Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How do our expectations affect community?

Nathan commented on my post on the Jesus All About Life campaign and some of his comments got me thinking.

What does it take to create genuine community? All the things that come to mind are really the same things I am looking for in community. In line with this I have tried really hard to make the things that I value about community the things reflected in our attempt at community building; belonging; acceptance; love; respect for diversity; willingness to serve one another.

Ultimately though, one thing I know, is that I ultimately find my identity in Jesus Christ and therefore my sense of belonging, acceptance, love etc. also rests in him. Because of this I can (imperfectly) be accepting of others failings and shortcomings. I can give others a second, and third, and fourth (and so on) chance. I can participate in reconciliation, can advocate and mediate and to the best of my ability, be there for others when they need me.

But - unfortunately - even when I am involved in all these things, to the very best of my ability, I am going to fall short. I cannot be in all places at once. I can not be everything to everyone in the way needed to make a perfect example of genuine community a reality.

I will let people down. I will not love unconditionally all the time. There will be times when I am too tired, or too busy or too involved with other things to be there for the people who need me. I have a family which comes first meaning others will miss out on my time because of the time I need to spend with them. I have limited finances (even more limited now that my work with Mission Australia has finished) so I won't be able to endlessly help out with other peoples finances or buy lunch or a coffee for everyone that drops by to see me. You might get me on a bad day and I might snap at you. I might use the wrong words when trying to deal with an issue that crops up and I might offend you.

And if those people that drift in and out of our community, are not led to a relationship with Christ, and do not ultimately find their belonging and acceptance in him, then they and others will be continually let down by me.

This, I think, is why so many others attempts at community building either fail, or fail to be more. We expect a lot of the individuals that comprise the community. And when they let us down it's natural to think the ethos behind the community has failed. I've lost count of the people who have told me they have given up on God because of bad experiences with the church.

Perhaps if we can do a better job helping people find their identity in Christ, rather than in a denomination or congregation or particular style of worship, or in our models of leadership, we will find a community that is closer to that represented by our ultimate example of community - the Holy Trinity - and that more closely resembles the kingdom Jesus so regularly taught about while he was here on earth. A community that is able to recognise the limitations of its human members but nonetheless able to thrive because it is squarely built upon the way of Christ and finds its identity in him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can TV Advertising Entice Non-Believers into Church?

I want to be really careful how I write this as I am aware it could possibly illicit an emotional response, but, given my experiences over the past couple of weeks I really feel I have to say something.

I received a letter in the mail yesterday from an organisation calling itself "Jesus all about life" (JAAL for short). It wasn't the first time I had received something from them. I have been the recipient of unsolicited emails from them for a few months now.

JAAL are running a sophisticate, national church marketing program with the goal of engaging the "unchurched" community in church run activities. The crux of the campaign is a series of television advertisements which will be broadcast in W.A. throughout the month of October.

Churches can register to participate in JAAL for $100. Registration ensures any prospective seekers responding to the TV advertising will be directed to the JAAL participating church closest to them, and also includes a JAAL pack participants pack which has a DVD evangelism course and ideas for running "special" JAAL events.

Now the whole thing is pretty standard, attractional/evangelical church fair. It's based around the "build it and they will come" philosophy of church growth. Nothing new or terribly thrilling in all of that.

Some of the adverts (you can view them on the JAAL website) are ok in their content and all are professionally produced. And, according to the information on the site, it seems the JAAL crew have put a fair bit of time and effort into researching Australian's attitude towards the church and Christianity. So, while the JAAL project is obviously a genuine, well intended effort at raising the profile of Jesus Christ in the general community and getting new people into the church, I predict the real results are going to fall way short of the expected outcomes. In this sense it looks and sounds like so many other recent attempts at faith marketing that, when critically assessed, have all fallen flat - the recent push by Churches of Christ to get an intelligent design video to every secondary school student in Australia, Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven" campaign and Nicky Gumbel's Alpha, to name a few.

What really grabbed me about JAAL, and perhaps what is ultimately the difference between this campaign and most of the others, is the overall cost of the campaign. Until receiving yesterday's letter I hadn't given much thought to how the JAAL team were going to get their adverts onto the box. I guess I assumed they would be aired for free like the (cringe-worthy) Christian Television Association announcements of the 80s and 90s - used as fillers in the early hours of the morning and during kids after-school programming. But that's not the case at all. JAAL is a prime-time, hit 'em in the face, campaign. And as such, the JAAL team are requiring a minimum financial commitment just shy of the $500,000 dollar mark (that's half a million dollars if you are having trouble counting all those zeros!).

When I read this my attitude towards the project changed from mild amusement to irritated frustration. I find it incredible that after 15 years (at least) of failed church marketing programs and projects, the JAAL crew can justify raising and spending this kind of money on something that, given the track record of all the others before it, is unlikely to produce anything that even remotely resembles value for money. Especially at a time when the community services sector is chronically underfunded and underserviced.

This is particularly irritating to me at this time because the successful youth drug and alcohol program I have been managing for the last 3 and a half years has just shut down due to lack of funding. And mine isn't the only one.

It makes me wonder how much could be achieved for the kingdom if the same amount of time and effort put into this project were put into encouraging the church to participate in and provide funding for community based programs that actually transform live - and have track records to prove it! Half a mil would have kept Kick Start (my program) running for another 3 or 4 years. Yet the track record of the church when it comes to these kinds of things is abismal. They simply aren't interested.

I wonder if, when the hoohaa fades away and the dust settles and churches begin to take down and pack away their "Jesus All About Life" banners and coffee mugs if anything really will change? Or will it simply be a matter of time until another genuine group of well meaning Christians come along with another expensive way of "guaranteeing" bums on church seats?

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Re-Imagine Consultation

We had Hamo down from Perth last night for our "consultation" - and he didn't once ask us to cough or say "ahhhh".

I was (pleasantly) surprised by the turnout. There were a few faces I didn't expect to see which is always a good thing. Overall, I think it went well. It was certainly encouraging to hear how those involved in the Re-imagine process expressed their thoughts about the process and the journey in general.

Being the one who usually does most of the talking (ho hum) it was good to sit back for an hour and just listen; I think maybe I should try and do this more often.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Social Sundays - Alternate[Or]

We started our Social Sundays again yesterday. During the summer we were meeting every second Sunday for a BBQ at the beach, but with the change in weather and a lack of decent alternative meeting places our social get togethers fell by the wayside.

The social aspect of Alternate[Or] has been pretty important. It has proved to be a way of introducing new people to the group and in just about every case these same people have ended up joining in our spiritual gatherings.

The dynamic of the group has changed over the past 8 months too. We started with a rather large group of people, most of whom would have identified themselves as Christians - most were disgruntled with the church scene in one way or another or were looking at fresh ways of expressing their faith.

Unfortunately just about all these original people have stopped coming and have pretty much cut off communication with me altogether. This has been difficult for me. I struggle with this being a failure on my part yet I don't really know what to do about it, or what I did to make it happen in the first place. I enjoyed the company and input of all these guys and miss their involvement. The only thing I can guess about the reason for their discontinued involvement is that the community wasn't meeting their needs or expectations.

While this aspect has been discouraging, the other side of the picture is encouraging. One of the most important aspects of what we do is the determined act of creating a place of genuine belonging for those who do come along. We seemed to have achieved this, at least for those without a church or Christian background. While the numbers of Jesus followers involved with us has decreased dramatically (from around 30 down to 3) we have seen an increase in unchurched people joining in. We know have a regular group of around 6 or 7 - not including the kids.

Here are some photos from yesterday's social.

The Kids

Most of the regular crew (below also)

We have a pretty basic website here and you can visit our Facebook page here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blog Wrap - Week 1

I use Bloglines to keep up-to-date with my favourite blogs. For those who don't know, Bloglines is a blog reader. It takes all of the latest posts from the blogs you tell it to access and collates them all in one place. It makes it quick and easy to get the latest news from your favourite bloggers.

Bloglines also allows you to save posts for future reference.

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is link to some of the many interesting posts I've saved in my Bloglines account. They date back a while, and I have quite a collection happening, but, thought that I would start sharing them around with a regular "Blog Wrap".

So here goes - this weeks interesting blog snippets are:

Christian Radio on Glenn's Re-Dreaming the Dream blog.

Some interesting and original thoughts on "Respecting Strange Gods" from Matt Stone.

A new blog (at least it was new when I saved the post back in April) on "Lectio Divina for the Ipod Generation" from Emergent Village; and David Fitch takes on Mark Driscoll's claims that the Emerging Church doesn't have any convert (he should come and see what we are doing in Bunbury - most of our regulars are brand spanking new believers with absolutely no Christian background!) in this post also from Emergent.

An "Ancient Celtic Prayer" from JR Woodward at Dream Awakener.

"10 Reasons Why Men Should Not be Ordained for Ministry" from Helen at Conversations at the Edge.

Rick Meigs from Blind Beggar responds to the all pervasive "Come and See" mentality that exists in much of the Evangelical church around the world.

And finally:

A post on a very current and important topic from Hamo at Backyard Missionary, "Radical Hospitality and Incarnational Mission in Suburbia".


New Day 4 Videos - Rwanda

I've started editing together the brief promotional videos I shot while in Rwanda a few weeks ago. These two show are new intro and a promotional video of one of our finished projects - Mountain Rain. Mountain rain was completed in 2007 and represents our first finished sustainable community development project. It's one we are very proud of because of the effects it has had on the community.

The music is from Rwandan music star (and follower of Jesus) Jean Paul Samputu.

There are several more videos on the go and I'll stick them up as they become available.

I welcome any comments about the videos.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

3 is enough

"3 is enough" groups are an initiative of Todd Hunter. They remind me a little of something called "prayer triplets" which have come in and out of vogue here in Oz (and I guess elsewhere around the world) from time to time. However 3ie groups have some distinct differences.

Here's what Todd has to say about them:

Three is Enough Groups are a simple way to practice following God in the way of Jesus. They are not an end in themselves. Their focus is on God and others and the spiritual transformation such a focus brings.

As an important byproduct, they are an antidote to the massive image problem currently ascribed to Christians and Christianity. This unfortunate viewpoint keeps many people from entering life in the Kingdom as a follower of Jesus. Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness has always been the true goal of Christian faith—now it is utterly strategic.

Everything you need to know about the concept and about getting a group of your own started is on Todd's blog.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The start of something new

Today is a special day.

I was called to a meeting with our state manager today, a meeting I had been half expecting for about a month now.

I was told that the community services program I run had not been refunded and as such was being shelved. As a result my position was being made redundant.

In just over three weeks I will finish three and a half of the most amazing years of my working life. In this time I have been privileged to work with more than 50 young men, struggling to find their way in the world and have met and built friendships with work colleagues that, I hope, will last a lifetime.

Kick Start has taught me loads - about people, about leading, about management, about God and the way he works in people and through people and through situations. About belonging and loving the unlovable and making the world a better place. About living incarnationally and being the church.

If anyone has any work going (about 2 days per week would be good), don't hesitate to drop me a line! :)

Monday, June 02, 2008

What does real evangelism look like?

Being nice to people doesn’t get them saved. You need to present them with the bad news about their sin, tell them about Jesus and the cross, and bring them to a point of decision. That’s what Jesus called us to do, and anything short of that is just a cop out.

As quoted by Randy Siever - Doable Evangelism - Busting the Myth of "Pre-Evangelism"

A few years back I would have whole heartedly signed up for this statement of mission. I was convinced the only way to see people saved was to hit them with the bad news about their final destination and the Good News of the cross.

The reality was, even though the theory seemed to make a lot of sense, the practice really wasn't working.

Looking back I think I had been convinced that faith was a commodity of sorts that had to be "sold" - in fact the approach I had been taught to take was one very closely aligned to that taken by network marketers.

Now network marketing is something I have tried on a number of occaisions without much success (I know it works for some - it didn't work for me and, thanks, I'm not interested in going there again!). I know quiet a few people who are into it and I have many times seen the end result of the standard approach - broken or damaged relationships!

Generally, the approach is pushy, demanding and offensive (I know not all network marketers work this way). The assumption is the prospect "needs" what you have to sell and it is your job to convince them of it. Sometimes this requires a feined attempt at friendship (the network marketer's equivelent of what Siever is referring to as "pre-evangelism" in his post) in order to win the prospect over.

In my personal experience, the "friendship" is often quickly forgotten when the program is rejected. I have spoken to many people who would describe themselves as "victims" of this kind of high pressure approach to business.

The approach has a conditioning effect. Once you have been "hit up" by a network marketer once or twice you get to know the warning signs. Out of the blue contact by an old aquaintance who "wants to catch up and talk to you about a business opportunity" is enough to send cold shivers down your spine. The warmth generated by the out-of-the-blue contact of an old friend is readily replaced by an overwhelming desire to do bodily harm to the person on the other end of the phone.

Unfortunately I know just as many who would describe their experiences with Christians in a similar way.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Another Amahoro 08 Blog

On the Amahoro Africa front, I found another blog reporting on the gathering. It belongs to Tim Keel from Jacobs Well community in the US. As far as I can tell he and I are the only bloggers to report on the gathering. He gives a run-down on sessions with Annemie Bosch and Brian McLaren that I (unfortunately) missed due to my bout of malaria.

Back from Africa

We arrived back home early Friday morning after a 7 hour flight from Thailand.

Things got off to a bit of a scary start on take off from Bangkok - the plane began climbing at full thrust as usual, until, about a minute into the climb, the pilot leveled out and throttled down. There followed a deafening noise and the plane began shuddering violently.

Alyssa and I were sitting in an exit row with the two flight attendants in their jumpseats directly in front of us. When the noise and shuddering started they stopped chatting and gave each other worried looks and exchanged glances with two other attendants on the opposite side of the plane.

When the emergency exit lights came people around us started making noise. My reflex action was to grab Lyss' hand and begin praying in here ear!

The noise and shudders lasted about 30 seconds and then the pilot increased thrust and began to climb again. After about an hour of climbing the pilot came on the intercom for the first time, without mentioning anything about what had happened. To say the rest of the flight was a little nerve-wracked is probably an understandment.

While not completely sure what happened, my own flight training and flying experience tells me the most likely source of the problem was the undercarriage which possibly did not properly lock in place after take-off. This would explain the throttling back, leveling off and the horrendous noise (resulting from the drag caused when the undercarriage was put down and back up again). It also explains the emergency exit lights as these come on automatically when the landing gear is extended.

While it wasn't a serious issue, it would have been nice if the Thai Airways flight crew had explained over the intercom what was going on. The whole incident left quite a few passengers obviously rattled - Lyss and I included.

It's good to be back and to see the kids. And also to reflect on the last 2 weeks and things we have seen, heard and participated in.