Sunday, August 27, 2006

double features

Two passions kinda animate me. One is biblical exposition with texts like gospel and epistle and prophecy. The other is cultural exposition with texts like advertisement and lyric and movie.

Take movies for example...

If I was a (youth) pastor I'd organise a retreat for the leadership team in which we watch a double feature of High School Musical and Invisible Children. I watched it last night and it provoked this post. We'd ask how the characters in the two movies answer the two big questions of life: Identity (who am I?) and Destiny (why am I here?) ... before finishing with some biblical exposition on how God answers those questions - and then make our response as a team.

If I was a pastor I'd organise a retreat for the leadership team in which we watch a double feature of Chocolat and As It Is In Heaven. They have similar settings, similar plotlines, and similar characters. We'd let the movies speak both literally and figuratively to us. Then we'd ask how the characters (and the director, for that matter) in the movies open up issues like community and leadership and sin - thereby opening the way for us to respond with thoughts about mission and salvation ... before finishing with some biblical exposition on what it means to be church - and then make our response as a team.

Maybe you can beat me to it (as I am not a pastor!) and tell me how you get on...

nice chatting


Tuesday, August 22, 2006


We are in the middle of the evaluation season at Carey Baptist College. All 30 of the students in our Pastoral Leadership track journey through an annual process which probes for both critique and affirmation. As Principal I have been committed to participating in every single one. It is just exhausting... Reflecting on the written material - phrasing that open-ended question that cracks an issue open - committing to leaving no hard thing or affirmative thing unsaid - on and on it goes. In fact last year the process left my emotional tank so dangerously low that this year I am participating in just the first and third year student evaluations.

And each year the same issue comes up. When faced with a student who has some vulnerabilities which have yet to be strengthened, what is the default setting by way of response? I've gradually watched it take over in the past decade:

"They need a strong mentor."

Please don't get me wrong. I believe in mentoring. I submit to the process myself and I look forward to sessions that I have with people whom I mentor. [Last week I even read Walter Wright's book on Mentoring - just so useful as he gave me permission to do what I tend to do: allow for a giving and receiving to take place in the mentoring relationship]

But three questions are beginning to gather for me...

(a) Should the instinctive reaction be to throw people on to a mentor, or should it be to throw people on to God? At the very moments when we consider a mentor to be needed, should we not be coaching people towards 'casting' (1Peter5:7) themselves on God? Is God not the primary mentor in our lives? Who was the mentor for the psalmist, I wonder?

(b) I wonder if 'having a mentor' becomes a crutch that keeps people one step removed from grafting the personal disciplines and habits into life that are required? The ol' cliche about needing to 'do the hard yards' comes to mind. Establishing priorities. Addressing weaknesses. Pursuing holiness. Are we becoming responsible adults are are we being kept in a kind of infancy? How does the mentoring process contribute to (and then be changed by) someone's growth into maturity?

(c) What role does community play? Is this not designed to be mutual-mentoring-en-masse? Is this prominence of the mentor playing into the hands of our individualism? I wonder if this default to mentoring as the solution would be quite so prominent if people were better integrated into healthy and accountable communities?

I guess an effective mentor keeps an eye on (a) and (b) and (c)... but I do find myself concerned that a mentor-dependency is emerging. It is reaching the stage where people who are separated from this kind of specialist support (you could add in coaches, supervisors, spiritual directors...) for a period of time might well end up unravelling and deconstructing. That should not be the case!

nice chatting


Sunday, August 20, 2006

worship - again?!

He is arguably the leading historian in the evangelical world today. And he has been in Auckland for a few days. David Bebbington from the UK. Yeah - I know that sounds a bit like Daniel Bedingfield, but I assure you that this guy is very different.

Last night he spoke at the annual dinner of the Baptist Historical Society. Stick with me here... For almost 40 years Bebbington has been keeping meticulous details of every single church worship service he has attended. He has been filling notebooks with the information. Right down to the exact number of people - increasing each decade it must be said - that raised their hands at a specific Baptist church in the UK which he regularly frequented. He kept track of everything. I mean everything. It makes you wonder how he managed to worship God as well as writing all this stuff down!

His address was so absorbing as he reflected on the changes in public worship over these four decades. During the Q&A the predictable question emerged: 'what would be your biggest concern about where we are in worship now, compared with 40 years ago?'

Bebbington's response? It came very, very quickly... The lack of prayer for other people. The demise of intercession in public worship. We tend to pray just about the things that concern us.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

death of a leader

Our Maori queen, Dame Te Ata, died yesterday. Deeply loved and widely respected...

In one of the tributes I heard this morning it was said that she was "a leader who followed her people." What an intriguing comment. It has been distracting me all morning.

I wonder what it means...

nice chatting


Saturday, August 12, 2006


[apologies - for some reason my blog went blank for a week]

I've been in ChiangMai at a conference on global Christianity organised by the International Council of Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE). We explored the implications of the shift of the center of Christianity from the North/West to the South/East.

Here are a random dozen quotes that I will remember...
[NB - these may not be word perfect as I was writing really fast!]

1. "Protestants are in such a hurry to jump from Augustine to Luther. And it is our Asian and African brothers and sisters who can fill in that gap best." (Andrew Walls)

2. "Church History courses tend to 'avoid most of the Christian world and the world of most Christians'. When we speak of 'early church' it is only ever that part of the church which laboured under the Roman Empire." (Andrew Walls)

3. "The reality is that the North and the West are missing the party." (Chris Wright)

4. "Why do we have to move to the West in order to have a voice to the Rest?" (Siga Arles, an Indian scholar, bemoaning the ongoing dependence on the Western PhD as a career track)

5. "The day we have an all-African faculty at our college will be the day I resign." (Douglas Carew, principal of African graduate school)

6. "Unlike Islam, Christianity does not need to speak:pray:worship in the language of its founder. The God to whom it witnesses is available in the common language of marginalised peoples all over the world. There is nothing God wants to say to us that cannot be communicated through simple everyday language." (Lamin Sanneh)

7. "Unlike Islam, Christianity does not need to know the exact birthplace of its founder. Jesus is born in the heart of the believer, wherever that believer happens to be." (Lamin Sanneh)

8. "The missionary commitment to (Bible) translation affirmed the language of peripheral peoples. It not only gave them the gospel, it gave them their cultural roots. This led on to the emancipation of such peoples. Time and time again missionaries saved and deepened culture, rather than destroying it." (Lamin Sanneh)

9. "The doctrine of justification must be kept central. Even the terrorist needs to be confronted with this truth. By their terrible deeds they are trying to win the approval of God. It can't be done." (Lamin Sanneh)

10. "It is not so much 'I think, therefore I am (Descartes)' as it is 'A person is a person because of other persons' (the Zulu)."

11. "Unless we are grateful to God for what we already have, he cannot entrust us with more." (quoting Bonhoeffer)

12. Was that 'Word becoming flesh' or the 'Word becoming fresh' ... I couldn't pick the heavy Chinese accent and decided I'd write it down both ways!

May we in the North and West (which I guess includes New Zealand in the Deep South) find ways to enable the South and East to 'breathe oxygen' into our part of God's mission in the world. And may we experience more of Ephesians 2 (the two becoming one) on a global scale.

nice chatting


Friday, August 04, 2006

a bogus neutrality

Chatting to a university student the other day. Enrolled in a history course on Religious Conflict. On the first day the lecturers stated that their essays must come from a 'neutral' perspective, by which was meant a pluralist perspective - that perspective which affirms that no single religion has a privileged access to truth. All faiths are equally valid. All roads lead up the mountain to God and there are no give-way signs!

I have a question! Since when is this pluralist perspective a neutral perspective? It is so very far from neutral. It is a tiny step from 'all faiths are equally valid' to 'no faith is particularly special.' And that is not neutral!! That is a cynical, disrespectful, demeaning stance to take with the many, many peoples of the world for whom their faith is precious.

But here is the irony. A closer examination of the course contents would suggest that three monotheistic religions are in view - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Then a quick flick through the lecture outline would suggest that Christianity is the favoured religion to whip with about 10 out of 12 sessions given in some part to this pursuit ... with any whipping of Islam pretty much avoided from what I can see. I may have missed it...

If pluralism is genuinely neutral then equal space is made for the Christian faith. It will attract the same inherent respect as Islam (and Buddhism and Hinduism) ... and Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam will attract the same level of critique as Christianity.

Until that stance is adopted in our discussions (particularly at a university, for goodness sake!), surely the very last thing that can be affirmed is that what is happening is neutral?

nice chatting