Changing patterns of ministry

19 07 2011

One of the great joys of being a minister (or a vicar) is that you get the chance to diversify and grow in your chosen fields of interest. In my ministry I have been able to pastorally care for rural church communities, for middle class suburbs and in an urban city centre context. I have also been able to explore youth ministry, fresh expressions, church growth, training and education and lately emerging church and academia.

I have been lucky enough to have been a lay worker in the Methodist and Anglican Church, a youth worker for local authorities, a circuit minister, a circuit superintendent, a church planter and a pioneer minister.

In each case it has been important to locate what model or style of ministry resonates most closely with my experience. Lately, as a pioneer minister, I have felt the call of the wandering friar. Often I spend my time wandering around looking for moments of what I believe are God’s activity (and that is always a personal opinion – others might see nothing of the Divine in it!). When I see that activity I decide to rest a while and eventually move on. It is a wonderful way to live and begins to make sense of the rather pointless endings of Paul’s letters.

Say ‘Hi’ to Pete and the gang and tell Gary I’ll pop by the next time I’m in town

Well it seems my style/pattern of ministry has changed again! As many of you know I am appointed as a pioneer mission leader with Venture FX of the Methodist Church. I am now going part time with Venture FX and have taken up another part time appointment as the tutor for evangelism and church growth at Queens Foundation, Birmingham. So basically I am working part time for Venture FX and part time as a theological tutor at Queens.

Those who have known me for a long time will know that this is a dream come true! I get to have my cake and eat it! I now get to push the boundaries of church and get to explore that academically.

I cannot over state how excited I am about this appointment. For the romantics – this is everything I have dreamed of! For the working classes (to which I am proud to come from) – this is everything I have worked for! For the theists – I feel completely blessed!

That’s not to say I’m not daunted about the future. But for now I’m going to bask in the absolute joy that today I am a pioneer minster and theological educator.

As a colleague wrote in an email – ‘Roll on September!’


#iqtank – a modest start

12 07 2011

Met up today with a few folk interested in the #iqtank idea. It was a great conversation and, interestingly, just as random as our twitter conversations!!!

What we would love to do is this:    

  1. Encourage a dialogue about mission; and
  2. Discover what it means to live in the mission of God.

This is both a place of learning and practice (we strongly believe that the two can’t be separated)

We are going to start off by inviting people to write blog posts (on their own blog, or guest write on someone else’s) on the question: what does it mean to live in the mission of God?

We will then sign-post people to those blogs and start a conversation either through twitter or on the comments on the actual blog post. We already have about 20 people in mind that we want to ask so if you fancy writing one, or if you have someone in mind – then please do let us know. We also want to start an ‘archives’ blog (or something) that allows people to follow the journey. We are not quite sure the best way to do this so if you have any ideas then let us know.

Other ideas to follow:

  • Local tweet ups and conversations.
  • Book reviews.
  • Video upload ‘conversation starters’
  • Practical mission ideas that others can participate in.


If you want to join in then just follow #iqtank on twitter and Facebook. If you have stuff you want to tweet or blog about that fits broadly into the headings given above then please feel free to use the #iqtank hashtag (we don’t own it!!) and if you’ve got other suggestions about what #iqtank could do or be then leave a comment or drop me a tweet.


Methodist Conference – a view from the podium

9 07 2011

This is a bit late but hopefully still relevant. The last day of Conference was different for me – I was there!! The last day is not the best day to be at Conference with lots of bits n pieces to be finished off (and a very tired delegate population) but it was still good to stand in the room that I’d been watching from afar at home for the last 3 days. It was also good to be taking part in the opening worship of conference.

How did I get involved in that?

Well I’m proud to be a good friend of David and Ruth Pickles (Vice President) and Ruth asked me to be involved and to bring a friend! Carla is Synod Secretary to the President (Leo Osborne) and also a good friend of mine so I asked her to help me. Voila! The order of service had to be in weeks ago so the basic structure (and anything that needed to be on the screen) was already planned. But as the twittersphere became populated with online observers it became apparent to me (on this side of the screen) that we needed to try and include our online audience. So we did our best with the short time we had and the constraints put on us by a)15mins and b) conversion of an already planned service. Thanks to those who have offered their kind comments – Carla and I really appreciate them; and for those that wanted a copy of the prayers etc. Click here and those that wanted the link to the video click here.

Conference was great – it was good to see the faces and have brief chats with friends from a long time ago and it was brilliant to have a chat with a group of young people about possible future directions of social media and young people in the church. Social media made a real difference to many people this conference. Click here and see the kind of impact it had. Unfortunately, it seems that there are still some in Methodism (and they are usually in influential leadership roles) who are not taken with social media. In fact, I think some may even be actively against it! No-body has made a negative comment to me (one of the joys of being a pioneer is that you are expected to be edgy and a bit out there) but I know some people who have invested a lot of time, energy and research into this area have been hurt by some peoples comments. In years gone by that would have added to my contempt for the dinosaur church that I called Methodism … but not this time.

I was so energised by the content of Methodist Conference this year and felt so connected through twitter and the live stream (see Pete Philips blog here) that this lack of vision for social media by a few ill informed Methodist leaders had no power anymore. In fact a quiet revolution is beginning to emerge, which, for those of us who have intentionally placed ourselves to bring about radical redirection in the Church, is reward for a lot of hard work, many ‘fights’ and much misunderstanding. Brilliant!!

That revolution seems to have gathered a subversive momentum. Last night, sat enjoying a bottle of wine, I witnessed the birth of #cpol on twitter. The same group of young people that I spoke to at Methodist Conference wanted the energy and connectivity of the #methconf to carry on. These young people, who are deeply passionate and highly politicised, with a little help from a some not-so-youth, managed to get a group of people connected that will become a kind of digital Christian bipartisan political lobbying and action group. Wow!

Which coincides with a piece of work I am involved in called #iqtank which is a missional think tank that wants to think differently and digitally about mission. I’ll write more on this later but for now follow the #cpol and #iqtank streams (and #digidisciple – I’ve just signed up as one of the blog contributors here)

Long live the revolution!

Methodist Conference – a view from the sofa

6 07 2011

Wow! What a day! I was able to spend most of today listening to the live feed on one laptop whilst working on another (not to mention nearly an hour cutting out paper crosses from newspaper – more later!)

Two things:

Firstly, there seems to be a real sense of positive energy building up around conference over this last couple of days. I heard that the Youth President and youthy things went through yesterday and today the highlight (other than Revd Gamble) was the Big Society/poverty report. Many people were tweeting about how proud they were to be Methodists and I caught a glimpse of the intangible that draws me to the people called Methodists. Incidentally, there were a number of conversations about Methodist identity and who ‘is’ a Methodist and ‘how long’ you have been a Methodist. Strange, then, that the thing that made it Methodist was a sense of purpose and narrative rather than a verbal or affirmation of identity. Need to think about that a bit more …

Secondly, Social media is rocketing! Another great day on twitter with connexion 2.0. One of the most amazing things is that people are actually joining twitter to become part of the conversation (how cool is that!!), a parable of evangelism just do what you do and others will want to join. I think most of us have been amazed at the presence of social media this conference (even those who know it far more than I) but one of the challenges has been to get the visuals seen by real life delegates also seen by virtual observers. So, with this challenge in mind I, and my colleague Carla, are planning the opening devotions for tomorrow’s conference (I will be on the 6am train). They only last 15 mins but I have spent today wondering what worship will look like on this side of the screen. The real challenge was that I am using a video as part of the devotions. I have spoken to the Techy team and they can show it but needed to be assured that we had the right licenses to broadcast the video – we didn’t. So I have spent most of the day today conversing with people in America (when they got up!) to see if they will give us permission to play the video on the live stream – eventually they did! Now I just need the Methodist Church law and polity bods to sign it off and we are up and running.

Also – if you are going to be watching the opening devotions on twitter then you will need a cross cut out of old newspaper (I’ve cut 500 out this afternoon, I’m not doing anymore!!)

Let’s see if the worship works on both sides of the screen – let me know how my first tworship went.

Early night tonight

Methodist Conference – a view from the cooker!

5 07 2011

What a fascinating day for social media and the Methodist church. Others will write more knowledgably about this but I want to flag up some of my observations early! Apparently, at one point, there was a Methodist conference tweet every 17 seconds – that is pretty amazing really. The Methodist Media peeps are doing a great job at keeping the Methodist Conference streamed and twittered to its full potential and some have started to call it 21st Century Connexionalism and others Connexionalism 2.0. Whatever name we give it, it is a turn for the better and one that I think will become difficult to slow down. People at home and in the conference were able to participate in conversation and debate (and the odd bit of dry humour) whilst other non-techy delegates could only listen and ruminate in silence.

It raises some big questions though: for instance, what does it mean to say that Conference is made up of elected representatives in the light of social media? Can only elected tweeters tweet? Or are we the equivalent of the chattering public gallery? Actually, does this technology give us no real advantage? Or is this connexionalism at its best? And is it truly representative? There were a significant number of people tweeting throughout the day but social media is used by the few and not the masses, so is this simply niche church? but then again – there were those contributing who might not contribute normally (in other words niche church already exists in the inherited church model)

Whatever we make of it – it was still a significant day for social media in the Methodist Church. Interestingly, I met last week with a couple of friends in Stoke to begin to ask what a virtual district/circuit might look like and how we get others to participate in decision making processes of local Christian communities through social media. Maybe we have caught a glimpse of it.

A fascinating debate I witnessed on twitter but didn’t see live (which means I might have missed some of the nuances) was around the area of a liturgy for the renewal of baptismal vows. The argument, in a nut shell, goes something like this: The church believes in one baptism and that baptism is both future promise and present reality. It rehearses the great salvific events that Christians believe were lived out by Jesus of Nazareth. It promises the death of an old self, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of a new life to come. In that sense, the baptism is once and for all. We can’t take back those promises. Once it is done – it is done. But, say some, what if someone who was baptised as an infant, but then never has anything to do with church, then comes to acknowledge a faith in Jesus. They can’t be baptised (‘cos that was done) so how else can we recognise this significant moment?

This issue is of vital importance to pioneering. If people who come alongside us in our work choose to make a commitment to a particular way of life that we would call Christian (or discipleship) then how do we recognise that moment?

Part of the problem, for me, is that the Methodist Church suffers from a huge dose of protestant enlightenment thinking. We persist in trying to explain everything away without any reference to the transcendence and alterity of faith (and life for that matter). So that baptism and acts of renewal are simply functional moments, as if marking a place on map from which we can identify a place of origin and a project a vector of travel.

Sacrament is greater than that! Sacrament is about using everyday stuff – water, bread, wine and surrounding them in a narrative that makes them more than what they physically are. Sacrament is about mystery, beauty and transcendence. The Church, at its best, offers such space at a particular time to help others make sense of something that is almost impossible to put into words. Ian Morgan Cron in his book Chasing Francis writes ‘our assumption has been that the only true access to the soul is through the head, so our efforts to lead people to faith have focussed on convincing their minds rather than captivating or romancing their hearts’ He also wrote ‘Beauty can break a heart and make it think about something more spiritual than the mindless routine we go through day after day to get by’ and later ‘people are meaning-seekers. We all want to be part of something that’s larger than ourselves.’

Come on Methodist Church – let’s think wonderfully creatively about beautiful, transcendent, meaning making moments. Stop worrying about whether or not something looks like baptism and start finding ways of enabling our theology to be practiced in exciting and unfathomable ways. Instead of trying to explain what we are doing, why not try to develop a theology around what we experience and then work out the best way to practice our theology.

And don’t get me started on the missing generation report …. (only joking! Think that is a wonderful report and well worth reading)

Bring on tomorrow …

Methodist Conference – a view from the kitchen sink

4 07 2011

Some might call me sad – but I have been watching the Methodist Conference Live Stream today and will again tomorrow and Wednesday (Thursday I will be there to lead opening devotions). I guess much of my interest in the proceedings comes from the fact that I have journeyed with the issues and papers that are coming to conference 2011 for two years now with my time on Methodist Council. But, and keep this under your hat, even though I am a ‘yee-har-ing’ pioneer (slap thigh) I still love the Methodist Church. Watching it on the interweb enables me to get tea ready and the washing up done whilst listening to the relaxing tones of the President Leo Osborne and Vice – President Ruth Pickles!

You can read the official blog here which concentrates on a very positive start to the proceedings this morning and even though there was a lot of good stuff said today – I want to concentrate on two particular issues. It isn’t that other reports and debates were not important, rather that these are two I think I can contribute more fully to. The first was the Faith and Order draft statement on pastoral care. I am particularly interested in what a 21st century pastoral theology might look like and what sources we might use to form it. An excellent contribution from Michaela Youngson pointed out that there is more than a Western, person centred understanding of care. She asked that we look beyond what we assume as normative and seek to broaden our theological horizons. I too, want the church to push its theological boundaries a little further and seek a far more radical, post-modern understanding of care. There is some reference to Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministry but not nearly enough to highlight the changed context of pastoral care – I was going to paste some email correspondence I had on the subject but it would make this a long post! If people are interested I can post it later.

The other paper that was presented today is close to my heart – Hope in God’s future is the Methodist Church’s response to global warming and today it was adopted! (we were helpfully reminded by the president that when conference ‘adopts’ something it is ‘mega’). This is such good news! I am passionate about the Eco-debate and I long for the church to do more. My fear, though, is that the good folk of Methodism voted this through unanimously because they either did not realise the full cost, or worst still, they thought that it did not affect them! The Methodist church has produced a helpful website that will enable churches to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions depending on their size. The problem, it seems to me, is that it simply states what can be done to the building – not, necessarily, about the way we live our lives. I blogged last year that I had come to the realisation that saving the planet was not about function, but about being; it is not about things we need to do – it is about the way we need to be. So here are a few things that I would want to see in the lifeblood of the Methodist Church:

  • For all church meetings to be as close to carbon neutral as possible. From conference to property committees, we would have a monitoring form/calculator that would enable us to determine if all our meetings were neutral. That means we would need to offset a lot of carbon! (unless we all walked and met in a field). At a recent Synod we were discussing if Synod ought to move around churches or be held in two or three centres. When I suggested that we ought to have it in the places most accessible by public transport it seemed to challenge the District’s sense of connexionalism!
  • For all acts of worship and meetings to be planned around public transport times. I sometimes am asked to preach at churches but can’t get there because the first bus arrives 30 minutes after they start.
  • To prophetically demand better public transport and cheaper environmentally friendly fuel. Some places, particularly rural areas, have very poor public transport systems. The whole church needs to pursue this political problem. Equally, churches will struggle to find the funds to buy fuel from companies like Good Energy who generally charge a little more for their products. It is up to the whole church to fight for better prices and better services – and, whether we like it or not, demand does increase supply!
  • To buy Manses on public transport routes and to ensure that they have the latest environmentally friendly technology.
  • To put pressure on the Chapel Aid Fund and Methodist Insurance to offer reduced premiums and rates for those who want to buy fully electric vehicles or hybrids; and to encourage the Chapel Aid Fund to offer loans for bikes as well as cars!
  • To offer a reduced circuit assessment for those churches that become carbon neutral; a reduced district assessment for whole circuits that become carbon neutral; and reduced connexional assessments for those districts that become carbon neutral. (and if neutral is too ambitious then 10 – 20%)

To be honest – I’ve got tonnes of ideas (I spend too much time cycling and sitting on busses!) but that’ll do for now! My point is, changing a few light bulbs is not enough – we need a radical new way of living. Some might call it discipleship. I hope that hope in God’s future will bring about that kind of radical, authentic way of life.

Bring on tomorrow’s debates!

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