Showing posts with label Alan Hirsch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alan Hirsch. Show all posts

21 September 2013

Cruising the gospel

Alan Hirsch urges us to cycle through the gospels as one way of keeping Jesus central in our hearts, thoughts, words and deeds. It's good advice and I've been trying it out online. Consider joining me in a trip through Matthew. After that we'll move on to Mark.

Cruising the Gospel
Cruising the Gospel
For the last couple of months I've been busy with a new project, Cruising the Gospel.

It's one of the reasons there have been so few posts on Journeys of Heart and Mind recently. So here's what I've been doing and why.

Cruising the Gospel sprang from a desire to focus more on the person, words and actions of Jesus. To this end I've been reading a short passage every day and writing some notes on what I'm discovering.

If you'd like to join me why not read along and leave comments with your own thoughts?

Forgotten Ways - Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways tells us that making Jesus the centre of all we are and do is an essential element for rapid and spontaneous church growth. This is not just a matter of studying his life, it's not enough to know about him; we need to live him and breathe him and be deeply affected by him from moment to moment.

Not only that, Alan has concluded that having Christ at the centre is just one of six essential strands that we in the West have forgotten (although they remain latent in all of us and can be reactivated).

For each of the six he suggests things that we can do to influence our thinking in useful ways. Cycling through the gospels is one of these.

Come and join us. Let us know what you think. Visit Cruising the Gospelsign up for the emails, or grab the RSS or Atom feed for your favourite news reader. Join in the fun.

Questions:

  • If you don't have Christ at the heart of everything, how can you even be a disciple?
  • Other than cycling through the gospels, what else might you do to keep Jesus central?
  • Why not take a trial run in Matthew 16:13-28?

See also:

10 June 2013

Five colours of the rainbow

Ephesians describes a five-fold ministry based on spiritual gifts. But using only one of the five is like looking through coloured glass, everything becomes the same colour and essential information is lost. Is this what the church has done with the so-called APEST gifts?

A red postbox through green glasses
Ephesians 4:11-13 describes the so-called 'five-fold-ministry'. This is sometimes abbreviated APEST or APEPT, that is Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds (or Pastors) and Teachers.

There are many other gifts of the Spirit mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, but the verses in Ephesians make it clear that these five are specifically 'to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up'.

There's evidence that the early church employed them all just as Paul describes.

Separation - Yet in the traditional western church apostles and prophets were not recognised for hundreds of years, evangelists were hived off into mission organisations, teachers were often found only in places of learning and training, and only shepherds (or pastors) remained to equip church members.

This crippled the church and made her ineffective in many ways.

Colours - Lets assign a colour to each gift and consider church in terms of light. How would that work?

  • Apostle - Red
  • Prophet - Orange
  • Evangelist - Yellow
  • Shepherd (Pastor) - Green
  • Teacher - Blue
With the exception of indigo and violet, these are the standard colours of the rainbow. When all five colours are present we see something quite close to white light. Now, Jesus is the Light, he illuminates everything with the pure white beam of his glory. In the Light of Jesus (the Light sent to reveal the Truth) we can see everything clearly.

But with red and yellow sidelined as being unnecessary, with yellow moved off to the mission field, and with teachers moved out into seminaries, only the green light of the shepherd (pastor) remains. This makes life very difficult for the church as green objects appear green but all other colours appear in shades of green too.

A blind church - Such a partially blind church cannot function as she was intended to. Only by bringing back all five gifts can we benefit from white Light where Jesus is central and objects all appear in their true colours. And then the church will again be equipped for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Isn't this what we all really want? It should be! Green may be an appropriate colour for a shepherd, but we need more than a shepherd if we are to see everything clearly.


Questions:

  • Can you imagine a world in which everything appears green?
  • How might this affect your driving? (Think about red lights.)
  • How much do you know about the gifts other than shepherd/pastor?
  • How can you expand your knowledge? Hint, try some of the links below.

See also:

08 May 2013

Jesus in proper context

In their book, 'The Shaping of Things to Come', Frost and Hirsch point to Jesus' Jewish background as key to understanding his life, death and his mission. Any attempt to understand him based on Romano/Greek culture or 21st century western culture will cause distortions to the truth.

The Shaping of Things to Come
I'm currently reading The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Here's a brief quote from Chapter 7.

...the Jewish heritage is the primordial matrix out of which Christianity was birthed, and which we would argue is the only matrix out of which it could be organically understood in its fullness. Except for Luke's writings (he was in all likelihood a proselyte of Judaism), the New Testament is a document written by Jews. Therefore biblical Christianity's 'genetic code', its kinships, its plausibility structures, its genius, are all Hebraic to the core and back.

The point is this. Because Jesus is a Jew, rooted in Jewish society two thousand years ago, if we want to truly understand him we need to view him, read him, hear him and watch him in action from a Jewish perspective.

Not to do so is to risk misunderstanding much that he said and did. And what is true for Jesus is also true for his church; this comes out clearly in the extract above.

Have we missed something? - Perhaps this is something the church has overlooked over the centuries. We have often tried to understand Jesus in terms of the Romano/Greek culture of his day or in terms of today's western culture. But neither of these is appropriate and both may mislead us.

How are we going to tackle the task of refocussing and recalibrating? A good place to begin is by reading and re-reading the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps a rhythm in which these books are read regularly might help us.

The Shaping of Things to Come is a good book, even a great book. It examines the phenomenon of church in a new light and shows the developing western model of the past 1700 years to have been missing the mark. It's accessible, enjoyable to read, and should provoke much thought.

The book was published in 2003 but a new edition is now available.

Questions:

  • How often do you cover the gospels in your Bible reading?
  • What might the effects be of taking Jesus out of his historical context?
  • Have you read 'The Shaping of Things to Come'?
  • If so, would you leave a comment sharing your thoughts about it?

See also:

27 April 2013

We need a new approach

SpaceX is solving a fundamental blocking problem in spaceflight. This is a great example for the church where a similar blocking problem needs to be addressed. As with all such problems we need a new approach, a new way to see the problem and find a solution.

Grasshopper landing, 5th test flight
Sometimes good examples help us to see our situation in a new light, and great examples can even encourage us to do something about it.

Here is a truly great example from SpaceX, the Californian commercial spaceflight company owned and run by Elon Musk.

First the example, then we'll take a look at how we might apply it to the church.

Spaceflight? Church? There seems to be a disconnect, perhaps. Well no, actually. But more on that later.

Spaceflight is expensive - Here's the situation as Elon found it. Spaceflight is extremely expensive; launch costs for placing a large communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) are typically £150 million or so.

This is what I call a blocking problem. It blocks further progress. Spaceflight cannot become routine on a large scale with launch costs of this order. For decades these high costs have been regarded as unavoidable. What might be done to reduce them?

By carefully designing the company's Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets to be as efficient as possible, both in terms of manufacture and deployment, Elon Musk has been able to trim the launch cost considerably. But it's still too high, much too high.

Not being one to give up easily, he realised that the fuel costs are less than 1% of the cost of the rocket, so if a rocket could be reused over and over again (like an aircraft) the cost per launch could fall very dramatically.

Grasshopper - So this is what SpaceX has been attempting with its 'Grasshopper' project. Grasshopper is a test version of the company's standard Falcon 9. It has flown five times so far, higher each time. The recent flight to 250 m is amazing to watch. It goes up, it hovers for a while, and then it returns to the launch pad and lands!

Watch Grasshopper do it's stuff in this SpaceX video. Don't miss it. It's truly astonishing!

On the next cargo flight of Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX intends to 'land' the first stage on the sea as a trial run. They don't expect to succeed on the first attempt (though I suspect they may do better than most people think). But they will persevere and when they are comfortable with the process they will eventually return an intact first stage to the launch pad.

And then they'll work on minimising the refurbishment and refuelling so that the same rocket can be flown several times a week, perhaps even several times a day. And they plan to work on returning the second stage as well.

I'm sure you can see how this will change everything. Space launches will become far cheaper and new markets for launch services will develop as a direct result.

And the church? - Ah, the church! You see the church has a similar problem, something that has been taken for granted like high launch costs in the rocket business. Church in the West has seen falling numbers, falling influence, falling relevance to ordinary people.

All sorts of programmes have been organised involving better music, excellent teaching, novel forms of meeting, cafe church, simple church, exciting children's programmes, house church and more. None of these things in themselves has made a fundamental difference.

Like Elon Musk and SpaceX we need a new way of thinking.

And we already have one! Alan Hirsch has put his able mind to work and has identified six key elements that are essential but sufficient for explosive and continuing growth. Taken together (and he makes it clear that they must be taken together to be effective) these six elements can make a dramatic difference.

The first key element is 'Jesus is Lord' and that should surprise none of us. But what are the other five?

You'll have to wait for a later post to find out. But if you can't wait, get a copy of Alan's book, 'The Forgotten Ways' and start reading. It's excellent stuff, illuminating, exciting, and carrying a real hope for the future of the church in the West.

Questions:

  • Does it seem to you that church in the western world is advancing or retreating?
  • Why is the western church not growing explosively like the church in China or India?
  • Have you heard Alan Hirsch speak, or read any of his books?
  • Is Jesus truly at the very centre of all you do and say and think?

See also:

07 April 2013

Hopeful signs of liminality

Alan Hirsch uses the terms liminality and communitas. I was interested to check how much 'liminality' I could find in church life today, particularly in and around my own local area of west Cambridgeshire. I found more than I had expected which is really rather encouraging.

Big hearted lyfe
Recently, I've been working my way through Alan Hirsch's excellent book, 'The Forgotten Ways'. Amongst much else he explores what he calls 'liminality and 'communitas'.

Liminality is being involved around the edges of what we consider normal in western church life. It's a matter of taking risks, pushing the boundaries in terms of reaching the hungry, the abandoned, the spiritually lost.

For those in places like China or the Muslim world it may mean facing danger or even death. Alan Hirsch uses terms like ordeal, danger, marginality and adventure.

Communitas is the sense of comradeship that comes from sharing liminal experiences with others. It's deeper and more urgent than the typical community life we have in the western church. We cannot achieve communitas just by drinking coffee together or going to meetings.

(Scroll to the bottom of the post for short extracts from the book defining these two terms.)

This sparked my imagination and I wanted to identify examples of liminality in my own life and the lives of those around me. Here's what I came up with (in alphabetical order). Some of these examples are very local, most are from the UK, all but two are things I've been involved in personally.

Be the light - Chris Duffett provides a list of ideas for creative evangelism. Many of these involve some degree of liminality by getting us out of our comfort zones. Take a look through the list, are there some ideas here that you and a small group of friends might try?

Ben and Catherine Taylor - Not content to just sit around and let the world go by, Ben and Catherine in the West of England are involved in church life with a difference, lots of liminality here I think!

Ben and Hannah Dunnett - Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. They challenge and encourage us all by making the most of their talents. Take a look at what they have on offer and ask yourself if you might buy some material to use in inventive ways to reach those around you.

Beth Foster - Beth lives in the USA and used to have a great blog. She seems to have removed it (I hope temporarily). In it she described how she had been led to review what she did as a believer and to slim it down to the real essentials. She made some notes on how this was going. Although you can't  now read these for yourself, she also left some great comments on several of my posts. Take a look at this one (you'll need to scroll to the bottom to see Beth's comments).

Big hearted lyfe - Some great material and helpful suggestions for doing Bible study and personal development in a public place. This could be one way to experience a form of liminality! Have a go, see if you can encourage others to join you. This idea comes from the Bible Society.

Donna and the children - Donna lives in Nottingham and amongst many other things has explored church with children. This was not an obvious or easy thing to do, but she saw the need and the opportunity and just went for it. Another good lesson for all of us.

Ffald-y-Brenin - This community is pushing out the boat with houses of prayer. Read part of their story here on Journeys of heart and mind. This is no ordinary retreat centre, liminality is not in short supply!

Food bank in St Neots - There are plans afoot to start a Trussell Trust food bank in the town. Many of the local churches are cooperating. It's a great thing to do and will bring together people from different backgrounds as well as increasing contact with people needing some help. I've begun collecting and have delivered a first donation to a local church that's already passing on help to those in difficulty.

Free hugs - Some friends, Tendai, Mark and others, have been trying out some of those 'Be the Light' ideas at the top of this list. I joined them once for a 'free hugs' session in the Market Square and will be getting involved again.

Krish Kandiah - Active in work with students, as an author, pastor and as a sought-after speaker, Krish Kandiah is different. He is inventive, active, and always willing to push the boundaries and take risks.

Newforms Resources - Pete and Marsha Farmer are involved in a lot of hard work, much of it centred around Newforms Resources. This is an organisation they created as an umbrella for training, meetings and books aimed at encouraging missional expressions of church in the UK and, increasingly, Europe and beyond.

Paul and Jenny Shortman - Jenny is an old friend from years ago. She and her husband Paul have been very helpful in a Free Church not far from here. They encourage, work at all sorts of jobs, and Jenny often writes for their magazine. It's always good, edifying stuff. Maybe this is not so much on the liminal side of life, but it's way beyond the normal range of what we'd call community. Humble work done well and done for love. They are a good example to us all.

Pete Stamford - Pete runs annual camps for ages eight to sixteen. From small beginnings using scout camp grounds he is now running multiple camps and other training events each year from a dedicated site at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire. Everything depends on CRB-checked volunteers - lots of them. Missional in nature, aiming to reach young people and their parents, Pete has faced and overcome many difficulties along the way.

St Michaels Without - This Anglican church in Bath, Somerset, has changed itself in interesting and delightful ways. Both the physical structure and the lives of the people have been adapted to better serve the local community. Take a look at their website to find out what they're been up to.

TryPraying - This idea began with a group of ordinary people in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now they are publishing booklets encouraging non-believers to experiment with prayer. The whole thing is imaginatively and beautifully executed. Who would not want to be involved?

Conclusions - Few of these ideas are fully 'on the edge', but most of them have elements of liminality significant enough that I can share them in this article. There may be other people in St Neots getting out there and engaging in the great commission. I certainly hope so.

Taken together, these may be early glimmerings of life and growth in the church in the UK. And as people engage in these ways and involve their friends, so communitas may start to develop. I imagine a time, not far off, when church will be completely transformed where I live. Yes, Father, bring it on; we are so ready for this!

Liminality and communitas - Extracts from 'The Forgotten Ways', Alan Hirsch's definitions of liminality and communitas.

Liminality ... applies to that situation where people find themselves in an in-between, marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger and disorientation, but not necessarily so.

Communitas ... happens in situations where individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition and marginalization. It involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive.


Questions:

  • Are you taking risks in your life as a believer?
  • Do you agree that shared danger can lead to a marvellous sense of togetherness?
  • Can you find needs and opportunities in your village, town or city?
  • What are you doing about those needs and opportunities?

See also:

16 March 2013

Obey, obey, obey

Our own efforts are not enough, we need to be obedient to the Creator. Not only that, we need to understand that he is involved in all of life, not just the part we might think of as 'church'. We should all follow the same basic principles, yet he deals uniquely with us as individuals.

Hand made furniture
Felicity Dale posted about how she started writing, and I left a comment. But now I think I should expand on parts of the comment here on my own blog.

One of the issues with church as we have known it is that we are inclined to work very hard at making it better.

We aim for better organisation, better teaching, more entertaining speakers, more professional music, more and better books and leaflets, exciting events, and so on.

So what could possibly be wrong with making things better? Well, nothing really. Better is indeed... better! But that's not where the problem lies.

His ways and our ways - The real issue is that we work out ways of making it better according to our own wisdom and knowledge. And all the time Papa might be watching what we do, appreciating our zeal and hard work, while all the time lamenting the fact that we are not doing his will, but our own.

His ways are his ways, not necessarily like our ways at all. Better in my opinion may even be worse in his.

We need to become a more obedient people. We need to hear more clearly, take what we do hear more seriously, and turn hearing into action. Something that is held to be almost self-evident in many parts of the church today is that men should take leadership roles and women should be quiet and submissive. But Felicity has been hearing very clearly (and so have I and many others) that this is not really what Papa is saying. It's generally based on a particular way of reading a handful of verses in the New Testament and on historical attitudes in society as a whole.

This latter point about society is part of a larger issue that needs to be resolved in our hearts and minds, and that is where church fits in society.

Holy and secular - You see, church is not separate from the rest of life. We often think in terms of church on the one hand and the world on the other. We 'go to church' on a Sunday morning and do and say and hear and see holy things. And the rest of the week we live our 'ordinary lives' and go to school or work or care for the home and devote our attentions to money, shopping, looking good, having fun, watching TV and doing a thousand and one other 'important' things.

But in truth there is no holy and secular, there is just life as a whole and society as a whole and Christ in and through his people bringing light and flavour into all of it, into all the aspects mentioned above and many, many more. Alan Hirsch makes this point very clear in 'The Forgotten Ways'.

The thing is, Papa is involved in all of life, he is indeed the source of all life. And if he is involved in all the aspects mentioned above, so should we be. If we are truly in the Son and he is truly in us, how can we avoid his involvement in every moment we are alive? And in any case, why exactly would we want to? If my heart is open to hear him he will continually tell me where to go, who to speak to, how to behave and what to believe.

Obedience - Understand that Felicity's writing, and Alan's are the results of obedience. They did what the Holy Spirit called them to do. It was already in the Father's heart and plan for them to write. He has things in his heart for you to be doing too - what are they?

And best of all, rather than all following the same understanding and the same ideas, we all follow the same principles but the detail varies. Papa's path for you will be different than his path for me; he deals with us individually. We should not see ourselves as factory-produced items, all made the same within very tight tolerances. Instead we are are all hand crafted, individually fashioned by the master craftsman.

Factory-made furniture is manufactured from laminated board and timber pre-cut and fastened with plastic blocks and metal screws and fittings. Craftsman-made furniture is hand sawn from selected timber of good quality and jointed in traditional ways. The maker is sympathetic to the pattern of the grain and turns imperfections into beautiful features. The surface is carefully sanded to a smooth finish and polished with real waxes or oils.

I commend Alan Hirsch's books to you, and Felicity and Tony's, and Neil Cole's too. There are a thousand clues to Father's ways of showing us his purpose in all these books.

But I commend the still, small voice of the Spirit to you even more.

Here's what we need to do, all of us who are willing and able.

  1. Tell Papa you're sorry for your failure to listen and hear.
  2. Tell him that you will listen from now on.
  3. If you don't know how to hear, ask him to teach you. Then expect him to find a way to do it.
  4. Decide to obey everything you hear from him.
  5. Just begin doing it!

Questions:

  • Have you read Alan Hirsch's book, 'The Forgotten Ways'?
  • Is the Father's wisdom greater or less than yours?
  • Do you suppose Father wants us to do his will or our own?


See also:

06 December 2012

Alan Hirsch at Newforms

Some fifty people came to the Newforms National Gathering where Alan Hirsch was speaking on movements. The sessions were good with plenty of time for questions, group discussion and feedback. Alan's long years of study and experience came through clearly as he spoke.


Newforms National Gathering 2012
Last weekend I drove to Nottingham to join about fifty other people for the 2012 Newforms National Gathering.

Alan Hirsch had kindly agreed to come as the main speaker, and the meetings were hosted by Peter and Marsha Farmer assisted by helpers from Nottingham and elsewhere.

People from all over Britain had booked places and travelled to join in. Some had come from Europe and even as far as Australia to be with us. We met at St Saviours and at the Riverway just opposite (both made us very welcome).

Hearing from Alan and Peter - The sessions were pretty intensive, but breaks for tea, coffee and lunch were frequent and long enough that our concentration didn't lapse. Alan Hirsch and Peter Farmer were so interesting and engaging that we might have managed with even fewer pauses. Many people already knew one another from previous meetings, at least slightly. Those who were new were soon joining in the conversations during the breaks and making new friends.

There were sessions on Friday evening, all day on Saturday, and Sunday morning and early afternoon.

Topics covered included apostolic movements, networks, mission, disciple making, viral spread, and reproduction. Alan drew on his years of study and experience on these subjects, covering the central place of Christ himself in detail and then looking at the five gifts in turn.

Alan spoke about discipleship and church planting movements, how they work, why they fail, the factors involved, and the fivefold ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11) - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST). We were encouraged to interrupt the main sessions with questions and Alan was willing to respond before continuing. This made the whole experience more interactive and useful. Peter spoke more briefly on some of the practical aspects and also gave us time for discussions at our tables, with feedback.

Here's the Ephesians passage in its proper context, Ephesians 4:11-16.

Taking it further - Alan Hirsch has published books on each of these aspects, they're listed and introduced on 'The Forgotten Ways' website. Perhaps I need to work my way through all of them.

Alan encouraged us to consider what our own gifts might be and explained that one of the best ways to discover is to pay attention to what others say about us. We are, after all, part of a body and the body as a whole recognises the value and function of each part.

We went home challenged and encouraged. The video on the right includes comment from some of the people present.

The National Gathering is an annual event. Check the Newforms Events and Training pages for details of next year's gathering and other meetings.

Questions:

  • Have you thought about your own gifts in terms of APEST? (You might have more than one.)
  • What do those around you in church life think about your gifts? You may not need to ask - just listen.
  • Do you think you might come to the next National Gathering in November 2013?
  • Have you read any of Alan Hirsch's books?
  • How do you think you can apply these ideas in the place where you live and in the church there?

See also:

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