Sunday, October 31, 2004

the turmoil and chaos of true diversity...

It wasn’t really very alt. but it was certainly worship!

Ghana; Nigeria; Zimbabwe; Congo; Germany; Spanish; Basque; Cornwall!; American; England; Scotland;Wales; Russia; Botswana; Guyana; Jamaica; Kenyan; Sierra Leone; Sri Lanka; Trinidad and more – all represented and all valued.

These are events that are foundational to our church – celebrating God through our diverse, varied cultures as one. Ok this was unpolished; ok pretty chaotic, a bit hectic. Ok the musicians were late by a good hour. Ok we’re not being pressed by ‘Kingsway’, ‘Marantha’ or whoever produces Christian stuff these days to record a live worship set! But the vibrancy; the enthusiasm, passion - the unequivocal joy is something really inspirational, up lifting.

I’ll let you into a secret – it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. What really is uplifting is there is recognition that sometimes as a church family you get involved and ‘enjoy’ something that isn’t totally your thing. I look at the saints of our church who as teenagers remembered what it was to worship through the blitz. What it was to continue to worship under a platform while the bombs reigned in, as windows were blown in. I look at these faces as the unrelenting pulsating African beat thrashes it’s rhythms into the church – and I see true worship. No not their thing but they are there.

What is emerging from my brief observations of the emerging church scene is something largely lacking variegation. What is emerging is something largely ‘designer’ driven. What is emerging while highly creative, imaginative and inspired suffers a lack of difference. Until this alt.emerging church thing embraces the effervescence of true diversity - it is going to remain a lot less emerged than it thinks it is. Until this alt.emerging church thing embraces the turmoil and chaos of true diversity – ‘fraid you’re still very much part of the submerged party. Mixophobia is something that is not that attractive in church – yet perhaps it is endemic within a culture of church that is largely consumer driven.

H&F comment...

Jurgen Moltmann identifies the principle that undergirds much of how we do church today as "birds of a feather flocking together." ... this principle is inherent in the attractional mode of church. When the church is seen as a distinct category, completely separate from the world, it naturally develops an us-versus-them mentality. The missional church, with its incarnational approach, on the other hand, has built into its thinking a Go-To-Them stance. It sees itself, not as a closed system, but as an infiltrating community. Therefore it cannot tolerate the birds-of-a-feather principle. " 'Birds of a feather flock together.' But why? People who are like us, who think the same thoughts, who have the same things, and who want the same things confirm us. However, people who are different from us, that is, people whose thoughts, feelings and desires are different from ours, make us feel insecure."

If the church is simply a community of like-minded people, inviting other like-minded people to join them, then it will always be severely impeded. This sort of church, then, according to Moltmann, has no ego-strength, no self-confidence. It is a form of self-justification.

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003)

The severely impeded church...self justification... hmmm?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The pre-occupation of church...

Another Ringma/ Ellul combo

In many ways the church justifies its existence as mapping out a vision of how the world should be and how life should be lived i.e. how to serve the world better. The reality is that the church so frequently serves itself and so the ideology propounded by the church both binds and blinds. (Ringma).

Jacque Ellul laments "Christianity can clearly also become an ideology. In fact, it has become one, for ideologies serve no one but themselves."

Ouch again...!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Victor and his talking flute...

"Gordon you are a musician aren’t you?"

"…well I’m not sure about that, I like to play but that doesn't necessarily define me a musician" I say to Victor secretly preening my ego.

Victor carries on with his unrelenting praise "well when you play your guitar you really make that thing talk…", "Victor... you are really kind – no, no.. really ..well …I.." Ok sad as it is - I am beginning to enjoy this. False modesty is beginning to kick in.*

The conversation takes a twist "I made my flute talk last night". Victor has been buying second flutes and is learning to play. "Really!... that is great Victor" I say encouragingly . Victor looks at me and leans closer. His gappy teeth. The smell of tobacco, stale BO – all a little too intense, a little too close. He looks carefully around then whispers "I was playing it and then it came out with it…"..."what" I say pinned to the wall – nowhere to go. "It said …James Galway is a f**king w**ker!!" Victor leans back - I breathe again. "It shocked me too" he nods in empathy!

Later I think back to a moment with Bethan my 8 year old daughter. She is doing that stalling for time thing that kids do so well at bed-time. "Tell me about someone from history…". I’d just read about Ghandi going to church for the first time in South Africa – but being told by someone at the church that there was a church for his type around the corner. So I tell her. I finish and she thinks, then looks at me and says "shame – he should have come to our church – we’re a church for everyone!"

I fear that with the emergence of designer churches - I’m not sure where the Victors of this world will fit in.

[* actually I am a very poor guitar player – anyone in our service yesterday would pay testimony to my butchering of several songs that were used!!]

Friday, October 22, 2004

Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church ... Some foldovers.

I irritate people. I have a bad habit of folding the corner of book pages that I want to re-visit. Don't worry all those kind people that lend me books ... I only do it to books bought by me! Here are some fold overs from - Frost, M. and Hirsch, A. (2003) The Shape of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church and a recent thought by Maggi.

The Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) says, "The missional church represents God in the encounter between God and human culture. It exists not because of human goals or desires, but as a result of God's creating and saving work in the world. It is a visible manifestation of how the Good News of Jesus Christ is present in human life and transforms human culture to reflect more faithfully God's intentions for creation. It is a community that visibly and effectively participates in God's activity, just as Jesus indicated when he referred to it in metaphorical language as salt, yeast, and light in the world."

A missional church "seeks to discern God's specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members." In other words, such a church makes its mission its priority and perpetually asks itself, 'What has God called us to be and do in our current cultural context?" The issue of cultural context is essential because the missional church shapes itself to fit that context in order to transform it for the sake of the kingdom of God. By definition, the missional church is always outward looking, always changing (as culture continues to change), and always faithful to the Word of God.

Motherhood and apple-pie. Nothing there to really not to like. Nothing there to really disagree with. A strong definition. However - beware the blind spot, missions false dichotomy. Beware turning the great commission into the great omission

If I could fold over blogs I would - Maggi recently looked at Greatest Commandment v. Great Commission

If the word "mission" means being inclusive, reaching out, living for-the-world, self-giving, then certainly mission is an indisputable feature of the Trinitarian God. Some time back I wrote a blog on the Trinity that expressed some of the social, inviting, inclusive character of God. But in that piece I envisaged it more in the context of worship (meaning that in the big-concept idea of worship, just as mission in this recent conversation was supposed to be big-concept rather than a discussion of evangelistic methods).

...When he was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said " shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”There's a certain semantic trick in Jesus' reply, of course, because this sentence is a neat summary of all ten of the Commandments, which fall into these two categories. It's quite possible that Jesus intended to suggest that loving God and loving the people around you are inseparable.

Maggi hits on something for me here. Mission when it is diluted to simply a discussion of evangelistic methods or perhaps key principles to achieve growth - worries me because it drives a wedge between what Maggi suggests should be inseparable and natural. It worries me because people settle for an insipid portrayal of the gospel. It worries me because as mission as a word gets more and more misused by people desperate to be seen as missional - mission as a concept gets weaker and weaker. It can't be allowed to happen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Talking to Kenny our local ‘fruit and veg’ man in the market, I hear my name, I turn, I look into the face of urban clad young man and I am truly shocked. The baseball cap and hoody can’t disguise a face that has taken a terrible beating. The face of young man whose face is swollen, bruised, battered. Jack used to come regularly to our youth club but I can hardly recognise him.

I hear Jack’s story. A local gang took mob justice against someone who stood up to them. Someone who didn’t what to be pushed around. Now he is waiting for corrective surgery around an eye socket that broke under the tirade of blows and kicks.

I look into a face that reveals more than bruises and cuts – I look into a face intent on revenge. "I know where they live…I’m getting my mates down…they’ll not get away with it". I try to suggest the futility, the senselessness, uselessness, pointlessness of revenge. I try to communicate grace. I try to communicate the value and worth of breaking the cycle of violence.

I try but I am afraid I don’t think I was heard.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Docile God

I'm quite taken at the moment with Charles Ringma's - Resist the Powers (with Jacques Ellul). A recent comment and observation made me uncomfortable...

"Instead of a God who blazes at injustice, we have created the docile God who lovingly forgives and forgets the inhumanity of our world." (Ringma)

Jacques Ellul argues that the God of the prophets has now become "a senile Good Shepherd whose beard all the world might tug..."


The Branch From Jesse

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD - 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD . He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Isaiah 11:1-5

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I'm glad I starting blogging...

For many reasons I'm glad I started blogging. I'm glad I've found and am constantly finding community with people from all over the world. I find diverse conversation. I find myself being resourced. I find myself being challenged. I find myself being encouraged. I find myself enthused, inspired, motivated...and all this with and by people I never knew existed!!

Yesterday I met Rob - AKA the shiny headed prophet. As I said goodbye and walked up to school to pick my girls up I thought to myself "I'm glad I started blogging...!"

Philip Cotterill OBE

I'm proud of my big brother! I'm proud that 30 odd years ago he started as a office junior in the social services in Croydon. I'm proud that he has worked and worked and worked and 30 years later is a social services director. I'm proud that he has fought for justice and fairness and has tried to make a difference to society and I'm proud that this week he was decorated with the OBE for services to social work.

[BTW - Philip is the one on the left]

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Arthur can be a bit grumpy. Keeps himself to himself, always sits by himself – happy with his paper. Always polite - but in a grumpy kind of way.

Arthur went missing about a month ago. He always lets us know when he is not going to be at our luncheon club. So a couple of days without Arthur left us concerned. A few phone calls and we soon discover that a fall has left him in hospital with a broken leg. We visit and its not long before he explains that in his fall his glasses were broken. His opticians were not being helpful with his niece – could we help?

Can you believe how unhelpful people can be? A three-week battle of almost daily phone calls and visits to the opticians eventually ended up in the form of a pair of glasses. Excuses were fended off. Blatant inconsistencies challenged – we fought.

I’m the one who takes the glasses up to Arthur. I’m the one who sees the gratitude. I’m the one who sees the deep appreciation. The one who sees the relief, the smiles. I’m the one he grabs hold of and looks at me - his eyes suddenly larger through his new thick rimmed glasses. “Are they ok Arthur?” I enquire. “Are they ok…are they ok” he says in a ‘as if they wouldn’t be sort of way’ – a smile as large as a child’s on Christmas morning erupts across his face!

“Don’t s'pose you’ve got a paper…?”

I’ve been thinking about this. Justice is something we should be involved with as a church. The major ‘isms’ need challenging, need to be brought down. The major world injustices need to be highlighted and not tolerated. However it struck me that sometimes we can so caught up that the micro-justice issues slip under the radar.

Justice issues come in big and small packages.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Shape of things to Come...more thoughts!

Hirsch and Frost seemed to have stirred quite a debate with their recent tour courtesy of BLAH. Personally I felt that their voices were worth hearing. Personally I felt that the consequent debate was healthy. Personally I wanted to keep the strong themes that ensued fresh and accessible.

Two major issues seem to underlie the debate.

Firstly the perceived slap in the face for the institutional church. Maggi picks up the theme by identifying their portrayal as a "less-then-truthful caricature of the institutional church…". The slap comes in their analysis of Christendom and its love child – the institutional church. Given that they suggest a return to a more incarnational than attractional DNA – the slap stings for anyone operating from within a theology of space. Therefore the assumption is easily – whether rightly or wrongly - made that centre based activities are based in Christendom and therefore of no value as they are by spatial definition attractional and not missional. Therefore the answer lays in incarnational involvement in your community. However their principle’s within the debate are rather mono-dimensional and therefore comes across as fairly rigidly ‘either/or’ and adds weight to those feeling slapped who expressed annoyance at their seemingly ‘complete "answer" to the church's problems’.

Secondly the counter slap that draws upon Hirsch and Frost's concepts and brands them mission ‘lite’. Accuses them of needing a ‘more rigorous theology of mission’. Accuses them of returning to the old-fashioned association of mission = evangelism. Accuses them of having a simplistic assessment. Accuses them of no real contact. "oi Aussie emergers with your shoe shop churches take that!". A bit harsh. Perhaps lost in the engaging stories. Perhaps lost in the evangelistic speel - but there a theology of mission based on Lausanne and not a passing fad.

However, out of that debate buried deep in the comments on Jonny's "what is God’s mission" and Maggi's 'The Shape of things to Come' have come some real nuggets as the thread of thought settled to identify mission beyond the being part of the emerging collection of buzz words…!

"mission is about the whole work of God - Jesus sent his disciples out to preach (evangelism) teach (build up the faithful in the synagogue) and heal (being concerned with the wholeness of life, healing and breaking down barriers. Any separation between Church and mission is wholly false…"

God's mission is the recovery of shalom (wholeness) in his creation. Part of this, undoubtedly is individual salvation, but God's Redemptive activity goes beyond. He is in the process of making "all things new."

Participating in God's mission is about so much more than notching up conversions. Participating in God's redemptive activity can equally be about providing opportunities for the disadvantaged, caring for the poor and marginalised - in other words Justice. This way of thinking …draws together the two very often-separate streams of practice - explicit evangelism and social work. (benbell).

My conclusion is that Hirsch and Frost have much to say to churches that are pre-occupied. They have much to say to those churches that are content. They have much to say to churches that are settled with a form of christendom that is not connecting. However there are many models of church that don’t fit in their ‘either/or’ taxonomy. There are churches that are working through an incarnational programmed life. There are churches whose missional life are grace centred and not ‘means to an end’ and in their definition ‘attractional’. There are churches that achieve ‘proximity’ by providing centres of love and acceptance. There are churches that are making connections and being relevant through being real.

Perhaps it says to me that their emerging missional structures represent not so a much spatial question but more of a question of attitude.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

the beauty of community...?

Norman was a different man tonight. It is our Men’s get together – Poplar Men Together (PMT) a Bar-B-Q at our house and Norman is here. He takes over the grilling that’s what he does well. He starts talking – he seems to do that well too!

Five days ago he was desperate, devastated, inconsolable. We spent time together - prayed. His wife was stabbed trying to stop thieves stealing her niece’s car was now in hospital in Botswana. Norman was beside himself, the grief, pain, anguish of a man thousands of miles from his wife not knowing was tangible. Not much you can say really. But listen.

That was five days ago. Tonight Norman is different – the relief on this lonely man’s face was obvious. The wound is not as severe as first thought and she will be out of hospital. I look around the range of men each with a story to tell and I see something special - I see a beauty in community. Compassion. Concern. Interest. Inclusion. I see something of the kingdom of God in this community of diversity.

This time last year Norman was on his own – his community was him. An existence of solitude within a hostel surrounded by people. It is good that now Norman has people he can share the good as well as the bad news. It is good that now Norman has people he can cry with as well as laugh. It is good that now Norman has people he can share his frustrations as well as his joys.

I’m pleased Norman found us – the fact that he is a brilliant chef is just a bonus!?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Shaping of things to come...

I spent the day being wrongly labelled.

Courtesy of blah I’m listening to Hirsch and Frost’s take on mission. Feeling the ‘missional pulse’ of how to be church in a culture where people are not interested. The importance of recognising the need for proximity, presence, powerlessness, proclamation. The DNA of mission - mDNA. Contrasting communication and hair styles is mixing the day up nicely – although I’m sure I suffer from a form of dyslexia connected with complicated diagrams!!

Hirsch and Frost are challenging all things parochial, all things settled, all things institutional, all things Christendom. Challenging Church Growth (defined as ‘Christendom on steroids!’) but interestingly offering as an alternative a jazzed up evangelical ‘friendship evangelism’ re-mix. Their outward emphasis for mission is healthy with a strong identification of the realities of being church in the post Christian west. Their message is compelling, well presented.

I look around the attendees - all labelled – best lovingly described as an "All-age Christian Union" but varied from their piercings to greenbelt t-shirts to novelty musical socks – I’m left thinking.

There is more to church than going water ski-ing and reading a psalm. There is more to church than growing a mullet and racing model cars! I’m left thinking I’m not sure that their ‘either/or’ approach or their exaggeration of IC strengthens their discussion. I’m left thinking where does the ancient/modern tension, the strength and beauty of heritage fit? I’m left thinking what does the missional church look like in its community? I’m left thinking why do people keep calling me Graham?

Perhaps some strands are missing, but only - I believe - in that time is against them. Dialogue is restricted. A strong theme "Christology should determine our Missiology, which then in turn should affect our Ecclesiology" is coursing through their comments which leaves me feeling comfortable that with more dialogue the role of the church missionally would have come through loud and strong. I like their premise of engagement, of working towards inspiring people to ask – "who are these people?"

I leave – a day well spent. I’ve met some intriguing people, made connections with those until now were just names in blogland!. I take my name tag off – I look at it Graham Cotterill??

Nothing worse than being wrongly labelled!

I'm left thinking when people are looking and are provoked into ‘asking who you are?’ sometimes labels that are wrong are not that helpful!! In this ‘emerging’ church culture of the latest pre-fix and dot abbreviation I think we need to be careful!


Rob has more reflections that are worth checking.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Jesus Christ has been stolen...

Jim Wallis – changed the way I think. I read ‘Call to Conversion’ 20 years ago and I saw the world in a different way. Suddenly years of going to church came together. Suddenly I began to see the life of church as being as being so much more than just a Sunday singing type thing! Suddenly the fragmentation of the world seemed so much more acute. Suddenly I realised it was not enough just to sit back a gripe. Suddenly I was involved.

I don’t do conventions – I break into a sweat in mega-crowds, it does nothing for me. But Roots 2004 was a temptation a real temptation. Jim Wallis was on the speakers list. I’ve only just got round to listening to the teaching tape. Someone gave it to me with a shrug "shame really – I found him a bit dry…too political…perhaps his books are better…you can keep it"

Without a joke or a borrowed story or anecdote in sight - I was hooked as I drove.

"The trouble with the church is that Jesus Christ has been stolen from it – it’s time to get him back. Jesus today in the post Christian west is suffering a huge misrepresentation – he represents power, money and intolerance"

Looking at Deuteronomy 15:11 – he spends the next hour arguing that the church needs to realign itself to those who have lost hope. "We’ve lost our proximity to the poor – getting that sorted is the route to getting Jesus back". "What the church can offer is true hope…and hope is believing in spite of the evidence then watching the evidence change…"

Maggi asks…"What are the things that we should be pursuing?"

My fear? I'm not sure the church is that bothered. Sure we'll do the rhetoric, say the right words but I'm scared that we are too pre-occupied playing ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ to realise that Jesus has been stolen – despite good intentions rather than modelling an alternative the misrepresentation rumbles on.

"The trouble with the church is that Jesus Christ has been stolen from it – it’s time to get him back."

Friday, October 01, 2004

Jesus and his Harley....

Hidden away in the comments at theopraxis I found this gem. Personally I don't want to lose it so Jeff has allowed me to post it. To me it paints a vivid picture of incarnational mission.

The Jesus of My Day
By Jeff Jacobson

I see him riding in on a Harley, the Jesus of my day. It looks like he’s been on the road for a while, but his eyes are still bright and he smiles when he sees me. His hair is long and wild from the wind. I guess he travels light because his saddlebags are mostly empty.

In a cloud of dirt and dust he calls me over. I’m not sure what to do, but I’m drawn to him so I go. He puts his hand on my shoulder and he promises me a great adventure. I believe him, but I ask him to wait. I need to take care of a few things because my plate is full. His strong hand grabs hold of the clutch and he races the engine and he tells me that now is the time.

And it feels like a dream and maybe it is, but I drop it all on the ground. My cell phone, my Palm - everything because I want to die to the details. And then I get on the back of his Harley and we ride.

I’m not sure where we’re going but it’s in the direction of my church and this makes sense to me. He’ll of course want to stop in, walk around and say to me "well done." But then he doesn’t. We ride right on by and I think he even speeds up.

We stop to get gas and he spends a long time with the man who owns the station. The man wears a turban, and they're laughing and talking and I'm irritated because it's hot and I want this great adventure to begin.

We’re ready to go with a full tank and the open road ahead of us. But before long we turn into the parking lot of a strip club. I'm embarrassed and look around to see who might catch me here. Then he talks about the sick and the healthy and who needs a doctor and now I remember.

Its broad daylight but we wait in the parking lot for them to come out. When they do, he walks over to them while I lean against the bike. The sun hits their eyes and he asks them for directions and soon they’re laughing and talking and maybe this is a good time for all of us to grab some coffee together. And so that’s what we do.

Later we ride right by a large convention downtown with city leaders and it’s crowded and the air is thick with power and influence. Our reflection beams off of limo windows as we navigate through. No one notices him and I’m angry and shocked, but he doesn’t seem to care.

I’m taking my life into my hands as we ride deeper into the bowels of the city. It’s getting dark and this is gang territory and I’m scared but then I remember who I’m riding with. Before long he finds them and he’s mingling, talking, listening. He’s not looking for the healthy, but I keep forgetting that.

And it might just be my eyes playing tricks on me, but each time he stops and mingles and talks and listens and puts a hand on a shoulder, he looks like he fits in. He laughs deep and hard and I’d swear he’s known them forever. And I suppose he has.

And so it goes, day after day. There’s a widow who’s lonely and a refugee who is lost and a man much less lovable than I am who is dying. And each day there are children - lots of children who are wide-eyed with wonder. He talks about how they paint the world with broad brush strokes and trust the ground they walk on without question. He reminds me that their faith overlooks the details. This makes sense to me.

He stops from time to time along the side of the road and asks me if I get it. We talk and talk and he listens. He tells me that the great adventure is not so far down the road but all around me. Then we get back on and ride because he says that there's not much time. We talk about what it would be like for me to get my own Harley.

28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matt 11:28-30 Msg)

Matt 11:28-30