Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reflecting with leaders

Yesterday I led an Away-Day for the leaders of a village church near Cambridge.  They asked me to take the theme 'Leadership'.  I knew nothing about the church and when I learned it would last for six hours with only five leaders present I was rather daunted!

Obviously, we needed to start with their situation and issues so, after opening devotions, I used my preferred low tech tool - a flip chart - to note down responses.  Unsurprisingly a couple of leaders spoke about how too much of their time is spent on tasks. Without wanting to be caught in activity, they found themselves almost completely task-oriented.  Indeed they felt that the perception of them held by others in the church is that they are the people who do what's needed in order for the church to function.  Other issues included the need to develop the prayer life and teamwork of the fellowship.  I wondered how many leaders in other churches would list similar concerns!

To try and provide some meat I worked with them on a definition of Christian leadership that emerged piecemeal, giving time for reflection every couple of words or so.  It's not something I had done before but it turned out to connect with some of the earlier issues in practical ways.   It is not properly scrubbed up for public notice but it runs like this:
A Christian leader is a person with a distinctive gift mix who belongs within a sacred missionary community (set within contemporary culture) which is called by God to worship, to pray with discernment, and to collaborate contagiously in order to move people onto God's agenda.
I think this gives us plenty to work with!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slight oversight

I am preaching in Toronto in July and woke this morning with a niggle urging me to check arrangements.  I planned the flights in February and details seemed too sketchy in my memory.  Eventually locating the itinerary I set about organizing the long-term car parking and overnight stay in London the night before.  We have developed a routine at Heathrow and I went into autopilot.

Suddenly, I noticed that we were leaving from South Terminal.  Since there is no South Terminal at Heathrow I was thrown into momentary panic.  Concentrating on the details I realized I had failed to see that it was not LHR but LGW in small letters at the top.   Yes, it's Gatwick on the other side of London rather than Heathrow.

Thankfully I had not gone ahead with further arrangements but am convinced of two things.  First, I need to check the small print carefully as my capacity for such oversights is increasing!  As Carol pointed out I could have booked us flying out from anywhere once I took my eye off the ball.  Second, I am profoundly grateful for that niggle.....often I would leave it until nearer take-off !  Those niggles are sometimes essential for sanity - I think they are part of God's gift of friendship that cares about little details as well as big.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Guess who's coming to dinner?

I promised some friends that I would post about a recent church experiment.  A few weeks ago the congregation was invited to enter into a highly risky process.  Either they would volunteer to host a meal in their home or (more easily) put their names down as guests.   We heard that there were several hosts and so signed up to eat, having given a frightening description of Carol's allergies and the limited food options available to her.  (Actually, Carol thought we should not participate because of the strain this list puts on all hospitality giving!)

However, last Sunday we were given an address at which to turn up at 5:30 pm (deliberately early to include families with younger children).   The address was entirely new to us.  Guided by the sat nav we located our hosts, who had prepared for five guests without a clue who we might be.  They opened the door with peals of was a couple we had shared a meal with in our home once before.   We had no idea this was where they lived and were overjoyed to meet them on their patch.  In the next few minutes a single lady and another couple turned up to similar joy and surprise.  The whole enterprise had really lived up to its name: Guess who's coming to dinner?   I remember an old movie with that title starring Sidney Poitier and the embarrassment when he turned out to be the surprise black guest.

Well, there was no embarrassment!  Far from it!  Kind weather allowed us to enjoy a splendid three course meal (our hostess really went to town and especially catered for Carol) on a veranda which overlooked a magnificent vista which included 5 acres of rolling grassland and trees around a lake.  As the sun dipped we walked around the lake marveling at the friendship which had been kindled out of such a combination of unknowns.  We later discovered that our enthusiasm was replicated in many other surprise dinners. I guess the risk was less because we regularly worship together and we should be better at being friends because we belong to God's family!  But to have shared so happily like this kind of proved that point!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Donating a table

After 13 years of enjoying our circular IKEA dining table we are replacing it with an oblong one.  This week we called a local charity called Besom which works with Social Services by providing household contents to needy people.  The organizer said he would collect it later that morning.  As he walked in he greeted me: 'Great to see it fifty years since we were students together?'  I was dumbfounded.  Martin was a member of the student Baptist society in Cambridge University and even went on one of our summer missions to Dorking.  An engineer and inventor he worked in the north-east and then came back to work in Cambridge.

Did I remember him?  Yes, his voice and face triggered some happy recall. He told us he had married while a student and that his wife had come on the mission too.  In fact, when we were teamed up together to go door-knocking I was placed with his wife.  Apparently, I commented afterwards how wonderful it was to be partnered by her because she made such ready conversation with strangers.  Later, his wife came by to greet us.

We had no idea that donating a table to a good cause would open up a long-dormant relationship....this is the wonder of Christian life that you can keep bumping into people who have stayed the course of discipleship and in very different ways kept serving right through their lives.
Heaven will be like this!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Remembering Sidney

I often post random thoughts and happenings (of very mixed value too!) but today I was thinking of Sidney.  When I was in seminary in Oxford I was placed with a friend as interns at the Baptist Church in Cowley in order to learn about practical ministry.  It was set alongside a shopping centre on a large housing estate which provided labour for the vast motor manufacturing plant on the east side of Oxford.  Far from the dreaming spires!  Sidney Crowe and his wife Ivy had been in ministry there nearly 30 years, and he retired after 31 years while I was there.  So much of his life with these people!

What did my friend and I learn from Sidney?   It seemed definitely nothing helpful about preaching!Even his best friends would agree that he was tediously predictable with a bucket load of mannerisms including his habit of adding the phrase 'and so on' to sentences. On one occasion he added it memorably: 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit and so on'.  You can imagine what critical students made of that!

But what we did learn has stayed with me ever since.  His people loved him and Ivy in such depths of relationship that they hung on every word he said to them because they treasured them as leaders and under-shepherds.  At their leaving it was clear that his pastoral love and care stretched far beyond the church fellowship into the community of Cowley.  A photographic display showed him involved in peace-making in an industrial dispute and taking a key role in community affairs.  People lined up to testify to the ways they had been like Jesus to them at every turn of their lives  Carol and I knew something of this in their wonderful support in a couple of miscarriages.

And you know what this means?   I believe in improving preachers with all my heart and that continues to be my mission.  But preaching must be put into perspective. Sidney showed me that pastoral care and community building are essential and average preaching  can glow in its presence. And, conversely brilliant five star preaching without love and relationships may dazzle as communication but it has no long lasting glow with Christ's people.