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Being Human. Being Present

I just submitted an article for a mission publication but its a bit long and boring and probably too academic so I thought I would just post it here, on this old zombie blog, which is right now a holding place while my new blog gets fixed up.

Its called "Being Human, Being Present" and its part of my reflections from The Nicholas Sessions last month in Prague.

Being Human. Being Present.

A priest in a pub discussing work conditions with steel workers. A monk who pitched his tent in the Sahara. A bohemian who started a community where Christians could be honest with each other.

Real stories.

Maybe I am getting older (please disagree) but I find myself increasingly fascinated by history and chasing down the stories behind the stories, the entrepreneurs who inspired the reports, the missionaries who dared to do church different whether they were noticed or not.

Real stories. Stories that made a difference.

We need these stories. We need “hopeful rumours”, a phrase I am taking from the revolutionary book, “The Prodigal Project: Journey into the Emerging Church” (2000) written by two Kiwis and an Aussie who described the new forms of church coming into our horizon at the turn of our century.

I remember seeing The Prodigal Project for the first time at the Greenbelt office in London where the freshly published book arrived in the post, it’s wrapping paper eagerly torn off by Greenbelt director Andy Thornton, a leader in the alternative worship movement. It was then I realised I was inside a story of global and historical importance, and my home country of New Zealand was not left out.

The term “emerging church”, although used for new church forms since the 1930’s, reappeared again in 2000 to capture what we were all seeing and the phrase stayed in our consciousness for almost a decade before others, like “fresh expressions”, supplanted it.

I have noticed that behind the commitment to new mission strategies (and catchy terms) lie numerous examples of creative risk-takers and innovators who tried something different to reach people untouched by existing mission efforts. These creative ventures were usually launched by pioneers, discovered by scouts, analysed by geeks, and articulated by church leaders who affirmed both the validity of the experiments and a daring “unorthodox” way forward for all.

At the Nicholas Sessions last month in Prague, a gathering for mission innovators to which I had the honour of participating, Bob and Mary Hopkins shared about the beginnings of what would later be named Fresh Expressions.

In their retelling of the story, I recognised the same players - the pioneers who created the stories, the number-crunchers who analysed the data (Lings, Wasdell, etc), and the permission-givers (Archbishops Carey and Williams) who put new phrases into currency and pointed ahead to a preferable future.

Another equally influential individual, in my experience, was a missionary statesmen who foresaw and recommended the shifts we now see on the ecclesiastic landscape. Canon Max Warren, General Secretary of CMS (then based in London), gave a deeply prophetic speech in Washington DC at the invitation of Overseas Mission Society of the Episcopal Church. The series of lectures was delivered in 1958 and appear in his book called Challenge and Response.

“The crucial question for the church is whether it is willing to take the risks of life on the frontier. If it does not do so,the time may come when it has nowhere else to live. For the fountains of the great deep are being broken up. We live in a world which is changing so rapidly that the demands on our adaptability, on our capacity for adjustment, are threatening not only to the ecclesiastical structures but also to the very stability of faith itself.” Max Warren, Lecture 4, “Re-minting of the world ‘Missionary’”, Challenge and Response, 1960. 

Warren argued that the “home base is now one of the neediest fields calling for missionary work” and insisted that the inherited church structures were inadequate for ministry in a complex, modern, industrial world, We needed to allow new expressions of church to arise, new models that rise above territorial and diocesan limitations.

“The church anywhere and at every time is a mixed multitude . .. The church cannot be the organ of its own Mission. It must have organs of Mission. I would be ready to argue that a variety of organs are in fact indispensable, and under whatever different names they bear, do in fact exist wherever the Church is taking Mission seriously.”

Canon Warren did not live to see the current movement of “fresh expressions” or “mixed economy” that is now taken for granted in the Anglican world, but his words form a deep well of thought and permission-giving that has allowed his “mixed multitude” of church to become a reality, even in this age of post-modern, post-industrial challenges.

But even Warren needed concrete examples of church done differently. And here I want to point out three creative individuals who inspired Max Warren’s amazing challenge.

1. The Blue-Collar Priest who took church to the people.

“It is precisely this [pre-industrial church] structure that has come down to us almost without change, that has been left so woefully inadequate by industrialisation . . . Here, wholly new structures of engagement must be devised if there is to be dialog, influence and impact.” E.R. Wickham, Church and People in an Industrial City, 1957.

He dressed shabbily and hung out with factory workers at the pubs which was unusual for a priest back in the 1940’s. He might have been ignored if he didn't later become Bishop. But he did. And the book that Bishop E.R.Wickham wrote, called “Church and People in an Industrial City” (1957), was probably the most influential source for Warren’s Lecture Number 4, not to mention its impact on Lambeth 1958. In his book, Wickham outlines the devastating chasm between the worker-class and those who dress up for Sunday worship and the resultant founding of the Industrial Mission in Sheffield in 1942 as an effort to break that barrier.

Wickham’s concrete examples of “supplementary non-pariochial structures” and social group thinking found a well-respected echo in Max Warren.

2. The Creative who started a community.

“Religion to me really is a song” Florence Allshorn.

Also in 1942, an artist named Florence Allshorn launched a revolutionary community in Sussex called St Julians. She called St Julians a place for all God’s children. It was a multi-national, ecumenical space for honest dialog and integral living.

She had already served a difficult term of mission service in Uganda with CMS in which she saw the danger of unaddressed, dysfunctional relationships among leadership on the field. She returned home bruised and, according to Eleanor Brown, ‘after a year in a curious little colony of “dropouts” in the Sussex countryside - a year of bohemian existence she found fascinating and freeing’ - Florence was ready to work again under CMS in England. She directed a small missionary training centre for women where she effected a “quiet revolution in the whole concept of missionary training,” focusing on in-depth honest relationships, love, and spiritual growth.

Despite having no official “She saw further than most into the meaning of missionary task”, noted missionary statesman J.H. Oldham who wrote a book on Florence and the community at St Julians. Canon Max Warren saw in this community the potential for a new way of doing church that went beyond idealism and conformity to the inherited pattern and towards

3. The Monk who pitched a tent in the Sahara.

“Father de Foucault became a Touareg, to the depths of his soul. I mean that he completely gave himself to these people, not only spiritually but humanly; for he well knew how intimately the Christian life is bound up with the whole context of human life.” Voillaume, Seeds of the Desert.

The desert monk named Charles de Foucauld who went to the Sahara to found a monastic order died alone in 1916. No one joined him. But the spiritual journals he wrote had a profound effect on people as diverse as Dorothy Day (Catholic Workers), Thomas Merton (new monasticism), and even James Baxter (Jerusalem) in New Zealand. Some time after his death, The Little Brothers of Jesus came into being. Even today there are a dozen monastic orders named after him.

At the time of Warren’s lecture, a book called ‘Seeds of the Desert: the Legacy of Charles de Foucauld' by R. Voillaume had been recently published and brought to the attention of clergy everywhere. Warren describes The Little Brothers of Jesus as a “daring new pattern of missionary service”, a way of interacting that was thoughtful, respectful (we might say post-colonial), open to dialogue, a strategy, according to Voillaume, of “being present amongst people, with a presence willed and intended as a witness of the love of Christ.”

Warren sums up, “What was so refreshing about [de Foucauld's] plans, and what was so refreshing about Florence Allshorn, was that in their preoccupation with being present with God they were always so human. There was nothing stereotyped in the lives of either of these missionaries. Because they knew how to live “being present” with God”, they were able to live “being present” quite spontaneously with people of every kind and in every circumstance.”

Here we see the heart of Max Warren’s lecture that takes the challenge beyond the start-up of new church forms and beyond mere strategies into where it all starts: the challenge to live differently. To live more dangerously. To truly live among people, unprivileged people. To be open to openness. To allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the full human experience and to participate fully in it.

This is incarnational missions the way Jesus showed us. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Being human. Being present. 

Why Earth Day Texas is the new SXSW for Baptists

 I recently visited Texas and met with some of the key leaders of the Texas Baptists. I was encouraged to see some necessary transitions and changes but was quite shocked to see the presence of styrofoam cups at the coffee machine in the main HQ.

I believe EDTx is the new SXSW for Texas Baptists and I recommended they send a delegation to the event that happens this weekend. Let me tell you why.

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When I first started working as a consultant for the Texas Baptists (BGCT back then) I suggested we work alongside SXSW and send our top artists and creatives to participate. In 1999, we set up a multimedia labyrinth called "Ecclesia" that was promoted by the Austin Statesman as one of the recommended events. In 2001, we did another called "Epicenter". And in 2003 we hosted "Wabi Sabi". Since then, a small team of creatives have continued to have a presence at SXSW which has been a great way of learning, listening, contributing to the vibrant arts scene there. 

It changed the way we looked at worship arts. It was a revolutionary experience. 

Earth Day Texas, which is the largest Earth Day in the world, might do the same thing for Texas Baptists. It will be an opportunity to consider a Christian cosmology, ecology, our stewardship of the earth's resource. And it might put a stop to those awful styrofoam cups.

Styrofoam Cup
I can't believe churches still use these. What does that say about us?

I enjoyed meeting the Festival's director, Michael Cain. He is a warm, friendly man who has faith in God and a deep commitment to managing the planet's resources. I told him I would send some Baptists. I hope they do not disappoint. 


Enough for All - My Bible Study

If you are in Germany then you might be joining the 100,000+ people in Hamburg for Kirchentag 2013 (Church Day) on May 1-5.

12 04 02 Kirchentag 2013

If you make it to my session, please say hello afterwards.

The Kirchentag folk do an absolutely incredible job of organizing and hosting a massive scale festival  - the best organized I have ever seen - and they invited me to teach over a year ago. Here is the info they sent me.

Information about your Bible study at the 34th German Protestant Kirchentag from 1st to 5th May 2013 in Hamburg

Dear Mr. Jones,

"As much as you need” – is the theme for the 34th German Protestant Kirchentag. Meanwhile there are tens of thousands of people who have received a program booklet and discovered that you are holding a Bible study.
Your Bible study will take place at the St. Pauluskirche (Heimfeld), Petersweg 1, Hamburg (758 / AA1)on Saturday the 4th of May 2013, from 9.30 to 10.30 am.
You will be welcomed and introduced. Furthermore, your Bible study will be accompanied by the gospel choir Schacht-Audorf.

The topic of Kirchentag 2013 is "As much as you need", with reference to the manna from heaven that sustained God's people in the desert. My teaching will add the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6) to the mix and will focus on abundance and poverty,  generosity and equitable distribution, sustainability, God's provision and His plan to use his people to solve the global challenge of hunger. Hope you can make it. 

 T 7f360c06ae

Reflections on Kirchentag 2011.

Thoughts on Pope Francis

GREAT to hear waves of excitement over the new Pope. I am also excited about the appointment of Pope Francis, because . . .

- he is from South America.

- he is a humble man, riding the bus to work and refusing ecclesiastic titles. 

- he has a heart for the poor.

- he wants renewal of the church, which is awesome.

- he is a Jesuit, and those guys are really cool!

- the charismatic Catholics really like him.

In Italy a few years ago, some friends and I met with Matteo Calisi, who heads up the 150 million people in the Charismatic Catholic Renewal, known as the Catholic Fraternity, and reports directly to the Pope. Lovely man, this Father Matteo, who invited us to speak in his church. Before the service, he was telling us how excited he was about what was happening in Buenos Aries, where he had visited, meeting the archbishop and seeing some of the communities there. I imagine he is totally pumped about having his South American friend living and working in Italy.


Tony Palmer, who helped arrange our meeting with Matteo, has reflections on meeting Bergoglio, who was then the archbishop of Buenos Aries. 

"Here I am in Argentina in a meeting with Cardinal Giorgio Bergoglio, who made it very clear to us during the meeting that we were not to refer to him by 'Eminence' or 'Excellency' as these titles are not found in the Bible and that simply 'Brother' would be better . . . "

Father Anthony, quoted by Marc Van Der Woude, who was also with us in that Italian meeting, on why he thinks Francis is a surprising Pope.

Related: My experience with the Charismatic Catholics in Italy.

American Christians and the Mormon factor

Right now is an interesting time in American politics and religion. There are plenty of conservative evangelical Christians in USA who are about to vote for a Mormon to be their president. Who woulda thunk???

I read a few snippets on Billy Graham removing the "cult" status on the BGEA website. I would be curious to hear from Steve Knight on this.

Interesting quote from Norman Geisler, who wrote the textbook on "Inerrancy" and once chastized the emerging church for relativism. Regarding today's election choice, he says,

" First, even if as voters we wanted to apply such a test, we do not have a really good choice religiously. We face a painful dilemma of voting for a liberal professing Christian (Obama) with Muslim leanings or a cultist Mormon who claims to be Christian. The truth is that we do not live in an ideal world; we live in a real world. Realistically, we have only two candidates who could win the election, and we can only vote for one . . .

Secondly, we do not live in a black-and-white world. There is a lot of grey. So, on the question of good, we don’t have a purely good or evil choice in this election. There is both good and evil in each choice."

Brian McLaren said something very similar yesterday in acknowledging that all parties have their weaknesses and their virtues.

Norman Geisler and Brian McLaren. Probably a different name on their ballots but finally on the same page. Interesting times indeed! Who woulda thunk?


Why I decided to become a follower of CHRISLAM

You know when a word has real scare potential when Hal Lindsay starts using it on TV. Like the word "CHRISLAM".

insider movements, mission, chrislam

Last year, televangelist Jack Van Impe got kicked off TBN for calling Rick Warren a 'Chrislam' promoter. Rick Warren says the newspaper reports were false and he does not promote Chrislam, but the damage had already been done: Van Impe still hasn't got his job back on Christian television which is a shame for all his TV-watching fans and for the hair-spray company that has lost a loyal customer.

It's a silly word. Can we please stop using it?


Chrislam is a tiny religion in Nigeria that happily mixes Islam and Christianity and counts about 1500 people in two churches in Lagos. I really don't think this group is any more a threat to American Protestantism than my daughter's dough recipe is a threat to Pizza Hut.

Today a conference is happening in Asia which tackles the "insider movements". One of the lectures scheduled for this afternoon is entitled "The Whoredom of so-called Contextualization: 'Spreading our Legs' for the Latest Religious Ideas." The book under discussion is called "Chrislam: How MIssionaries are Promoting a Islamicized Gospel" and it is published by the same people that are hosting the conference. I really hope its a balanced discussion today and not a one-sided witch hunt. Is anyone blogging it???

HEY - Lets talk about the controversial issues in missions, including contextualization and insider movements, but let's also try NOT to use scary words that freak out elderly evangelical ladies and drive extremists into tight corners. Like the word "Chrislam".

So why am I following CHRISLAM?

Because I was thinking that the blame for the end-times deception and the horrendous deviation of the past three decades of Christian mission should not be shouldered by a Vancouver based graphic designer named Chris Lam. Or a British breakdancer named Chris Lam, who I emailed this morning and apologized if people were blaming him for the destruction of the world as we know it.

So I am now following both Chris Lams. But I chose not to follow Chris Lam the MMA boxing/judo enthusiast as @cagedocbecause he looks as though he could kick my ass.

chrislam, insider, chris lam

Related: Emerging Muslim Followers of Jesus, Christianity's Next Challenge, Insider Movements and Wycliffe's Translation

Coming up soon: Is the Insider Movement the new Emergent Church Controversy of this decade?

BEST THING I saw recently on the Insider Movement was Cody Lorance's response to John Piper, summarized here by Warren Farah.

Mission of God Study Bible and Itinerant Ministry

The Mission of God Study Bible has just been released. It carries the missional theme and  . .  what I really love about it . .  it honors the memory of the Baptist missiologist Dr Francis DuBose who brought the word "missional" back into play with his 1983 book God Who Sends. [see the video I recorded of Dr DuBose shortly before his death] The Study Bible also has contributions from so many of my friends that I won't even start to name them. 

I was asked to contribute something on itinerancy that might share some light on Acts 12, when Saul and Barnabas are sent out.


Here's my bit which now appears on page 1153

Itinerant Ministry (Acts 12:2-3)


Maybe it’s not right, but I feel a slight pang of grief when I read the fate of Saul and Barnabas. Despite having a secure future as church leaders, they are sentenced by the church in Antioch to the downwardly mobile status of itinerant ministry. Doomed to wander the earth like Cain through places always foreign and rarely familiar, they will limp forward as borrowers and beggars, as strangers and sojourners, but never settlers.


MissionOfGod FNL CVR

An itinerant is a wanderer who travels from place to place without a home. Stereotypes are demeaning: drifters, hobos, vagrants, bums, squatters, tramps, and carnies. Some are neutral but few are positive. And yet there are people who have voluntarily embraced itinerancy for the purpose of the gospel, including circuit riders, pilgrims, mendicants and wandering monks. The worst examples of the latter were frowned on. Benedict called them ‘gyrovagues’ (lit. “those that wander in a circle) and Augustine called them ‘circumcelliones’ (lit. “those that prowl around the barns”).


However, despite the stigma of being homeless ragamuffins, it was often the wandering missionaries who enabled the church to accelerate its mission into new spheres: extraordinary itinerants including Jesuits, Franciscans, Methodist circuit-riders, tent-revivalists and the Celtic peregrine, who one writer described as “intrepid Irish adventurers”.


As an itinerant for most of my twenty-five years in mission service, I share both in the shame of this lowly disposition and the joy of freedom to travel wherever God is shining his light. I also have some perspective on why the Holy Spirit might have set such a precedent in Antioch.


Practically speaking, itinerancy is more effective in both cost and time, having no house to maintain or return to. Our apostolic efforts are not tempted by the idolatry of building our own empire because next week we will be somewhere else, serving another ministry project. But it’s more than that. 


As itinerants, our dependence on others for their participation with us in the gospel becomes a filter that leads us to the right people at the right time, as Jesus outlined in Luke 10.


We depend on God. We depend on God’s family. We even depend on the people we are sent to.


Like Abraham, we are told to go but not given a destination. We find ourselves in intimate company with the people of faith, who viewed the heavenly city as their real home. We have no house but we enjoy a hundred houses in this life and the benefits of a large and diverse spiritual family. 


We drink deeply of the sufferings of Christ who, having no place to lay his head, walked the same path we tread.


Strangely enough, recent years have seen a more positive spin added to the mobile lifestyle. Partly in response to globalization, and the necessity of competence in foreign cultures, many are eager to embrace new itinerant identities such as global nomads, couch surfers, existential migrants, and even families on the road.


Likewise, interest in itinerant ministry has intensified as a new generation discover a spirituality of the road and new forms of missional pilgrimage. 


Like Antioch, there are still young spiritual leaders of export quality being sent out on itinerant journeys that are initiated by God, modelled by Christ, led by the Spirit and given an enthusiastic thumbs-up by the church. 

Muslim sanctuaries: For Your Eyes Only


"Cinderazahd: For Your Eyes Only" has its world premiere at the Dowse Art Museum next week but men will not be allowed in. The Qatari writer and film-maker Sophia Al-Maria has expressed her wishes that men should not see the unveiled women in her video, a wish that corresponds with her Muslim faith.

Fair enough. I respect that. She is the artist and she can determine the boundaries of her audience at the showing. My wife and two of my daughters will probably attend while I, obviously and with no hard feelings, will stay home.

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The same thing happened when we visited the hamam (public bath) in Chefchouen, Morocco. The women were allowed in and I had to stay out. No bath for me, which was a bummer because we had just been chased over the Rif mountains by drug dealers and we were all in need of a bath. But it was women's day only in the hamam so I can understand their refusal :-)

Chefchouen, where my family enjoyed the hamam,  was once a Muslim holy city that forbade non-Muslims to enter. Until 1920, only three Christians had entered. One of them was Charles Foucauld, who I wrote about recentl, entering the city  disguised as a Jewish trader. Another dressed as a Muslim. The third was an American missionary who was poisoned and never got out to talk about what he saw. Maybe it was the mickey mouse t-shirt and white Nikes that gave him away???? I don't know. Today, the city is a lot more welcoming to non-Muslims and a great place to visit. I can't say the same for the Rif mountains.


Speaking of Muslim holy places, a friend of mine visited Mecca last month for the opening of Ramadan.

"I was actually inside the Grand Mosque, next to the Kaaba, and a loud canon went off – letting the million plus Muslims there know that tomorrow Ramadan would begin. From there, within seconds, the rest of the Muslim world would know.  ”Tomorrow we fast.”  Everyone began congratulating each other – me included.  Then the evening call to pray went off, and we all lined up, facing the Kaaba (right smack in front of us) and we prayed."

Apparently Carl has upset a few Muslims and a whole Sunday potluck full of Christians and so he is asking for some feedback.


- Blog a Koran Day on Sep 11 will be in its third year. Write something and let me know.

- New resource from Pew Research Center: The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity

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Challies and Perriman on the existence of hell

Sunday theological conversation that requires a cup of tea and an armchair: 

Tim Challies kicks off a series on hell. Andrew Perriman responds.  Tim Challies concludes with his final post  and Andrew Perriman gives a  summary response. There might be some more posts in the middle but the book-ends are worth a read. Last year, when the talk revolved around Rob Bell's book, I suggested Perriman had the skinny. The kindle book that emerged from those posts [Heaven and Hell from a Narrative Perspective] is a keeper.

William Cavanaugh on Religious Violence

William cavanaugh

"The myth of religious violence promotes a dichotomy between us in the secular West who are rational and peacemaking, and them, the hordes of violent religious fanatics in the Muslim world. Their violence is religious, and therefore irrational and divisive. Our violence, on the other hand, is rational, peacemaking, and necessary. Regrettably, we find ourselves forced to bomb them into the higher rationality." William Cavanaugh, DePaul University

Tomorrow, I will be enjoying a lunch with William Cavanaugh. If you have any questions you would like to ask him, let me know in a comment below.