Postcards from England: ILC1 – FX around the world

We’ve just wrapped up four incredibly stimulating days at the Fresh Expressions International Learning Community that took place at the beautiful Ashburnam Place (Battle, England).

 

Teams gathered for the event from all corners of the globe – the host team from the UK joined by Southern Africa, United States, Mountain Sky (also United States), Canada, Sweden, Germany   and of course Australia.

It was both fascinating and encouraging to hear the stories of fresh approaches to church and faith community that emerged from each of the national teams.  There’s something special that happens when a “tribe” of like-minded people gather together.

It was interesting too to discover that the shape of Fresh Expressions (from an organisational perspective) differs greatly in each place.

In Southern Africa for example, they’re a well organised team and have formal partnerships with nine different denominations.  Meanwhile in Mountain Sky USA, it’s predominantly an initiative of the United Methodist Church through that area (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana) and involves approaches to planting new churches and new faith communities in an area that seems to bear many of the same cultural hallmarks as Australia.

In the UK, naturally (as the originators of the Fresh Expressions movement) they’re very well organised, and with a partnership involving several denominations. Each denomination shares in resourcing the wider movement, together with undertaking their own work of developing new expressions within the denomination.  The movement began in 2004 in the UK under the auspices of then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – who saw it as an ideal vehicle to begin a contextual church planting movement within the churches involved.  That commitment continues, and while there are more traditional church planting movements underway in the UK, Fresh Expressions (and the associated training and support offered under that banner) continues to be a vehicle that helps local churches and local leadership groups establish new church communities.

Each of these stories (and more) provided great food for thought for the Australian team. We gathered at the conference not ever having actually met as a team before (indeed several of us didn’t know each other until we arrived!) and through the week were able to dream together about how we can (collectively) energise Australian activity in the area of fresh expressions.

I valued the opportunity to meet so many leaders from around the world. Session times were predominantly spent in our country teams (and this worked brilliantly), which meant meal times were a noisy buzz of excited conversation and story sharing.

In the next three posts I’ll share (a) a couple of particular stories I encountered and which I think have something to offer in an Australian context; (b) a couple of things I learned about myself (I’ll try not to overshare!), and (c) what the Australian team see as the future of our network down under.

Your questions or comments, of course, are welcome.

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Postcards from England: Partnership for Missional Church

While in Leicester (see the previous story!), we took the opportunity to sit down with Nigel Rooms of the Anglican Church’s Church Missionary Society (CMS) to hear about a project they’re running called the Partnership for Missional Church.

Now if you’ve hovering in church circles, you’ll have stumbled across this word ‘missional’ more than once or twice in the last few years.  It’s a conversation that has quite a head of steam as we continue to ask the question “what does it mean for a church to be shaped in response to its understanding of God’s mission” (or something like that).

CMS, through this program, are endeavouring to help local churches reflect on this kind of question, and to turn their attention to the notion that God is at work in their world, and the question of how to join in. These are, in a sense, the classic questions of the missional movement.

The program is a long-term one, taking three years to work through in a partnership between the local church and CMS (or the program’s original developers, the Church Innovation Institute in the USA) in three movements:

  • Year 1: Listening
  • Year 2: Experiment
  • Year 3: Focussing

It also incorporates a heavy emphasis on discipleship – through five practices: dwelling in the word, dwelling in the world, announcing the kingdom, hospitality (of which more in a moment), and corporate (collective) spiritual discernment. It all hangs on a range of ‘ologies’ including theology, sociology, missiology, ethnography and so on.

The process seems in some ways to be a carefully assisted change process. The community is introduced to the capacity to understand itself, it’s world, and it’s God in new ways, and then supported as it responds to those new understandings.

There were, once again, a few topics explored in the course of the afternoon that captured my attention.

The first was the mention of hospitality. At risk of being something of a broken record, this is a topic I’ve wondered about before – in particular the tendency in our world to put ourselves in the place of host when we think about hospitality – whereas the Jesus stories are filled with encounters in which Jesus is the guest rather than the host.  Learning to be guest in our communities, and to see God at work in the world and life of our host is a critical skill.

The second related to an observation from systems theory about the interplay between process and outcomes. The theory (as I heard it expressed) suggests that in a given situation we can either control the process, or the outcomes, but not both. In the Partnership for Missional Church exploration, the attempt is to manage the process – and to let the outcomes be whatever they may be (or whatever God may determine…to take a slightly more theological tone).  The PMC journey is a carefully managed process, but with not pre-determined, or even preferred outcome envisaged before it begins.  What will be, will be.  I’m drawn to that approach.

Thirdly, we heard that there is a body of research that suggests that local churches learn best from one another, than from professional trainers and consultants. As a kind-of-consultant, I of course rankled at this suggestion…but only for a moment. Of course there are times when insights from outside are helpful, but it does seem intuitively true that peer learning is a powerful tool – and that local churches (or their leadership teams) in conversation with one another can learn a great deal from one another’s experiences.  Which reinforces the importance of great relationships with neighbouring congregations. Let’s not be out there going it alone!

The next postcard is a few days away. We’re now gathered with teams from around the world in an International Learning Community on fresh expressions of church.  We’ve collectively agreed on a social media fast for the duration of the gathering (in terms of the gathering itself and the conversations we’re having here), so that we can be fully present to one another, and allow the full process of the gathering to work its way through out thinking.

I’ll tell you though that it’s been incredibly stimulating, and there are lots of thoughts and questions I’m wondering about.  I’ll be back to say more in the next postcard.

Postcards from England: Fresh Expressions in Leicester Diocese

Over the next two weeks I have the very good fortune to be spending some time with key leaders in Methodist and Anglican Churches in parts of the United Kingdom, along with joining the Australian team at the 2017 Fresh Expressions International Learning Community alongside delegates from around the world.

Along the way I’ll fire back a postcard every couple of days to share some of what I’m learning and reflecting on as it relates to our own work within the Uniting Church in Queensland. In my conversations here I’m focusing particularly on topics such as leadership development, discipleship, fresh expressions and church planting. Your questions and comments are welcome below. If you’re not that interested in church and faith, you might want to skip these next few postcards.

Today’s first day included a briefing with Jonathan Dowman from the Leicester Anglican Diocese. Jonathan, along with Madds Morgan and Matt Pitt are the Diocese’s resourcing team for the developing fresh expressions of church in and around the communities of the diocese.

For those for whom fresh expressions might be a new concept, the standard definition used is that a fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.  In Queensland we’ve been exploring and encouraging the notion of Fresh Expressions through the conduct of the Mission Shaped Ministry Course which has been offered by Moreton Rivers, South Moreton and Bremer Brisbane Presbyteries in partnership with the synod over the past 3 years.

In a rich conversation, two things stuck out for me in this conversation with Leicester Diocese.

The first is that the Diocese have big, ambitious goals with respect to fresh expressions of church. They plan to have one fresh expression of church for every parish church within the diocese by 2030. That’s a total of around 300 fresh expressions. At this moment there are around 60 in existence, together with another approximately 100 mission initiatives that are exciting, but don’t quite bear all the hallmarks necessary to meet the diocese’s definition of a fresh expression. That’s a big goal. An unashamedly big goal. And to achieve it is going to take a huge investment of time, energy and resources, together with a willingness to dismantle anything in the diocesan system that might prevent them from progressing.

Are we quite so ready to discern and name such an ambitious goal? Are we willing to measure it? Monitor progress toward it? Put the necessary resources in place to help us achieve it?  Discerning and then naming ambitious targets can be a confronting task, and one that doesn’t always come easily for us. In the case of this diocese, it’s providing a sharp focus for the work the diocese is doing.

The second thing I found particularly interesting was a decision by the diocese that its mission resourcing staff would spend 75% of their time resourcing and supporting fresh expressions of church across the diocese, but be set aside for 25% of their time to lead a particular local fresh expression. That means their resource team are not only consultants and coaches, but practitioners who are on the ground trying to discern, plan and lead new expressions of church.

I couldn’t help but wonder might happen if we tasked presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff with using 25% of their time to discern, plan and lead a new expression of church in our own local context.

And naturally, I got to wondering what I would do if I was given permission to commit 25% of my time to a local project. Which idea that occasionally nudges to the forefront of my imagination would I throw myself into? Or which team that are already engaged in mission in my local area would I join to support and encourage?

Could we be so bold as to encourage our presbytery and synod mission resourcing staff to be practitioners as well as coaches, mentors, educators and consultants?

Big goals, big commitments. These are the factors that I found myself wondering about after a day with Leicester Diocese.

In the next postcard, I’ll reflect on a conversation with the leader of an Anglican Church Missionary Society project called Partnership for Missional Church. See you back here in a days or two!

on meals, community, love and jesus

A message shared with Toowong Uniting Church in July 2017. Read John 13:31-35 first.

Last week, June 29 was Eat Together day in Canada.  A day when Canadians were invited to eat with neighbours, friends and colleagues, to see what happened. Watch this:

The official website introduces the idea like this: “When we eat together, good things happen. Whether its poutine, pad thai, paella, or pemmican. Nothing brings us together like eating together. We’re on a mission to make the world a better place by sharing a meal. It is time to stop watching and start acting! Join in on June 29th for Eat Together Day. Whether you eat with your neighbours, friends or family, make a time to eat together.”

It’s an invitation that is extended as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150th year as a nation. Other elements of the celebration include National Aboriginal Day, St Jean Baptiste day, Canadian Multiculturalism Day and Canada Day.  The film we just watched introduces the concept of eat together, and tells its own story. It’s a beautiful film, filled with funny, poignant moments. And it reflects many of those other elements of Canada 150.

I’m sure you that you, like me if you cast your mind back, can think of some memorable meals. Times and places where the table was the centre of a wonderful community time. Where conversation flowed as food was shared. Where the bonds of friendship were formed or strengthened.

There is something wonderful about sitting around a table and sharing together.

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on birthdays with a zero…

My youngest is just days away from a very special birthday. The one in which she reaches the magical double-figure mark. She’s bounding around the house with barely contained excitement, the anticipation of the big day breaking forth in unexpected moments as she thinks about a party with her friends, a day with her family, and her first electronic gadget (the iPod has become a de-facto rite of passage at age 10 in our house…please go gentle on the judgement of our parenting choices!).

Lots of birthdays hold significant meaning when you’re young. Double figures. Teenager-hood. Sixteen. The 18 year old adult. The 21st. Time honoured significance in each of those birthdays.

It seems that once you reach a certain age though, birthdays lose something of that magic. Sure it’s nice to have a special dinner with the family, and to receive some best wishes from friends, but it’s not quite as enchanted as when you’re a kid.

Except if the birthday in question has a zero in it.

Maybe its just not possible to keep up the enthusiasm year-in and year-out for birthdays, so we ration it to once every ten years instead. Turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and the grand old century mark, these are special days.  Often we think of them as marking a transition point too, onward to the next stage of life.

Zero birthdays give us pause to reflect not just on the last year, but on the last stage of life, the last decade or more. And to think far more than 12 months ahead, pondering what is to come, what choices we’ll make, what the next stage of life holds in store for us.

Anniversaries are a bit the same. Oh Sheri and I will definitely mark the passing of our 22nd anniversary later this year, but we’re already planning toward the 30th in a much bigger way.

A zero is just one number among ten, but somehow the zero makes it special

All of which comes into sharp focus this week.

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on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! 😉

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership.  Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation.  And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

life is made of moments

NB: Before you read, it might help to know that this is the text of a message I shared at Toowong Uniting Church, August 9th 2015. It refers to a story from Acts 4:26-40. The context at Toowong is that they are preparing to plant a new congregation.  If you’d rather listen than read…skip to the end of this story for the mp3 file.


 

It seems to me that this life that we live is made up of moments.

If you think back over your life, I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

I think of the moment I saw Sheridan walk into a friend’s 21st birthday party and I instantly knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

I think of the moment I made a bad decision and tore up my knee, ending up in surgery just weeks before our first child was due.

I think of the moment I learned a huge lesson about leadership, as I sat quietly to one side during an outdoor education program I was helping to run.

I think of the moment when I woke up one morning and realised that for the first time in 6 years all the kids had slept all night.

Some moments are wonderful, some not so much.

Some are extraordinary, while others are just the moments of everyday life.

Some moments, like my encounter with Sheri at that 21st birthday party, change our lives instantly. And we know it in the moment (or at least, I knew it…you’ll have to ask Sheri about her experience of that moment).

Others take a while to reveal themselves – and sometimes it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the power of that moment.  Such is the story for my learning about leadership on that outdoor education program. The moment actually passed unremarkably that night…but the more time passes, the more I reflect on that moment…the more it means to me.

This life that we live is made up of moments.  I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

In this passage today, this story of Philip and the Ethiopian (read it here Acts 8:26-40), there’s a lot going on, and we’ll work our way through some of those things over the rest of our time.

But at the heart of it is a moment. A chance encounter. The intersection of two people’s lives that changed both of them forever.

Such is the importance of a moment. And this life that we live is made of them.

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