“Let him run his race, Darlin'”

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I think we can learn a lot about ourselves from the movies we love – the ones that move us. I recently watched the movie ‘Secretariat’ again, it is one of my favourites. Its a true story of a remarkable race horse and his owner. I cried in a few places this time – haven’t […]

Building with precious metal

This morning, someone referred to the passage of scripture in first Corinthians 3 about building on the foundation with gold, silver and precious jewels or wood, straw and hay and it dawned on me that I have invariably thought of this in terms of individual growth and narrative. Perhaps it’s because I have been mulling over the subject of discipleship and what it will mean to ‘be church’ in this next few decades here in the UK. Perhaps I just had a rare moment of clarity, I don’t know, but I realised that Paul was actually talking about the growth and narrative of a community, not of an individual.

There is coming a time when church as we know it just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the job of being the incarnation of the Father’s heart to our nation; disciples making disciples in and of families, communities and sectors – society unable to dismiss the transforming love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this is the task, I think we have some work to do and I wonder if Paul has given us the key.  I wonder if the job isn’t to recognise where, in the church, we have been building with wood, straw and hay, and to embark on a deconstruction of our edifices. Then with new eyes to find the gold, silver and precious jewels with which we need to build.

Gold and silver are precious metals that undergo the intense furnace of purification to reach their pure identity. Precious jewels are made in the intensity of prolonged pressure, stress, irritation and pain. Will we as the church have the courage to enter into the pain of the world around us, armed not with the pat answers of the indoctrinated but the long suffering, faith and hope that come from the Holy Spirit who is willing to travel to the depths of despair with us? Will we sit with the doubts, live the real questions that dwell in the depths of our hearts? Because I think it’s in traveling this ‘road to Jerusalem, the city of suffering’ that we are able to find the gold, silver and jewels with which we will build the cathedral that will inspire hearts to rise to the creator of heaven and earth.

The more I reflect on the nature of discipleship the more I think it has little to do with answers and everything to do with living real life fully engaged with the questions it embodies. For too long we have been stressing about having the right answer to ‘the questions’, too anxious to take the time and listen deeply enough to the questions in our own hearts let alone those in the hearts of others. The people in my street need a church that is built of gold, silver and jewels, indeed they have their own stores of gold and pearls that belong. Perhaps as I learn to bring precious metals from my life, I can stand with them as they bring forth their own. I wonder if the very things I try to shut out are the treasures designed to build for eternity, whilst the easier things I thought were so important, simply straw and hay?

Can I, can we, can the church become a movement of the Father’s disciples making disciples seeking and bringing treasure from the furnace of real life, treasure that will build a new tomorrow worthy of our Lord Jesus, our firm foundation?

Messy Discipleship

So yes, last week I started sharing about our recent National Conference but went off on a tangent. The weekend was about celebrating the past and preparing for the future. To do either of those things fully, we need to be grounded in the present. When I think back to all the things that God was doing amongst us during the weekend, it is astounding; its sobering to think of all we might have missed had we been too caught up in the past or the future.

We were very grateful to have Ian and Haddon Macdonald with us. Ian took us through three sessions or conversations exploring authentic spirituality, authentic discipleship and authentic living. God is a very present God. Often in my walk with him I can get preoccupied with what he has done and what he is going to do and forget that he is here, right now, with me, wanting to look me in the eyes if I have the guts to stop for a few seconds. I think that is the most challenging and confronting place to be, present with God in this moment; there is nowhere to hide. Even now in this moment, I would rather keep writing than open my heart to him here and now. But how else am I to know him and make my life his own?

In mentoring others and discipleship, if I am constantly living in the past and the future with no courage for the present, I am just a hollow shell of pretence and activity. It’s in being present to God, myself and my brothers and sisters that I can actually make contact, live and give life and progress with intent. I wonder if this is not what God is looking for, in each age and generation, people with the courage to worship him in spirit and in truth.

One of my favourite traditions that Fusion has is that of the evening devotions at conferences. These are brought by members of the team who share from their journey with God over the recent months or years. They are based on the premise that I am strengthened and encouraged in my faith as you share your real experience of the joys, pains, doubts and rigours of discipleship and ministry. This type of sharing requires a high level of being present with God both in the preparation and delivery, but authentic fellowship, encouragement, applied theology and strengthening of purpose are all outcomes. Those who aren’t used to the process might react with pity and not a little bewilderment, but with time they begin to understand that rescuing and feeling sorry for those sharing misses the point entirely. The reality is that authentic spirituality, authentic discipleship and authentic living are very messy and often pretty uncomfortable; but that is what we are called to, together with God. There were one or two bewildered, uncomfortable individuals last weekend!!

For us as a movement there are many exciting things I am sure that God will do amongst us and through us; but the pathway to all of these things is through the gateway of alertness to the present and responsiveness to him in the moment, and that might get a bit messy and uncomfortable at times.

A Global Classroom, for real

I want to share my journey through a 21 week training experiment. For 21 Wednesdays between now and the end of May next year, I will be facilitating a School of Mission with about 15 people taking part from 4 or 5 countries. I am writing at the end of day one – the 14th of November 2012.

The dream was to set up the game for a life changing, educational experience for anyone leading a process of community transformation in their neighbourhood and society… across the UK, Europe and Africa. Traditionally in the movement I am part of, people have had to take six to eighteen months out, to head to Australia for intensive residential training in youth and community work. As we approached 2012 in the UK and saw the potential of groups right across the country inspired and wanting to be equipped for effective, long term community mission, we saw that sending them all off to Aus wasn’t an option. We needed something more accessible, more flexible and dare I say more readily applicable in a range of different cultural and socio-economic settings.

So drawing on my own experience over the last few years, some research into the needs of our target group and calling on some of the senior trainers in our movement, we put together some content, re-constructed the training processes and called it School of Mission (day a week training).

As it happens we don’t have any of those new groups from across the UK participating, but today we had teams from South Africa, Preston as well as a couple of the team from Wheatley! The Albanians will be with us from next week and the Ghanaians are hoping to join us as well if they can make internet arrangements.

The day had its fair share of hurdles, the ineptitude of some Webex staff meant that we had to opt for another web conferencing solution at the last minute – that was a bit risky, but worked OK! (Except I wish you could minimise the program ‘boxes’ more easily!). Then about 10 minutes into the first session we were informed that the room we were in had been booked by another group! (In an effort to save money, we had decided not to book the room for a fee on the basis that if its free anyway we get to use it at no cost – nice idea if it’s not in use!!). SO after a bumpy start we were on our way for the day.

A concern for me is how we build a sense of community within and between the groups when we are connecting via internet rather than being in the same space together. The design of the training relies heavily on people learning through sharing with each other, so building enough safety for people to not only share but even interrogate the material or assert a difference in opinion to others is crucial. I think having people in groups helps – no one participating today was in a room on their own. Video links mean we can get some visual cues from each other, sadly the South Africans were only able to use audio which meant the connection between us and them was greatly reduced – they couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.

The responses from today’s training were very positive with people taking away substantial challenges from the subjects covered. Next week the complexity will almost double with the Albanians joining us and possibly the Ghanaians. It’s a tricky thing as a trainer, engaging with people on the screen as well as in the room you are in. Its a tricky thing as a participant engaging with a process with others when you can’t look many of them straight in the eye as you share.

Well the train has definitely left the station, but i wonder what next week will hold!