Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bring Back God

One of the 'fleshly' appetites I have to try hard to keep in check is my love of designer clothes - I'm not into flash but I really love quality and I have some brands that I'm pretty loyal to. This is now compounded by the fact that fashion is an industry not exactly renowned for its ethical record - right now as I speak GAP are reeling from recently being busted (again) for using factories that employ child labour. But check this out - a designer with not only an ethical but also a spiritual conscience! London based Katherine Hamnett made her name in the 80's with those oversize T-Shirts saying 'CHOOSE LIFE' as worn by Wham. As with everything in fashion what goes around comes around but in the last 25 years the cultural goalposts have shifted. The new range of slogans include the superb 'BRING BACK GOD'. Her website describes the idea like this:
"Why isn’t there just nothing? Nobody knows how life started. Darwinism is just part of the answer and all other possibilities have to be considered equally valid including a supernatural one, including a creator. The right to believe in a God is one of our civil liberties."
So will I soon be cleansing my label conscience in one of these organic cotton tees, printed in the UK with water-based, environmentally friendly printing inks? Not at £40 a pop I won't!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The 'Bait and Switch'

Working in an evangelistic ministry like I do one issue that's frequently considered is that of 'follow up', or my preferred way of describing it 'follow through' (subtle but important difference). However neither of these concepts are likely to have much chance of success if the original evangelistic 'pitch' in any way involves a bait and switch.
What's a bait and switch? Well, imagine you get a mailing through your door telling you that you've won a free holiday in Ibiza. All expenses paid, first class flight and 5 star accommodation included - all you have to do is sign and return the enclosed letter of acceptance and then turn up at a hotel somewhere near where you live to meet a representative of the company who'll explain the rest to you. Yep, its a scam. We see it being played out on Watchdog every week. A naive young couple are gutted when they realise they've actually signed up for life to a timeshare apartment on a building site down a dirt track 10 miles from the sea. But the parallels between this kind of corporate con trick and contemporary evangelistic preaching are scary. One of the main reasons that 95% of the people who respond to an evangelistic message don't go on with God is because they quickly realise they've been stung. Someone promised them peace with God and freedom from guilt and they woke up the next day to find they're lumbered with a lifetime of hanging out with wierdoes on a Sunday morning singing strange songs and listening to long winded lectures.
So what can be done about it? Well whilst it's important for church leaders to ensure that their congregations are welcoming, caring environments the onus is really on us the evangelists. The day of selling individually packaged grace deals without any reference to the conditions of the contract is over. The message must change. Christianity equals community. Belief necessitates behaviour. We evangelists need to grapple with this and find fresh inspiration so that we might reveal the true nature of life in the risen Christ, joining an epic journey with a rag-tag bunch of pilgrims who are determined to see God's great dream for the world fulfilled.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Belonging then and now

Following on from my last post I thought it might be a good idea to insert the quotation from The Missional Leader that got me thinking about this in the first place:
"In the time of Tertullian, someone wanting to belong to the church had to go through a rigorous period of training focused on behaviour (how daily life was actually lived). In other words, to belong to the community of Jesus, a person was mentored in practicing change in habits. Today leaders talk about the need to create a safe, non-threatening, low threshold of belonging in order to draw people into the church. Note the two radically different ways in which the same language is being used. These approaches suggest contrasting sources of understanding. In the latter case and in our contemporary context, the source of this thinking is not theologically, biblically formed imagination but the latest marketing strategies that come from polls and studies about what people are looking for when they join a group... Tertullian's primary concern as a leader was formation of people around a specific set of habits and practices that came out of his engagement with scripture."

The quote is from the beginning of Part 2 of the book, which is probably the place to start if you're gonna read it.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Belong, Believe, Behave

Travelling over to Budapest last week I was reading Alan Roxburgh's 'The Missional Leader' - not a great book to be honest but it did prod me towards the following little rev... For years now I've heard people talk about 'Belong, Believe, Behave' as a summary of the process of becoming a Christian. I first recall Mike Pilavachi using it about 10 years ago. He spelt out the way that most churches insist that young people are required to first behave, then believe at which point they might be allowed to belong. Along with many in youth ministry my work has involved trying to reverse that process, with the least important bit being the behaving - after all, "teenagers eh!". How crazy then that I'm only now coming to see that this isn't a process at all. These are 3 incredibly important factors in anyone's Christian life, whether just starting out or approaching the finishing line. We all need to be part of a community of faith (belonging), we all need to be animated by personal faith (belief), and we all need to act in accordance with our faith (behaviour). How could I have overlooked the behavioural dimension of faith for so long? After all, 'Faith without deeds is dead.' Let's never confuse authentic Christian behaviour with how we act in Sunday worship; how we behave in that context ought to pale into insignificance when compared against the witness of our daily lives.

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