Pastor Nick

Last week my colleague and I got to spend an afternoon being shown round a community by a friend, the local Pastor. He had invited me to speak on community transformation that evening at the AGM of the local Churches Together group. As I reflected on what I saw that afternoon, my thought was: the most effective way to transform this community and others would be for this Pastor to mentor and coach others in what he was doing!

As we walked past the blocks of apartments he would tell us about the different individuals and families that lived there. It was school home time so we wondered down to the primary school to be greeted by parents and kids alike, some stopped to talk and share news. ‘Hello Pastor Nick’ was the call of most of the kids as they rushed by, free from school for the day! After some friendly banter with the Head, ‘Pastor Nick’ showed us round the school, stopping to greet and chat with various members of staff. We spent 15 minutes with a couple of teachers at the end of which we had a plan for dealing with the issue of kids turning up to school on an empty stomach and dehydrating through the school day. (When I say we, I mean Pastor Nick and the teachers of course!).

Pastor Nick is gently leading his congregation to reach out and welcome the local residents into their lives. They open up as a café a few times a week and recently ran a curry night in partnership with the local curry house: 80 members of the local community showed up!

What has all this got to do with community transformation and for that matter, what does it mean to transform a community? Traditionally we have focused on two areas in answer to this question, firstly ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to give their lives to Christ and secondly meeting the practical needs of the community. But is that enough? In our effort to build from these two starting blocks we have often tied ourselves in knots confusing discipleship with indoctrination or ‘house training for church life’. Then we get stumped over the ‘need’ to bridge the gap between social action and sharing the gospel.

What if we took Jesus mandate to us as our template for transformation? He told us to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey my teachings’. Jesus’ teaching was about living with God as the centre and Lord of life – your life and the world around you. Everything he did and taught was about living that way. He didn’t bring a set of rules or doctrines, he brought a revolutionary value system based on a relationship with our eternally loving Creator God, the saviour and redeemer of the world. Apparently Jesus expected us to teach entire communities and nations to live that way.

Not surprising when we recall God’s plan expressed in his promise to Abraham whereby all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. We are told in Hebrews that Abraham had a God given vision of a city or community that had God as the source and the centre of its design and very life. Or during the exile in Babylon when God instructed the people to work for the Shalom of the place where they had been sent. For centuries God had been calling his people out, pointing them to the things that would make for their Peace, then with Jesus he births and models this new order, this new creation. Which it turns out isn’t so new after all but is simply what God designed for us from the start.

So could it be that our mission therefore is to disciple our communities in the ways of Christ thus bringing about a transformation of our values, our way of life and so too the transformation of our culture?

Pastor Nick does life with his community; at every point of conversation, collaboration, grief or celebration, he brings a God centred (NOT religious) presence. As others join with him in this mission, gently but irresistibly a new norm will form as the community is discipled. Some may come to profess faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, many will not, but all will experience God’s action in their lives and learn those things that ‘make for our Peace’… and they will teach the next generation the same. In this way we will see our nation discipled and transformed.

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The Church of Tomorrow

Its not often I find a blog I want to post, but here it is. I found this a really inspiring and challenging read. I have been doing some thinking about how we need to change as we move into what the future holds for us as both as a nation and as the body of Christ in this land. I resonate with much of what Alan Scott is saying here.

enjoy!

http://www.alan-scott.com/blog/2013/12/31/the-church-of-the-future

Chocolate and Carbonara

This weekend I had the chance to cook a meal with my goddaughter.  Earlier this year I gave her a copy of Jamie’s 15minute meals and since then we have two family dinner dates. She choses the recipe then we set about shopping and cooking together then the whole family gather round the table in the kitchen to enjoy the results. Don’t be fooled by the 15 minutes (or the 30 minutes for that matter!) but I don’t think that’s Jamie’s point. I really appreciate his emphasis on enjoying the cooking and eating experience and of that being in the context of family and community…. and it’s precisely that which means that they take longer than 15 minutes! In fact I would suggest that if it takes the prescribed length of time it means that you haven’t spent by far the required time in laughter or talking that’s needed to make the meal a truly fabulous experience!

It’s the end of the roller hockey season (for a few weeks at least) which meant that we had more time to kill and spent a happy 40 minutes or so sipping hot chocolate (unthinkable to have one without cream on top!) at Costa. Our supermarket bags beside us, we whiled away the time chatting about school and GCSEs and pranks to play on teachers – nothing much changes from generation to generation I feel! Then back home and still a bit of time to kill we giggled through the first half hour of Jonny English (I have to say that I did most of the laughing!) before heading off to the kitchen. On the menu was Chorizo Carbonara and salad followed by Jamie’s cinnamon peaches with custard and crushed shortbread crumble. Half the fun is improvising and making stuff up as you go along – like how much squeezy lemon constitutes the juice of half a lemon, guessing together and hoping for the best.

Last time we made hamburgers with a snazzy coleslaw salad followed by Jamie’s Eton Mess, also a heap of fun. But I hope you get it, what makes the food so good and enjoyable is the fun and chatter and spending time with friends in the whole process. I have been out of the country for most of my goddaughter’s life and so I am really enjoying being around a bit more and creating the space to get to know her. I love that God made food, and he made making it and eating it so enjoyable, he made it about celebration in its simplest and purest sense – a celebration of life, of friends, of tastes and colour, of God’s creativity, and the creativity of men and women made in his image; a celebration of time spent with each other. Thanks for your help Jamie!

three things l love to do

 

During my recent trip abroad we covered three different countries and I got to connect significantly with four different teams. It was great! That time was almost a cameo of the things I love the most in life.

In South Africa we were a team of five with an impossible task to accomplish – the number of things to achieve and journeys to facilitate was almost ridiculous – but it was all for a huge, godly, kingdom dream… So we went for it and together we saw it all come together; we had mountains of fun, worked our butts off and in the process got to know and love God, the community and each other more.

In Greece, although sick and exhausted from the South African job, it was exhilarating and fascinating to help facilitate a process that helped us move forward as individuals, teams and as an international group. I really enjoy being part of that tie up between the big picture and the individual, the task and the life between us.

And from there I headed to Albania with Erion, Lysiena and Besi. It was a four hour road trip north-west from Thessaloniki through the hill country of northern Greece. Then across the boarder into Albania where the countryside feels like you have entered some bygone era when we got around on horses and donkeys, using carts to carry our loads to market. When we farmed small holdings of land in our families, together ploughing, planting and then harvesting in the heat of the day. It’s a different life and a different pace.

Besi, Lorena, Erion, Lino and Lysiena at another cafe!

Besi, Lorena, Erion, Lino and Lysiena at another cafe!

That evening I was dropped off at Lorena’s home where I was to stay for the weekend, and I slept! The next 48 hours were so different to the previous 3 weeks. This part of the trip was centred around cafes and shared meals! It was about doing life together, hanging out, spending time sharing together. It is something I love but I don’t get to do that often, there was no great task to achieve, no burning agenda items to cover, it was just about being present. Not just physically present but fully present. I learnt so much about what life was like for these guys individually and as a team and I was nourished and energised in the process. Sometimes it was just me and one other person, other times it was a whole group of us, or just three.

Lysi, Lorena, Mattia and Myself

Lysi, Lorena, Mattia and Myself

The café stops weren’t in my honour, its just how the team function, they simply enjoy each other’s company and ministry takes place as they do life together. In fact in between the café stops was a youth meeting, a Sunday service and a festival – there were other things that they did, those were just the three things I took part in.

Besi and Lino - beards thanks to Fiddler on the Roof!

Besi and Lino – beards thanks to Fiddler on the Roof!

I remember many years ago when I first started traveling, reflecting on how God shows up in the person of a stranger, but we often miss out because we are so preoccupied with something busy. My time in Albania reminded me how I really love just being present with no particular agenda but to care and not be indifferent.

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Rowing Blind

 

Just over a week ago I was in Leptocorea, a small coastal town just an hour’s drive south of Thessaloniki, Greece. After a day in transit in London enroot from South Africa we had landed in Thessaloniki where we were met by two team mates who had arrived earlier and hired a car. We boldly headed out, Andy driving on the right hand side of the road for the first time, only to find after an hour that we were heading north towards Albania. By this time it was around midnight! Two hours later and after a short break at a road side café where we watched a group of men racing from car to car looking for a working fire extinguisher to deal with the source of smoke that was pouring forth from the back wheels of a large lorry… we arrived in Leptocorea!

About twenty of us all told had gathered for three days. It was the first time in 3 and half years that we had gathered, the majority had not been present at the last meeting. This was to be a very significant time together. We will not know for sure for many years what exactly was set in motion by God’s spirit amongst us during those days but there was one thing that I noticed in particular.

Most of those present were Fusion team and many were staff members, committed to a life of full time ministry on no salary, trusting to God for his direction and provision in our lives. That statement though easy to write in reality describes a daily wrestle, a lifelong training, a constant temptation to look to sources other than God for sustenance and direction. That statement represents adventure and joy, life and deep fulfilment, but it also represents times of anguish, bewilderment and confusion. And so it is when God calls frail human beings to walk together and with him, to live by faith and not by sight.

As leaders in this setting it is easy to become weighed down under the burden of caring for others on this incredible but difficult road, often there is the burden of carrying our spouses and children as well; we become preoccupied and exhausted. This weight can become unbearable at times – mainly because it wasn’t designed to be born by us in the first place (although we give it a jolly good go!) but by God himself as we walk with him.

Here is what I saw beginning to happen over those three days.

Each of us with ears plugged and blind folded, holding an oar and rowing with all our might. It was a struggle and no one felt like they were making much progress; each was getting wetter and wetter, and more exhausted. Then one person decided to unplug their ears, suddenly they could hear all that was happening around them. One by one others did the same. People stopped rowing and struggling and started to listen, taking in the new reality around them. Each became aware of others close by them, one or two even reached out and touched each other. It was these ones who first took off their blind folds, they gasped and then with a laugh of recognition realised what they had been doing. One by one others did the same and eventually everyone had their eyes open and their ears unplugged. They realised that they were all in the same boat, with the same leader, heading for the same destination. Once the laughter had died down, knowing what needed to be done, they quickly arranged themselves and amidst jokes and laughter, keeping their eyes on the cox, they settled into a rhythm of rowing and sliced with ease through the water.

We are not all fully hearing and seeing yet, but with time we will and its going to be exciting what happens from that point on!

Brokenness, fellowship and growth

This morning I was thinking about how uncomfortable living and working with others can be! Its like the person who said ‘I have no problem being holy when I am on my own!’. Doing life with others, at least authentically, is kind of like living life under a massive magnifying glass so that all your blemishes and brokenness are made clear for all to see. It doesn’t stop there, in that place I then have a choice, I can protest, deny and defend out of my brokenness, and remain in my dysfunctionality, or I can surrender to the light and to the fellowship and hopefully find grace and healing.

Each week I meet up with two amazing women, one is in Tasmania and the other is in Perth Australia, we connect over skype for about an hour. In that context we can each share what life is like. In the light and love of fellowship I can share my frailties and how I rail against them. The interesting thing is that in the sharing and receiving we also minister grace and truth and life to one another. Sometimes things are explicitly said that call us back to the cross, other times we just talk, cry, laugh and pray, but every time I leave more aware of God’s love and forgiveness and more aware of how he continues to grow me, never giving up or leaving me.

When we have a physical wound we usually need to expose it to some extent so that it can take the journey of healing; it needs to be rubbed or kissed, cleaned, strapped or splinted, stitched or left open to the air. Sometimes for our inner brokenness to be healed, it needs to be deliberately exposed to the blood of Jesus. It appears that the way God meant that to happen was in fellowship with others.

 ‘If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness’. I have been pondering those words for a couple of years and I think I am understanding them better, slowly!

Down to the last drop

It seems that there are some really important truths that can only be experienced in a place of weakness and frailty. Frankly that sucks, but there it is. I have been recently experiencing what feels like some early signs of burn out. Whatever it is I have come to a place where I feel utterly spent and empty. There have been days recently when the only way I have managed to get myself up and going in the morning was by telling myself that I’d be back in bed at the end of the day!

The other day I opened up my home for friends to stay the night and others to join us for the day. I place a high value on the people in my life, my relationships are my main source of motivation. However, as an introvert, interacting with people takes energy, and right now I don’t have much! Usually I would enjoy buzzing round and getting things ready and chit-chatting with my guests. This time I couldn’t do any of it. I felt guilty and ashamed. Yet like an orange being squeezed beyond its last drop of juice, I was almost in pain having a house full of guests. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there it is! My guests had no clue, they probably just thought I was having an off day and not being so hospitable. To get through the day it took a phone call and texts from a close friend who knew what was going on and was praying.

Later as I processed all this with God, I remembered the widow’s mite. My hospitality may not have measured up to my standards, and to others it may well have seemed nonexistent. But like the widow, I am pretty sure I gave everything I had in that moment and I am begining to realise that’s what Jesus looks for and notices. I am experiencing a new aspect of grace that challenges me not to see my offering as inadequate but as precious, complete and welcomed by the Father.

Sometimes we can do good things really well and look pretty impressive in all the right ways, but there are other moments when we give absolutely everything we have and something eternal takes place. I had forgotten that when we are down to our last drop, things often don’t look polished and complete, in fact they can look pretty frail… and that’s OK.