Head stuck in the trunk

I remember running a community building festival in a northern town of rural Ghana a few years ago. There were hundreds in the centre participating in games and races and another couple of hundred having a go at the various activities that encircled the games. To the untrained eye, it was utter pandemonium, to those aware of social processes in crowds things were going well; either way that sort of setting can be fairly stressful. I recall a particular moment where I needed one of my colleagues to direct the centre games, as I scanned the crowd, I eventually found him rummaging through the trunk of one of our vehicles whilst things unravelled in the centre! Some of us react to stress of chaos by burrowing down deep into some detail that we can manage, others of us take a step back trying to contextualise the mayhem and catch the patterns by viewing the big picture. The trouble is that if we get stuck with our heads in the trunk we may find what we were looking for but have missed the real danger that was approaching and is now upon us!

 I have now run seven discussion workshops in various parts of the country looking at discipleship, mission and transformation of society. It’s been a chance to step back and get a bigger picture (more of a thumb-nail sketch!) of where things are at. To start us off I get participants to pair up with someone they don’t know and share their story with each other focusing on those things that have helped them in their discipleship journey as well as those things that have been a hindrance. I also get them to reflect together on what a mature Christ follower looks like. Just 10 minutes of this yields some rich fare for discussion and reflection in the bigger group!

 With varying strength, and through different stories the following things have come up each time:

1.       Something significant, hopeful and strengthening happens in the process of sharing and hearing each other’s story, even for just a few minutes.

2.       Having others to share the journey and encourage us in our walk is the single most significant, almost universal thing that contributes positively to our discipleship. This is closely followed by spiritual disciplines (prayer, bible study, worship etc) in the context of the church community.
3.       The biggest hindrances to our journey are isolation or negative relationships (especially when life is challenging) and Christians who lived a double life.
4.       Maturity as a follower of Christ is more about living out our faith in everyday life, than about knowing all the right stuff.

A few minutes of reflecting on our own and each other’s narrative enables these and other pretty simple patterns to surface. We then move to Jesus and his disciples and see the same things echoed there. They shared life together for three years and when he left he told them to keep on sharing life together with him in the centre. It was only after he left that the disciples begun to understand the truths, and doctrines started to fall into place, and by this time the doctrine was simply an articulation and explanation of all they had experienced and heard in their three years with him, and now, with his Spirit.

It is then an odd experience to engage with the question of how the church is ‘doing’ discipleship and what it is we are inviting people to in mission. Because it’s quickly obvious that what we are doing bears little relation to what our own narrative tells us is important, what Jesus himself did and what we intuitively know works.  Much of what we call discipleship focusses instead around teaching people stuff, we have our series of courses that people do in a particular order, failing that, Sunday sermons might suffice. Then there are a bunch of external behaviours that serve as measuring sticks of maturity. These externals will vary depending on the church and tradition…. the list and hoops and yard sticks grows and changes but keeps going on. And what does it all produce? Well that’s a whole other discussion!

It appears we got stuck in the trunk and forgot what we were really trying to do. If we come out and look at the bigger picture, is there another way?

Perhaps there is another way that’s at least worth giving a go. What if it is the shared life of disciples that revolves around Christ himself, that in turn, makes disciples?  If faith happens and grows where the rubber hits the road, as life comes at you, then let’s embrace life in all its complexity and pain but with each other and Christ – and if we don’t know how to do that, let’s work out how to do it! Isn’t that what discipleship is? This then becomes a faith that is relevant whoever you are and wherever you are, it’s not just a fair weather faith, it’s a gutsy, earthy, courageous faith with a real life, gutsy, compassionate, just and present God at the centre, with his sleeves rolled up, face leathered and gentle hands roughened. And that there, that group of brothers and sisters doing real life together with Christ at the centre, that there is what’s going to change the world.

Advertisements

three days alive

The task was to locate and articulate the dream that would take us through the next 2 decades. After a pilgrimage of training, mission and reflection in the summer, followed a couple of months later by a week of ‘Foundations for life and mission’, we had three days together. We weren’t harnessing just any dream, not only was it be ‘ours’ but it was to be a dream for an entire nation.

working on the dream...

working on the dream…

Those three days with the Brazilianteam were the most exciting I have spent for a few years. We were so alive as we went on the journey together. They drilled down to find the gems, the finger prints of God in the history and people of Brazil, getting greater clarity as they shared with me and each other. ‘I’m not usually patriotic’ exclaimed one after a few hours of this work ‘but I LOVE my country!’ . We looked at the areas where God’s glory and presence was most absent in the nation today, and the conviction and call to mission between them took root. It wasn’t long before they came up with a vision for their work and lives in Brazil to take them into the next 20 years.

I felt so alive during those three days. To be part of a gr

oup of people who became friends… brothers and sisters on a mission, was like basking in the healing sun and letting the sea breeze blow away the staleness of ill health. As I look back on my life I have been incredibly blessed at several points to be part of a group like this; in Leicester, at Trinity in Poatina, in South Africa during 2009 and again in 2011.

Last week I visited a school in Cambridge with a friend who’s great, great, great grandfather was the founder. We went to the whole school chapel service and as the place filled up with junior and high school kids, I remembered the excitement of working and walking with teenagers who were on the frontier of discovery of life (and sometimes knowledge!).  Although there is something deeper for me about working with young adults and teenagers, there was this similar theme of being with friends on a mission, sharing life as we move into the future together. it is something I aspire to and for which my heart longs.

The Brazilians went away with a plan and strategy for the next few months, and they continue to meet and pray over skype, I am looking forward to catching up with them and sharing life with them again. One  thing is for sure, although they are separated by many miles from each other, they are alive and moving forward together.

team Brazil..

team Brazil..

keeping the myth alive

September 2004 had me in Tasmania, I had expected to be home in the UK by July, but my stay had already been extended and I would end up staying for a further 3 years. It was to be an incredible journey of growth and self-discovery that has shaped every aspect of my life since then. Every September until 2009, Fusion’s annual International Conference took place. I have been part of annual Christian conferences for various denominations and groups, but this was different. It was during this period that Fusion, after 40 years of Australian ministry, began to branch out into other nations; the palpable excitement as the expanding family gathered each year and new members were welcomed in was amazing to experience. To embrace, experience and understand Fusion’s International conference is, in my view, to understand Fusion; those conferences embodied much of the Myth of Fusion for us.

International Conference was a time when we all came together and as with many family gatherings it was a time of celebration and sharing news of what we had all been doing. We welcomed all the babies that had been born to Fusion staff over the last 12 months, those present would be sung over and prayed for by all of us. We celebrated engagements, weddings and together remembered those who had gone to be with Jesus. We spent time sharing stories of our youth and community mission work in local centers across the globe: celebrating young and old finding their place and making a difference in their world (many finding faith in the process), celebrating the heroes amongst us, living lives of sacrificial service and mission in God’s Kingdom in every country and state. The last evening of conference was the family concert during which every child and teenager becomes a star and the whole family is treated to a frenzy of creativity, fun, singing, drama, dance and general mayhem at the end of which we’ve all cried and laughed till our sides hurt and cheered and hollered till we’re hoarse!

Each evening one of our number would share a devotion. No fancy ‘thought for the day’ pithy sayings for us. A bit like a psalm of David, a devotion given by a fusion staff member is usually a gutsy sharing of the reality of life on the front line, doing our best to trust God, having a go, falling over, getting up again and seeing God’s overwhelming love and grace cover us despite our stumblings.  As people shared from across the globe, we were reminded that we are part of God’s incredible family, and we live among heroes!!

The conferences were the peak decision making body of the movement. Every major initiative or strategy would be brought to the conference to be discussed and was adopted by the whole conference through a process of direct consensus. Before my time, the movements goals to 2020 were nutted out and adopted at an annual conference and have guided our direction and strategy ever since. Discussing something like this would take time, but we were not through until everyone’s concerns were heard and we were all of one mind one way or another… even if that meant staying up till the wee hours of the morning! The process would drive insane both the uninitiated and those who were more structurally oriented and efficiency driven!!! It certainly wasn’t about efficiency. It was about the unity and fellowship to which we aspired, it was an expression of the vows we take when we become staff and the values we aspire to that culminate in being able to say that as well as we know how and with God’s grace,  ‘together we have the mind of Christ’.

At each conference we elected our office bearers who’s job it was to lead us so that we would achieve the things we had agreed to each year. Each person elected was there on the basis of a staggering minimum of 80% of total votes. We wanted to know that we were in agreement about those leading us, that through careful prayer and consideration we were discerning those who God had for us for the following year. Imagine doing a job that you know at least 80% of the organization is behind you on!

One of the most solemn parts of conference was the staff induction service during which those who after much prayerful consideration, felt that God was calling them to serve as ministers amongst us would be officially welcomed into our fellowship. During the service both the inductees and those already staff vow to love, encourage and support one another and to ‘serve together the one Lord Jesus Christ the Head of the Church’. It is a profound moment as those who have lived this life of sacrificial ministry for decades stand with the novices and together, once again, we all look to Christ for the strength to love and serve him in whichever way he chooses to lead us. We listen together to the words from the Benedictine Rule for a New Brother …

“So keep Jesus Christ before your eyes,

Do not hesitate to go anywhere he leads you,

Do not stay where you are and do not look back,

but look forward with eagerness to what lies ahead. “

 

These are just a few of the things that made Fusion’s annual International Conference the heart beat for our movement. Since 2009 we have not gathered in the same way as an International Movement but my hope is that we will not lose the Myth of Fusion carried through the annual conferences but rather discover new ways of keeping it alive amongst us.

 

snare or launch pad?

‘I don’t know what my job description will be, but this is what’s on my heart, and what’s needed, so its what I’ll keep doing.’ I said that just the other afternoon, talking with a friend about what next year might hold. When I am at my best I function based on what’s needed, my heart’s direction in God’s call and the best that I can bring. The rest of the time (sadly a lot of the time!) its about what others think, recognition, my history, support, resources, status, what I think I am capable of, my rights … and the list goes on.

 Job descriptions are great tools, but when I am closed up and protecting myself, my job description can become like a safety frame I cling to and never want to stray from.  When I am free my job description becomes a launch pad into all sorts of possibility and growth. The jobs I have most enjoyed have been ones where I have not stayed limited by my own fears or my job description, I have usually ended up with a portfolio that two or three could comfortably share between them.

My organization recently had its annual conference. This was a big one for us as we went through the process of adopting a new constitution which incorporated a new organizational structure. The last two years have been pretty difficult in our organization. The fellowship on which our work and lives together is based, has been broken and hurt in many different ways and at many different points, trust as seeped away and we have all responded differently. Thankfully shalom is beginning to return and healing is coming, but there have been times in the last few years when we have resorted to the safety frame of legalities and shrunk back to protect ourselves whilst causing hurt to others.

 In this new day, each of us, regardless of title or role, have people that we lead, and in leading, our task is to call each other out into the adventure, in the warm sunshine of our fellowship with the high standards it requires of us – indeed that are worthy of us. If we don’t, the past has shown that we could fall back to the lowest common denominator of documents that just as easily keep us trapped and small, as they might launch us into worlds of possibility and growth depending whether we chose to live by them alone or by the higher standards of Christ centered fellowship, within which they fall.

Amazing things!

I have recently returned home after spending 10 days with our team in South Africa. I don’t know about you, but when I am coming up to something important and things start going wrong, its easy for me to feel like giving up. I’d like to say that its my great faith that keeps me going, but really its often my pig-headedness and a fear of losing face. Over the last few days though, my reflections have lead me to desire a clearer vision of God’s reality as a motivation for keeping on pushing through.

We have just completed a Foundations course during my time in South Africa, the following results have come out of sharing the week together, talking things through and doing life with God together. Three people have reviewed their lives and priorities and are making immediate changes in response to what God is calling them to as they serve their communities. Three others have rediscovered their love for God and commitment to serving him with their whole life. Some have had the chance to talk through personal concerns for the first time, and find a way forward and God’s peace in the midst of the uncertainty. Many have a clearer conviction that through the expression of God’s nature in practical ways in the streets and high places of South Africa, hope for South Africa’s shalom is within reach. Three young men alone in the world, now exist in the hearts of others who will care and notice. Fusion South Africa has a way forward and a tangible future. And that’s just the stuff I know about! This time has been incredibly fruitful and yes there is more work to be done to make sure that the fruit will last, but God has done amazing things amongst us and brought his life to hearts and places where it seemed to have gone.

I arrived in Cape Town on Friday at the end of a long haul journey that included an unexpected 24hour delay at Melbourne airport. As we went through my first day, people already committed to the course began pulling out, we lost our caterer for the week and there was a question over whether the venue would be available in light of our lower numbers! I went to see a member of the team who had been in a near fatal car crash 10 days previously, she was alive and well, but still suffering from the trauma of the accident – one of her passengers had been transferred from ICU to a standard ward the day before.  By the end of Monday, the day we were due to start the course, a total of 14 people had pulled out! We had invested $5000 in airfares to make the course happen, everything inside me wanted to scream and shout in frustration . As I went about airport pickups and last minute arrangements, in the back of my mind was the question ‘what could we have done differently to stop this all happening??’ and ‘how do I tell those who have invested in this time, that its turned out quite the way we imagined?!’

I can live thinking that what I see is all there is to it or I can let God show me the same things, and more, from his vantage point. The first is where I live most of the time, and its pretty scary and I quickly want to give up or run and hide, the second is still pretty scary, but I can hold on with a little smile, knowing that God is doing, and continues to do, amazing things!

coffee, the hunch back of Notre Damme and messy games…

Not long ago I caught up with a colleague in Albania. Erion heads up the Fusion team in the country and their story is an amazing one! Right now they are at the start of a 6 week marathon of community festivals and young people’s day trips in communities across the south of the country. Thirty five community festivals they will have done by the end of this stretch! But then if you had a team of over a hundred people in their teens and twenties committed to each other and ready to change their world, what wouldn’t you do? The majority of Erion’s team have come to faith at youth day trips , they have found hope and meaning in caring for others and making a difference in their communities, and they want to change their country and the world because they believe that together and with God they can.

And the secret behind all this growth?? Well…coffee, the Hunch Back of Notre Damme and messy games. As Erion explains its all about having a steady flow of outward focused mission and challenges to face together whilst being authentically connected to one another, let me explain.  One of the things I love about the Mediterranean cultures is that there is always time for coffee, good coffee, in nice cafes conveniently located on every street, they know how to do life together, how to be friends enjoying each others company and sharing each other’s worlds. Over the last few years the team has earned the respect and trust of a number of schools in the area. They work with high school students to produce ‘west end’ scale musicals which they perform in packed out city theatres to the applause of local Mayors and national press. They were invited to perform ‘the Hunch Back of Notre Dame’ in the capital city, Tirana last year.  I dread to think the amount of work and coordination it takes to pull off a production of that magnitude! As well as that each month they run youth Day Trips during which young people learn from each other through a peer leadership structure. Through hectic activities, messy games and insane challenges they learn to work together and make value based choices. Bear in mind that there will be more than a hundred young people on a Day Trip! Then the city authorities regularly seek the team out to run community building events and festivals. What Mayors and police have been wanting to achieve for years, it seems this growing team are able to deliver without much effort!

 When I caught up with Erion though, it was clear that all I have just shared with you has become vulnerable. Although communities are being transformed and tomorrows leaders are finding meaning and hope beyond themselves, without the resources to put on a production and travel to perform it, or to put on free community festivals or to take troubled young people on a Day Trip where they can learn that life doesn’t have to be the way it is, without the resources to do these things, they wont happen, the team loses hope and life in schools and communities goes back to the way it always was. This has actually been the reality of this year.

With so much to lose, we brainstormed….much of what is needed cant be found in Albania … someone will sponsor the transport of festival and day trip resources to Albania from the UK… we need to gather the resource here in the UK … if they have the resources, they can continue with the mission. Lets do it! I sent out a prayer request. Within a couple of days some money came in from Fusion in New South Wales, Australia, more came in from our teams in South Africa and Jamaica, the German team had some equipment to spare and sent it across immediately… the UK team went about sourcing equipment, an order was placed and the first batch should have reached Greece by the time you read this… World Vision are excited to sponsor one or two significant assets…. Its not over yet, we’ve only answered a small part of the immediate challenge but it seems that the game is back on!

What I love about this story is that Erion’s team is an inspiration to myself and others in mission right across the world, but to do this next bit of their journey they needed the prayers of many, the sacrificial giving or our teams in South Africa and Jamaica, the hard work of our guys in the UK and the sensitivity of our teams in Australia and Germany to read the moment and give generously. There is more that’s needed, let us know if you want to be part of this incredible story. When we are at our best, this is who we are, I am glad to be a part of this fellowship.

Mercy by Webinar

I am part of a wonderful, quirky movement that I like to believe is precious to the Father. We prefer to be together than apart. We prefer to start business with time to hear how each other is doing. We prefer it when we are rooted in God’s love and directed by him. We prefer to make major decisions through a process of consensus whereby everyone moves together, sensitive to God’s spirit. We can look strange to those who are just meeting us for the first time… especially given that all these things remain as true at the core of who we are now when we number in the hundreds and are spread across the globe, as they were decades ago when we were a smaller movement limited to one country.

Rather like my own walk through life as an individual however, its easy for a movement too, to lose sight of those things that are precious to us and remind us of who we are. Sometimes fear and mistrust creeps in and we tell ourselves that we are on our own, and that is what we prefer after all. Who in their right mind would think that its possible to walk in authentic fellowship when there are so many of us spread across so many countries? Who, we ask ourselves?

Two weeks ago about 20 of us connected across 15 time zones, continental reps and other leaders in the movement. We were together by webinar, for a total of 8 hours over two days. We had never done it quite like this before. We heard each other, we saw each other, we began to share our worlds together. Not just the things that were happening, but how we were going, personally. Not just the pretty, easy stuff, but the stuff of pilgrims on a long journey. Not just ourselves but those that God had called us to live and serve with. Not just the victories but the defeats and the questions we were living with our hearts and lives. Spread out across the globe, we were closer than we have been for a long while.

Mercy, like empathy is knowing what life is like for another; we humans were created for fellowship. I thank God for a moment when we became more human, when we began to be present to one another. Thank God for webinar!