) towards the distinctive one – i.e. Jesus Christ.

3.  Letting the future of the Church be decided by those who will inherit it.  This I think is a bigger challenge than the above two things.  Two many leaders, my age and upwards, continue to want to shape things, or impart things, or “develop” younger leaders.  That is fine, as far as it goes . . . but, when is this generation going to actually be free to do things they would like to do with church – we are still incredibly institutional – every mainstream church is.  This generation of young leaders, by that I mean those in their late teens and early twenties need to be given some freedom and encouragement to shape the church NOW – not to have to wait until middle age!  Every generation rebels a bit (in church circles) with what has gone before, they are then aloud to mouth off a bit, are patronised until the calm down . . . and then, and only then, do they get a shot at making decisions about stuff (once we have assimilated them or trained the life out of them.

We have to keep asking ourselves – is this real, is this real church?  Is this distinctive, is this Christlike?  Am I in the way, should a little child be leading us?

come on please, not the church we have now – just a bit smaller – in 20 years . . . .


Participatory ‘Church’ – am I missing something?

A creative and fun Vicar did something creative and fun at a wedding. This has gone viral on youtube and led to said vicar appearing on telly and also led to commentators on such things commentating. Vicky Beeching in particular . . .

The Vicar is Kate Bottley, and as far as I can see is doing a great job. I have not had a chance to watch the video as I am bashing this post out on my mobile and the video is not enabled for mobile devices. I will watch it, I like dancing and I especially like to see a bit of movement in church worship.  I have now watched it – good moves, especially as the vicar boogied up the isle at the end . . . . 😉

In fact, I (and others I know) have frequently led choreographed dance moves from the front of church – (as far as I know it isn’t a ‘flash mob’)- I also became aware that the Harlem Shake was occurring all over the place in churches – yet neither my choreographed dancing, nor these churches having a crack at the Harlem have hit the news like the wedding thing with Kate.

My own moves are part and parcel of what children’s and youth workers do week in week out in churches. Whether it is called leading action songs, choruses or the kids bit – we are up the front, as part of our jobs, creatively trying to engage the congregation (not just the kids!). I don’t think I can remember someone ever saying that what we are doing in leading songs this way is ‘irreverent’ (which apparently, some burks have said to Kate Bottley), what we are doing is worship -but I guess it is only for the kids, so I can loon about at the front of church to my hearts content and to within an inch of a vicars tolerance level because, well – frankly, because I don’t have a collar!

Yes, there, I said it.

Creative and crazy and fun and hilarious stuff is done by children’s workers and youth workers every week as part of their jobs (for some it is a key feature of their personality and they couldn’t do their job without being slightly off the wall), but – as part of her job – a vicar does something a bit creative and different and its headline news.

I walk past people giving their cars a wash, but grab a local vicar in his or her collar and have them wash the car, or abseil down a steeple, or (as a Vicar did in Chichester, put an ice rink in the middle of the church . . . ) and it is NEWS!

I am sorry, but what does this say about Church?  It says to me, if Vicars are doing something it is “happening” and if others do the same, or similar things – well, they are invisible, only lay workers, not ordained people . . . it just strikes me as very weird.  Obviously, doing ministry isn’t about getting in the NEWS, it is about sharing, living, laughing, joyously being a loon for Jesus and bringing good news into peoples lives and into our communities.  Surely though, we are ALL called to do that aren’t we?

Maybe it is just me.

Nobody should be dissing Kate by the way, what she did was great!  It just wasn’t that unusual . . .

The Christian commentators on it, and those looking for “hope” in our churches have jumped on the story though and seem (to me) to have enhanced certain views about what church is that also, I just don’t get!

Maybe it really is me.

Anyway, one of these was about Church being a place where we can participate (Vicky B writing for The Independent) – and I kept seeing the words attendees and congregation and a focus on the building being the church . . . and I felt a bit depressed.  In the CofE we continue to gather what we call “mission statistics” about church attendance on a Sunday – as if this is what determines our effectiveness at making disciples.  I don’t know how many times I have taught and explored faith questions with young people over the last 25 years, but – 1.  The Church is not the building.  2.  Turning up at the building on a Sunday does not make you a disciple of Jesus.  Yet, in our communication with those who are not yet part of a worshiping community our focus continues to be, it seems, “getting them to church” and “how can we increase attendance”.

So, we still have – it seems –

1.  a clerical and hierarchical church (whichever way you cut it, people in collars doing very similar things to people who are not appears to be interesting – not just to other Christians, but also to people looking “in” at the church) . . .

2. a message we reinforce that being “church” means turning up “at”one and being a congregant or an attendee.

Seriously?  IF we keep doing this (and part of it seems to be a response to the interest we receive from those who aren’t Christians – so any positive interest is jumped on) what exactly are we communicating to the next generation?

From a Distance – It’s all happening somewhere else!

Unfortunately, as I write this quick reflection, all that is in my head is “From a Distance”, by Cliff Richard . . . I should have thought of a different title to this blog post!  Although, in the lyrics he does say something a bit bonkers, “God is watching us, God is watching us . . . . from a distance.”  Well, HE is NOT watching us from a distance . . . He is RIGHT HERE.  The challenge in life and in ministry is that we can believe that what is “happening” (in terms of where God is and what He is doing) is going on somewhere else . . . . whilst we are doing something mundane, hard, boring . . . right where we are.

Social Media stuff just makes this worse . . . . two great things are going on right now (and they are great things!) – 1. is the Youth Culture and Mission Lectures (happening today in London, and tomorrow in Leeds) follow conversation via twitter on @realYCML #ycml13 and 2.  the Media Literacy for Christian Ministry intensive (happening this week in Durham) . . . part of the Big Bible Project, and you can keep an eye on what the lectures are talking about by following #medialit13 . . . there are probably other conferences, gatherings I am missing out on.

Boy-with-binocularsI think the “I am missing something” massively stems from that insecurity that there is stuff that others know and talk about that you (namely me) do not know about, secret conversations in corridors that mysteriously go silent as you walk through, that there might be a world inhabited by others that is – well, more dynamic and “happening” than your world . . .

Now, the advantage of social media is that I can kind of “be there” whilst also being here.  Following on twitter at least gives me some soundbites, I can sound knowledgeable in conversations with others about topics that I really should be up to speed on . . . BUT, where does all that end?

What I have been “called to” is real stuff, with real people, happening now – God is here.

What I can glean from some of these “other things” that I never get to is helpful, but not more important than what is going on in the real stuff, with real people, happening now – God is here.

What I glance at from elsewhere that looks vital, important, essential, “don’t miss this” might in fact cause me to miss THIS – what is going on in the real stuff, with real people, happening now – God is not distant, God is not just watching, God is not just somewhere else where a crowd has gathered – God is here.

God is here.  Anything can happen.  If God is here, then “it” (that elusive “it”) is also happening right here.

So, this blog post finishes my “what am I missing musings” for this week.  If it is happening right here, right now – I don’t want to miss it!

Influential leadership for Jesus – “who’s that?”

I love the following passage from Eugene Peterson, “The Word Made Flesh”, the whole book is great – I have previously reviewed it, and I recommend it.  The quote below is a response to the constant (it seems) pursuit of the famous, the cool, the uber-hip, the trendy, the beautiful, the eloquent – even in Christian ministry, that some are just more “cut out” for Christian ministry than others (who shouldn’t really bother) . . . leave it to the great and the good.

Well, er – not according to Jesus.  I will let Eugene take it from here,

The Lazarus story smashes to smithereens our stereotypes of the men and women we assume provide the leadership vanguard of Jesus’ kingdom mission.  Jesus is on the hunt for followers who will participate with him in establishing his kingdom rule.  His first recruits take most bystanders by indignant surprise.  The rich, the powerful, and influential are by no means excluded – the rich man Joseph of Arimathea and the influential rabbi Nicodemus are named and numbered among Jesus’ followers – but there is not suggestion in the Gospel stories as written that Jesus was going after “the brightest and the best.”   St Paul underlines this way of Jesus in his unflattering appraisal of those called, “God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” . . . (1 Cor 1:28 The Message).

This is in contrast to the widespread and virtually unchallenged American (here I would say, “just American??”) strategy to target influential and accomplished men and women for kingdom work – men and women as we say with “proven leadership qualities” or at least “leadership potential.”  Wherever did we come up with that?  Certainly not by reading the stories that Jesus told and the stories that were told about him.”

That about says it.  A quick personal illustration – I was in the car park at a national Christian event recently and just happened to have parked next to someone well known, across the car park I could hear the stewards talking to each other, “look! it’s so and so!” (referring to the person who had parked next to me) . . . they then peered in my direction, one turned to the other and said, “and who’s that?”, and the other said, “nah – he’s nobody.”

Not one of us is a nobody in the eyes of Jesus, not one of us is missed by his gaze.  Leadership is modeled on chasing after Jesus and being like Him, it is true to say that we become like those we hang out with – if only we could get the hang of what that actually means, and spend more time with Jesus and bask in his actual glory and majesty than make do with the reflected glory from those (even in the Christian world) who we fete and honour.

Nobody is a nobody.  Jesus knows who you are, it does not matter who else does (or doesn’t).