Tag Archives: Church

The Bible Posters

I came across Jim LePage’s Word Bible Designs through an interview on Rachel Held Evans blog.

Over the past couple of years, every time I take a training session or do a talk in church I’ve used more and more images as I’ve realised I’m a visual learner and there is something about the power of art and visuals that communicates powerfully in tandem with the words we speak. I lament how so often it seems the evangelical church has lost art and the power and beauty of visual art in fear of being offensive or blasphemous. I was at a wedding recently in a new church building which apart from candles and decorations felt like an empty soulless shell. I long for churches to recover visual art. It’s not something I ever grew up with attending a brethren church but a conviction that has grown as I have become more aware of the creativity that God instills in us and the power of beauty to instil hope.

So bring on a more colourful and beauty-full church – and enjoy the posters on Jim LePage’s site many of which depict the books in a wonderful honesty we sometimes don’t get in church…


Leading by the book?

Over at the Innovista Ireland page I’m asking what leadership shaped by the ‘good book’ should/could look like.

Is the model of leadership practised in most of our churches really a biblical one?

How can we move towards an understanding and practice of leadership that is less ‘one-man-band’ or about maintaining the status quo but instead more closely reflects the New Testament?

Those are the questions I have been asked to tackle in a seminar at New Horizon on Wednesday 20th July. At 10pm (As if the questions weren’t daunting enough!)

What do you think?

Head on over to weigh in…

Women, Leadership and the Church

It’s one of those issues that keeps cropping up again and again. From a conversation started by meinmysmallcorner a few years ago to our small group in church over the last few weeks.

We’ve been working our way through Acts, and it’s been really noticeable how much reference Luke makes to women. In the Jewish (the court for women in Herod’s Temple was part of the court for Gentiles which says a lot) and Roman cultures of the day (correct me if I’m wrong) women had little in the way of rights or social standing, and lived very much in submission to their husbands. But Luke keeps mentioning various significant women and uses phrases such as  ‘quite a few prominent women’ (Acts 17.4 and 17.12). Last night when looking at Acts 21 he throws in this seemingly random comment about 4 unmarried daughters who prophesied, which again stirred up a conversation about how we have to read the whole of scripture together and hold these references in tension with passages such as 1 Timothy 2.12. Scot McKnight does a great job of pointing out all the women God uses in leadership throughout the Bible in the Blue Parakeet which Patrick Mitchel works through on his blog. Another recent book called How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership brings together lots of interesting ‘conversion narratives’ including John Stackhouse – who makes his chapter available on his blog.  Our discussion last night and a conversation with a businessperson yesterday reminded me of the need for role-models and exposure. If we are to develop the gifted female leaders and teachers that God has placed among us, they need opportunities to use those gifts and to be seen ‘up front’. It is only when gifted women are made visible and given the opportunities they ‘deserve’ that the next generation of women can have role models. Which means in many cases it is up to the men in positions of responsibility to champion this cause and make a reality Paul’s words in Galatians 3:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

NT Wright elaborates on the Galatians passage here.  I recognise I’m only putting forward one perspective here- because it’s what I’ve come to be convinced of, but also because I feel there is a need to really wrestle with this issue and provide a healthy alternative perspective to a lot of what is around in the evangelical sphere currently. I’m all about the liberation…

Urban Nation

What is God’s (and your) vision for the city? This question perhaps sums up the Urban Nation conference (hosted by Tearfund, IBI and iMAP)a couple of weeks ago. Over the course of the day various speakers explored what this looks like in different contexts – from creating community by developing a theology of hope based on children, justice, community and beauty (Joe Donnelly) to making the most of our relational networks to influence the influencers.

It was inspiring and encouraging to be united with people from churches across the city, coming together to wrestle with how we can ‘seek the good of the city’. Keynote speaker Joel Edwards of the Micah Network left us with plenty of questions to ponder such as:

How do our church budgets reflect the social needs of our area?
What is the difference between a church coexisting with a community and a church penetrating and transforming a community?
Do we have a theology of well-being that goes beyond Jesus sorting out your problems?

For me the lasting challenge was his comment that

“inner city mission can only happen through partnership.”

My experience of church has always been that of tending to go it alone but if we truly want to seek the good of the community God has placed us in – who do we need to partner with to make an impact? Is there any point starting something new when another voluntary organisation is doing the same thing?

Parenting isn’t just for parents

Sitting in church a few weeks ago listening to a sermon on praying parents from the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 I started to do what I often do with sermons on parenting -switch off and think about something else. But then I stopped and realised that this affected me too not just for when I might have a few little sams but much more generally.  Parenting is also for those of us who don’t have physical offspring.

In the Old Testament children were seen as a sign of blessing, and were important for more than just the obvious reasons. God had chosen Israel to be his people and to demonstrate to the nations what life with Yahweh at the centre was like.  They had been instructed to multiply, and because theirs was a physical people with a geographic land the primary way the people of God grew was by having children. Things changed when Jesus (who never did get married) arrived.  After the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, all of a sudden membership of God’s covenant community was open to anyone, from any nation or ethnic group. From the time of Jesus on God’s people grew primarily not through childbirth but by new birth – by making disciples. This is what lies behind Paul talking about it being ‘better not to marry’ in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul also talks about Timothy being his son in the faith.

So it seems to me if we add all this up together then we need to hear more sermons in church about parenting, and those of us who don’t have kids, or who are single are also involved. Each one of us can ‘parent’ or disciple those who are younger than us in age and in the faith (or who have no faith). In an era when so many family units are broken, the younger generation need older role models, older people who will believe in them, encourage them, help them grow up, pass on their life experience, wisdom and story of following Jesus. That doesn’t just mean grandparents but all of us who are capable of investing in others. Imagine the sort of community where ‘parenting’ is a responsibility assumed by everyone and where each of us is surrounded by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children we can call our own…

Do we really believe in servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a concept familiar to Jesus followers and also one that is increasingly familiar in the business world.  Robert Greenleaf introduced his take on it in the late seventies, and the concept has undergone something of  a renaissance in the literature in recent years. Obviously there are differences, but sometimes I wonder if some of the ‘business’ understanding of servant leadership in ways is closer to what Jesus was modelling and trying to get us to understand.

Is it possible that the church has got its understanding and practice of servant leadership badly wrong?

It seems to me that many people have an incorrect view of what it means to be a servant leader. Many interpret servant leadership as running themselves into the ground or pandering to the ‘needs’ (or perhaps more accurately ‘wants’) of those they lead.

The primary focus of service for the servant leader is the mission of which s/he is leading (and the God whose mission it is). This changes the dynamic slightly than if the primary focus is serving those who are being led. When serving God and the missio dei is the primary focus there can be no such thing as consumer church where the congregation are provided with what they want to hear and do in the ways in which they want to hear and do it. A servant leader who primarily serves the mission of God will ultimately serve those they lead, but it may not be an easy or comfortable journey for those being led. It will however be an ultimately fulfilling one. In this sense true servant leadership should always be missional, it cannot be focused on maintaining a nice Christian social club.

Secondly a proper understanding of servant leadership should result in a radical shift in how ministers, pastors and all church leaders operate. If the minister or pastor(s) are the ones doing everything then servant leadership is not being practised. If leaders truly are servants, then serving the mission of God and the people in the light of that means helping empower the people, building them up for acts of service, and releasing them into their gifts. In the words of Chua Wee Hian:

the primary task of leaders is to identify and facilitate the deployment of gifts

Therefore if the church leader is the one who is doing everything, leading every group or committee, teaching at every church gathering I would argue they are not exercising servant (or indeed biblical) leadership. Further in doing everything they are actually denying people the opportunity to identify and develop gifts, and are not building the church up, but rather their reputation, control and empire. Perhaps we need to get back to training when it comes to church leaders – in seminaries the leadership aspect needs overhauled (if it exists at all), and what of elders? What training is there for them?  How does this understanding of servant leadership affect not only their role but also how they interact with full-time staff? Another example might be a church which struggles to find people to teach in worship services when the minister leaves. If God gives all the gifts a community needs then is the lack of people available to teach not a failure of the leadership to have developed teaching gifts in members of the congregation? Or indeed a failure of the practise of servant leadership?

If we really believe in the biblical concept of servant leadership, which yes is sacrificial (not in the ways used as an excuse for control freaks however) does it mean we need to radically change how leadership is exercised  and modelled and not just taught?

To finish, it seems that identity is crucial for servant leaders. A leader who is not secure in who s/he is cannot and will not delegate responsibility and trust others with leadership and teaching within the church, and therefore cannot truly serve…

Vocational Neighbouring

A phrase and concept voiced at an ‘in conversation with…’ event hosted by the excellent EBM/skainos yesterday. Bob Lupton was the conversationalist in question, sharing his experiences of mission in an urban context in Atlanta, Georgia. Wish I’d known about him when I had an enforced stay there. Bob works in inner city Atlanta, and after a decade travelling in, moved there with his family.

The concept of vocational neighbouring grabbed me – its something I have discussed, argued about and pondered, and that something others are trying to have a lash at.

Bob has some great turns of phrase – especially the question – does God have an opinin on where he deploys his saints? When we are making decisions about buying houses and where to live the common elements to are  shops, schools, safety etc, but how much does our desire to see the kingdom of God break in influence those decisions? How much do we think about the areas of the city that need our gifts and skills and abilities? It is true that often the communities in which we exist are more than just the geographical one in which we reside but that doesn’t mean we ignore our location. I think it can be true that where we live, or perhaps how we live where we live can have significant influence on our ability to be redemptive influences. In terms of redemptive influence I guess when it comes to vocational neighbouring it is a long slow patient, incarnational process.

In the block of flats where I live this is pretty difficult – no-one seems prepared to engage in conversation, or too willing to engage in relationship. It is a block of anonymous people who don’t interact. That’s why I prefer houses, at least then you are more likely to see and be able to chat to your neighbours. Bob also talked about how caring, achieving neighbours can dramatically influence people. It is an interesting thought that about making possibility visible. He told a story of his son applying for a part-time job, coming back and telling his neighbourhood friends that this company were looking part-time workers. Subsequently 5 of them ended up working there. Perhaps being a neighbour is about bringing hope by demonstrating that change is possible in our lives, and using the connections we have to be neighbours to those around us.

There was also some intriguing discussion on whether churches ‘compete’ with communities –  how the ‘best’ Christians are often ‘un’ neighbours as their time is consumed by serving the programmes of their church. This raises the question – is the work of the church (or the institution) sometimes in opposition to the work of the kingdom in a particular place? Do churches ‘consume’ our time and talent instead of releasing us to serve in the community?



Leadership #1 – Leadership as mutual and not removed

I’ve almost finished a thesis on leadership development so thought I might share some of the insights that have been inspiring me. First up from Henri Nouwen.

..ministry is a mutual experience.. He wants us to minister not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved. Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead. Medicine, psychiatry etc all offer us models in which ‘service’ takes place in a one-way direction. But how can we lay down our lives for those we do not allow to enter into deep personal relationship with us?

When members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others, and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits…  … the leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind than that offered by the world. It is servant leadership in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as the people need their leader.

From In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

The Moderators and the Presbyterian Mutual

I’m sure we’re all a little bored by the story of the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual and the Presbyterian church’s quest to get the government to rescue it. Yes to get the government to bail out the church. I’m not as well versed with the goings on as Will and crookedshore. I’m also aware that it is very easy to take cheap shots at churches – or the institutional parts of them at least. So this post isn’t a cheap shot, it comes off the back of several conversations about a variety of things. One was to do with a view that the biggest challenge to leadership development in the church is sectarianism. Another invovled asking if the commonly perceived view that often the church turns people away from following Jesus because of its hypocrisy is not actually true, and that maybe the problem is that the church is living out what it believes. If that is the case then the gospel it believes bears little resemblence to the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of. Another had to do with the old adage that you can tell what we value by what we do or speak up about. You may or may not be aware that 23 previous moderators of the Presbyterian Church wrote to the British and Irish governments asking them for help. Am I being too harsh in asking why when money is involved all these former moderators are happy to sign a letter? Where was such unity in speaking out against sectarianism, denials of civil rights to certain sections of the community, global injustices, in fighting for the rights of the poor and marginalised in our communities? Is this speaking out a damning indictment of previous silences? It begs the question what would I have done? What have I done? What are the things I am prepared to speak out on and get upset about? Despite what I say what does that reveal about the values deep in me and the true state of my heart?

It’s o so quiet – have Irish church leaders lost their voice?

On Boxing/St. Stephen’s day, the BBC website carries stories about church leaders speaking prophetically into our culture in Wales, England and Scotland. There was a general story on the front page, alongside the Pope’s Christmas message. But then I began to look for what Irish church leaders were saying at Christmas. Maybe because it’s Christmas church leaders get more airtime, and it was interesting to read most of them speaking intelligently and some might say prophetically into our society and culture. A simple trawl of stories on front page and search deeper into Europe and NI sections reveal nothing. Is it just they are not getting reported or have church leaders in Ireland lost their voice?