Numbers that Count

A well known British company – in one year:\r\n\r\n· Revenue up 8.4 per cent to £10,827 million.\r\n· Operating profit before exceptional items £274 million.\r\n· Operating profit of £233 million.\r\n· Loss before tax from continuing operations £139 million.\r\n\r\nA little known Chinese evangelist – in one year:\r\n\r\n· Travelled 58,000 miles by train, bike, rickshaw and mule.\r\n· Preached to 400,000 people.\r\n· Of these 18,000 became Christians.\r\n· From these 827 preaching bands were established to evangelise China.\r\n\r\n I know which numbers I would want on my gravestone …

Living Cities – the need for Creative and Inspired Urban Theology

Living in cities can be challenging, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Some of us love it. Many don’t.

\r\nHow can the church flourish (or even survive) in the modern city, when everyone has so little time and energy for anything but the day-to-day business of staying solvent and sane? In fact, one of the ironies of city churches is that while cities exist because they offer an efficient consolidation of resources, one of the features of many city or urban churches is that they are paired down to the minimum because resources are scarce. I know this having spent all my life in churches serving cities – either city centre, or inner city, or the urban poor.\r\n\r\nAnd yet, one of the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God is growth leading to fruitfulness. It is not scarcity leading to barrenness.\r\n\r\nWhat’s the problem?\r\n\r\nWell, there are lots of problems, but a significant one is that we do not invest enough time in understanding the nature of the urban context in which we witness and worship.\r\n\r\nIt is my firm belief based on years of observation that our praxis (how we act) is weak because our understanding of our context is poor and so our application of theology to our context is immature. I once wrote this:\r\n\r\n“… questions such as …\r\n

… what is this context … how is it formed … how does it form its people … what are its symbols and motifs, its myths and images, and how do they shape the community living amongst them?


… help unravel our context. When  informed by our theology they lead us to the key questions both the urban theologian and the local Christian want to answer:


“where is God in this context, where does He want to be, and therefore, what should we do?”

\r\nThe praxis of urban life is the concern of the poor, the voiceless, the young, the old, of everyone from the makers of history to the inhabitants of shabby cityscapes. Every participant in an urban context is formed by it in some way … It becomes imperative that somewhere within the urban faith community there should be theologians fully engaged with context to interpret it in the light of their learning.\r\n\r\nSo I’m wondering, how many churches have employed theologians, and maybe anthropologists, historians, sociologists, to help them interpret their context?\r\n\r\nFor those that are interested in how this applies to an inner city context see  Experiments in Praxis.\r\n\r\nor click on the icon …\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n

Serendipity. Coincidence. Guidance?

Not all coincidences or accidents can be taken as guidance. In fact, trying to ‘read’ guidance into dramatic physical occurrences can easily fall into the category of superstition (said Jesus in Luke 13).\r\n\r\nBut sometimes the dramas of life can lead in a clear direction.\r\n\r\nSo it was in the story of Arthur Tappan Pierson, a New Yorker, born in 1837 and named after his father’s employer. He was a bright student, language scholar and Phi Beta Kappa. He grew to be a powerful orator and was a pastor of great and large churches around America, and accidentally also in England, where he had been invited by his friend C H Spurgeon to help with preaching duties at the Metropolitan Tabernacle during the latter’s illness. A Presbyterian not a Baptist, Pierson found himself ‘in post’ when Spurgeon died.\r\n\r\nPierson was the one of the first members of the YMCA, and spoke at it’s first conference in Northfield in 1886 where he coined the phrase “the evangelisation* of the world in this generation”. From this conference 100 men dedicated themselves to overseas missions and became the founding core of the Student Volunteer Movement. By the time of Pierson’s death in 1911 over 5,000 Student Volunteers had sailed to mission fields abroad.\r\n\r\nBut what about the sign?\r\n\r\nWhen Pierson was 39 years old he was a prominent leader in his denomination, a well published writer of articles, sermons and poems, a powerful speaker, and successful parish minister. But he was dissatisfied with his successful ministry in high profile churches because he could not reach the poor in his local city, let alone the un-evangelised populations around the world.\r\n\r\nOn March 24th 1876 Pierson met with around sixty of his parishioners to pray – not in the church building – that the obstacles that held his church back from reaching the poor be removed.\r\n\r\nWhile they prayed, and without their knowing, their beautiful church building was burning down. Everything was destroyed, right down to the desk where Pierson stored his Bible notes. Only, the Bible notes survived.\r\n\r\nPierson took it as a sign. The church hired the local opera house as a meeting room and in the next fifteen months hundreds of people came to faith under his new style of preaching – simple, direct, challenging. He never looked back from his new focus on evangelism and mission theory.\r\n\r\nComfortable yet Dissatisfied? Talented, Equipped, but Ineffective? Pray. Invite others. Maybe even pray for the church to burn down! (Metaphorically)\r\n\r\nAnd if you have the chance, read the story of Arthur Tappan Pierson.\r\n\r\n* NOTE: spell checker want to put Liberalisation instead of Evangelisation … in a strange way, maybe not far from the truth?

Six Words for a Simple Plan

It’s great to hear a church leader speak confidently and clearly about the aims of their denomination.\r\n\r\nSo it was this morning, when Chris James, Pastor of Vintage Community Church in Portishead, Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare, told us about the aims of the Assemblies of God churches in Britain.\r\n\r\n”We are Apostolically Led,  Relationally Connected and Missionally Focused.” he said.\r\n\r\nThat’s it.\r\n\r\nSix words giving a simple and yet dynamic purpose for 600 churches.\r\n\r\nMemorable. Transferable. Legible.\r\n\r\nDefined but with enough scope to allow freedom of thought.\r\n\r\nIs that your church?\r\n\r\nIs that you?\r\n\r\nIf not, try it. Write a six word, memorable, legible, dynamic purpose for yourself or your church.

Community Mission in the Inner City

In 2009 I initiated a community mission in Easton. We called it ‘Easter Outdoors’. We carried out activities that grew our community engagement – from cleaning streets to celebrating Easter day outdoors with our multinational community: a combination of balloon twisting, BBQ halal burgers and celebratory worship.\r\n\r\nI wrote a report.\r\n

St Augustine’s Islington

It’s a basic premise based on thirty years of problem solving:\r\n\r\nThe Quality of Research determines the Quality of Solutions\r\n\r\nThe wider the frame of reference the broader the perspective available.\r\nThe deeper the subject is mined the richer the solutions become.\r\n\r\nThe opposite is true.\r\n\r\nInadequate Research leads to Inadequate Solutions\r\n\r\nThis is nearly always true of parish ministry. Without a sound understanding of (sometimes arcane) details parish strategies are almost always based on some incomplete premise or another borrowed from a book or a course or from the church’s history or practice or another church.\r\n\r\nWhat sort of research? How could it be used?\r\n\r\nToday I completed a brief overview of St Augustine’s parish in Islington, London. A typical London inner city parish, geographically small, few distinguishing features. Good church building. Committed congregation. The question is, what’s next?\r\n\r\nThe data tells us that nearly 4,000 people in the parish call themselves Christian; and roughly 3,000 people are technically Financially Vulnerable; and nearly 3,000 people are on tax credits. Which is half the working age population. And these may not all be the same people.\r\n\r\nAnd all the reverse details are true too. Half the population are not on benefits, are not financially vulnerable, and do not call themselves Christian.\r\n\r\nAnd there are about 600 pensioners and 1,200 children.\r\n\r\nI’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it’s better to know than not to know.\r\n\r\nClick here to see the complete details and zoom in, or just look at the map …\r\n

Parish ministry can be improved thirty, sixty or a hundredfold with good quality research ... This map shows the Lower Super Output Areas covering the parish of St Augustine's in Islington

The successful modern Church of England benefice 4 – Planting

The successful modern Church of England benefice is an organic, networked and campus church, created for growth and witness. It is the logical outworking of this new Anglican focus that the successful benefice will find opportunities to share its resources and experience and expertise with other churches and in other places. It will become a Planting church. At times this will mean offering help to Anglican and other churches experiencing difficulties, and at other times it will mean starting new ventures of different shapes and styles to meet particular needs and opportunities.\r\n\r\nThis is 4 of 4: to see the whole poster go here\r\n\r\nOr see each individual post here:  1-Organic   2-Networked   3-Campus\r\n\r\n

The successful modern Church of England benefice 3 – Campus

The successful modern benefice in the Church of England will need to become a Campus. This means it will draw together resources for teaching,  mentoring, coaching and training, for the purpose of helping Christians deepen their discipleship and witness. Lay ministers will need to work in a more flexible way, working in teams, with each person working to their strength, be it research, writing, preaching, coaching. The Campus church will also attract external resources from outside the Anglican church – theologians and educators – as well as offer resources to all local colleges and schools (not only Church of England schools!) to build up the life of society as a whole.\r\n\r\nThis is 3 of 4: see the whole poster go here\r\n\r\nOr see each individual post here:  1-Organic   2-Networked   4-Planting\r\n

The successful modern Church of England benefice 2 – Networked

A successful modern Church of England  benefice will need to be Networked. That is, it will need to work across churches of different styles, theology and history, and across parish boundaries. Networked churches will make the most of resources, limiting duplication to maximise effectiveness and sustainability. To create and environment for sustainable growth the successful benefice will draw on the expertise of many people wherever they are found, in Anglican churches and others.\r\n\r\nThis is two of four: see the whole poster go here\r\n\r\nOr see each individual post here:  1-Organic   3-Campus   4-Planting\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

The Networked Benefice

The successful modern Church of England benefice 1 – Organic

A successful modern Church of England benefice will need to be Organic. That is, it will need to grow and flex within existing and new areas – geographically, physically, theologically and socially. Rigid strategies won’t cut it. Leaders will have to be creative and articulate, the people they lead will need to be patient and forgiving – and more involved! All will have to be totally committed to making it work if it is to grow. This has not been the Church of England way in recent times, but if it is survive into an uncertain future then traditional Anglican sensibilities will have to be challenged.\r\n\r\nThis is 1 of 4: see the whole poster go here\r\n\r\nOr see each individual post here:  2-Networked   3-Campus   4-Planting\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

The Successful Modern Benefice is … Organic