Monday, October 31, 2005


Just back from a week in Central Europe - Prague, Budapest and Vienna.

Prague is wonderful. It was very moving for a child of the sixties to stand in the old town square under the statue of Jan Hus and remember the days in 1968 when the Soviet tanks rolled in and the time 20+ years when Czechs thronged the square celebrating their freedom from communism.

It's particularly moving because Hus was a Christian reformer who campaigned for freedom for Christians to develop an expression of their faith for themselves rather than having to follow the one laid down in far away Rome. In particular, he wanted ordinary believers to have communion in both kinds regularly, that is to have both bread and wine whenever they attended. It's hard for us protestants who value celebrating the Lord's supper the way we do that for centuries people were barred from the table except at Easter when they got bread dipped in wine from the priest.

For many years I had a lapel pin of a chalice in my lapel that was given to me by a Czech believer I met in the 1970s - when it was tough for believers. It symbolised for me the freedom that we have in Christ and the freedom we campaign for believers to celebrate their faith in the way their conscience suggests they should.

Lots of other lovely things happened that I'll refer to in subsequent blogs...

Good to be back

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Faith and young people

It's been furiously busy over the past week or so. Lots of things happening at church and a funeral for a troubled family. It's always the problem of church life, isn't it, that we plan and strategise and events conspire to delay or derail those plans.

We're off to Prague and Budapest at the weekend for a break - beer, jazz and conversation, history and architecture (what more could one want!) - but not before I've done a session with schools workers.

Preparing for this I've been re-reading David Voas and Bob Mayo and have got my hands on a paper by Nick Lear which is full of good stuff. I want to reflect on what difference the fact that young people know next to nothing about the Christian faith makes to our approach to Christian youthwork and schools ministry. Does this ignorance suggest indifference or hostility or potential interest?

I've blogged before on what Mayo thinks - that it's an opportunity if we're clever and creative. I think the jury might still be out. One of the issues is whether 'faith' is an option that's of any interest at all to young people. If Mayo's right that most teenagers live in a happy midi-narrative that the world as they experience is generally benign, what place would faith have in that?

What I'll be interested to hear from schools workers is whether there are social differences at work here. I would have thought that suburban kids generally inhabit a happy midi-narrative derived from reasonable income and supportive family life, combined with attending good schools and achieving reasonably well both academically and in sport. But kids in urban areas who are poorer, perhaps discriminated against because of race, facing family pressures at home and not seeing school as a place of opportunity might inhabit a midi-narrative that is not so happy.

This observation is either obvious or a cliche, I guess - and I know the pressures on suburban kids can be quite intense.

But Mayo's research raises the question about what the gospel is for these young people and how they might access it. People with no perceived needs, generally don't respond to the gospel of meeting needs - whether those needs are practical and social or emotional and 'spiritual'. If people don't feel in need, do they respond to a saviour who meets their needs? Isn't the proposition just simple gibberish?

I'll let you know how the group I'm talking to responds to this. If you have views, let me know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The journey is all

Paul Lavender again makes a helpful point, one that Dan Kimball makes in his book Vintage Christianity, which is that people see their spiritual lives as a journey not a destination, that they are in perpetual motion, with nothing fixed and settled. To a great extent they are not looking for answers, rather their spiritual lives are nourished by questions, by exploring, by seeking fresh ideas and experiences.

For some Christians this is a difficult notion because we have been discipled into the view that we have 'the answer', that 'the answer' is everything that matters and that people need to hear 'the answer' - regardless of what question they're asking.

Of course, it should be pointed out, that such a view of spirituality applies to a minority of people. The Kendall research - published as Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead The Spiritual Revolution - suggests that while many people in Kendall are attracted to alternative spiritualies, they still constitute an underwhelming minority of the general population - about the same or slightly less than the number attending church.

Bob Mayo - whose research I've alluded to before - would go further, especially in relation to young people, and say that they are not on a spiritual quest of any kind. They are happy in their 'midi-narrative' that life owes them material comforts and a good time, but issues of spirituality are matters of indifference to them. They go clubbing because they like music not because they are looking for a transcendental experience of some kind which the boomers and Gen Xers before them might have been (if Tom Beaudoin in Virtual Faith is to be believed).

All this, it seems to me, points up the strength of a going and waiting strategy suggested in the last blog. What kind of journey are our neighbours actually on? We might assume they go to the gym and yoga because they are seeking contact with some higher power. But they might go because their mates do it, they want to shed a few pounds or they fancy the yoga teacher. We might assume they visit old church buildings only because they have penchant for medieval architecture when in fact they yearn for contact with the mysterious and the divine.

All this suggests we need to listen rather than guess, go where they are, hang around and wait to hear what makes them tick. In this process we'll make new friends - a hugely valuable thing in its own right - and we'll hear what makes our new friends tick. Only then should we be praying for the insight into how we introduce our new friends to our old friend, Jesus.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Going and waiting

Paul Lavender has rightly spotted a flaw in my party strategy which is simply that it's an alternative one-size-fits-all mission strategy. I don't intend it to be.

He rightly points out that where he lives - in the North of England - parties are a bit middle class. People are more likely to congregate at the pub or Starbucks (surprisingly not seen as middle class - his phrase).

I guess this points out an obvious but essential thing: mission strategies need to fit the locality they're being tried in. If people don't go to parties, don't throw them. Find something people will come to. The point remains that we're doing this because we want to meet and hear them talking.

John Drane in an excellent article called 'Patterns of Evangelization in Paul and Jesus' (in Joel B Green and Max Turner [eds] Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ, Eerdmanns 1994) suggests that Paul's missionary strategy consisted of two major elements 'which we may describe as "going" and "waiting"' The going bit we're very happy about - that's the Great Commission in action (though there's a good case to be made for saying that the commission is to make disciples, the going bit is taken read since we 'go' into the world every time we leave our homes - but that's a different story). Waiting sounds tricky. After all, if you've made the effort to go, shouldn't you set about speaking immediately?

Drane's point is that this is precisely what Paul didn't do. He went and waited, watched and listened. 'As well as going, his was also a strategy of waiting,' he says, ' creating space in which people could be themselves, and as themselves could decide without coercion how and when to respond to the challenge of the gospel.'

I guess what I'm suggesting is that we create waiting spaces, situations where we can meet and listen to our neighbours whether that's in our homes at parties, in the pub after work, over lunch, wherever. The point is that our neighbours feel able to be natural and we are meeting them because we want to know them. Where the relationship goes from there is genuinely open.

Drane argues that Paul followed the strategy of Jesus - both in his actions - partying and eating with whoever and allowing them to set the agenda by asking questions and making observations - and in his teaching - for instance in the parable of the 'waiting' father in Luke 15.

Of course, our desire is that people will hear and respond to the gospel. But if we wait before we speak, maybe they'll hear it in language they understand, from people they've come to know and like. At least then they might give our story a fair hearing.