The Power of Song

Weeping_willow

When I was a child I rarely cried and when I did they were tears of frustration and anger rather than because I was hurt or sad.  Even now I hate to cry and have always seen tears as a means of manipulation.  In my experience, talking that seeks to tackle conflict and work things out for the benefit of both parties stops when the tissues come out.  So I have found it intensely embarrassing and disconcerting to dissolve into floods of tears anytime I emotionally engage in worship.  I hate appearing so weak and ‘womanly’ but as soon as I encounter God in any meaningful way, the tears just start to flow.  This has been going on for some time now and I have begun to realise that this outpouring of grief is not just about me and my stuff, although I would be a liar and a hypocrite not to acknowledge that this is surely a factor, but is a sadness for the church and its unwillingness to be honest about its place in our post-modern, pluralist and consumer-driven world.  I was reading a book this morning, called ‘Exiles’ by Michael Frost and a penny dropped for me.  I am experiencing something of the emotions of those displaced people in Psalm 137 (or Boney M without the lycra and the afro), “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”  And I too wonder how I can sing such mindless and sentimental love songs to Jesus every Sunday when I live in such a strange and alien land.   This has also led me to concur with Frost that one of the ways we might be able to overcome our sadness or at least turn it into something that motivates us to tackle the wrongs of our current age and passionately and proactively present an alternative consciousness, is to sing a different song. 

I have felt troubled by the trend for new expressions of church to abandon corporate singing and until today I couldn’t put my finger on why.  I don’t believe to be church we have to sing together, but actually there is a power in singing that we see not just in worship but on the terraces, ringing around the rugby stadium or being belted out by party goers and those attending pop concerts at the O2.  A song can move us like nothing else and as Frost points out, “so many great revolutions have been birthed through the songs that their revolutionaries sang.” (p.22)  So, I would like to lay down a challenge.  Rather than being in denial or letting our despair overwhelm us, could we begin to feel and express in song the righteous anger of God that burns at humankind for continuing to tolerate and collude with power structures that perpetuate injustice, starvation, inequality and environmental destruction?  He compares the depth of His pain and anguish to that of a woman screaming out in childbirth (Isaiah 42:14) but, “God’s songs give birth to a new world, a new way of being his followers.  And when we join in on the chorus of these rough, revolutionary songs, we share in the promise-making of God.  We too declare our commitment to a new way, a way of justice, peace, mercy and generosity.”(p.23)  Maybe, at last, the time for tears is ended and it’s time to get really angry!  In our anger, as we cry out to God, we give voice to the longing of the displaced and begin to not only re-imagine but actually re-create home.  This is the truth, no matter how long or how bad our experience of exile, we can have a foretaste of home in the person of Christ while we wait expectantly for the time when we will never have to leave home again.

A new kind of leader?

Priest

I had a great day last week at the CMS open day for their new Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course. Christians from all over the country gathered to talk about the new ways of doing mission and church they are pioneering and find out more about how they could be equipped, resourced and encouraged to achieve even greater things with the gifts that God has blessed them with.  However, it was also heartbreaking to hear story after story of how church leaders have sought to quash their passion and imaginative ideas.  This seemed to come out of a fear that valuable members of their congregation might be redeployed behind someone else’s vision and that an understanding of church and faith could be shaken such that an already beleaguered Christian minority might never recover!  On this day I also met someone who is seeking to understand this dilemma.  He asked me to consider the following question in order to contribute to his research:

How does leadership within church need to change to meet the challenge of our changing culture and Gods mission within it?  Here is my answer:

“I think that first and foremost leadership should be recognised as being primarily about seeing, releasing and making space for the gifts of church members so that they fulfil the vocation that God has for each one of them. It is then in this context of working out what that vocation is, how it can be lived out and how it fits within a larger vision of the coming of God’s Kingdom, that the real business of discipleship happens.  This would require a really radical grasp of leadership as servanthood. Vicar, minister, leader as servant to the members of the congregation who are seen as being mature followers of Christ when they are totally consumed with fulfilling the purposes of God in their own lives and not sidetracked into passively or dualistically maintaining and resourcing the vision of a particular church.  I realise this could be potentially individualistic but I would trust that God would call some to be partners, workers, intercessors, financial backers and encouragers of those who have a vocation to start new things for the sake of the gospel. 

In my experience, while I seek to pursue my own vocation, I am still able to disciple people as I further this, as well as encouraging the call on their life and putting them in touch with others that I think could help their dreams and visions become reality.  In biblical terms, I think it requires a shift in emphasis in the 5-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher and pastor that Paul writes about in his letter to the Ephesians (ch.4).  If we had apostle/prophets leading churches rather than teachers/pastors, I think the focus of church would be re-orientated to going rather than receiving.  There would be less fear that what we try might be potentially harmful so more risky initiatives would be started. Also our faith would be much better integrated so that we are changed by God’s spirit as we live out a more holistic expression of work, church, family and community.”

Since writing this I came across the following in the book, ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’ by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch:

“We need to dream again, and to do this we must cultivate a love for imagination.  Before we can do it, we need to dream it…Considered philosophically, all that a great visionary leader does is awaken and harness the dreams and visions of the members of a given community and give them deeper coherence by means of a grand vision that ties together all the ‘little visions’ of the members of the group…My task as a leader is to so articulate the vision that others are willing to embed their sense of purpose within the common vision of the community…It is this capacity to articulate a preferred future based on a common moral vision that allows people to dream again.  This is true of all true apostolic leadership.  And in a profound sense the leader is the key person in the release of the spiritual creativity and innovation in any setting – the catalyst for reconceptualising the mission of the church (p.188).  But imagination takes courage, as it involves risk.  In fact if there were no courage, there could be no imagination.  And if there were no risk, there could be no apostolic leadership, only priestly maintenance and more of the same boring stuff that is keeping people from getting in touch with that most radical and dangerous person…None other than Jesus (p.189).”

This is exactly what I was trying to say, only better!  If you would like to do your bit to encourage visionary and apostolic leadership that ‘reconceptualises the church’ and puts those who are not yet Christians ‘in touch with the radical and dangerous person of Christ’, then why not consider becoming a friend of CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Course?  To find out more visit the website: http://pioneer.cms-uk.org.

Little Red Hen Mentality

Little_red_hen

When I was a child one of my favourite stories was that of the Little Red Hen.  For those of you not familiar with this tale, it is about a chicken who decides to bake some bread.  She approaches a different animal in the farmyard to help at each stage of the bread making process but is always met with the same response, ‘No, I will not help you.’  The Little Red Hen’s standard reply to this refusal of help is, ‘then I shall do it myself’.  Eventually, she manages to produce a delicious loaf of fresh bread.  Then all the animals show an interest in helping her to eat the bread!  It is at this point that she says with great satisfaction, ‘No, I shall eat it myself’.  I loved this story as I was a very independent child and ‘doing it myself’ was the standard retort to anyone who sought to help me in any way.  I have been thinking about this story quite a bit lately as I am sometimes tempted to feel like the Little Red Hen in being proud enough to believe I can do without the assistance of anyone else and in not wanting to ask for help because I might get turned down.  When this happens I need to remind myself that more often than not people can’t help, not because they don’t want to, but because they are already busy or because they are fearful of stepping out. 

God does not want me to do it myself, and He always provides me with enough people to work in partnership with so that we are each blessed in the giving, as well as in the receiving.  I have also begun to recognise that wanting to do it myself is more about the fear of rejection than a desire to be independent.  If I don’t have to ask for help, then I won’t have to cope with people saying no.  But if I don’t ask for help, then I deny others the opportunity for doing good in our community, and we are all the poorer.  As was articulated in a reading on my Pioneer Mission Leadership Course, ‘we all have a part of the wisdom’.  The biblical model for ministry is one of a body, it has many parts that fulfil different functions but all are essential to sustain the life and health of the whole.  I, therefore, hope and pray that God will redeem the Little Red Hen mentality in me and replace it with the courage to keep asking for others to work alongside me and see our interdependence as a model of how we are all of immense value to Him and essential to His plan for positively transforming creation.

 

The power of the gospel

Dad_2011

I had great fun on Bank Holiday Monday putting on activities to amuse, challenge and inspire the people of Kingston as part of the annual May Merrie.  On the green outside the parish church we had a tent where children could make name bracelets and name plates for their bedroom doors and in the church we had an art installation exploring the importance of our names and the names of God.  In the marketplace, there was an opportunity to have a free spiritual reading using Ruach cards that use biblical and Celtic Christian symbolism to bless and reveal God’s love and purpose in Christ to spiritual seekers. 

For some Christians this is a controversial activity that is unnecessary because they believe the good news of salvation available to all because of Jesus’ death on the cross does not need to be made culturally relevant.  This is because the gospel has sufficient power and potency in its unadulterated purity to attract unbelievers without being dressed up or applied to the way we live.  Yet the bible describes Jesus as ‘the word made flesh who dwelt among us’.  He became the living embodiment of the rescue mission that God undertook for humankind and all of creation.  If God himself could be clothed with the gospel in order for us to understand and receive it, are we not called to do the same?  Can any idea be understood distinct from its cultural context?  As David Bosch put it in, ‘Transforming Mission’, “The gospel always comes to people in cultural robes.  There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ gospel isolated from culture” (p.297).  The reality for most Christians is that this is an academic question.   It is so long since they intentionally sought to share the gospel that they do not see the pressing need for the transforming message of Christ to be radically re-interpreted for our predominantly post-modern culture.  Always quick to criticise those of us who are wrestling with this issue, I suggest they leave the safety of their Christian bunkers and enter into a dynamic dialogue with those of us who might make mistakes, but are desperate to see the oppressed freed from injustice, the broken healed and the empty satisfied.  Which do you think God is more concerned about, doctrinal purity or pursuing a passion that all might experience His life-giving, all encompassing love and acceptance?