Tag Archives: church

Fun on Sunday

20 May

AnniversaryThere’s a first time for everything, they say. This weekend saw one of those for me.

We were celebrating the church’s 125th anniversary and had an afternoon of activities for families organized for Saturday. Shame about the weather, but that’s another story.

Anyway, one young couple came along with two kids of their own, along with various nephews / nieces / aunties / uncles / cousins / (grand)parents (-in-law); I didn’t get the complete family tree but they certainly all belonged together. The young man looked a little nervous and eventually let on to me why. “I’m going down on bended knee in there”, he whispered to me.


You know, getting down on one knee. I mean, we’ve got the house, and two kids.”

What, you don’t mean…?”

Yeah, gonna ask her to marry me.”

Does she know?”

Hasn’t got a clue!”

I couldn’t quite picture it. Not the most romantic of settings, perhaps, in a church hall amidst castle-bouncing infants, cream teas, a cartoon quiz, face painting and who knows what else. But I’ll give him full marks for originality at least.

design-your-own-engagement-ringAnd so, an hour or so later, his younger cousin came running up to me to let me know he was ready – I was to be impromptu official photographer of the act – and away he went. True to his promise, down on one knee, out came the ring box, and to her utter amazement he proceeded to pop the question. Cheers, applause and passionate embrace, so I guess she said yes. Stuff the movies are made of.

As I said, hardly what I was expecting on a church “family fun day”, but there we go. We can be pretty certain that two members of this particular family at least had fun…

It’s strange how “church” and “fun” don’t tend to go together in people’s minds. Or in their experience, for that matter. Somehow when we step over the threshold of church we expect things to be different to “outside”. Who says church has to be solemn and serious? Or reverent? (And why are quiet whispers more reverent than playful chatter and laughter anyway?) Why does church have to be boring?

9781596383944-Cosby-Giving-up-gimmicks-Reclaiming-youth-ministry-from-an-entertainment-cultureWe live in an entertainment culture. True, we are not to offer a concoction of sensual imagery and mind-numbing musical rhythms in an attempt to draw people into church. But at the same time, we are part and parcel of the society in which we find ourselves living and we must express our faith in ways that “fit” with the world around us, that ordinary people can relate to and identify with. Our calling is to Christ, and to live out his life in our time and place, fully part of the world into which he has placed us. There is nothing better or worse about our society today; like any other, it provides a people with an identity, a way of relating to the world – including church. Yes, there is plenty of scope for sin, but that’s hardly new. There is also plenty of scope for engaging with visual media, music and contemporary means of communication to help us all meet with God and grow in him. Making sure that church is enjoyable as well as meaningful is not in and of itself any guarantee of spiritual health. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.

One of the psalmists knew this too: “I was glad when they said to me: ‘Let’s go to the Lord’s house’.” This is not meant to be a dry theological statement. True, there’s a whole context that needs exploring, but at its simplest this expresses the heart of someone who expected to enjoy what he was going to. Stuffy formality is not synonymous with spirituality. Church can – should, dare I say – be fun.


“Let down your nets…”

22 Mar

iconsI think Jesus would have done pretty well in the 21st century socially networked world. I’m not quite sure how he would have managed all his followers on Twitter, but do know he would have more than a few friends – all sinners – on Facebook. I guess he would have known what it feels like to be “unfriended and “unfollowed” too. He would have been LinkedIn with the Sepphoris carpenters’ guild, rovingexorcists.com and #thesabbathisforpeople group but chosen not to accept endorsements from Sadducees, Herodians and other Judean heavyweights.

I wonder if he’d have stuck with those “big three” of social networking, or maybe he’d have taken social networking up a notch. It would be interesting to browse his circles on Google+ — family, the three, the twelve, the seventy(two), 500+ resurrection witnesses, the four thousand, the five thousand, the women, blocked contacts… Reading the conversation thread on his WordPress hosted blog would have been entertaining, to say the very least. The “Parables” board on Pinterest would have become a favourite of his, and a DiggIt from Jesus would have been well cool. His Tumblr would be filled with daily doses of creativity, with a double ration of Flickr photos and Youtube or Vimeo videos on the Sabbath, and he’d have answered most questions on Quora with another question. He’d even have a legacy MySpace account for life’s eternal nostalgics, not to mention Orkut and Tuenti as part of an early effort in cross-cultural communication. You may have run across him in his local Meetup group, though the one place I don’t think we’d have seen him, is Meetic…

SoMeWordleAll that should have kept him busy, Though there again, the “tell no one about me” warning after another amazing miracle could have got quite complex: “No WhatsApps of this one please, nor Instagrams, and don’t even think about SnapChat-ing it. Oh, and keep it off RSS too while you’re at it…”

Social networking has always been part of life; the digital age is no different, it is simply the means of forming those links that has changed. Physical contact in the same time and place is now no longer the deciding factor in who we relate to and how.

At its simplest, church is about relationship: relationship with God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ; relationship with others in that larger family which is church (and remember, family is in itself simply another social network); and relationship with the world of people created in God’s image who are yet to find relationship with their creator God in a meaningful way.

Social networks are not an optional extra for those of us involved in church, for church is built out of the fabric of human relationships. The question is not if, but how. And if today “social networking” is becoming part and parcel of the way human beings the world over relate to one another, it’s where we need to be. Whilst the effects of decisive engagement with the social networks of the world may not be directly measurable, the long-term results of failing to do so certainly will be: the dilution of relationships within churches on the one hand and growing irrelevance to those outside on the other. To distance ourselves from people in general by failing to understand how individuals relate to one another in today’s world simply is not an option for anyone wishing to follow in Jesus’ relational footsteps. To refuse to take seriously technology’s impact on the way we relate and apply this in church is missional suicide. And yes, you can tweet that if you like!

Unless the Lord builds the house…

22 Apr

Over Easter, we had the privilege of receiving a team of eight from our home church, Cottage Lane Mission – thanks guys :-), fantastic job! – to help us do some work on our house. Hence the gap in blogs – just too busy between paint and cement to put virtual pen to paper, I’m afraid. Our house is a hundred year or so old Spanish town house, crumbling a little at the edges, in sore need of a little TLC – which it got over ten days of intense work on all fronts.

The at times frenetic work brought at some point the inevitable jocular reference to the first verse of Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” I am not quite sure what this meant in the context of work on our house, though suspect it is probably some kind of get-out clause – if everything falls down when they have gone, we should blame God, not them! But it did make me think.

Let’s turn that text round a bit. (Yes, I know that reversing syllogisms can produce some interesting fallacies, but bear with me on this one for a moment – this verse is not a syllogism, nor is this a class in Aristotelian rhetoric for that matter…) “Even if the Lord does want to build the house, unless its builders labour, it will all be in vain.” Just as intense human effort divorced of God’s blessing is destined to failure, so also is God’s desire without people prepared to work hard to bring things about. God’s work would appear to always be the product of toil – yes, the Hebrew word ‘amal is that strong – on the part of people who labour under the blessing of God.

Builders labour. Houses simply don’t get built without hard work.

So too God’s house. To believe anything else is to live in a world of magic wands and fairy godmothers, of “with one bound, Jack was free” theology. Deus ex machina finales work well for Rambo films, but belong to the world of fiction; the drama of real life is not the work of Hollywood script writers.

Let’s start with the building of faith in our own lives. Paul is quite clear:

“For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:9-15).

The foundation of the grace we have received in Christ is in place – what is in question is what and how we build on that. Spiritual disciplines are just that – disciplines – not leisure breaks. Wisdom does not float down from heaven, it is searched for like a buried treasure. We get to know Scripture by engaging directly with the Bible, not merely listening to others’ sermons (though that is a start!); there are no short-cuts to reading, studying, meditating. Sin is resisted, not magicked away. Christian fellowship happens as we forgive and put up with other sinners who God asks us to love as he himself loved us. A mature Christian life does not “just happen”; it is the fruit of a labour of love.

Beyond our individual faith, Christian community is also not built without its own measure of toil. Paul tells the new Ephesian believers that they are:

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:20-22).

Built together – to which Peter adds, “as living stones” (1Peter 2:5). I have often observed that it is much easier to build with dead bricks than living stones. Dead bricks fit all neatly together, and stay put. A splodge of cement, a couple of taps with the trowel handle, and done, onto the next brick. Living stones are different. With an infinite variety of shapes and sizes it takes a good dose of creativity to fit them together well. But turn your back to get another one and on returning to the building-in-progress, they have moved. Sigh…

Starting, building, developing churches is hard work. Terribly rewarding, it is true, but extremely hard work nonetheless. From its inception in evangelism through the discipleship process to the formation of mature local fellowships, church is created by patient and dedicated toil. One of the most common New Testament terms used in this respect, kopiao and its cognates, refers to feeling fatigued, and by implication, the hard work that leaves us in that state. Whatever our romantic ideals about Christian ministry, let there be no doubt about it – wherever you see healthy church, you can be sure that someone or someones have sweated a great deal over it.

Even in this, however, the complicity with God as “arch-builder” stands. Speaking of his ministry to see Christ made known amongst the Gentiles, Paul confesses: “To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). We labour, we struggle, but the energy which keeps us going – and the work with us – comes from above. We are never unfeeling robotic channels of divine power. We still labour, pushing our frail humanity forward, of necessity using all the time, energy and abilities that we have at our disposal, at times wearing ourselves thin in the process. But somehow, like the burning bush which “though on fire… did not burn up”, grace keeps us going.

Jesus will build his church, and all that hell can come up with cannot prevent that. The Lord will build the house, the Lord is building the house. Labourer, in your fatigue, know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

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