[un]conscious-stream[ing]

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Category Archives: church

Hellraising

I’ve deliberately taken a long time to throw anything into the blogosphere regarding the recent furore surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book “Love Wins(affiliate link)

I figure that firstly, I have no public voice or any kind of authority on the issues, secondly, I have no formal training in either theological college, bible school, seminary or other, thirdly, I didn’t want to get caught up in the nasty mudslinging that people calling themselves Christians seemed to be getting into and lastly, I hadn’t read the book.

My angle on the whole uproar isn’t actually on the theology or ‘correctness’ of what has been written, in fact it only really came to mind off the back of another book I haven’t read – “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan. (affiliate link)
I listened to the Simi Valley podcast (by the same name as the book) where Francis and Preston Sprinkle (the other author), talked about the book and basically their response to Rob’s book. So I speak from this perspective.

Rob intimates in his interview with Cathleen Falsani and Francis directly says it in the podcast mentioned above that they both feel that the books they have written were prompted by God, that they felt like God laid it on their hearts to write what they wrote.

The only other thing I get from the two perspectives of the two – Rob and Francis – is that Rob does his thing and minds his own business, I’ve listened to the Mars Hill podcast for over four years and I’ve never hear Rob criticise another person, especially another Christian pastor. Francis is very careful with his words on the podcast but listening to the whole thing a few times, I can’t help but hear him say between the lines that he thinks Rob is a ‘false teacher’. I’ve seen plenty of other stuff over the web that calls Rob a ‘false teacher’ or ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, and it seems that Francis and the other people on the podcast are effectively subscribing to the same view.

Now, how do we as ‘normal’, unschooled, non-professional Christians weigh up the two points of view?

Both men feel like God has laid their books on their hearts.
Both feel like the spirit of God has moved them to write what they have written.
Both are deeply spiritual guys who spend hours studying and praying alone and with other Christians.
Both have written books deeply embedded in scripture and with reference and knowledge of the cultural, historical and other influences on both the original bible writers and the church over the years.

But they have come to different conclusions on one issue of interpretation.

Do we go with the one we like, because it fits with what we have been taught and how we have been brought up?
Do we go with the opposing view to the one we always held because it is a majority view?
Do we assent to the less popular view because ‘when have the majority ever been right’?

It’s a tension, a bit of a pickle, the kind of tension my dear brother over at held.in.tension regularly wrestles with in his blogging.

So what are my opinions?

I don’t really know. The only thing I can say is to repeat the words of Gamaliel from Acts 5:38-39

“…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.
But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

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Message & Media (part 11) – Display Screens & Projection

We spent a little time within the workshop going through the details of projection screen technology, something which is very common now within our churches and many other contemporary church settings.

Every medium embeds other media. The internet embeds Video, text, audio, pictures and so does slide-show software like PowerPoint or Keynote. You can embed any media you like within it.

There are some key, important things to consider when using projection screen technology, things that we might not be immediately aware of.

1. Visual processing matures faster than auditory processing (i), which leads to Vision dominating the other human senses (ii)

2. A projected image is made as light is shone through an LCD display OR as light is bounced of an array of tiny little mirrors. This image is made up of pixels or points of light, and in between the pixels there are gaps.
Your brain needs to make up the bits in between the pixels so it takes mental processing power to look at a screen.
At the same time, where the optic nerve connects to your eye, there is a gap in the recieving hardware of the eye, which leads to the famous “blind spot”. To compensate for this your brain keeps your eyes in constant motion and “fills in” the blind spot, so it’s not noticeable. (iii)

3. With the above points in mind, it becomes almost obvious that to process both audio and video at the same time, you have to work harder (iv).

If we understand the power of PST to dominate us, we can turn that inherent power to our own ends, it provides the ability to FOCUS.
The screen is a magnet of the eyes.
If you really want people to pay attention, use a screen, it really does focus people, It’s rare that there is something on a screen and someone isn’t looking at it; Just watch people as they pass the window of Comet or Dixons.

However, with that incredible ability to be an eye-magnet, PST can make worshippers less aware of the persons around them; they can engage in less eye contact and other forms of human interaction for fear of missing something on the screen.

Ill-concieved use of PST in worship unwittingly sets up a competition between what’s projected on the screen and the human voice doing the preaching, praying or singing. And it’s a contest that PST always wins because, as Richard Lischer has observed, when the brain is asked to listen and watch at the same time, it always quits listening.

A classic example of the conflict that can arise is if you project pictures of an event or project behind what people are sharing verbally. It can create the kind of conflict talked of above, where the audio and visual information can end up being paradoxical and confuse people in the congregation. Either people enjoy the pretty pictures and switch off listening or they only take in a fraction of the information you want them to.

Don’t forget, the Screen Always Wins.

The screen is the ultimate relic of the electronic age, and the legacy of the electronic age is tribalism – corporate mass experience.
Generally, PST creates a corporate experience not more individual experience which, when singing together as a congregation can be a really good thing. The Hymn book is ultimate relic of the print age and the print age is all about individualism. There is the danger that using PST heavily can produce passive consumers in church, but there is definitely the positive possibility that it obsolesces the hymn book (alters the use not completely prevents it), and therefore free up the limbs of worshippers enabling them to express themselves physically during sung worship – through dance / clapping / raising hands etc.

There are occasions or circumstances when computer-generated visual aids can be used meaningfully in worship & other church settings:

The display screen, coupled with a live video camera can gives ability to enlarge and focus on certain parts that would otherwise be lost. The Church Shane Hipps was part of had a potter come in and make a pot on their wheel using the video feed to zoom right in on what the hands of the potter were doing. This gave the whole congregation a close-up view of the skill and dexterity of the potter and provided a powerful analogy for the work of God moulding us.

Another way to use PST appropriately is to project an image that can convey something that cannot be displayed or delivered in words.

In all these situations, it is vital to ‘give the screen the floor’! Let the screen win instead of competing with it. And whatever you do, make sure you do it well, don’t do a half-baked job or have a ‘that’ll do’ attitude, if necessary, ask someone who is an expert in computers or in the use of slide projection software.

Other points that we covered included the concept of always using PST it to enhance what you want to say by showing what you want to illustrate and engaging with it along side the audience. Don’t use it just because you can, it has the ability to detract from what you want to say. Try not to use it just for aesthetic, that rarely adds anything to the message.

Try not to confuse people by doing too much or having non-relevant things projected on the screen. Excessively exciting animations or slide transitions may be clever but they are often just really distracting from what you want to share.

Use it to enhance the corporate experience by leveraging the focus it gives.

Lastly a point on slides within a projection sequence: Bullet points trivialise content! They’re often used in business settings and all people want is a hand out of all the bullet points so they can get the vital information. The trouble is, the poetry and beauty of spoken word and the resonance and spirituality of the preacher is lost when we bullet-point. There’s nothing quite so good at chipping away eloquence, rhythm and genuine engagement from a speaker than throwing up all the main points in bullet form. Bullet points don’t capture the beauty and mystery of the Gospel.

Lets take an example from the Second World War. On June 4, 1940 Churchill made the second of three major speeches, this one possibly being the most famous. Here’s a written excerpt and the audio underneath it.

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

We shall fight on the beaches audio

Now have a look at the following video of the same talk as if Churchill had delivered it with bullet points. It’s almost comical, it certainly trivialises his points and removes all gravity and seriousness.

Yes, by all means use Projection Screen Technology, but understand it’s inherant power first and if you still choose to use it, use it well.

(i) Clin Neurophysiol. 2010 Jan 15. [Epub ahead of print] – Auditory and visual novelty processing in normally-developing Kenyan children. – Kihara M, Hogan AM, Newton CR, Garrashi HH, Neville BR, de Haan M.
(ii)

  1. Howard IP, Templeton WB (1966) Human spatial orientation. (Wiley).
  2. McGurk H, MacDonald J (1976) Hearing lips and seeing voices. Nature 264: 746–748.
    Rock I, Victor J (1964) Vision and touch: An experimentally created conflict between the two senses. Science 143: 594–596.
  3. Shams L, Kamitani Y, Shimojo S (2000) What you see is what you hear: sound induced visual Xashing. Nature 408, 788:
  4. Shams L, Kamitani Y, Shimojo S (2002) Visual illusion induced by sound. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 14: 147–152.

(iii) Randall Hand “How many pixels do we need anyway?” May 26th, 2009 Vizworld
(iv) Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Sep 7;273(1598):2159-68. – Resolving multisensory conflict: a strategy for balancing the costs and benefits of audio-visual integration. – Roach NW, Heron J, McGraw PV.

Message & Media (part 10) – Workshop Summary 3

I believe that culture and the way people receive messages is changing, the trend from the onset of modernity – the age of the printing press – was from an experiential, visual, communal, holistic model to an individualistic, highly rational concept of the gospel. With the continual march into and through post-modernity, we are seeing the trend reverse towards a much more visual, communal, experiential model again.

Personally, I think that’s fine, I believe that some of our methods and thus our message should change as part of God’s ongoing creation, revelation to and relationship with God’s people. That change need not be feared, Jesus himself modelled this same approach.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matt 9:16-17

Jesus understood the intimate connection of medium and message, container and content.
Jesus came proclaiming a new message, not just new methods, he says “you have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” 10 times in Matthew.

God invites us into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, not a set of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to.

Yes, indeed, we need to be careful not to adopt our culture’s methods, norms and goals wholesale, If we do, we can put our light under a bowl and loose our saltiness, regardless that it may have stemmed from a legitimate desire to be relevant and contextual.

But the message of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world. If we claim the message is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the ongoing work of God through his spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places. Our posture should be humility and discovery. Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off. We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God moving among us.
(Paraphrasing Shane Hipps)

If we continue to remember that we are the best medium and the message, and the way we live our lives, as God lives in us, both individually and corporately as Christ’s body – the Church, then we will be able to deal with the changing media and cultural landscape God’s way.

Message & Media (part 9) – Workshop Summary 2

We are, inexorably and undeniably in the age of electronic culture.

We explored what media choices are now available and drew a ‘Media Web’, exploring briefly the different media and all their links!

With this available ‘Media Web’ in mind, we then looked at some other key questions to ask before we jump in to using any form of media.

Who are we trying to reach?

Do we understand our ‘target audience’?
Remember, people may not use or interact with a media form in the same way you do!
Do we need to find a member of the target audience that shares our passion for the message to advise us on how to best utilise the medium?

Are we, like Jesus finding a way to connect with the people that are searching, the hopeless, the unreached.

If we understand who the message is for what would that do to the way we do things?

Remember, Marketing is not the same as Outreach. But they need to go hand in hand.

At this point in the workshop, there was complete freedom to choose to explore any media type in greater depth and as a kind of case-study for the McLuhan analysis tool, ‘twitter‘ was chosen by the group.

Here’s what the group came up with (for an explanation of how the tool works, have a look at Part 3).

Twitter-Analysis

At The Bethel, we use twitter to publicise the podcast, notify people of what is happening with various activities and provide occasional, possibly even irregular, apposite quotes and bible passages that we feel moved to share. The podcast notifications are set up to be automatically tweeted when the podcast file is uploaded and the rest of it takes very little, if any time or effort. For The Bethel, twitter is a small tool and very low maintenance, it’s used more as a publicity or broadcast medium than a conversational or engagement medium.

Next Post will wrap up the rest of the workshop and then I’ll do a post detailing use of display screen projection as I think it deserves a post of its own.

Message & Media (part 8) – Workshop Summary 1

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will
Romans 12:2

With respect to media there is a very real sense that we can easily be ‘conforming to the patterns of this world’ if we fail to understand our media & media choices.

Media is not just a neutral conduit through which information passes, we have looked at this earlier in the series.
The media changes the message. Or as McLuhan said

“The Media is the Message”

If the media is conflicting or inappropriate to the message, the message changes into something we don’t want it to be or is lost completely.

Our current media landscape is like our cultural landscape it is in a constant state of flux. Always changing, always developing.
How prepared are we to put God’s message into the places where people are now searching, the places that perhaps didn’t exist before?

We then looked into what media forms we currently used as a group, at a personal level and a church level.

I took a moment at this point to emphasize the message that Tim Genders was making in his talks at the wekend, that the most important, oldest, most reliable, most tried & trusted, most effective, best possible media form is YOU (or me – it is the human being).

This is bourne out in Jesus being God’s medium and message.

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
John 1:14

So individually and more importantly, corporately as part of the church, as members of Christ’s body, we are now God’s medium and message in the world.

The scriptural vision of the church is one in which individuals exist for the sake of the community and the community exists for Gods mission in the world. God chose the church, in all its various and disparate, both sometimes flawed and sometimes beautiful ways, not just individual Christians as the medium for his ongoing mission.

We are the medium, individually, but, more importantly: corporately. How this looks in reality will vary from congregation to congregation but the experience within our churches should be one of a foretaste of Gods kingdom as we hold faithfully to God’s agenda and try to live his message.

So if what we do doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not the right message, whatever we are saying. If the whole picture of the medium of us in our churches doesn’t look like Jesus did, it won’t matter what we say or preach, the message is not coming across right, we are living a paradox.

We have the ability as God’s current medium in the world to enhance his message or to undermine it by how we behave.

With us being the medium and the message, it is through relationships that we spread God’s message. That’s the way God did it, if we are to reflect God’s methods, then relationship is the way to use our medium to show God’s message.

Outreach or preaching is best and most effectively carried out through relationship. Real, face-to-face interactions with real people, which can then be carried on and forwarded and maintained through other forms of media or technology.

We briefly looked then at the second most common media form that has shaped the world we live in to date, It has influenced the whole of current society, how we learn, work, live, everything: Print as I expanded in part 4 – ‘Modern Relics’.

The printed page is the ultimate relic of the modern age and the printing press.
It creates the perception, as letters and words follow a sequential pattern on a page that we can be completely logical, rational, sequential, objective. It also reinforces private learning and individualism.

How relevant is print today? In the world of church, in the area of preaching and sharing God’s message. Does the way we are affected by print change the way we view and interact with and share God’s message?

We discussed some very real examples of how print media has been good (Newbury placing an advert in a local circular and having a great response to a kids summer club, and some kids keeping coming afterwards) but also examples of how recent print media has been of little or no value (Handing out foreign language flyers in Bulgaria, with little or no uptake / 20,000 flyer drop in Manchester with a return of [if we are very generous] 0.0015%).

A Quick run through of Print options (add anything in comments if you have more to add to this):

  • Poster / Billboard / A-board – Useful, static info, portable info for events.
  • Invitations – Only really good if personally handed to people you have a relationship with.
  • Newsletter – Could it be electronic or opt-in?
  • Booklets / Pamphlets – Could they be moved to be Web based?
  • Leaflets / Flyers / ‘Bills’ – Very low return on High financial & time investment.

We also touched on making sure that if we move things towards electronic medium, we are careful not to then leave out a generation that are not connected electronically.

I’ll cover the rest of the workshop in the next post, that’s more than enough for this one!

Message & Media (part 7) – Online Resources

Yet another follow-up to the workshop, this post is basically a list of links that provide very interesting reading or short videos on the subject.

Mobile technologies are the future (at least in Africa)

Fernando Gros asks “Is Facebook making us stupid?”, then follows up by commenting on “The Distraction Economy“.

Tiffany St James on “The Social Impact of Technology“.

A fascinating interview with Shane Hipps entitled “Media and Message, Pixels and Faith“. This covers quite a lot of ground, some similar to the workshop.

A review of the possible deleterious effects of social networking Five Most Deadly Side-effects of Social Networking

A recent paper on the use of twitter – “Social interaction via new social media: (How) can interactions on Twitter affect effectual thinking and behavior?

A Killer article on social media – “The Twitter Trap” This is an absolute must read, thanks @benemmens for that one.

There is more out there, if you find anything else, please share it in the comments or email it over to me to include.

Church (part 11) – Postscript

I just thought it worthwhile to note the following:

I’ve come up with these models, thoughts and ideas based on listening to a lot of material, reading a lot of stuff, conversations with many people, observations on and my own experiences in various church congregations and settings, studying scripture and praying.

I might have some of it wrong.

I might have it all wrong.

It may be that the church you are part of fits into one or a number of the categories perfectly or that it seems to transcend a number of categories. It might be that your church community has picked up bits of various different parts of the models and seems to work well.

I don’t want to be critical, I don’t want to be perceived to be critical or disparaging about anybody, any community, any church group, that’s not the point of any of this.

My aim is to inspire and to spark debate and discussion.

My wish is that you will challenge me, correct me if you think I am in error, offer a different or better way or idea.

My desire is for this to be an ongoing dialogue, a journey that we can discover together.

I value your ideas, input and comments because that improves me, rounds my ideas, gives me a better overall picture and perspective.

Please share with me your experiences and ideas so we can wrestle with making our church communities more appealing to people that have rejected church because of the ways it has been done badly and more faithful to God and His word.

Lets make much of God together, and praise him in all his fullness as he lives in our church communities, as he dwells in the ‘body of Christ’.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
(John 14:23)

Church (part 9) – Outreach – A natural response

‘Outreach’ or ‘Preaching’ can mean many things to many people, from the ‘manic street preacher’ that you might see on a Saturday on Market Street M1, to a discussion with a friend over a coffee, from a ‘public address’ to meeting a private need.

Preaching or outreach is not ever, never, never is it about telling someone / some people “This is what I believe and you should believe it too”.  
It should always be a case of “I can hear music, it makes me want to dance, can I share this music with you, maybe you will hear it and want to join in the dance.  Maybe your dance will look different to mine and that’s ok, but I really want to dance with you and learn with you and learn from you and hope that you also will learn from me and together we can discover more about the source of the music.”

Preaching or outreach isn’t always going to be easy, in fact it’s rarely going to be easy to ‘preach’, be it in our churches or individually.  The encouragement we are aiming to give people at the fellowship weekend 2011 is hopefully going to ignite some passion, but it’s likely that it will fade over time, and that’s completely normal.  

Preaching cannot always be an easy, joyful, reflex response to the love God has shown us, and in the same way that there are times when we have to choose to praise, there will be times we will have to choose to preach and it won’t feel like the natural thing to do or what we particularly want to do at the time.  

Hopefully there will be more times when it’s a natural response to God rather than a conscious choice, but we can’t ignore that at times it will be hard.  

Last year, we ran the Bethel Festival and are planning to run it again this year.

After the Bethel Festival last year, someone commented to Kate (my wife) that they went away over-faced – thinking “I’ll never be able to do anything that big with the person-power we don’t have at our church”. They were paralysed by the bigness of it and were disheartened that their church wouldn’t be able to match up to something like that.
When people go home from the weekend, it is entrirely possible that they might feel they don’t have the manpower, impetus, momentum or possibly even desire to do big things like that and there will probably be some times when it’s a plain old slog and you meet a large amount of resistance from within the church as well as possibly from without.

Lets be honest, if it wasn’t for all the people at the fellowship weekend last year, The Bethel wouldn’t have been able to run the festival at all! On any normal day, week, month, that’s way bigger than anything we’d ever even conceive of doing as a church.

None of our ‘outreach’ at The Bethel is motivated by “doing something big to be seen” In fact, no ‘outreach’ should be about focussing on doing ‘big’ or ‘great’ things.  Everything is about building relationships, bringing God into the small things, showing the love of God in the way we act & interact. If God is living in us, that should be evident and his love will be spilling out.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.
It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

The practical application of that is probably going to look pretty different, depending on the people in the congregation, the surrounding community, how much the church is a commuter church as opposed to a community church and how much it is a consumer church as opposed to a contributory church, how much the church has managed to engage and embrace as opposed to exclude and entertain.

However, doing ‘small things with great love’ must be the motivator and aim. Without love, it’s all meaningless.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Shane Claiborne (founder of “the simple way“) has a notice above the inside of their door. It reads:

“Small things with great love or don’t answer the door.”

The foundation understanding for the statement is that ‘if you aren’t prepared to see the face of Christ in the person that is knocking on your door and therefore be prepared to act like Christ would towards them, then you are better off giving yourself a break and letting someone else open the door.’

The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12:28-34)

Love God
Love People
Small things with great Love

Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

What is the background to our outreach?
Hopefully, the kind of church that we are inviting people into is:  Strong at the centre, Open at the edges.  Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. A Church that is contributory, embracing, engaging and community focussed, community rooted.

‘Preaching’ and ‘Outreach’ is more about how we live than what we say. It’s about ‘living the Resurrection’.

“resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place”
(Rob Bell)

God is preparing a banquet, everybody is invited. How can we not want to spread that invitation to everybody we meet? An ‘all-nighter’ party, well, more of an ‘all-eternity-er’ of joy, peace, fulfilment and intimacy with the creator who is so deeply in love with His creation that He showed us Himself through His Son, and underlined it by allowing people like us to kill him, so that he could win a great victory over our flawed and hopeless selfishness.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57)

And when it feels hard or you think you can’t do it or you think it’s too big or too much, remember to take one small step at a time, that small things with great love is the way to go, and take some comfort from One of my favourite poems from one of my favourite poets: “I see a new city” by Gerard Kelly.


Here’s the last verse

“And though I wait
And though I long
And though the sacred city may seem slow,
Still I will hope,
Still I will pray,
Still I will, today,
Rise up and build.”

It may seem like we are having to choose against the odds to live a life that reaches out, and we might feel like nothing we are doing is making any difference and it might be that we don’t ever see the harvest from the seeds we sow, but because of God’s great love for us, we continue to work with Him, let him work through us to build His new city.

Church (part 8) – Inclusion Overview

Lets put the models of church Inclusion together.

Church-Inclusion-Models

I think they speak for themselves, clearly, the direction of the red arrow is the direction I believe all churches would do well to take. I’ve explored the models in detail in the last two posts, and I think it ties in very closely with ‘what is church for?‘ I don’t think it is worth going over it all again.

But What does inclusion and engagement look like in reality, in concrete terms, ‘where the rubber hits the road’?

Here’s what I understand the ultimate vision of a contributory, engaging, embracing, community church congregation looks like.

God is planning a banquet, a big party and he has invited everybody.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13

I love Robert Capon’s commentary on this passage.

“Watch therefore,” Jesus says at the end of the parable, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
When all is said and done — when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgement — we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.

Because what we are watching for is a party.

And that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us.
It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs.
The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all put of the divine lark of grace.

God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped.

He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.

We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.

(Robert Capon – Kingdom, grace, judgment: paradox, outrage, and vindication in the parables of Jesus)

I believe there is room in God’s grace for a lot of us, I believe many surprising people will be there in God’s great big party in the same way that I believe I will be there. Should we not focus on inviting more people to listen to the music and hope they want to dance with us, regardless that their dance may be a little semantically or interpretationally different to ours?

The trouble is as humans we like to prosthelytise – we are uncomfortable if anyone holds a view that is different to our own. And that’s difficult when we encounter grace. I imagine God’s grace is bigger than mine which is always going to make me uncomfortable if someone doesn’t agree with me, yet I have to believe that God can find a pace for the genuine seeking heart in his ocean of grace.

If I fail to personally put God’s grace into practice, that limits the envelope of my embrace, it chokes the eagerness of my engagement, it stifles the character of my contribution and it can divide the core of our community.

God invites us all into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, restoring, redeeming, refreshing, renewing, not a list of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to. The immediate message and outworking of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world.

If we claim the message {or indeed medium} is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places.
Our posture should be humility and discovery.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture) {the brackets are mine}

Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean casting out people that don’t look like us.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean forcing conformity and uniformity and restricting ideas, questioning or debate.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean seeing the rest of ‘the world’ as a Godless, sinful, depraved place and ‘the church’ as a place of solace to escape to.

We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God’s spirit moving among us.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture)

The more we are inclusive, the more we look like Jesus. Remember, it was Jesus who told off the religious leaders, the ‘church people’, the people ‘in-the-know’ time and time again and never scolded a ‘sinner’ seeking him, forgiveness or help.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
(Matthew 21:31)

I don’t feel I can end this post on inclusion without sharing this anonymous quote. It’s beautiful and compelling, it’s thought-provoking and from what I can read, study and understand, I think it’s completely true.

It drives down at one of the core practices and reasons that we congregate to form churches at all, the centrepoint and turning point of God’s story: The sacrifice of Christ remembered in The Breaking of Bread / Communion / The Lord’s Supper / The Sacraments / Divine Liturgy / The Eucharist

This is the table, not of the church, but of Jesus Christ.
It is made ready for those who love him
and who want to love him more.
So come, you who have much faith
and you who have little,
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because it is we who invite you:
Come because it is Christ who invites you to meet him here.

Church (part 7) – Exclusive or Embracing

God has a party planned. He has invited everyone. Who are we inviting?

How does the church as a whole and members as individual representatives of Christ and his body in this world interact with the people that come in through the door?

The Exclusive Church
Only shows warmth to people that are like the existing members, people that don’t fit the mold feel intrusive.
The church congregation is like a clique and works as a private club, not the open arms of Jesus.
Little time or space is made to cater for the needs of the needy, charitable giving may be present but it is always anonymous,not personal or intimate.
The exclusive church tends to look after it’s own but not others so much.
The tendency of the exclusive church is to put up barriers to people coming in or joining, even though they might publicise their activities. Everything must be done on their terms, and there is little leeway given for different points of view or opinion, if you don’t ‘fit in’ you are likely to be shunned or ignored.
You have to look right, act right and say the right things before you can be considered suitable for acceptance or membership.

The Embracing Church
Welcoming to all people from all walks of life regardless how messy that ends up becoming. The Church congregation makes space for the
rejected and outcast from society. Being bold enough to reach out and love people of every shape, size, colour, etc. People are taken ‘as-is’
not expected to change to ‘fit the mold’ before they can be accepted / integrated.
The underlying understanding is that God is judge, not man and that ‘right behaviour’ may not be something that a person can begin with but that it will follow eventually as a response to God’s love shown through his church.
The overriding experience of the person encountering this kind of community is that they are being invited into a family where the door is always open.

What kind of church community is yours?

I know it is very difficult when I meet or have conversations with people who’s views aren’t exactly aligned to my own. I know that it is hard when I think something I do or say is right or something someone else does or says is wrong, but that shouldn’t make me reject them. It shouldn’t make me put barriers in the way of relationship with them or with God.

In the church congregation setting, it makes sense in a pastoral way to have a general agreement on the fundamental things that we believe. If someone comes in believing something that is clearly going to clash with the majority of people, it is not going to encourage harmony or unity for them to remain within that group. That doesn’t mean they should be rejected or treated badly, they should be loved and accepted and together either work out a way to get along or help them to find a group of believers where they can find their spiritual home, unity and accord.

On more minor things, I think we should just show a bit more humility and grace (me especially). God accepted and continues to accept people ‘just as they are’:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9

God is doing the purification, from the heart outwards, not us from forced conforming behaviour inwards.

The church as the body of Christ needs to be embracing and open-armed, not cliquey and exclusive.

Rather beautifully, the fellowship weekend theme has captured the essence that it’s about love coming to town, genuine love (in the 1 Corinthians 13 sense) displayed in our relationships.  Lives lived displaying this love are lives that are beautiful, lives that can touch other people, lives that are healing and restorative, refreshing and redeeming which is what God is trying to do through is in his good world as we journey together towards a new heavens and a new earth.

The love we reflect from God, the love that God pours into us and then out from us towards others is the love that creates an embracing church community.

One of the things I really love about The Bethel is that most members share Sunday lunch together most weeks at the building. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know each other, developing deep ties and friendships, learning to serve each other in preparing food and clearing up afterwards. There are a number of members that we now have that were attracted to this family way of loving and living first of all and their faith grew from that. Faith grew from seeing people love other people, be honest and open and share themselves, their time, food etc.

Embracing people is what God is all about.
Everybody knows the verse:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

If that isn’t the most inclusive, embracing invitation then I don’t know what is.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Peter3:9)

God holds the doors open to everybody and the verse above tells us that he is going to wait a whole lot longer propping those doors open than anybody else ever would.

The final picture of the embracing God that I believe we need to emulate in our collective journey and existence as a church is from Isaiah 40:11

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God carries us close to his heart.

God’s arms are broad and strong, they reach far and wide and his hands softly beckon to us to climb into his embrace.

My prayer is that as the body of Christ, as the people that make up the movement and action that is the church, will replicate the open arms of God and willingness to stretch out to and embrace every broken and imperfect sinner, all the rest of those wicked and fallen people that are actually no different to you and me.

The only difference is that we are yet to wrap our communal arms around them to tell them just how loved and forgiven they are.

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