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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Coffee House Churches

I came across an interesting resource site called Coffeehouse Churches. It has some great ideas for creating church in neutral venues.

Another good site that links to it is called Everywhere Church.

Feel free to post feedback on ways that you are connecting with people outside of the four walls of our church buildings.

Tony Jones in Sydney

Tonight I am going to Sydney to hear Tony Jones speak about the emerging church. Tony is the coordinator of Emergent Village and a the author of a number of works including "The New Christians". I am really looking forward to hearing his perspective and interacting with a different group of emerging practitioners. The evening is facilitated by the Church Army, an Anglican group so as a Baptist it will be great to meet a new group of Christians.

I will send some thoughts following the conference. This morning I hope to complete my book review for the Masters so I will find time to offer some thoughts resulting from this as well. After all of the emotional soul searching of the last few weeks I feel ready to get into some theological reflection and practice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recycling


The photo was taken from the visit to my friend's farm a couple of weeks ago. As I reflected on this past week or so since I last posted it seemed somehow appropriate to the struggles and dreams that I am working through at the present time.

The picture looks fairly nondescript but it shows a pile of some of the freshest, richest compost that I have come across in a long time. I have to confess, up front, that I am no farmer but, having lived in Australia for over 10 years, I am very aware of the state of the ground after long periods of drought. To turn over the compost with a spade and smell the fresh earthy flavors rise and to feel the soft texture of the dirt was such a wonderful experience. I had never realized that the beauty of this planet could sneak up quite so gently and take me by surprise with joy and wonder.

To the uninitiated this could just look like a pile of dirt but to my friend, the farmer, it is the result of a slow process of reclamation by the elements and is the hope of new growth to emerge again as the growing cycle begins all over again.

I am reflecting on a couple of areas right now. Last week's holiday raised many more frustrations for me than positives. In some ways as I continue to struggle with mental illness and the issues of my past that seem to keep trying to ambush me I find the picture of the compost reassuring in that even the most unlikely parts of the growing cycle can be reused to create fresh growth. The compost pictured uses the cast off shells of macadamia nuts and the resultant compost is now being used for growing pumpkins.

Sometimes as I struggle to stem the tide of depression I feel like giving up on my dream of building a faith community for unchurched people in my city, Newcastle but then I see another analogy for the compost as I drive the streets in my taxi and see the sad aspects of the brokenness of this world. As I reflect on the drinking and immorality that seems to characterize the weekends of a large number of people I am led back again and again to the redemptive thread that runs through God's interactions with this world.

Can God take the problems and struggles of unchurched people and allow them to fall into his redemptive stream and be reborn into new life in Jesus Christ? I still believe that God is in the process of redeeming me and I still believe that God can redeem unchurched people and allow them to experience new hope and new life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wrecked


On Thursday I went to a friend's property about 40 minutes from where I live. He grows macadamia nuts, pumpkins and water melon. My friend is in his early 70s and often invites me out to work with him on the farm and offer me mentoring and encouragement. In short, he is an absolute legend and a great man of God.

When we were up there this time I decided to take some photos. There is a part of the property that has been used for dirt bike riding and running old cars into the ground.

As I strolled around I came across the old wreck in the photo. I was careful looking inside because we had already found a venomous red belly black snake dozing under a log and the car seemed to be a perfect haven for reptiles until the weather warmed up some more.

I was looking around the farm and realized that instead of hunting for blog images online I could take my own (it's only taken me 4 years to figure this out). I was struck by the analogy that the car was once extremely useful and productive and possibly of great value to someone at one time but now it was rusted and abandoned and only good as a home for spiders and whatever else took a liking to the dingy, dirty interior.

When I read emerging church literature I am concerned that the institutional church is quite often depicted as the car in the photo. It was once productive and useful and was a great resource for many people but now it is a burnt out shell that can never be restored so why not build new streamlined churches complete with all of the trimmings to attract a postmodern culture.

I am aware that churches can hurt people; I know it first hand but that is no reason to stand on the sidelines and malign churches that have been and often still are in some shape or form a part of the Body of Christ on this earth. As I consider the nature of the missional faith community that is starting to become more than a dream I have been considering the faithful people across my city who seek, in various ways, big and small, to serve Christ.

Whatever I do I want to be another expression of church to a mission field that is largely untapped. I am not called to serve those who like a diet of hymns and sermons but I respect and honor those people. I am not called to the youth church scene of lights, bands and bright vibrant services but I will pray with them for the youth of our city.

When I find myself becoming proud that I am "out there doing evangelism" and I start to feel smug I consider the lives that have been profoundly touched and are still being touched in ways that sometimes only God knows. I could pull out a 101 critiques of the church but then again I can point out 101 critiques of my own world so I'd rather just put my hand to the plough and find the patch where God has called me to raise up harvesters.

By this will all men know that you are my disciples; that you love one another. How about we start loving each other today?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Emerging from Winter

As winter passes subtly into spring in the Southern Hemisphere it has prompted me to reflect on the unlikely places where God's spirit continues to breathe life into our world.

The photo is taken from Yosemite National Park and shows a plant emerging from the barren landscape.

This week I have been given so much encouragement to pursue my vision of reaching the unchurched pub/club subculture of Newcastle with the love and grace of God.

On Wednesday I called in to visit some unchurched friends and we got to talking about the faith community and where it is at. I shared with them an idea of getting a room in a pub and having a fortnightly gathering. At that evening I planned to show occasional dvds under the title "God at the Movies".

Alex, went over to his dvd collection and pulled out "V for Vendetta" and handed it to me and said "Let's watch this one first" and then proceeded to tell me all of the spiritual questions that the film raised. I have an eager group of young people, a heart for the city and lots of encouragement from many different quarters. I feel now that I should just meet with the people God has put before me and start building a small community.

I still have a meeting to come in October with the Baptist Union and I am connecting in with a home group at the church my wife is attending so I can look after my own spiritual needs but I feel like I just need to meet fortnightly and in the meantime get the longer term planning group going in November but really just meet and see what God wants to do.

Please continue to pray for the ministry. I am approaching pubs for a room one night a week and also talking to someone about a permanent venue. I am also considering how and when and if to reduce the nights I drive the taxi. In the midst of the winter that is Newcastle city centre God is pouring out his love and with the Spring comes the first signs of new life.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Language of Faith

What is it that Christians should be communicating to unchurched people and how do we get past the jargon, misperceptions and strangeness of some of the concepts that we wish to share?

How do we manage the tension between straight out propositionalism on the one hand and liberal experientialism on the other? This is the crux of a paper that I am presenting on Tuesday 16th September at a conference at the college I am studying with.

It's tough. I find myself, by inclination, leaning more towards love, acceptance and community but wanting to address the underlying agenda that I carry with we which is saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Australia is in a very post-Church era where many people are not anti church so much as over church. I am determined to think, pray and work through this issue. What concerns me is that so many people are still writing about evangelism and the unchurched from within the safety of Christian communities. I am trying to figure this out through friendships with unchurched people. As I work towards planting a faith community I am trying to negotiate the expectations and perceptions of the local church and help people see a longer term view of belonging that leads to believing.

Any ideas or comments?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reaching the Unchurched


One of the keys to reaching unchurched people is a point of decision; that moment when we realize that we can commit to journeying with someone as they seek faith and understanding or we decide that it's all too hard and close off the conversation.

On Sunday night I had a phone call from some regular customers with the request that I take them to a local pub. Alex, my friend, also asked if I wanted to call in at McDonalds to catch up with them. McDonalds is across the road from this particular night spot so I joined these new friends for a burger and a chat.

As we neared McDonalds one of the group asked me where the plans for a church plant were at. I was only midway through the conversation when we had pulled up in the car park so I suggested we go and grab our burgers. All four of these young people protested and asked me to finish telling them about the church project.

These are exciting times as I begin to form friendships with many unchurched people in Newcastle. Alex, who I am in touch with most has agreed to be a part of the core planning group for the faith community. I am really being guided by God as the project unfolds and develops. What I thought of in terms of a church plant is evolving into something much more fluid and people-focused.

The core planning group will not commence meeting until November and in the mean time I am presenting my thoughts regarding evangelism to the unchurched at a conference at my college on September 18th and working at the main paper for the MTh which is due to be completed by early November.

My academic supervisor is encouraging me to work towards publishing these insights from the faith journey and I am journalling the conversations from the taxi for a book project that I hope to use as part of a project to equip and challenge the local church in Australia and beyond.

As the project continues and as conversations develop and change I will continue to track the progress through the blog.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Encouragement

The road that is before us sometimes tests us in many ways but, if we look and listen, we will often find signs of encouragement to keep us focused on the journey ahead.

Today I felt flat and discouraged and lost sight of where I was headed and felt depression creeping in so I posted a comment on Facebook. Within an hour two of my friends had emailed me. These are Facebook friends and not men that I know all that well but they both sent through encouraging and uplifting messages.

Tonight, as I was driving the taxi, one of my unchurched friends phoned me and asked if I would pick up 4 of them, drop them at McDonalds and also if I fancied popping in with them for a break and a chat.

We arrived at the carpark of McDonalds and they wanted to know where I was up to with the idea to plant a missional faith community in the city. I was keen to get a burger but they stayed in the car with me for a good 10 minutes offering encouragment and comments. Not one of the 3 blokes and a girl were Christians. Alex, 19, has agreed to be a part of the core group to dream this project into life. He is searching for God and asking deep questions of faith. Alex is keen to join the intial group and I have encouraged him to ask hard questions and challenge us to meet the needs of the unchurched of the city. I pray that as he joins with me on the journey that God has laid before me he will also come to know the magnificent grace and love of my God.

Today I came to God weary and heavy laden and he took the load from me and sent me fellow travelers to encourage me. I am so, so glad that I am a child of God.