Friday, June 30, 2006

Manifesto of a Wannabe Kirk Minister

I’m just back from a holiday in Kenya – many thoughts on that to follow in later posts. But, for the time being, I thought I would share these ideas I had for a personal manifesto on being a prospective parish minister in the Church of Scotland. The scenario I imagined was how I would present myself given the opportunity to consider working in a particular congregation. What would I say to a committee that had to make a final recommendation on sole nominee for a vacant charge? How would I sell my ministerial services?

Given that local situations are peculiar, and assuming some biblical or historical patterns, here is what I came up with. My manifesto is personal, so it’s not a fully-orbed description of Christian ministry of word and sacrament. And, let’s assume a congregation in the evangelical tradition.

Here are 3 things that would define my role:

Fulfilment of my obligations to Presbytery. Most of you will be staggered that this is my first point. But, I have come to the conclusion that in the CofS presbyteries are the basic component. This is an outrageous position – local congregations should be the basic unit of any denomination. My theory about presbyteries v. local congregations is rather convoluted, and requires further work. But, I think it can be defended. Ministers, as ministers in the CofS, are members of a presbytery rather than a local church. I am aware that the current situation is quite fluid – but until very recently ministers were bound to a presbytery in all their work. So, as far as I understand things, I’d feel obliged to moderate (chair) the various committees of a local church. And I would also fulfil the normal duties of a minister of word and sacrament in a parish setting. I would do these things under the authority of a Presbytery.

Use and development of my spiritual gifts in the service of others. Rather vague this one – but, I am beginning to realise that ministry in the New Testament sense is focused on the use of gifts. Paul is quite clear about this, not least in Romans 12:4-8. His emphasis in that passage is letting people use their gifts – I think the NIV is right to use the ‘if…, let…’ construction to interpret verses 6 to 8.

Nurturing of a responsive attitude to God’s will in my ministry. This could come down to rather blunt things – like knowing when to move on. But, again, Paul would be my example – of course, there is a greater example in Jesus – but I am always impressed by the way in which Paul seems to relate everything back to his relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit. However we discern that sense of God’s leading, in a conservative or a charismatic way, it must be a priority of Christian ministry.

Fulfilment of obligations. Use of gifts. Nurturing of a proper attitude. F.U.N.

Having set the parameters, here are 3 Ts that go some way to putting meat on the bones of F.U.N. Three things I would do as a minister, and probably the three things to which I would dedicate myself.

I would:

Think about the evangelistic strategy of the congregation. This would include mission and service. Obviously, I would try and do some evangelism. But, this would really be my own personal service to Christ. I am sure that churches can and should be mission orientated and evangelistically focused. This has to be considered by each fellowship in its peculiar make up and location. As minister of a church, I would take some responsibility for this without dominating or leading the outworking of the strategy.

Teach. I would try and teach people about the Christian world view. I would do this by majoring on the big themes of the Bible, through various different methods. The only obligation I would seek to encourage in all church members would be regular attendance at Sunday (Lord’s Day) gatherings. My task would then be to make those gatherings encouraging and uplifting. But I would also need to think about how to teach those who were keen and/or able to advance in Christian discipleship. This teaching would be related to Sunday gatherings, but it would be additional. It would be comprehensive. But it would also need to be focused on individual needs and individual potential. I would dread to be a teaching minister to some of the readers of I to the hills – teaching professors and intellectuals is very different to teaching young, keen and energetic teenagers. But I believe that all of God’s people need some level of teaching. I would need time to read and study in preparation for all this teaching.

Train people in how to worship God. I use worship here in its liturgical sense primarily but not exclusively. This seems an incredibly pretentious objective. But, I do tend towards a high view of Christian gatherings. Teaching is not the end of ministry, it is the foundation for Christian living. In fact, I see a distinction between preaching and teaching. Preaching is a really bad way to teach people, but it is the supreme way of leading people to worship of the living God. There really is something special about Christians meeting to pray, sing, listen to Scripture readings, confess sin, seek forgiveness, and receive assurance in the Lord’s supper. Whether a bare hymn sandwich, or a high liturgical service, or the lowest form of open worship, I think churches always need training to understand and improve practice.

I would seek to carry out this manifesto as part of a church that is led by a team. I would not have sole responsibility for anything in the church apart from tasks delegated to me by that team, or by Presbytery.

Friday, June 16, 2006


I'm off on holiday soon, so probably wont be blogging at all until the first week in July. Spending some time in Kenya, on safari! I'll try get some cool photos for you all to enjoy...

Lose not heart

On Wednesday night I sang one of my favourite hymns during the William Still Memorial Exposition evening.

Frederick W Faber’s Workman of God! is wonderful. (You can read about Faber here and here – an interesting 19thC Christian.) There are several reasons why this hymn is so special for me. It contains a line that I use whenever trying to justify Christian morality (For right is right, since God is God). But my favourite four line stanza is this one:

Then learn to scorn the praise of men,
And learn to lose with God;
For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee his road.

I have heard very few sermons on this theme, or sermons that even touch on it. Yet, the remarkable thing is that Faber wrote these words when forms of Christianity were a dominant cultural force. I wonder what exactly he had in mind, and I wonder how he imagined losing with God. There is so much being written about the historical Jesus these days – I hope that Christians realise that the historical Jesus won the world through shame and scorn, and the risen Jesus calls us to do the same today.

John Piper gave the lecture or sermon on Wednesday evening. It was the first time I’d heard him speak. He was engaging, passionate, and encouraging. His texts were 2Tim4:3 and Matt 10:24-33, and his main point was this – Fear not, they can only kill you!

Among many side remarks, Piper commented on the perception of Christianity in the non-Western world. Christianity is equated with the dominant cultural norms of America and Europe – they are the ‘Christian’ areas of the world, and everything done is therefore done in the name of Christianity. Most Christians in the West cringe at this perception. How are we to break it? How can we show that Christians are really part of a counter-cultural movement? Piper made this suggestion: perhaps only when Christians start getting arrested for doing good and speaking for the sake of the gospel will people understand Christianity distinct from popular cultural perceptions.

Fear not, they can only arrest you or kill you!, might need to be the rallying call if the church in Europe and America is to see revival and survival in the 21stC.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More evidence

More evidence, if any is needed, for my evangelical culture war hypothesis. Why does the Church of England, in England, need two evangelical 'networking' organisations? I use the word networking because I'm not sure how else to describe Fulcrum and Reform. As far as I can see the websites don't even link to each other - to paraphrase, how sweet it is when brothers network in unity - it wouldn't take much, would it?

Now, I know the CofE is a very large and a very complicated social institution - and, I guess the history of Anglican Evangelicalism has been told in one or two places, either through biographies of prominent churchmen, or in other books or articles. But can it really sustain two evangelical pressure groups? This post was inspired by reading Ruth Gledhill's blog coverage of the Richard Coekin case. I had heard that it was basically good news for evangelicals - but Andrew Goddard's Fulcrum article suggests that the judgement is more subtle - evangelicals will have to tow the line and decide whether they can honour canon law, including their ordination oaths.

What a strange thing this all is? Two or three issues - certainly the role of women and the homosexuality debate (Fulcrum and Reform seem to agree on gay sex at least) - are unravelling our churches before the eyes of the faithful. To all intents and purposes many churches look the same from the outside - people gather together, sing songs (usually Kendrick or Redman), close their eyes for prayers, listen to a sermon, and have tea or coffee before going home for lunch. But under that outer surface there is a melting pot, where leaders agree or disagree about what the Bible does or doesn't say about certain things. And they form groups with very similar mission statements to mark dividing lines on issues that are really quite well defined, and historically troublesome (see this post by CG about his latest book).

In Scotland, in the CofS, we have Forward Together, One Kirk, and Affirmation Scotland. All these seem far less developed than equivalent Anglican organisations. But to some extent they are all demonstrating their existence by majoring on issues rather than vision, mission, or strategy. FT seeks to maintain the evangelical heritage of the Kirk, Affirmation Scotland seeks a truly evangelical church, One Kirk wants to discern the meaning of the gospel of Jesus for Scotland today - but they have all come to prominence in the wrangle over civil partnerships.

I think that all these organisations, that is, their leaders, know that their respective denominations are doomed - beached whales, left by a cultural tide that has shifted the shore lines. Beached whales can suffer terribly. Perhaps church history has been kind to all those little churches that just get on with living out their expression of the gospel as they understand it - churches with loose confessions of faith, loose federal connections, and very little care for office and church government. Yes, there are terrible stories of people (leaders and followers, pastors and sheep) suffering in smaller churches. But at least there is very little institutional division.

Anyone got any ideas, or any notions, for another pressure group? Perhaps a networking group would be more in keeping with the times? How about, a loose affiliation of people who are tired of talking about how bad church is in these days of decline? Okay, that's the http sorted. Now, if only we had a mission statement...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Frenzy? I must be getting really old and cynical...

And this hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows. And you want to txt your youth leader and say "Youth Leader, I can never go to church again 'cause I seem to have left an important part of my soul somewhere, somewhere in a field listening to a Christian music festival". Alright. In the middle of the night, it feels alright. But then on Sunday morning... Oh, when you come down. What if you never go to church again?

Apologies to Pulp for stealing one of the best Brit pop lyrics, and tearing it to pieces to open this post.

I've got to be careful with this one, because I've got loads of friends who are either going to Frenzy or taking youth groups from their church. I'd love to be there, but watching football (soccer) is my top leisure priority at the moment. Great weekend for it weatherwise, at least.

So, I'm only making some observations and remarks here. And, I do not disapprove of Christian festivals. I just don't get them. If I was going to go to a music festival, I'd want to go and hear real rock, pop and dance music. Bands like Razorlight, The Killers and the Kaiser Chiefs. DJs like Tim Westwood, Judge Jules, Roger Sanchez (he's really cool - heard him once in Glasgow - problem is, I just don't dance anymore). Dance acts like the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, and Gorillaz.

Again, let me stress, I'm not dishing Christian rock or pop. I just don't understand what appears to me the obvious thing about most of this stuff - it apes or mimics cultural forms that are non-Christian - and in so doing it creates a parallel Christian culture. So, it doesn't reform or restore predominant culture in a Christian way, along the lines of those Christian thinkers who would see that as the God given mandate of Christian believers. Neither does it set up a counter-cultural movement, akin to the impact that Jesus seeks for our kingdom life in a godless world. It just provides Christians with music that is safe because it's not contaminated by worldly attitudes - but, I wonder if it actually does promote values that are subtle attacks on God centred living...?

Simon Varwell's blog post is certainly funny, although some of the comments are a little too close to the bone for me. Why is pop Christian culture such an easy place to illustrate irony and postmodernism?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Summer reading

Over the last couple of days I’ve been able to tidy my study a little. This has allowed me to plan for the next three months of work and reading. I’ll be doing three things: a church placement with a CofS minister in the south side of Glasgow; background reading in preparation for my year at Princeton Theological Seminary; and doing up my flat in Glasgow in the hope that someone will rent it while I’m away.

Here’s the list of books I hope to read:

Books to help me think about Christian ethics in a complicated world -
The Peaceable Kingdom – Stanley Hauerwas
Strange Virtues – Bernard Adeney

General theology and biblical theology stuff –
The Practice of Theology. A Reader – Gunton, et al
The Writings of the New Testament – LT Johnson
Five Views on Law and Gospel - Gundry

19thC American church history reading, perusals of the following in preparation for a dissertation –
Systematic Theology – Charles Hodge
Various writings of James McCosh, JH Thornwell, and RL Dabney
America’s God – Mark Noll, and his latest book on the Civil War if I can get it cheaply!

Before beginning all that I’ve decided to have some lunch and then get my haircut…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Recollections of an old apostle

I'm back today from a great weekend in Staffin, Skye. I was taking part in a communion weekend at Kilmuir and Stenscholl CofS. We had a great weekend - thank you if you prayed for us based on my 'A busy week for Shed' post below.

I've decided to post a 'creative piece' I used during the weekend. We worked through 1 John, but on the Sunday evening I also used the words below as a reflection on Mark 9:2-9. John really must have changed a lot over his life serving Christ. (Of course, I'm assuming authorship by John the apostle - something that I did for the whole of our journey through selected passages from the letter.)

Recollections of an old apostle

I never tire of telling the story. I must have told thousands about my experiences with Jesus. And yet, even though I’m now sometimes unclear about the details, the impact of all the things that happened in those days allows me to keep going over the stories. One day, perhaps, I will write them down.

Anyway, you wanted me to tell you about that afternoon on the mountain. They all do! I’m the only person alive who was there; at least, I’m the only person still living this side of the grave who was present that day. Peter and James were killed years ago. I sometimes wonder why the Lord has allowed me to serve him all this time.

You’ve got to understand that all of us who followed Jesus – we just didn’t know at the time what was really going on. We were impressed by Jesus because of his wisdom, his passion for God’s kingdom, his energy and drive in all the work that he did. He taught us about the purposes of God, and the scriptures, and how we should live in the light of what these things meant – and he opened up these things in a way that blew our minds.

Jesus really believed that things were about to happen big time. And, because God had chosen us, we could be part of it. All we had to do was commit our lives, and follow his example, and believe all the signs that pointed towards God’s coming kingdom. Jesus trained us for ministry, so that we could go and preach about the kingdom, and pray for people in need of healing and restoration. He was the kind of person that, once you’ve met him and seen the truth of his mission, you just can’t help following.

My brother, James, and I were excited about the promises of God. When we first met Jesus, we knew he was talking our language, we thought that he was the kind of person to keep in touch with – and the more we followed him, the more we trusted in his call to serve God’s kingdom.

We knew Jesus was special before that day on the mountain. We’d seen the feeding of five thousand people with a few fish and some bread – we’d seen Jesus raise a dead girl to life. He was more powerful than any other person or prophet we knew about. Even John the Baptist had to confess that Jesus was special. So, before the mountain, we’d already decided that Jesus really was the Messiah, he really was the promised one, the one who would restore the kingdom to God’s people.

I bet you want to know what it was like, and how I felt when I saw the glory and the light, and heard the voice, and the conversation between Moses and Elijah and Jesus. And, you wanted to know how it changed me. Hmm, it was pretty awesome. It was like a dream, a scary dream – the most realistic dream you’ve ever had. We were sleepy at the time, but when we saw the brightness we came to our senses. There was no denying that something happened. You’ll probably know about Peter’s offer to build shelters. James and I were too frightened to say anything. Peter probably didn’t know what he was saying. Afterwards, he told me that he had felt very vulnerable at the time. He needed to do something, anything. I guess people react in all sorts of ways when they are confronted with something new, something different, something altogether out of this world.

Imagine being surrounded by thick fog, only, lighter and brighter than any fog you’ve ever known. I shivered, even though it wasn’t cold. Before the cloud covered us Jesus appeared to change before our eyes. It was still him, his features didn’t change. It was just that from within his body light seemed to stream straight into our souls. He became more beautiful, more manly, more radiant. And at the same time he sounded exactly the same, he still talked in the same way, he still had the same mannerisms.

It felt strange, because I was fascinated by the glory, like the prophets and the song writers who longed for a vision of God – it was attractive, I wanted to move towards the brightness, reach out, and touch. What we have seen, what we have heard, and what we have touched – this is the thing that we speak about.

But Isaiah’s experience of feeling unclean, unworthy became my experience too. I was unworthy to be in the presence of these three heavenly men. My life was in danger – at least, that’s how it felt when we heard the voice from heaven. Those words moved my guts like no storm on Lake Galilee, like no harsh words from my father. They sounded in the sky – but they resonated within me, as if they’d found a way in through the soles of my feet right through to the top of my head.

It was over before it dawned on us what we were seeing. And that’s the thing – we didn’t really know what we’d seen until much later on. We actually felt pretty chuffed about it all – we felt as if we’d been chosen by Jesus for special blessing. He wanted us to be princes in the kingdom, and we acted like that for a few weeks. We asked if we could get special seats on the day when the new kingdom was going to be established; we were more zealous than ever when it came to arguing with the Samaritans and other preachers and prophets. We knew that we were the genuine workers in God’s plan. After all, we’d just seen and heard something from out of this world. So, instead of serving and loving these people, we dismissed them, and even prayed that they might be destroyed if they didn’t agree with us.

I’ve thought about all this a lot. You see, what I’m trying to describe to you is this – the transfiguration wasn’t the thing that really changed us. It wasn’t the only experience we had that helped us to understand Jesus. We saw his glory that day – glory that was part of his humanness, yes, but glory that was divine and heavenly too. But we didn’t see, and we didn’t anticipate, his suffering.

Looking back, Jesus was already feeling the pressure of his future burdens. It was as if he had an invisible load, and the load got heavier and heavier as he got closer to that final week in Jerusalem. In the garden, we saw him in a darker place – his form, his body, seemed to crumple under some weight. But even then, something seemed to communicate the same glory that we witnessed on the mountain. We needed to see the light and the darkness before we could begin to minister the gospel to people. We needed to hear the declaration of God about the glory of his beloved Son, and we needed to hear the cry of pain and suffering of that same beloved Son. Everything we witnessed – the glory and the shame - fulfilled the will of the Father in heaven.

It all came together when we saw the risen Jesus. He was just like the figure we saw on the mountain – real and human, and yet more real, more human, more obviously glorious. And you could tell that he had suffered too. You could still see the marks of his pain, signs that showed the depth of his love. Jesus died so that we might know the love of God for us.

That’s my story. That’s how it seemed to me – I can’t remember that day on the mountain without rehearsing and retelling the whole story – close friends get bored sometimes, they laugh at my enthusiasm. I can laugh too, because many of my friends have believed the story, and they have seen how the risen Christ can still change people, can still touch them with his glory and his pain. And when he does that, he builds his kingdom – people begin to live not according to what they see in this world, but what they know is coming – a renewed world, a safe world, a world that is fit for living in.

Don’t forget that, whatever you do. Don’t forget that God is working in the darkness as well as in the light. Never despair of yourself, or of the world. God loves the world, and he is saving the world. In one sense it is already saved. Hope that is real believes that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. What we have seen, what we have heard, and what we have touched – this is what we declare to the world. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord.