Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Return to Study

Tomorrow I return to studies.
Regular readers of the blog will know that back here I ran the very real risk of complete meltdown. But all was well and the research papers got good marks.

How can a mother of two small ones, dutiful wife, children's pastor and partaker of Costa produce with the mothers' mafia of the local community manage to be officially classed as a full time student last session? (Answer: due to the number of hours of classes/study/research undertaken. You can't lie to SAAS to get money!)

More importantly, how can a working mum manage to get this degree? Answer: (truly) - with God's help, giving me discipline (though I freely confess I am not moan-free) and committment to the studies, grace to get through it, financial help from sources that were not my own and help from friends at various points throughout the year to keep my chin up, lend me lecture notes, explain terminology to me and generally be there for me at all times during the term.

And now it's back for just a little more. One third of third year; the remainder having been passed already.

But this year I have to travel to get there......

Mark July 2009 in your diaries as its party time when I graduate!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Envisioning Day

Today I had two long car journeys which meant I was able to (hands free) make some long phone calls I've been trying to make all week. I *am* enjoying open plan but it's not the place to make pastoral phone calls. I'm sitting near the door; a real hubbub of conversation sometimes, beside the laminator/guillotine/comb binder thingy. And near the 14 different recycle bins (eco-warriors are very active here. Of course this is a good thing.)

And I'm pretty guilty of being chatty sometimes too.

A new thing about open plan: I'm finding all sorts of interesting things left on my desk by other people; my desk seems to have a kind of a "hot desk" feel to it as I am part-time and it's next to an empty desk that other people come in and use. I need to remember to put away some things I leave out; something I am not used to doing.

I've spent a little more time working at home this week; which has been good for me personally but also results in me feeling a bit on my own, sad individual that I am. I'm just missing friends! People you can call in on; people to talk and pray with; people you can just *be* with. There are some folks here who I would consider very good friends already but when you are feeling your way a little bit in a new community you don't want to overdo it. I may only be suitable to have round in small doses!

Saturday is a very big day for me as I outline a vision for children, family and all age ministry. I am expecting thirty to forty people and this day will be repeated in October, for more folks to come.

I hope to teach on some foundational building blocks for any church which considers itself to offer any kind of ministry to children and families.

Without these kinds of topics being discussed at a leadership level, I don't know how a church can interact with the families and young people who live around them. We have got to know what we believe; at a foundational level; do we really want to welcome children into our church? Do we know what the Lord Jesus said about children? Do we understand the implications this has for everything else we do?
.."unless you change and become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven"..heavy duty words to exegete......

I'm going to teach on/dip into most of the following:- (probably)
- why work with children?
- God calls children
- the significance of children
- personal faith journey
- faith development in children (Westerhoff/Fowler)
- what is the status of children before God?
- the ingredients of children's evangelism
- church vs school - not the same!
- risk taking with your team (* not specifically about children; but its a training need I have identified)
- how to choose a children's bible - just an advice sheet; need something very practical for parents
- vision and value statement; this governs everything I am and everything I do with regard to children and families and intergenerational, all age stuff.

There was so much I could cover on this day but I felt God asking me to concentrate on these areas as I need to get some firm foundations in place for what is to come. I need to re-establish quite a lot of teams and therefore I need people to get VERY excited about the potential of the young lives they shape. I am still stirred from the quote contained within this post here....why is the greatest status afforded to a University professor and not a nursery nurse?

Plus I have some great emergent-type visual clips, pictures and thought provokers. And a lovely big bookstall with all my favourite Bibles, books, Cds and DVDs on it. I think I might enjoy this day with the great folks from my new church family!

Monday, September 22, 2008


I've just had a day of salutory reminders that I haven't moved here to have an easy time.

How do pastors cope when they come out of a meeting and are reminded of all the things that need to change? When the stuff that is wrong is categorised (in neat lists) for you? When you know change needs to happen but you have to wait because:

(a) you can't do it all yourself and anyway you'd burn out if you did
(b)everyone would run away from you if you did what you REALLY wanted to do? (think total dismantling and start again)
(c) you are waiting patiently for the right people to be revealed to you; where are your vision carriers and runners?

I *do* have fairly wide experience of (c) happening. Over the past years, I have needed to build a strong, strong 8s to 11s team, with as many guys as gals leading, and it fell into place. Then I needed an under 3s leader and that too, happened. I needed to see an Additional Support Needs team build up, and that came about fairly easily. I wanted to see an effective midweek club run, and that happened under an awesome leader. Each year I needed 30-40 people for holiday club and for summer cover teams - ya de ya de ya....it all happened. Pretty effortlessly, probably because I was known and knew people in return, it was easy to be a team together.

And now I am in the position of greatest human impotence that I have ever known. I don't know people well yet.

I'm coming back to the Exodus 33 passage again (posted about here)....put most simply ....what can I do here or anywhere without God's presence being with me? I'm not satisfied with just getting by. I don't do half hearted or mediocre and pretence has never really suited me. I need the raw, tangible presence of God leading me and directing me.

We sang the song "Facedown" at church last night. I have no other choice than to go face down, which I did, near the exit (oh dear, a trip hazard) because I need him so much.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Children and Family - A Theological Overview

I thought my blog has got a bit personal recently (how strange a concept that is, a blog that is personal) and its time for a change of focus.

I'm preparing for a big vision day for my new church, putting a framework around children and family ministry there, and I have been reading back over my research paper submitted last session (see here for a precis!)

Here is a short excerpt, on the role of the family:-
It assumes a knowledge of the work of Westerhoff/Fowler, on faith development, which I had written about in an earlier section. You can catch it here and here, if you so desire.

Who should be nurturing children's faith? Who is responsible?

If there is consensus that Christian parents are the best people to nurture their children’s spirituality from birth onwards, then it follows that the best way of discipling children is directly through their parents and no further models or methods are needed. This view could be too simplistic for the post-modern Britain and there may be other lessons to be gleaned from the Old Testament.

The Old Testament does outline steps to take to ensure spiritual formation but this learning was not merely to be memorised and recited, but was to be lived (Deut 6:7-9). This principal is as pertinent for today as it was then. The youngest to the oldest were part of the whole community of faith and the clan-type structure of living indicates that other adults apart from the biological parents would have played a part in rearing children. “The larger body of people took precedence over the interests and concerns of man, woman and child”

Gordon Wenham has analysed the pattern of family life in the Pentateuch and substantiates this description of a large body of people: social order is demonstrated where everyone cares for the other and lives in harmony with the other, in larger units rather than as individual families (1). This is a model that could be emulated in churches today.

Edesio Sanchez states that no other book in the Bible gives more teaching to children and young people as Deuteronomy (2) . There are key principles in Deuteronomy for families today, if we read it with a “family oriented hermeneutic” as there are countless references to the people of God in the past, present and future along with the exhortation to “impress these commandments upon the children” (Deut 6:7). There are clear promises of blessings that will affect families who make up the nation (in verses 1-3) for remaining obedient and faithful under the terms of God’s covenant with his people.

As well as personal instruction within families to talk about the covenant, there is evidence of corporate remembrance and celebration. Catherine Stonehouse points out that many events recorded in the Old Testament included children as well as adults, for example, celebrating alongside adults when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt by Nehemiah (Neh 12:27-43) (3)

Turning to the New Testament, children were included in the home-based meetings for worship, teaching and learning. This evidence suggests that Christians valued children much more highly than the Greco-Roman culture around them. (later note: what about Christians today? Is there any sign to those outside our church culture that we value children highly?) Judith Gundry-Volf notes that Roman children were on the lowest social rung and exposed to the potential brutality of the father; he literally had the power of life and death over them (4) .

Are there any New Testament principles that assist in developing a theological consideration of families? John 1 outlines one of these. Jesus became flesh and lived among us (v14). He was born into a human family. Grenz states “Jesus participated in our existential humanness….knowing human needs" (5) . Jesus developed cognitively just as ordinary humans do. There were things that he could not do and as he became older he learned to do them. He needed the support of his family to grow and learn. This is an important principle.

Jesus words and actions towards children; of blessing, nurture, promise and protection (contained in passages in Mark 10, Matt 19, Luke 18) speak clearly to those responsible for the discipleship and integration of children and their parents into the community of believers. The faith community, gathered congregation or small groups, should exercise blessing, nurture, promise and protection upon the younger generations. (later note: and not ignore children!)

An interesting question to be considered by pastors and leaders is that there could be something gained by interacting with children in a discipleship or worship setting. Children model something for adults; demonstrated by Jesus when he elevated their status by saying that adults should become like them. Westfall states that it was “unusual for a rabbi to give children precedence or elevate them as models of humility and faith, let alone single them out as his personal representatives” (6).
There are lessons to be learned from these words and maybe we should consider what opportunities, if any, there are for children to “be” with adults in a way that avoids tokenism but genuinely allows them to express their faith.

(1) G. Wenham, Family in the Pentateuch in R Hess and M Carroll (eds), Family in the Bible, Grand Rapids, Baker Books 2003, 31
(2) E Sanchez, Family in the Non-Narrative Section of the Pentateuch in R Hess and M Carroll (eds), Family in the Bible, Grand Rapids, Baker Books 2003, 43
(3) C Stonehouse, Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey, Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1998, 32
(4) J Gundry-Volf, The Least and the Greatest, Children in the New Testament, in M Bunge, ibid, 33
(5) S Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1994, 278
(6) C Westfall, Family in the Gospels and Acts in R Hess and M Carroll (eds), ibid, 127

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Deep calls to deep

Re: the title of this post - I have always loved this verse from Psalm 42

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls - a phrase loaded with imagery; of rushing waters and roaring sounds; of immense power in the cascade of water which erodes a path through the most resistant rock. Nothing can stand in its way! Our landscape today is marked with the paths of former rivers, pools and waterfalls formed by the excess water running off the land after the last Ice Age. Yet we know water also to be a soft, gentle, cleansing substance which we desperately need for refreshment and washing; essential to even the most mundane daily task. Without it, we die.

What does "deep calls to deep" mean?
I'd suggest it means that there is a place deep within each human being that longs and yearns for communion with God. There is a lot of talk in contemporary theology about community; a lot of the things I dip in and out talk about this. But for me, on Sunday night, with tears running down my face as my friends preached on Acts 2, it was a yearning that I could have screamed out loud about. believers who loved one another and belonged to each other and yet saw miraculous signs in their midst. I'm FED UP with busy-ness. There IS another way.

Deep calls to deep means to me I can whisper the things I am most afraid of to God and I feel an immediate comfort coming to me. It means I can sigh and he knows what I mean. It means I can howl and words aren't necessary. And on Sunday night it meant that even when I felt I didn't belong, he told me I did.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Follow on .....

After having had a weeny little splurge (posting below), I went over to SB's blog where I haven't been for a week or two and read this. Fitted how I was feeling perfectly. I'm pretty sure Stuart won't mind me quoting him and Shane Claybourne (what book is that from Stuart?)

"The things that 'deceive' us I suspect are much more likely to be subtle temptations of suburbia than some big heresy issue.

On this Shane Claybourne writes:

‘Sometimes people ask me if I am scared living in the inner city. I usually reply, ‘I’m more scared living in suburbs’. The Scriptures say we should most fear not those things that can destroy the body but those things that can destroy the soul. While the ghettoes may have heir share of violence and crime, the suburbs are the home of the more subtle demonic forces – numbness, complacency, comfort – and it is these that can eat away at our souls’

I think we need some folks to create a few collisons for us between commonly accepted values and behaviours in our church life and the inconvenient ways of Jesus.

(Excerpt from a sermon preached last night at an ordination and induction)

Recent Discoveries

I've now been here for three weeks and I have made some very important discoveries.

1. buses are great
2. Starbucks is not an option for morning coffee for people on a budget
3. my accent stands out in the school playground
4. it's possible to play piano proficiently, sing beautifully, canoe for Scotland, play tennis like Andy Murray and swim like a fish before the age of 12
5. my new colleagues ARE wonderful
6. spiders of gargantuan proportions rule the city
7. Earl Grey tastes like tea that's gone off
8. I'm not very good at telling polite lies. (yes, at times, no, at other times!!)
9. ceilidhs are possibly the best kind of social function to ever have been invented
10. children, however full their lives are of activity, achievement, belongings and friends, all have have the same desires and longings. They want to be listened to, they want to have fun, they want to have access to all the good things of God that they perceive adults do. If taught well, they will take on the rights and the responsibilities.

I'm here helping with that because I believe, as do all my family, that we were called by God to do so. But I'm uncomfortable with the growing sense that I just might have to go against the flow sometimes; and this has the potential of being perceived as bolshey (sorry, can't think of a better word to use)

Before I came here, I was asked what my greatest fear was. It was of being misunderstood. But the greatest role model ever was the Lord Jesus who was despised and rejected. I'm sure I can face anything that comes before me at any stage in my life if I only draw in close to him :-) And I love people; and since coming here have felt an even stronger sense of desperation for those OUT there, not in the warm and comfort of the established church, to know Jesus, to know how brilliant it is to be loved and have someone walking with them every day.